Armored Saint – Symbol Of Salvation Live
Metal Blade Records
Release Date: 22/10/2021
Running Time: 01:08:10
Review by Simon Black
Armored Saint are ones of those bands who really, really, really ought to be much bigger than they currently are. I first came across them when I was given a DJ promo copy of the studio version of “Symbol Of Salvation” way back when and was blown away by a record that across its thirteen songs did not have a duff one amongst them. What I didn’t know at the time was that this was the fifth record from these boys, so what I had taken as an explosive debut was the result of a decade of hard work. That’s work done mainly upstream at a time when America only seemed to care for Hair Metal or Thrash Metal, whilst they ploughed the Power Metal furrow, arguably ahead of Helloween, settling the point, once and for all, why the USA variant is so different from its ultimately more dominant European counterpart.
This was Power Metal with way more groove and soul. Then there was John Bush’s incredible voice – a voice that Metallica once tried to lure away and which ultimately Anthrax succeeded in doing, killing off Armored Saint for a decade, by which time the world had moved on and not helped the fact that Bush still could not let Anthrax go properly until Joey Belladonna’s return in 2005. They’ve been facing an uphill struggle ever since, which is a shame, because I can’t fault any of their recent studio offerings at all – 2015’s “Win Hands Down” and last year’s “Punching The Sky” are absolute masterworks as far as I am concerned, but they don’t quite hold a candle to the last album of the classic line up, which turned out to be original guitarist Dave Prichard’s obituary before his tragically early death from leukaemia in 1990. So, dusting this album down for its thirtieth anniversary makes perfect sense and the band fortunately laid these live shows down way back in 2018 in readiness. Add to this there’s a filmed version of the show in the works, with both recordings being captured at New York’s Gramercy Theatre.
Bush is one of those singer’s whose power has not been diminished by age, even though the tuning may have dropped the odd semitone to help him along, but that makes the material sound darker and heavier than its original recording. That really helps, as even a riotously up-tempo belter like opener ‘Reign Of Fire’ (still the Saint song as far as I’m concerned) sounds better with this darker underbelly. The original recordings always suffered in my eyes, as my ageing vinyl copy never belted out too loud even when turned up to eleven as a consequence of the physical challenges of squeezing fifty-five minutes’ worth of material onto a single disk, so it wasn’t until the coming of the digital age that I could hear a reasonable remastering of this. This live recording goes way farther – the sound is rich, fat and heavier than a two ton heavy thing. Add to which Bush’s performance is absolutely top notch here, with not a note or syllable dropped and although the audience don’t sound too loud, the atmosphere is positively electric.
This release is pretty good value for money too, as well as all thirteen original songs being given the live treatment, plus a radio edit of the title track, but more interestingly five demo tracks featuring Prichard which never made it to the final album. The contrast in Bush’s voice is really obvious played back to back, but his live delivery has a maturity and richness that he lacked in those younger days. Much as I love the original I suspect I’m probably more likely to re-spin this live version in its entirety, as it’s got that darker edge and timbre that the band’s current incarnation has developed combined with some of their absolute best songs in their thirty-seven year career.
‘Spineless’ (Official Video from “Symbol Of Salvation Live”)
01. Reign Of Fire
02. Dropping Like Flies
03. Last Train Home
04. Tribal Dance
05. The Truth Always Hurts
06. Half Drawn Bridge
07. Another Day
08. Symbol Of Salvation
09. Hanging Judge
11. Burning Question
12. Tainted Past
14. Nothing Between The Ears (1989 4-Track Demo)
15. Get Lost (1989 4-Track Demo)
16. Medieval Nightmares (1989 4-Track Demo)
17. People (1989 4-Track Demo)
18. Pirates (1989 4-Track Demo)
19. Symbol Of Salvation (Live Radio Edit)
Joey Vera – Bass
Gonzo Sandoval – Drums
Phil Sandoval – Guitars
John Bush – Vocals
Jeff Duncan – Guitars
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