Artist: Armored Saint
Album: Win Hands Down
Label: Metal Blade Records
Armored Saint have been in the business for a long time, with the full-length debut March of the Saint coming out in 1984, just more than thirty years ago. During their early career, they released some great classic heavy metal albums which means that their latest in a string of reunion albums has a lot to live up to. But first off, if you’re expecting eighties-era Armored Saint, just stop right there. No sense in getting all excited for nothing.
This is not a different style altogether; it’s still heavy metal through and through, but it certainly doesn’t have the classic sound that their early works did. But that in itself doesn’t mean that this is an album devoid of quality. It isn’t.
The first thing you’ll notice about this album is that overall, it’s a heavier album: the distortion is denser, the percussion is slightly more violent, the vocals are a little more raw, and the songs are all a good minute or two longer. They still use their signature harmonies in places and the guitar solos are still impressively blistering, perhaps even more so than previous efforts. A few of the tracks feature even that bombastic riffing that earned Armored Saint their reputation in heavy metal so many years ago (check out “An Exercise in Debauchery” for a good example of this). But in spite of all this, the album has a drastically different feel.
If I had to find one word to describe the tone of the album, it would be serious. Gone are the songs about sex, bravado, and partying hard. Instead get ready for some biting lyrics about narcissism, social strata, and the reality of human mortality. Right alongside that, gone are the uplifting major-chord riffs and in come more the downtuned and occasionally atonal riffs. Obviously, Armored Saint have grown up and this album shows it.
One final thing I noticed is that this album is riff-light and solo-heavy. I don’t mean to say that the songs are lacking in riffs, but rather that apart from a few exceptions, what really stands out on this album are the solos; every song has a really kick-ass solo that really adds to the intensity and contour of the song. The number of songs with really well-written riffs are much more seldom. What you end up with is an album that really grabs you by your ears and pulls you in at certain points, but is otherwise a little sterile.
Obviously, I don’t expect late albums from veteran bands to be anywhere near the quality of their early material, but I have to give Armored Saint credit for putting together an album like this. It’s not rehash; they have gone out oftheir way to explore new things whilst still doing a few things that they do well. And on a few of the songs, those explorations have yielded some pretty compelling results.
Final Score: 7/10