Formed in 2011 with a desire to delve into the sounds of “classic heavy metal”, Philadelphia’s Corners of Sanctuary very much stick to tradition when it comes to their brand of rock. Like Aussie metallers LORD, CoS occupy a space where the big hair and the leather trouser reigns; a musical spectrum where solos are closer to Iron Maiden and Judas Priest than any more “modern” acts you’d care to name. For all of that, though, their sound is often impressive; a riff-heavy machine that’s not just a celebration of the past, but proof that classic metal lives on. By sticking to their guns in championing a very traditional approach, they’ve shared stages with Saxon, Blaze Bayley, and Anvil. And, somehow, they’ve also shared bills with Enuff Z’Nuff and – bizarrely – Green Jelly. Their strong held belief that metal will never die obviously works for them.

At the beginning of 2022, Corners of Sanctuary offered their fans a real treat when they gave away their new recording of Def Leppard’s ‘Mirror, Mirror (Look Into My Eyes’) as a free download, and seven months on, when that was released alongside another two Def Leppard covers on a digital EP (‘Defying’), it gave their fans a further insight into how much love Corners of Sanctury have for Sheffield’s finest export. That download wasn’t around for long, but all three Leps tunes make up the backbone of ‘Taking Cover’, a six track covers bonanza that adds another three familiar tracks to the CoS canon.

In many ways, ‘Mirror Mirror’ is one of this EP’s best tunes. The original Leppard recording straddles a fine line between crunch and melody, and its multi-layered vocals capture a moment between the Sheffield boys’ humble NWOBHM beginnings and the huge commercial sound of ‘Pyromania’, and CoS aren’t shy in toughening that up in places. Most notably, this cover flaunts a harder stance via a denser drum sound, but in also boasts an impressive vocal that isn’t too shy in presenting a little more of a melodic metal wail. It allows some of the band’s more metal-centric roots to shine through, and with a great middle eight in hand where CoS branch off into their own melody before ushering in a brand new lead guitar break, the hard rock edge of the early Leppard battles with some of those Corners of Sanctuary metal sounds, ensuring this is by no means just a direct copy,

As for the other two Def Leppard tracks, a recording of ‘Rock of Ages’ takes a little longer to appreciate. Firstly, it’s hampered by a flat drum sound, but it also showcases a slightly shrill vocal that isn’t quite as sympathetic to the core melody. As far as any vocal misgivings are concerned, it’s almost certainly just a case of the original track being over familiar; after all, there are expectations of it to sound a certain way. There’s actually very little wrong with the CoS performance itself; in fact, Frankie Cross’s attempt at dropping a few 80s metal wails into a couple of the main refrains works brilliantly. They’re certainly a suitable counterpart for the multi-tracked guitar parts, and six-stringer Mick Michaels really rises to the occasion when it comes to a lead break or two. Like ‘Mirror, Mirror’, the band take their own detour midway to keep things feeling fresh, and in this case, Lee interjects with a few crowd baiting “hey”s that seem to be more of the Steel Panther school of cheese than of the Leps’ natural flair, but it would take a hard heart not to consider this recording anything other than good natured hard rock fun.

Perhaps best of all is a recording of ‘Bringing On The Heartbreak’ that bigs up the semi-acoustic roots, and clings on to the original’s vocal melody, but presents something incredibly uneasy via a new ascending melody during the verse. It makes the track sound really disturbing, especially when underscoring an extra melody supplied by tinking piano. Shifting into the chorus, CoS waste no time in bringing in their beloved metallic chug – and double bass drum pedals add a heavier stance that works well – but, as expected, its when approaching the climax that things work out for the best. There’s less room here for the band to add too much of their own twist, but a twin lead guitar sound adds a new melodic riff, and the choir of vocals go all out at the end to ensure a great hook is delivered with a genuine punch.

Moving on to the other selections, all three will be very familiar to almost everyone. A NWOBHM classic, Judas Priest’s ‘Breaking The Law’ is obviously a natural fit for any hard working metal band, and CoS hammer through the familiar riffs with ease. The guitar tones are slightly echoey, but still capture a lot of that Tipton/Halford power, and this is a good thing as they’re doing most of the heavy lifting throughout. In comparison to the mighty Rob Halford, Cross sounds like a club singer, but he’s giving it his best shot, whilst a backing vocal occasionally throws out an impassioned squeal that’s much closer to the extreme end of the Priest metal god’s wail scale. With a decent stab at the guitar solo (again, courtesy of Mick Michaels, also of metal band Hereafter), it’s an enjoyable romp through an old favourite, if nothing else.

More interestingly, the band have recognised the potential in The Osmonds’ ‘Crazy Horses’ for a metallic workout, and as you might expect, the main groove sounds great when transposed to an even meatier guitar sound. Three minutes of high octane chugging are joined by a moody vocal (one of Frankie’s best) and the chorus is driven by some thunderous drumming from Mad T, sounding far bigger and more natural than on those Leppard cuts. By way of a guitar solo, Mick drops into something that at first sounds like a heavy blues rock workout, before shifting into a huge shred, followed by a moody howl. He manages to fit so much into just a few bars, but its impressive that he does so without upstaging anyone, or somehow dominating the track. Cranking the speed, the band sound equally enthused when hammering their way through Warrant’s ‘Inside Out’, allowing Mad T ample opportunity to attack his kit. They don’t bring anything new to the high octane number, but it really suits Lee’s vocal style. He might not always make the grade when it comes to a broad melody, but this shows he has plenty of oomph when it comes to speed and anger. You can nearly hear the sweat coming off the studio walls…

Playing with vigour and a love for the material, Corners of Sanctuary are clearly having fun on ‘Taking Cover’, but hearing these recordings together, however, it becomes clear how much of a recording budget this band, unfortunately, does not have at their disposal, and with ‘Heartbreak’ especially, the thin drum sound gives off a polished demo vibe. That said, if you’re already a CoS fan, or fancy hearing a couple of old favourites delivered with enthusiasm from different hands, then this is still fun. …And when everything’s said and done, good time hard rock shouldn’t always be taken too seriously after all.

August 2023