July 8, 2015 Armored Saint – Win Hands Down (Album Review)
Los Angeles, CA stalwarts Armored Saint has been one of Heavy Metal’s most respected bands over the past three decades. Initially put together back in 1982, when the members were still in High School, there have been some on and off years for the bunch as they dove into other projects. Most notably, vocalist John Bush spent over a decade fronting Thrash Metal legend Anthrax, but found his way home to Armored Saint in 1999, which followed with 2000’s Revelations album. Now consistently active since that time, the band return in 2014 with their seventh overall studio album entitled Win Hands Down. With Bush on vocals, Joey Vera on bass, as well as brothers Phil Sandoval on guitar and Gonzo Sandoval behind the kit, along with Jeff Duncan on guitar, this band deserve more recognition than they receive. Released on June 2nd via Metal Blade Records, Win Hands Down has already sold double the number of copies that 2010’s La Raza managed and reached number 71 in the Billboard album chart on release.
The title track opens the album with fighting talk showing this is a band who are not going to surrender, they are going to stand their ground and be crowned Kings of Metal. The track “Mess” arrives with infectious drum beats. Bush is a Classic Metal vocalist, in the veins of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson; powerful and forceful. The song moves through different sections with tribal and Eastern influenced segments; it refers to the way society imposes itself on cultures making things worse not better. Far more fun is “An Exercise in Debauchery,” which is a song dedicated to porn, and this should be a great crowd-pleaser live. Considering the legacy each of us leaves behind is “Muscle Memory,” which is a very reflective and thought-provoking track. Equally as interesting, “That Was Then, Way Back When” is aimed at the over-use of online-social networking and the ridiculousness of being friends online with people you did not even like at school.
Moving along, “With a Head Full of Steam” is a first for the band featuring Pearl Aday. In fact, they have never had female vocals featured before, and she has a considerable pedigree. Pearl is the natural daughter of Janis Joplin’s drummer, before she was adopted by Meat Loaf when he married her mother, she is also the wife of Scott Ian, has been backing singer for Mötley Crüe, and now fronts her own band simply called Pearl. Nevertheless, there are some great harmonies in this track and Aday’s voice cuts through well while complementing Bush’s own vocal style. “In an Instant” is about the Boston Marathon bombing and a soft acoustic strumming builds into a full on Metal anthem. Striking and deep, the song sums up the anger and the disbelief felt at the time of the terrorist attack. “Dive” features another first for Armored Saint with the use of the piano as lead instrument. With this song, the aim was to write a dark, sweet piece, and it certainly reveals another side to the band while really suiting Bush’s vocals well. Last up is the irreverent “Up Yours,” a stick-it-to-the-man song that should be easy for most to relate to.
A really strong album that has plenty of energy and hunger, this is Metal as it is meant to be played; commanding vocals, formidable drumming, and weighty guitars. Each track is distinctive and different, it is rich in quality along with a variety of Classic Rock and Metal with giant ambitions. With Bush and Vera being the driving force behind the songwriting, they have always brought to the table the desire to be a big name in Metal while not having to stick to formula’s and enabling them to push the boundaries. Sometimes songs are serious, sometimes tongue in cheek, but always quality. If Armored Saint was underrated and overlooked before, this should get them noticed for sure. CrypticRock gives Win Hands Down 4.5 out of 5 stars.