Armored Saint – Punching The Sky
2020 Metal Blade Records
This will sound elitist, but it’s really not. Armored Saint is the best Heavy Metal band you’ve never heard of. If you happen to have heard of them, then you’re one of the lucky ones to witness the brilliance of this band. If you haven’t heard of them, that’s ok. They’ve never really hit that top level of fame. Here’s a not so brief rundown of their career:
Formed in 1982 in Los Angeles California, they quickly became one of the top draws on the LA club circuit playing a style of traditional English heavy metal with an American twist. They put out and EP (extended play) on Metal Blade Records (one of the first releases on the label) that quickly got the attention of the major labels. Unfortunately, as it would turn out, they signed with Chrysalis Records. Not known for their Metal roster, the band thought that since they were the only real Heavy Metal act on the label they would get special promotion.. they were wrong. After spending way too much money producing their first record, 1984’s ‘March Of The Saint’ and a Mad Max inspired video for ‘Can U Deliver’, their full length debut record only sold modestly. Chrysalis never knew what to do with them, and after 2 more strong albums that performed under commercial expectations, 1985’s ‘Delirious Nomad’ and 1987’s ‘Raising Fear’, they were dropped. They went back to their home on Metal Blade Records. After releasing a stopgap live EP, 1988’s ‘Saints Will Conquer’ they started writing what many consider to be not just their best album, but one of the finest Metal albums of all time; 1991’s ‘Symbol Of Salvation’. But before they could record it, tragedy struck as founding guitar player Dave Prichard passed away in 1990 of Leukemia. He was replaced by friend of the band, guitarist Jeff Duncan. Even though they had received the most critical acclaim they’d ever had, the death of their friend weighed heavily and when metal heavyweights Anthrax made vocalist John Bush an offer to fill their vacant vocalist spot, the draw of being in a much more commercially successful band was too great and Armored Saint effectively ended. While Anthrax was on a break in 1999, the ‘Symbol Of Salvation’ lineup reformed, recorded and toured behind their comeback record; 2000’s ‘Revelation’. The following year a rare track compilation record, ‘A Nod To The Old School’ followed. With Anthrax back in action, the Saint was on the shelf again. In 2005, the ‘Among The Living’ era lineup of Anthrax reformed for a reunion tour. At this time, John Bush said his involvement with Anthrax was over. Armored Saint toured again in 2006 and then in 2010 released an album of all new material called ‘La Raza’, followed by ‘Win Hands Down’ in 2015. Another live album, ‘Carpe Noctum’ followed in 2017. Bringing us to present day. Despite the pandemic postponing new albums from many bands, Armored Saint decided to soldier on and release theirs anyway. ‘Punching The Sky’ is another Traditional Metal masterpiece. Every single Armored Saint record is excellent and John Bush is one of the most consistently great vocalists in Rock/Metal history. I’ve seen him perform live on four different occasions (once with Anthrax and three times with Armored Saint) and he’s hit one bad note over a total of those four shows. You honestly can’t go wrong picking up any of their releases and ‘Punching The Sky’ is no exception. Like their last handful of albums it was produced by bassist Joey Vera. The sound and mix are great, all the instruments are clear and up front and despite getting older, John Bush is still at the top of his vocal game delivering another impressive performance. They’ve always had a knack for writing catchy melodies and choruses, and the first single, “Standing On the Shoulders Of Giants” is another in a long line of great sing along choruses. There are mid-tempo and slower rockers that keep the album interesting that all have great riffs and solos. Another fantastic effort from the Saint. Highly recommended.
In all honesty, are these guys reinventing the Metal-wheel? No, but it’s a solid album. In a normal year it still would have been in my top 10, but they may have benefited from some of the other heavyweights of the genre holding their albums back until they can tour behind them. That remains to be seen. Regardless, the album is worth your time, as is the band in general.
Ozzy Osbourne – Diary Of A Madman
1981 Jet Records
One of the classic debates among Ozzy fans and heavy metal fans alike is what album is better, Ozzy’s first solo album ‘Blizzard Of Ozz’, or his second, ‘Diary Of A Madman’. After being fired from Black Sabbath, Ozzy regrouped and discovered Randy Rhoads, a guitar wizard who was one of the founding members of LA’s ‘Quiet Riot’ and a Sunset Strip rival of one, Eddie Van Halen. While EVH’s guitar was kind of a controlled mayhem, Randy’s playing was daring but refined, as he was a student of classical music and classical guitar.
It made a very interesting twist in his playing as his riffs were heavy but his solo’s were so distinct and beautiful at times. A good lead guitar player can stick a lot of notes and play them well in a solo, a GREAT lead player tells a story with their solo’s and that’s what Randy did. After the bands previously mentioned classic debut, ‘Blizzard Of Ozz’ was a surprise hit, they quickly got back to the studio to record the follow up. The story goes that they were rushed, and some of Randy’s solo ideas were rushed, even resulting in the demo guide solo being used in the final version of ‘Little Dolls’. As far as the debate? I fall on the side of this album. While the debut is classic, you’d be hard pressed to find a better album-opening combo than ‘Over The Mountain’ and ‘Flying High Again’. For me though, the albums highlight is the 6+ minute album closer, the eerie and epic title track. Containing some of the most stunning acoustic playing you’ll ever hear in a metal track and classic riff after classic riff, not to mention another fantastic Randy solo and Ozzy delivering his vocals in an absolute perfect compliment to the music, this may the best solo track in Ozzy’s impressive catalogue. Unfortunately on the supporting tour Randy was tragically killed in a freak plane accident, and we’ll never know if they would have been able to top this classic. I don’t know they could have, but I would love to have heard them try.
Like I said earlier, next month I’ll get back to what I said I’d do in my next column and feature a couple records heavy on vibe. Until next time, thank you for reading and if you have any suggestions, find me on Instagram and let me know and I’ll see what I can do.