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Armored Saint: Win Hands Down

Writing about Armored Saint makes me nostalgic. See, I heard Armored Saint for the first time just before March of the Saint came out. I was listening, so I remember, to KMET, a hard rock station in Southern California. I think there was a metal show back then, but it could have just been a local spotlight of some sort. Anyway, they played either "March of the Saint" or "Can U Deliver?" and I was hooked. Soon after, I picked up the cassette and have remained a fan of the band ever since. To this day, I still get the chills when I listen to "March of the Saint." It's so majestic and strong. I know that the production on that first album isn't the best, but the younger version of me will always cherish the band's dynamic and dramatic music no matter how it sounded.

OK, so I'm indulging in nostalgia and not getting around to my review. Don't worry, I'm getting to it. First, though, I need to let you in on a secret that all Armored Saint fans share: this band is special. I can't give all the reasons. Lots of people already know that the band is woefully underrated, sometimes even ignored. I also won't get into the fact that John Bush was considered for Metallica and that other band members lend their considerable talents to other bands and projects. Those things are well known; they are also easy to look up online.

So what makes Armored Saint special? There is no easy answer, of course, but I think it has something to do with the way the guys took metal seriously, played it with power, and stuck to their guns, even after three decades of bad luck and worse timing. This is a talented group of guys. I mean, who doesn't think John Bush has a great voice? He's a force, a metal singer for the ages. And what about the other guys? I won't pay tribute to them all individually, but I think most people would agree that the band has chops, enviable ones. There's also no denying that the body of work the band has delivered has been generally strong. Sure, not everything has been awesome—it's hard to be perfect. Nevertheless, we fans have never lost hope in the Saint's ability to create powerful riffs and to surround them with rock solid vocals and musicianship. We always knew Armored Saint would always reappear, armed and tuned, ready to fight (and play). Too bad they don't perform in armor anymore!

As for the new album, it's impressive—and supercharged. The guys sound like they want to make a big statement, the kind that says "look what you've all been missing." They succeed. I've been listening to the album regularly over the last few days and I like it more and more with each listen. I've also been going through the band's back catalogue to get a better sense of things as a whole. Although the band experiments with things here and there, the album fits well enough with the band's overall sound and style. The best thing about this album is that it feels consistently honest and brave. I found the lyrics to be especially interesting and insightful, of which more in a moment. Though fans will dispute what Armored Saint album (and period) is the best, there's no denying that the band sounds as good as ever. The music is well-written, well-performed, and well-produced. Armored Saint has lost none of its edge. The best songs on the album come mostly in the first half. Things kick off with the impressive and powerful "Win Hands Down." An instant Armored Saint classic, the song leaves no doubt that these guys can still deliver songs that blend anthem-like bravado with human insight. It's a classic. Things carry on just as strongly with "Mess," a reflection on the problems and the tragedies of modern warfare. I won't comment on each track. Let's just say that things continue with effective and memorable tracks like "An Exercise in Debauchery" and "Muscle Memory." Things stretch out a little with the track "In an Instant," an enjoyable track but one that probably didn't need to be nearly 8 minutes long. I also liked the slower "Dive," a track that opens with a piano than the usual guitar. Who knew John Bush had such a sensitive and mellow voice? Although "Dive" may have the feel of a departure from the band's usual style, it didn't feel like anything to worry over. The guys still have their edge; they just wanted to slow things down a bit, try something new. At least it's not a retread of an 80s power ballad. The guitar solo on this track is also pretty great.

Although the music is terrific, fans should not overlook the lyrics. Written by Bush, most of the lyrics offer up reflections on certain aspects of life: politics, fame, bravery, and learning how to live. In this light, I was especially interested in songs like "Mess" because of its reflections on modern warfare, "That Was then, Way Back When," for its examination of the obsession with fame in the internet age, and "An Exercise in Debauchery" for its frank approach to pornography addiction. I could go on, but you get the idea. This is an impressive new release from a great band. My only regret is that I probably won't be able to catch any of their live shows. Do they still perform in armor?

See more about this release on our recent YouTube show!

Track Listing:
1. Win Hands Down
2. Mess
3. An Exercise in Debauchery
4. Muscle Memory
5. That Was Then, Way Back When
6. With a Full Head of Steam
7. In an Instant
8. Dive
9. Up Yours

Added: June 30th 2015
Reviewer: Carl Sederholm
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 2122
Language: english

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Armored Saint: Win Hands Down
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2015-06-30 13:05:57
My Score:

Let's state it right off the bat...Win Hands Down is the best Armored Saint album since 1991s Symbol of Salvation. Truth be told, most of their catalog is pretty strong, but those first four studio albums tend to stick out for most fans as the highlights of their repertoire. That's all going to change with this latest release for Metal Blade Records, a collection of songs so exciting, so invigorating, that you almost have to wonder who lit a fire under the asses of John Bush, Phil Sandoval,
Jeff Duncan, Joey Vera, and Gonzo Sandoval. The title track, "Up Yours", "That Was Then, Way Back When", and especially "Mess" are fiery, trashy, heavy metal riff mongers with potent lyrics and never ending hooks, easily some of the best songs these guys have written in decades. Bush has never sounded better, as he continues to be one of the finest vocalists in metal, and the guitar duo of Sandoval & Duncan have put together a dazzling display of crunchy riffs and blazing solos throughout the album.

Win Hands Down is just one of those albums that keeps getting better and better with each listen, and I've had a hard time taking this out of the CD player the last few weeks.

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