On December 13, 2017, the metal community was at a loss after hearing about the sudden passing of Warrel Dane. The Sanctuary/Nevermore singer had one of the most recognizable voices, one that we will never forget. This tragic loss was unexpected. Dane had plans to work on his solo album as well as touring with Iced Earth in support of Sanctuary’s latest effort, 2017’s Inception. However, the tour turned out to be a successful tribute to the late Dane as the group recruited Witherfall’s Joseph Michael to stand behind the mic.
We’ve caught up with Joseph a few times with his band Witherfall as he has previously explained how he joined Sanctuary. We’ve also expressed how impressed we are by Joseph’s vocals as we agree with his powerful vocal arrangement pairs well with Sanctuary. With that being said, we knew it was only a matter of time before Joseph became a full-time member. Sanctuary have recently revealed they are hoping to release their next album sometime in 2020.
We recently spoke to guitarist Lenny Rutledge during the group’s show at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn, NY in celebration of their 1988 debut Refuge Denied. Rutledge discussed the band’s new direction, bringing in Joseph, and looking forward to performing at tonight’s (4th) ProgPower.
What sparked having an anniversary album tour?
It is something we always wanted to do, and we felt now is a good time. We were hoping to do it on the 30th anniversary, which has already passed, but it was obviously for reasons like, Warrel [Dane] passed away in 2017, and we were talking about doing it at the time. We just never really got around to it. So it felt like after we got back together with Joseph [Michael], and it seemed like he really had a range that was suited for Refuge Denied, so we decided maybe it was a good time to go ahead and present it to everybody. And one of the other reasons is because next year we may do The Mirror Black, and I just figured it’s hard to go backwards. So we decided, maybe now is a good time. And we were really excited to play some of those songs that we haven’t played. Some of the songs we haven’t played for 30 years, so, or at least 25.
Before finding Joseph Michael, was there a point you guys felt, after the unfortunate passing of Warrel Dane, were guys going to end Sanctuary? Was there ever a point of giving up?
At first, we weren’t sure what we should do. Of course we were all grieving, and I mean it’s a hard thing when somebody that you’ve known for over 30 years, and has been a friend, and like a brother, and your writing partner, and we had great times and we had rough times. I think that’s what makes you a family. A family member has passed away, so at first, it was really hard, but we had a tour booked with Iced Earth while Warrel was alive and obviously, he passed away before, but we wanted to honor the tour, and we wanted to do a tribute to him once we found Joseph.
I didn’t think it was going to work out. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but we kind of stumbled on Joseph by accident, and it turned out that he could do a good job. I mean, he does it. His range is really close to that range of “Refuge” and some of the other songs that we do. So we thought we’d give it a shot and see how it goes, and it went pretty well. It seemed like people were really receptive to it on tour, and I think people were genuinely impressed by the way it turned out, so it was a cool thing. So we decided to continue and see how it would go.
How was the overall experience during that tour with Iced Earth, introducing Joseph and what was the crowd’s initial response like?
Really well. I can’t sit here and say that I was absolutely sure how that was going to go, because there’s no way I could be, and there’s no way anyone could.
So I was actually pleasantly surprised because we weren’t sure if people were going to be really upset about it, or maybe throw tomatoes at us or something. I don’t know, but people really, really dug it. I think that people were skeptical, which they have every right to be, and once they heard Joseph and saw that we are performing the songs as they should be, they were really surprised, and I get the feeling they were accepting, very accepting. So that’s Kind of why I think we decided to continue and see where we could take it.
I read you guys plan on releasing a new album next year?
How has the creative process been with Joseph involved?
Yeah, it’s different. Warrel and I kind of had a unique way of writing. Most of the time I would just send Warrel ideas, or we would work on something in rehearsal, and a lot of times he would sit on it for a really long time and then eventually he would have all this material. In fact, there’d be songs that I would forget about completely, because I thought maybe he didn’t like them. And then one day, he’d come in with a song, and I’m like, “Geez, I forgot all about that song. It sounds great now that you’ve finished it.”
So it’s a little bit of a different process now. I mean we still pass things back and forth. I’ll come up with a riff with Joseph. He’ll point out things he likes. Then we’ll take it down to the rehearsal, work on it, and he’s very hands-on. He’s right there the whole time, which was a little bit different. Warrel and I, it was a little more of a private thing. We would write parts, and then I would give them to him and then he would take it from there. But he wasn’t so much right in the room with you most of the time. Joseph and I do a lot of that where we’re together in the room, and we really go over things and talk about it.
It takes a lot longer, I think, and it’s a little bit different. I think maybe he obsesses about things a little bit more because there’s obviously a lot to live up to, so it’s taking us a while. So our plan is for this to be released in 2020, but there are no guarantees. But I think we’re doing pretty good. We’re moving along, so we’re hopeful.
Will the new album somehow feature any writings from Warrel Dane or any tributes to him?
You know, maybe. I know that Joseph was talking to me about one of the songs he’s working on that he had mentioned was somewhat inspired by Warrel. You’d have to get him to explain it, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily about Warrel, but it’s kind of inspired. And I know so far the working title is called “Transmutation.” So, yeah, I don’t know. That’s a good question, but I think the whole, we kind of have, we feel like he’s sort of with us still, part of us, he’s there on our mind and maybe that kind of influences the direction.
What plans or surprises do you guys have for later this year?
We’re in Europe for a couple of weeks. We’re going to be writing over there, rehearsing. When we come back to the U.S, we will play a show in Portland and then Seattle. We’re playing the first night of Prog Power on September 4th with one of my favorite bands, Insomnium. So I’m really excited about that. We’re pretty good friends with those guys, so it’s cool to play with them. We played with them once before in Montreal, and that was the first time I ever met them, but we’ll get to play with them again, so that’ll be cool.
Is there anything else that you want to add or say?
Just look for the new record, and if we come to your town, go out and check it out, especially now that we’re out there doing all of Refuge Denied. Joseph’s been killing it, and people seem to be excited that we chose to do that record, and we’re having a good time because for us it’s fresh. We’ve never really played an album front to back. We’ve always wanted to do that, and we finally got to do it, so it’s really exciting for us. So if it comes to your town and you see it out there, come check it out. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Check out the photo galleries below during Sanctuary’s show at Saint Vitus on July 14th with Ghost Ship Octavius:
Ghost Ship Octavius