Armored Saint is a simply timeless American Heavy Metal band. Forming in the hotbed of the early L.A. Metal scene, the band forged their legacy by crafting albums that blended the epic strand developed by Black Sabbath/Judas Priest/Iron Maiden, a unique combination of musical chops and keen songwriting, and a tenacity that added up to a near-decade initial run. John Bush’s exodus to join Anthrax saw the band on a long hiatus through most of the ‘90s, though. A rekindled deal with original label, Metal Blade (the legends are plentiful regarding Armored Saint’s fabled history in the primordial Metal stew of the early ‘80s) in 2000, though, was just what the band needed, and they have been going strong for the last two decades. 2020 now sees the release of Punching the Sky, the band’s brand new full-length, full of eleven tracks of devastating madness. The Saint has returned!
“Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” kicks things off and is a fitting opener. There is an unmistakable magic contained within, a regal Metal lineage ever-present beneath the surface. It is in fact the perfect balance of old-school appeal and a salaciously catchy chorus. Once again, the Metal world is witness to the premier display of melody, hooks, and huge, huge riffs. Particularly, the later section of the song has an interesting use of an alternate bridge which serves to break up any potential monotony. Assuredly, after the end of this track, there should be no worry in sight regarding the impact of this much-anticipated album.
While the first track featured a balance of older stylings with a look to the future, the following track, “End of the Attention Span,” is a scorching display of blistering Metal. Beginning with a very dramatic riff reinforced with some very awe-inspiring keyboards, there are tons of riff goodies included such as sharp, biting triplets, and a convergence of the band around a solid groove. Tracks like this are a thrill not only to hear such a classic band once again scorching through compelling material but to hear their new definition of heavy. Simply put, Armored Saint has never sounded so heavy!
The production is simply outstanding on this album. I cannot help but be reminded of the Brave New World album when Bruce rejoined Iron Maiden – it was such a massively heavier sound. The same is true with this album. One really gets the feeling that these songs are a true reflection of the band’s intention. The rhythm section has always been a strong part of the band’s sound especially as bassist Joey Vera greatly contributes to the writing process. The groove maintained between Vera’s nimble bass playing and Gonzo Sandoval’s drumming constantly keeps the music ever moving forward. The two-guitar attack of Phil Sandoval and Jeff Duncan also benefits from the wonders of recording technology with myriad tones ranging from pristine cleans, chunky rhythms, and expressive soloing. This is an album with a meticulous dedication to a sound to really push the boundaries of the genre further.
While the first track borders on seven minutes, most of the others hover around the four to five-minute mark. Most bands usually stick the longest track at the end, but Armored Saint indulges that more Prog flirtation before establishing a precedent of lean, mean ragers. Other highlights include the fourth track, “My Jurisdiction,” and the unbelievably infectious eighth track, “Fly in the Ointment”. Overall, the album checks enough boxes for old school fans and pushes their sonic limits far enough to gain notice from those who may otherwise have not been interested. Punching the Sky successfully attains that ever-elusive goal of evolving the band’s sound while retaining the standards that won them fame in the first place. Armored Saint is a band that has always had a unique position, heavier than the more Pop-oriented Metal that was all over radio and MTV at the time yet not quiet Thrash or Speed Metal. As such, Armored Saint is really the equivalent of American Metal royalty, combining a reverence for the genre’s roots and adherence to progress, and we should all be thankful to hear the furtherance of the Saint’s timeless gospel!