Tuesday 1 December 2020

Armored Saint - Punching the Sky (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 23 Oct 2020
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John Bush may be remembered primarily as the "other" singer from Anthrax, but I think of him as the lead vocalist of Armored Saint. And, while Joey Vera may see Fates Warning as the bigger gig, I think of him as the bassist of Armored Saint. I've dug this band since March of the Saint in 1984 and I kept up with them into the nineties longer than many other bands. Sadly, they called it a day in 1992, after Bush left for Anthrax, and, until recently, I hadn't realised that they'd got back together in 1999, with this being their fourth studio album since then. It's good to hear new music from them.

However well Bush fit Anthrax's style, and that'll be a neverending debate, he fits this style perfectly. And, as much as I love Anthrax, I prefer him alongside Vera's bass and Phil Sandoval's guitar and it's a joy to hear them barrelling along together on this album. Standing on the Shoulders of Giants kicks things off well, with Vera prominent in the mix without this being bottom heavy, but it's End of the Attention Span that shows that this band is seriously back in business.

There are no poor tracks here, but there are a trio that stand out from the crowd as highlights. End of the Attention Span is the first and it's a highlight from its first notes. The riff is strong, but it's what Sandoval does over it and the held vocal bridge and the Maiden-esque way in which it gallops along and everything the drums both do and don't do and... this song is one of those rarest of gems where every component part is excellent on its own but even better when put together like this.

I mentioned Iron Maiden there and that name comes up a lot when listening to Armored Saint. John Bush has been singing for the Saint since the year that Bruce Dickinson joined Maiden, but it's clear that he's a key influence. However, he doesn't always approach this material in the same fashion that Bruce would and the same goes for everyone else in the band. They've certainly listened to Maiden a lot and there are certainly moments where Vera resembles Steve Harris or Sandoval taps into a Dave Murray sound, but you're never going to mistake one band for the other.

I've always thought of this band as one that others sound like rather than the other way around. This is their sound. For instance, is the early machine gun riff on Do Wrong to None done in the style of Pantera or did Pantera just borrow rather a lot from Armored Saint? I'm going with the latter.

While the album runs on well, it's a while before we hit the next overt highlight and that's Missile to Gun. Again, it makes its presence known immediately with some strong and melodic power chords, for the drums to escalate out of and into the riff that drives this song. Again, the drums gallop onward as if there's no tomorrow and again the chorus is catchy as all get out. It's not that complex a song but I will happily take simpler songs when they sound like this. It's lean and mean and highly effective.

Unfair grabs our attention, with its stripped down opening; it's not a ballad, though it appears to be one for a while. Like everything here, it's a good song, but it's the album closer, Never You Fret, that's the third real standout. It starts out atmospherically, rather like a Hu track, but quickly ratchets up to high gear with some more elegant decoration from Phil Sandoval above the riff. Bush clearly relishes this song too and throws in a lot of emphasis, while Sandoval gets bluesy in the middle. This one isn't remotely as fastas either End of the Attention Span or Missile to Gun, but it stands in their company well and it wraps up this album in style.

This is a really good album and I think it does enough to warrant an 8/10. The songs are good at least and some are truly excellent. The strong production enables us to follow every instrument with ease, meaning that we can see how every musician here contributes not just to the overall effect but with a panache each their own. I noted down a particularly great bass fill in Bubble, but every band member has his equivalent. The ones I haven't mentioned are Gonzo Sandoval on drums, one of four members to have been with Armored Saint since 1982, and rhythm guitarist Jeff Duncan, who's the new fish in a similar way to Dave Gilmour being the new fish in Pink Floyd, having only joined thirty-one years ago.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have at least two Armored Saint albums to catch up on and possibly three.

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