Armored Saint have seen their fair share of turmoil and disruption. They disbanded in 1992 after the death of key guitarist Dave Prichard two years before, then reformed in the late 90s.
One shining light before that first hiatus was the critically acclaimed 1991 album Symbol of Salvation, a lot of which had been written by Prichard. To commemorate the 30th anniversary of that remarkable album, a live rendition of the full album is being released in CD/DVD format. It captures the band in July, 2018, ripping through the live set at New York’s Gramercy Theatre with clear sound, and crisp black and white visuals. Most of it is from the third show of the tour. Between songs, John Bush offers up some brief anecdotes, partially reminiscing and expanding on how certain songs came to be. None of it is overly sentimental but does show the deep, heartfelt respect band members and the audience have for the legacy of the band.
First track Reign of Fire is almost a sonic mission statement. The powerful presence of Bush and Joey Vera is immediately evident. Backing vocals from all members join in unison, with the audience singing the chorus back, and this is a theme throughout the show. Straight off the bat, the guitar tones of Phil Sandoval and Jeff Duncan work together perfectly, with the twin guitar attack seamlessly interchanging leads. Sandoval obviously does the bulk of the leads but Duncan is no slouch and, where needed, can match the technique skills of Sandoval.
Dropping Like Flies is a highlight. It’s a hammering beast of heavy metal with Gonzo Sandoval’s drumming giving the band a solid groove. Harmony guitar lines ensue whilst next track, the fantastic Last Train Home, intersperses haunting parts with aggressive, climactic guitar soloing and key changes. The percussive Tribal Dance shows off rhythm section prowess and vocal interactions plus hints at some of Armored Saint’s funk influences which probably gave them the edge over many other metal bands back in the day. It flows perfectly into bluesy swagger of The Truth Always Hurts, a song that they very rarely trot out on the live circuit.
The brief instrumental Half Drawn Bridge includes Vera’s understated two-handed bass skills, suitably ushering in the metal ballad Another Day. The song soon enters a double time arrangement and plentiful trade off guitar solos. The title track kicks in with cymbals and riff power whilst Bush screams, alternating between prowling the stage and singing near a fold-back wedge. Split screens show off the twin guitar attack so there’s plenty of visual stimuli going on.
Long term fans will enjoy finally seeing a live performance of the melodic, heavy hitting track, Hanging Judge. Similarly, Burning Question is another deep album track that doesn’t often appear live. Not as heavy or intense as Warzone, it is still decent. Meanwhile, Tainted Past builds with some excellent arrangements and varied instrumentation.
Final track Spineless is an acerbic bolt of percussion filled heavy metal power that closes the album set with bombastic glory. Firing on all cylinders, it’s a stellar closing track and a hammering, wiping the floor of the bulk of possible contenders for a heavy metal crown of the era.
Armored Saint are inexplicably underrated and if you’re somehow not familiar with the band, Symbol of Salvation Live reinforces their hard earned reputation. This live release also indicates how much live power they still possess to this day, and the quality of their song writing. Thirty years on and the material is still as strong as ever. If there was any justice in the world, they’d have a seriously huge profile and the proof is in this great live performance.
Reign of Fire
Dropping Like Flies
Last Train Home
The Truth Always Hurts
Half Drawn Bridge
Symbol of Salvation