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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Armored Saint

Win Hands Down

Review by Mike Korn

You can make a pretty strong case that Armored Saint is the great American metal band. Active since the early 80s, they’ve been on the cusp of big success but sadly never got the rewards they were due. At this stage of the game, Saint releases albums mostly for themselves, with no expectation of a breakthrough in an age where honest metal seems to be an afterthought. Win Hands Down is such an effort and it’s a great example of their visceral yet thoughtful craftsmanship.

This album seems to be the loudest and most densely packed Saint ever. Each song has multiple layers of guitar and rhythm, creating songs that deserve to be heard more than once. There’s raw aggression but not to the point of thrash or death metal. There are also catchy hooks but not to the point of poppiness. This is a band that can be called straight up heavy metal. It’s a real pleasure to crank up and get carried away by the music.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2015  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Win Hands Down

A huge fierce squall of guitar noise and feedback gives way to fast, heavy riffing. Then the warm and smoky vocals of John Bush introduce themselves. Bush has an instantly recognizable style that makes him one of the best in the business. The chorus is something you won’t be able to get out of your head easily. This is the perfect introduction to Armored Saint…driving, crunchy metal with enormous hooks.

Mess

They keep the heaviness going with this pounder. Thunderous drumming from Gonzo and constantly active guitars from the team of Sandoval and Duncan make their mark here. This is a pretty complex metal tune with a lot of moving parts. There’s an unexpected break with sitar music that will catch you by surprise. The lyrical theme is very pointed, about the constantly growing mass of waste that is choking our consumer-oriented society.

An Exercise in Debauchery

More social commentary is presented here as the band sarcastically tackles the subject of internet pornography…debauchery at the touch of a finger.  This is classic Armored Saint metal of the type they’ve been doing since their March of the Saint album. Bush’s vocals are just superb and the guitars are on the attack throughout. There’s also some super cool funky bass work from Joey Vera.

Muscle Memory

Things cool down here quite a bit. The song opens in moody fashion with fat bass picking and subdued guitar melody. That gives John Bush the space to deliver some introspective lyrics. The song heavies up but doesn’t get to quite the level of the previous bulldozer tracks. It’s a thoughtful tune with a killer chorus that takes more than one listen to appreciate.

That Was Then, Way Back When

Strap on your crash helmets, because this sucker is heavy. It’s a forceful, steamrolling metal tune with lyrics about the hypocrisy of trying to relive the past through the internet. One of the things that separates Armored Saint from the pack is that they talk about real, personal issues instead of the typical metal fantasy and gore.

With A Full Head of Steam

Surprisingly, this song starts in a low key mode, but it isn’t long before it lives up to its title, building to a furious pace like a train rolling full blast down the tracks. There are some cool multi-tracked melodic vocals that chime in here, and Bush does a great vocal duet with singer Pearl Aday (daughter of Meat Loaf and wife of Anthrax’s Scott Ian). This is a real exhilarating fast metal tune that’s my favorite on the disc.

In An Instant

Here’s a song about how disaster can change your life in an instant. It’s the longest and most progressive song on the album, mixing soft acoustic portions with huge doses of hammering power chords. The vocal melodies are just outstanding. and Bush has never sounded more convincing. There are lots of time changes and twists on this one, with room for all the players to shine.

Dive

Here’s something quite different for the Saint…a piano-based ballad. It works because of John Bush’s sensitive vocals and the way it slowly adds acoustic, drums and restrained electric guitar to the song.  It’s a melancholy sounding cut complete with bluesy guitar solos. It does get heavier but never really loses its balladic quality.

Up Yours
The placement of this tune kind of baffles me. A driving metal tune, this is the closest the album comes to average. It should have exchanged places with “In an Instant”, which would have been a more satisfying conclusion. It’s not bad, just a “typical” Armored Saint song.
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