Christ, it seems like I’m writing one of these somewhere about every two weeks now…
But here we go again.
We all woke up this morning to terrible news: Another metal brother gone, this time Warrel Dane (Sanctuary / ex-Nevermore). Back in Ye Olden Days, Sanctuary’s first two were leading lights of the US power metal scene — progressive, vicious, melodic, and all bolstered by Dane’s godly range, ungodly power, and impeccable sense of drama. Like the rest of the world, my first impression came from Refuge Denied‘s opening number, the blistering “Battle Angels” — still my favorite of any Dane-fronted song, although there’s plenty of competition. “Battle Angels” is a perfect combo of Priest-ly riffing and ohmyGOD those falsetto shrieks, razor-sharp and piercing like lasers to the skull, and all of that in the best way. As a teenager singing along to Halford, Tate, Dickinson — well, those screams were everything I wanted to do, everything I wanted my pathetic voice to be…
Follow-up Into The Mirror Black went further into the progressive, previewing Nevermore, the next incarnation that took Sanctuary’s power/prog base and added to Dane’s talent some groove metal heft, an even deeper sense of gothic moodiness, and Jeff Loomis’ equally godly guitar shredding. In a decade or more of metal, Nevermore never quite fit anywhere comfortably, and yet, they occupied space in many worlds, all of them defined by that combo of Loomis riff and Dane’s layered vocals and somber tones. Detractors mocked Warrel’s solemnity, or his snarling operatics, but they never got it, not like the rest of us did. The man was a godly vocalist, unafraid to be distinctive, and able to use his voice perfectly to create that idiosyncratic melodrama that will forever be his calling card.
After seven records (a full five of them classics), Nevermore would collapse — Loomis and Dane going their separate ways — and Sanctuary returned once more, releasing one of the greatest comeback albums in recent memory, the truly killer The Year The Sun Died. Since that one was so unexpectedly strong, I’d been holding out hope for further Sanctuary music, but all we got was a demo compilation and the announcement of a new Warrel solo record, on which he had just begun vocals when he passed away of a heart attack.
I had the pleasure of seeing the reformed Sanctuary on the Year The Sun Died tour, at a club in Kentucky with about 20 other people. We certainly weren’t their biggest crowd, but they played like we were, and it was an absolutely stellar show, and one that means even more now knowing that I won’t see them again.
Godspeed, Warrel — rest in peace, and thank you.
“…when there’s nothing more left to dream
And nowhere left to wander
The memories will be there for you
To give you peace of mind
And when there’s nothing more left to gain
And no risks left worth taking
The memories will be true to you…
In memory, in memory…
Memory is alive…”