Sitting somewhat uncomfortably in between the heavy, speed and prog metal genres, Sanctuary achieved reputable status with their first album Refuge Denied despite having a fragmented and vulnerable identity. The record itself was a slightly more melancholic take on the style Queensrÿche established on Rage for Order with some carefree thrash moments added in for the more aggressive metal fan. The formula was ultimately more kitschy than timeless, and relegated the band to perennial B-tier status. On their second release, Sanctuary doubled down on the saccharine dramatics and scaled back on the thrash meanderings much to the chagrin of an audience that wanted the band to be something they perhaps never intended to be, and attempted in the process to achieve a transcendent record but failed through erecting it out of inward insecurities.
Into the Mirror Black doesn’t contain the tongue-in-cheek musical flourishes of its predecessor and you won’t hear anything resembling their Jefferson Airplane cover here, as this is intended to be a much more serious album as noted from its hamfistedly melancholic cover art. The Queensrÿche foundation is still in effect here and the focus is still on huge prechoruses and choruses, but rather than aping their sugar-coated arena refrains, the hooks in these songs are all drenched in the desperation of unresolved minor-key wailings furthered through the shrieks of an undeveloped Warrel Dane of future Nevermore fame. Despite his obvious talent, Dane’s presence can be humorous and at times annoying, especially when he mirrors the guitars as shown in the chorus of “Taste Revenge” and his lyrical choices date the band severely as he calls out the year of this recording by name to ruin any chance at a transcendent record. His vulnerability and humanitarian focus are an unfortunate distraction from the music, and despite previous songs like “Battle Angels,” conflict of any kind is lamented here, marking perhaps the start of his self-destructive conspiracy-spouting hippie persona that carried him to the grave.
The bulk of the riffs are composed of speed metal tropes of power chords linked by palm-muted single note melodies in the style of Slayer and Metallica, and there are windows into the realization of more extreme metal as shown in the trilled 3rds of “Seasons of Destruction” which were later popularized by Cannibal Corpse. The band succeeds most when Dane limits himself and allows the band to fill out the music, but his shrieks are often the focus over held chords or even worse, the dreaded clean-tone-arpeggiated wimpy verses which also plagued Queensrÿche. The band devolves further through segments of the songs that were clearly written just for the guitarists to solo over, made glaringly obvious as the material becomes neanderthalic in comparison to the remainder of each song when it happens.
Superficially, this record would be most successfully digested by fans of Queensrÿche who are curious about what a slightly edgier take on the style would sound like, or by people who enjoy And Justice for All but are turned off by its meandering arrangements. Into the Mirror Black is not a terrible record and is important in that its overly dramatic take on the heavy/prog metal genres is the progenitor for future bands like Warning and today’s contemporary Pallbearer. However, these dramatics and the humanness that accompanies them prevent the record from a transcendent experience. Despite the superficialities of a metal record mired in human vulnerability, one cannot accuse the band of poserdom due to Dane’s death being most likely exacerbated by his poor habits and alcoholism. Unfortunately for Dane and Sanctuary, nothing enduring can ever be composed out of insecurity and self-destruction.