Our anticipation levels had maxed, as four years passed by since Sanctuary announced that they were releasing a new record. It is easy to imagine that the only going through their fans' minds was whether their new material will resemble the work they did 25 years ago. I was rather reluctant and ultimately, I was right.
First things first, let's get some things straight. Is "The Year The Sun Died" close to the feel of their two emblematic records? Nope. Does it sound like Nevermore? Yeah, as Dane's vocals are closer to that type of delivery, without that being a bad thing. He wouldn't risk going back to his old type of delivery, even if he could achieve such levels with pro tools magic. Modern production trends have also played a significant role to the final cut of this album. On the other hand, the composition approach is quite different to that witnessed on Nevermore albums, as musical themes are much more approachable. On the other hand, even though we don't have the outbursts we were used to, there are a number of theme and tempo changes in many of the tracks which make them very interesting indeed.
In general, if we were to analyse its style, we would conclude that we are dealing with a rather heavy record that incorporates bulky guitars in mid-tempo layouts, without that meaning that there are no tracks with a faster pace. Lyrically, it is quite dark and a constant claustrophobic atmosphere is always present, as there is no abundance of melodic guitar themes. It's multifaceted compositions do provide a rather "proggy" feeling, but nothing more than that. Sheppard and Budbill's rhythm section is poignant and to the point, but lacks the ingenuity we were used to them providing.
Opening tack "Arise And Purify" is clear evidence of the two contradicting elements that comprise this record. The intro riff is heavy and modern, whereas the chorus uses backing vocals that reminds us of their past. Solos by Rutledge and Hull are unleashed from the get go, and are as precise and technical as required. "Let The Serpent Follow Me" is on the up-tempo side of things but winds down during the chorus, followed by a wonderful, nostalgic bridge. The first slow track is "Exitium (Anthem Of The Living)", which starts off with a calm intro and follows with an awesome riff. Dane also performs really well in this track. "Question Existence Fading" follows a similar path of interchanging musical themes. It sets off with a fast, edgy and fierce riff, includes great solos, awesome vocals and thrilling drumming.
"I Am Low" is one of the calmer moments of the record, which slowly builds up to a rather heartfelt climax. Another highlight would be "Frozen" which again starts off strong and dials things down during the chorus whilst guitar solos are flying around left, right and centre. The weakest moment of the album would be "One Final Day (Sworn To Believe)", whilst "The World Is Wired", which at first won me over with its groovy attitude, ultimately let me down after multiple listens. The strongest moment is definitely the self-titled track (introduced by the wonderfully acoustic "Ad Vitam Aeternam") which concludes the record. Words don't really give it justice. It is slow, heavy and very memorable. Everything from the Latin chants in the beginning of the track to the despair in Warrel's vocals during the chorus and inspiring guitar work makes this song great. A truly great composition.
With this release, Sanctuary did what they had to do. They evolved. Now, because it took them 25 years to do so might not go down well with many people who were expecting a second "Into The Mirror Black", which is totally understandable. Having Nevermore in the meantime might have substantially reduced the shock factor anyway. Let us not forget though that one of the reasons why we loved this band is because of their progressiveness (for lack of a better word). It would be silly to assume that they would not have changed tones even if they hadn't disbanded in 1992.