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Thursday, April 01, 2010

CD Review: Armored Saint - La Raza

Armored Saint - La Raza
2010 Metal Blade Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Of all the old guard metal bands to resurface this year, one of the most-embraced is Armored Saint. One thing's for sure, ever since the passing of Dave Prichard, Saint fans have only gotten small doses of the group, but when they have, it's counted for much. Both Symbol of Salvation and Revelation are treats for their fans, even if released in hard times for American metal. Symbol of Salvation is regarded by many Armored Saint fans as equal to their breakout classic March of the Saint, if not better.

The story behind the short-sailing of the Saint through latter-day red times falls upon the shoulders of John Bush, who still today carries more burden than he should for taking Anthrax in a bold direction. Granted, of the Bush era 'thrax releases, the best are inarguably Sound of White Noise and We've Come for You All. To the naysayers of John Bush-era Anthrax, look out. There's some legal mumbo jumbo to attend to, but it's possible he might be rescuing Worship Music in part or even the entire endeavor now that Scott Ian and company have parted ways with Dan Nelson before that new regime even got its chance.

There's a reason John Bush worked in Anthrax. It's because he's a damned good singer who, like Ronnie James Dio, Rob Halford or Udo Dirkschneider, has a signature cadence to any project he lends his pipes to. Bush is fluid, on-the-dime, occasionally soulful and all you'd want in a classic metal frontman. He's a clockpuncher of his trade, which is meant as a compliment. John Bush checks in, puts in a hard shift and the output is always exemplary. Thus his place in Armored Saint is irreplaceable, which is one reason we've waited a decade for the band to issue new product.

Of course, everyone knows Joey Vera enjoyed a healthy stint in Fates Warning, as well as Engine, Chroma Key, OSI and of course, a fill-in gig for Frank Bello in the 'thrax alongside his good buddy John Bush. Thankfully, Vera reached out to Bush following the Belladonna-in-Belladonna-out chaos and confusion in the Anthrax camp, a quirky fallout which also left Bush himself a casualty.

Wrangling Phil and Gonzo Sandoval back onto their mounts for another metal brigade charge out of Los Angeles, Armored Saint, 4/5ths represented from their glory days prove there's plenty of magic and stealth after a ten year layoff with their no-nonsense latest album, La Raza.

Translated from Spanish as "the people" or "the race," and ironically the handle of Los Angeles radio station 97.9, Armored Saint imports a few flamenco nods in the form of acoustic intros and backing percussion on La Raza. Otherwise, this album plays straight to Armored Saint's strengths between March of the Saint, Delirious Nomad and Raising Fear, only with a modern spit shine buffed out by vets of the scene.

"Head On," "Get Off the Fence," "La Raza" and "Blues" are dialed up straight from the vintage Sunset Saint catalog, yet there's a refinement and spiffier production courtesy of Joey Vera, Bryan Carlstrom and Alice in Chains' Dave Jerdan (who also helmed Symbol of Salvation) which makes the analog Chrysalis years of Armored Saint seem primitive. "Get Off the Fence" and "Blues" whip up a Guns 'n Roses and L.A. Guns nuance in addition to their own brand of rope-skipping power metal and it's thrilling how easy they make it sound.

La Raza makes no pretentions about remaining true to Armored Saint's past, yet the opening number "Loose Cannon" is one the group's finest-penned tunes ever, building from a War-esque calypso tap-tempo and a harrowing acoustic intro before galloping with a knowing pride they'll hook their audience instantly. "Loose Cannon" wields a fabulous chorus, a hard-driving beat and riff strikes which will have forty-somethings air guitaring with misty eyes. It summons a rare case of back-that-sucka-up which will make it hard to let the rest of the album come forth.

Let it ride, because "Left Hook from Right Field" is metallic genius in its stationary chord changes, set to rolling toms and wicked wristing. A reserved bridge allows John Bush to soften up his vocals in preparation for a raunchy guitar solo and finally a double-hammer slam-dunk from Gonzo in the finale. They should've called this one "Crunch Hooks from Our Peavey Stacks."

"Chilled" is another LA-bled rock tapper with shadowy verses, high hat spritzing, slick vocals (both on the front and back) and a steady bass throb from Joey Vera. It's as much Keel and Dokken in feel as it is Armored Saint, which is more agreeable than one might think. Santana-felt percussion slaps and bass lines usher in the title track. It rumbles on the legs of Gonzo, who stays behind-the-beat on the verses then shifts tempo altogether on the slower, uplifting choruses. Hang out for a terrific series of conga and string washes in the middle section of the 6:40 mini epic. This branching out on "La Raza" shows Armored Saint eyeing an inspired future while never losing sight of their identity.

Recording in today's scene with fancier equipment and the marks of long-standing professionalism, Armored Saint demonstrates a willingness to be true to themselves and to their roots instead of huckstering their respected name in a false guise. La Raza is exceptionally smart in its business and it comes within striking distance of Symbol of Salvation and March of the Saint.

If you were foolish enough to ask if Armored Saint could deliver after all this time, spin and hear for yourselves. Plainly stated, La Raza is one of the finest pure metal albums of the year.

Rating: ****

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Man. I am loving this album, but then get a bit confused. It has moments of absolute brilliance then some mistakes is all I can say. Obvious is Little Monkey. Although the nice leads over this awful progression save it somewhat. But then there well is a band bend, an awkward transission.
I love it but it sure could have done with final brush.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Good thoughts, anon...I like someone who listens for certain things others might not be

Jaredshdm said...

Good thoughts, anon...I like someone who listens for certain things others might not be