Monday, January 19, 2009

Review: Armored Saint - March of the Saint (1984)

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March of the Saint
Chrysalis Records

When thinking of the southern California metal scene in the early 1980s, bands like Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Metallica and Slayer  are usually the first to come to mind. The L.A. region during that time period produced two very distinct styles of metal that heavy music fans everywhere latched onto - the sleaze/glam metal of bands like Ratt and Crüe, and the speed/thrash of Metallica and Slayer. Often lost among the big name bands of that era were groups that traveled a middle road between the two popular styles. Paying homage to their NWOBHM influences without deviating too far from that tried-and-true formula were bands like Omen, Cirith Ungol, Warlord, and Armored Saint. As Metallica and Mötley Crüe rose to superstardom, Armored Saint suffered the effects of poor business decisions and sticking to a "traditional" metal sound. As if adding insult to injury, Metallica  had asked frontman John Bush to become their vocalist just as they were getting underway, but he refused in order to devote his time to Armored Saint.

March Of The Saint was Armored Saint's 1984 full-length debut. The band had released an EP the year before on Metal Blade, but lured away by a popular label with deep pockets they (unwisely) signed with Chrysalis. The biz folks at Chrysalis hadn't a clue how to promote a heavy metal album, so while label mates Billy Idol and Huey Lewis and the News worked their way up the charts, Armored Saint languished in obscurity. One decent decision made by the label was the album's eye-catching artwork, sure to snag the attention of any D & D playing teenager willing to rifle through the album bins looking for bargains (yes, that's how it went for me that fateful day in '84 when I first discovered Armored Saint). But enough of the history lesson.

What Armored Saint did on March Of The Saint was lay down ten tracks of pure, unadulterated heavy metal. At times it's hard not to think that you're listening to a Saxon or Judas Priest album, the adherence to the NWOBHM model is so strict. The twin-guitar attack from Dave Prichard and Phil Sandoval provides the basis on which each song is built, their dueling solos and leads equal to any of their contemporaries. Joey Vera's bass is high in the mix, as it should be, providing plenty of groove and bite. Gonzo (an appropriate name for a drummer) is masterful behind the kit, kicking out some fairly complex patterns in addition to the more pedestrian fills. Bush's vocal performance is of course a highlight. He has that classic metal style - a bit of a sneer mixed with a whole lotta grit.

Unfortunately, despite all of the talent in Armored Saint, March Of The Saint is really only a solidly good album in the grand scheme of things. Nothing here is groundbreaking, nor are there any moments that truly kick you in the ass. The epic beginning of the title track stands out, as do the locomotive riffs and gang choruses on "Mad House" and "Can U Deliver". The album as a whole is enjoyable, as is each song individually. Some would say that in of itself is an accomplishment, and while I don't disagree with that statement, I think today's metal fans are much more demanding than we were back in the day. If it rocked, it was good. For me, March Of The Saint rocks.

This is an excellent album to become acquainted with Armored Saint, and fans who long for that unfiltered heavy metal of the early '80s will undoubtedly find much to enjoy here as well. The simplistic, no-frills heavy metal offered here makes March Of The Saint one of the hidden gems of a bygone era.

Track Listing
1March Of The Saint4:11
2Can U Deliver3:34
3Mad House3:53
4Take A Turn3:50
6Mutiny On The World3:29
7Glory Hunter5:09
8Stricken By Fate3:30
10False Alarm4:14
Total Runtime38:35

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