ARMORED SAINT – “La Raza” CD ’10 (Metal Blade, US) – All-timers are a tough thing to tussle with. I’m talking about the ones that occupy that special wing of the Grand Halls…the room with the extra security guard who used to be a Green Beret, the state-of-the-art system that monitors the levels of dust in the air to the millionth of a particle. And let’s not even talk about the inch-thick bullet-proof glass. Point is, for me, the names include things like “Stained Class,” “Vol. 4” and “Black Rose: A Rock Legend” and talking about them is often wordy, difficult and full of circular references. I suppose that’s because trying to encapsulate records that have had such a massive impact on me over time is a mammoth task, a bit akin to describing the Grand Canyon in a sentence. California metal band ARMORED SAINT was the author of another of the Raysrealm all-timers when they put their signatures on 1991’s “Symbol Of Salvation.” I can’t think of another record that has taken the leave-it-in-your-car-forever-roll-down-the-windows-and-crank-this-mutha-up factor to a higher level than this monster. Featuring a wealth of music previously penned by their fallen (to leukemia, sadly) guitarist Dave Pritchard, “Symbol…” delivers one bad-assed classic after another: “Reign Of Fire,” “Dropping Like Flies,” “Last Train Home,”…ok, the entire track listing. Since then, SAINT vocalist John Bush (once considered by Metallica as a frontman) has gone on to enjoy success in tenures with Anthrax, appearing on a couple quite decent albums like “Sound Of White Noise.” SAINT reconvened with the “Symbol…” line-up for 2000’s “Revelation,” a record that, while not nearly as good as it’s predecessor, still showed that some fire remained. Now, some 10 years later, we see the same line-up again come together to deliver another platter. The question is, is it the goods?
Part of the point of my lengthy (yeah, I know, typically Ray-like!) intro above is just that. Sometimes delivering the goods involves more than just a Judas Priest title. Sometimes it involves understanding that it’s never a good idea to try to replicate past glories. Too often, you end up with a…um…replication of past glories, that is, a lesser-than shadow of something that simply can’t be duplicated. In a sense, I think that’s what happened with ARMORED SAINT’s effort on “Revelation.” They tried, even if subconsciously, to do “Symbol’s” sequel. There seemed to be a feeling in that record of emulating Pritchard’s songwriting style and the result, while still decent (likely because A.S. is such a good band anyway) was not even nearly as fulfilling to the listener. Well, my friends, I think that ARMORED SAINT has found their lesson well learned with “La Raza.” The point is, you are not going to be hearing something that sounds like “Symbol Of Salvation II” when you press “play” on this thing. What you are going to find waiting for you is a record that is fresh, vital and ARMORED SAINT in 2010, comfortable in their own skin and better for it. You don’t have to wait any longer than “Loose Cannon.” Sure, John Bush’s vocals come roaring out of the box with the same throaty, mid-range swagger they’ve always had. But listen to that layering on the pre-chorus, the nifty little guitar fills that put a smile on my face. Different and I like it. Same with “Head On.” The organ (!!!) intro is something new and sets the mood perfectly and only makes the riffs of Phil Sandoval & Jeff Duncan that much heavier when they crash in. Bush sounds like he’s having the time of his life at the cool funky break (3:42) when he croons “Like an old dawg,” and when he hits the super-hook-laden chorus, he’s flying. Somehow this all merges as smooth as silk with the blistering guitar solo that dominates the middle of the song. And, sign-post moments like these abound. “Chilled” has a sort of old-Doobies-meets-metal vibe, massive chorus included and the title cut could almost be a clandestine meeting of SAINT with Santana circa. “No One To Depend On!”
The beauty of it all is that with “La Raza,” ARMORED SAINT have kept true to their metal roots while letting their sound breathe and grow. In the process, they’ve created what can only be described as a diverse and even panoramic rock album that nearly anyone you know, from underground to mainstream would dig. In addition, there is also a very nice thread of acknowledgement to some of the band members’ Hispanic culture and urban background and how it relates to the entire human race, lyrically as well as musically. In short, “La Raza” is an album that should be getting massive airplay on your local FM rock station right now. It’s great and if your next door neighbors heard it, they’d probably think so too. So, play the sumbitch for ‘em – now. Who Dat Gonna Beat Dem Saints