Symbol Of Salvation

Armored Saint

Metal Blade, 2003

REVIEW BY: Paul Hanson


Armored Saint is a legend, but they have never enjoyed much commercial success. Early in their career, they were grouped in the same batch of bands that Metallica emerged from. I have never paid much attention to their career.

I vaguely remember seeing a video for "Reign of Fire" on an episode of MTV's Headbanger's Ball and then completely forgetting this release. I had no idea that this release was the result of coming through the tragedy of losing their guitarist David Pritchard to heaven. Following this relase, and fast-forwarding a few years, vocalist John Bush found his way into Anthrax. Now, in 2003, Symbol Of Salvation is being re-issued with an extra CD of the 4 track demos that were recorded between 1988 and 1991. More about that in a minute.

This release kicks off with the anthem "Reign of Fire," which serves as a good introduction to the band. It shouldn't be an insult to say this song sounds like the 80s because it was released on the downward spiral of 80s metal bands. The power of this song is the tightness of the individual parts. The guitar and drums synch early and don't separate throughout the song. Bassist Joey Vera locks in with drummer Gonzo and satisfies me as a rhythm section.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

I like the other songs on this release better though. "Last Train Home" sticks out for the way Bush sings "Last Train Home," holding the notes to give the lyrics a powerful effect. I can imagine crowds going nuts when he gets to the chorus. "Tribal Dance" starts out with a lot of percussion before launching into what has to be a truly classic riff. Drummer Gonzo plays patterns on his toms that are interesting. Another standout track is "Hanging Judge."

The overall feeling I get from the CD portion of this re-issue is that this is a good metal CD. Then I put in the CD demos and I realize that the rough beginnings of these songs have brilliance of their own. The demos, as you would expect, are rougher versions of the final release. The main thrust or appeal of the demos is that you can hear what now-deceased guitarist Dave Pritchard had in mind when he crafted these riffs. "Tribal Dance" is presented in its primitive format without the percussion introduction. So, after you navigate through the final version of these songs, hear the demos of these songs, you get to listen to the band talk about these songs. Brian Slagel, a bigwig at Metal Blade Records, leads the band through a detailed account of the history of the band in the epoch of preparing to write, writing, and then regrouping to record these songs.

Even as a non-fan, I found the interview to be intriguing. Slagel does a tremendous job of keeping the band on track, discussing each song's origin. You get an insight into what other bands never seem to want to fully disclose: their creative process. Here, though, Armored Saint is stripped down, talking about what songs the band liked and didn't like, who came up with the basic ideas, and, as you might expect, the role guitarist Pritchard played in writing the riffs and how current guitarists Jeff Duncan and Phil Sandoval took the Pritchard's spirit to craft the final version.

Even though these songs sound like the 80s, they have aged well. Bush is as accomplished of a vocalist as is possible in the world of music. His range is dynamic and his emotions ring in his delivery. The riffs of Pritchard show the genius of a man whose time came too soon. And while this was, perhaps, designated to be a tribute to their fallen comrade, I found this release to also be designated as a treat for their fans that have loved this CD, mostly understanding the media's version of what the band went through to come out on the other side. Now, you get the band's version. It is well worth the wait and the time to either rediscover or discover the power of this band.

Rating: A

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© 2003 Paul Hanson and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Metal Blade, and is used for informational purposes only.