As a fan of Robert Reed’s various works, it is a pleasure to receive the next installment in his Sanctuary series of solo albums. While listening I immediately find refuge and comfort, as “Sanctuary III” is definitely a continuation of his homage to early albums by Mike Oldfield. Like his previous solo works, Reed has released the album with a DVD containing a DTS 48kHz / 24-bit 5.1 mix or alternatively as an AC3 Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, however there is no high-resolution stereo version, instead a short film shows a track by track layering of sections from Sanctuary III plus several demonstration videos.
Reed has written a two-part suite, which handily fits on the A and B sides of a vinyl record for those still stuck in the analog world. However, the 2 CD, 1 DVD edition greatly expands on this by adding alternate mixes and additional tracks.
Working with collaborators from Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, Reed has embellished Sanctuary III with drums by Simon Phillips plus Recorders and Narration performed by Les Penning. Executive Producers Tom Newman also added in Bodhran, with lead vocals by Angharad Brinn, plus vocal chants by Synergy Vocals. Robert Reed not only played a plethora of instruments, but he also Produced, Engineered, and Mixed this 2018 release.
First things first, just skip the AC3 Dolby Digital version, it simply lacks the resilient low end heard on the DTS codec. However, dynamics between the two versions are pretty darn close, and for listeners who for whatever reason can’t play the DTS version, the Dolby Digital still rocks.
Getting a little ahead of myself, fans may want to watch the Track by Track Video before kicking back to the surround version of Sanctuary III. Reed describes the layering process from the click track down to the sleigh bells, multiple guitar parts, and much more. After seeing this video it becomes an even more enticing listen, knowing the many layers that went into creating this two part suite.
Surround enthusiasts will be delighted with the immersive nature of this release, however it has become common place in modern surround mixes to give more energy to the front channels. Reed follows the modern path while also placing plenty of elements behind the sweet spot.
Not to discount Part 1, but I absolutely love the start of Part 2 which begins with a fingerpicked acoustic guitar in the right channel followed by a reverse guitar which shoots from the back right channel and focusing into the front left channel. Reed adds in a delightful melody on acoustic piano that falls to the front left and reverberates in the back right channel and Brinn’s vocals fall far in the distance from the back.
Admittedly I have come to expect a high level of transparency and exceptional dynamic range with modern recordings, especially when the music successfully takes advantage of peaks and valleys in the writing. Reed absolutely delivers this and more many times throughout Sanctuary III, elevating to thunderous segments and often immediately transitioning into a section of comparative quiet. The DVD 5.1 mix easily conveyed these dynamic shifts and allowed for plenty of space and a wonderful openness across the soundstage.
Instruments throughout the entire piece are extremely clear and I sense that everything is perfectly fitted to tell the aural story of this magnificent work. Overall, I found the entire piece to be very consistent with so many parts that I have discovered new elements with each listen. This is not to say anything is hidden, there is simply a lot of aural ecstasy to absorb, allowing one to enjoy it multiple times without feeling as though they have already worn it out!
The bonus CD paints Sanctuary III in a different way, with alternate mixes by Tom Newman. Additionally, check out the 22 minutes “The Moonsinger Suite” which adds another angle to the Sanctuary III story.
Sanctuary III is a must have for Robert Reed fans, and strongly recommended for fans of Magenta and Mike Oldfield. This is another excellent addition to any progressive rock collection and certainly one release surround enthusiasts will want to immerse themselves with. Now I must get back to my sweet spot.
2 CD / 1 DVD edition with 5.1 and 2.0 mixes. Also available on vinyl.