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March of the Aging Saint - 70%

raoulduke25, August 18th, 2015

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 of their 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.

Originally written for

Glory bound? - 75%

Diamhea, June 3rd, 2015

A distant five years ago La Raza did surprisingly little for me, and while it was great to see the classic Armored Saint lineup (sans Prichard of course) return with a followup to the obscure and naturally underrated stopgap Revelation, the sequel to Symbol of Salvation many of us were pining for just wasn't in the cards at the time. My anticipations were measured when Win Hands Down was announced some months back, yet here we are with another Armored Saint record stuffed to the gills with classic metal riffage and infectious vocal lines. I personally found great relief in the fact that the band's distinctive (albeit spartan) style has survived the last twenty-something years with the majority of its integrity intact, and the fact that Bush sounds as motivated as I can remember in recent years is another huge plus.

But at the same time, Win Hands Down is without a doubt post-reformation Armored Saint, which means that the band is much more open to experiment with modern trappings as opposed to steadfast reliance on their original heavy/speed metal nucleus. This obviously means that this is quite far removed from Symbol of Salvation, although to its credit the album does feature a high level of variation and features enough throwback moments to get the heart pumping. Consistency is somewhat suspect, as I found the B-side of the album a somewhat unnerving listen when forced to follow up the spectacular opening trio of songs. The singular highpoint as far as I am concerned is "Mess," which features the most classic Saint chorus here, and is the one song that could fit seamlessly on Symbol of Salvation; easily the greatest tune the band has penned since then. "Muscle Memory" features some gleaning acoustic melodies and excels within the "Last Train Home" template pursuant to its slightly longer running time, and "That Was Then, Way Back When" features a smattering of gusto to go along with John's nostalgic ode to a time before social media became omnipresent; he certainly won't get an argument from me.

And with plenty of classic Saint riffage ingrained within, Win Hands Down finds a way to mitigate some of its shakier moments by virtue of its origins alone. Despite featuring an interesting trade-off with a female vocalist, "With a Full Head of Steam" would be pretty a pretty standard radio rocker if not for Phil's guitar patterns redolent of the burlier moments on Raising Fear. But while "Muscle Memory" earns more than a passing grade, "In an Instant" feels far too understated and formulaic to warrant such length. Bush himself saves the day on "Dive," which is a very moody pseudo-ballad hampered only by the fact that it follows up the already low-key "In an Instant." In a way, I don't really agree with the track placement here, and my initial concerns spawned by a cursory glance at the track lengths is mostly realized.

That said, a kinetic, tactile crawl through Win Hands Down proves that the band is still functioning on a high level, and are at least wise enough to carry over most of their original appeals, woven throughout a slightly more alternative template with Bush's idiosyncratic set of pipes manning the ship. I don't think that this will change many minds out there, especially those that were impartial to La Raza, but I did find it a superior twin in both style and arguable substance to its direct predecessor. A functional effort, albeit somewhat lopsided, Win Hands Down is yet another solid entry in the (hopefully) ever-growing catalogue of one of heavy metal's most chronically underrated acts. The Saints have already conquered long ago, but these old men can still teach us a thing or two.

Promo courtesy of The Metal Observer