Veteran thrashers return after an eight-year hiatus with an album that will surprise fans at first, but will grow into a sure classic over time.
Armored Saint was one of the unsung heroes of the '80s thrash scene. Overshadowed by the Big 4 and plagued with lineup problems, the band never quite achieved the exposure to match the critical praise they received. Albums like March of the Saint and Symbol of Salvation became thrash classics over time, but Armored Saint didn't remain active long enough to see these successes, as Dave Prichard's death from leukemia and John Bush's departure from the band to join Anthrax spelled the end of Armored Saint in 1992. A brief reunion occurred in 1999, resulting in the album Revelation, but when Bush returned to Anthrax in 2001, Armored Saint again fell off the map. 2010 might prove to be the year for Armored Saint, though. With Bush back in the fold, the band's sixth studio album, La Raza, is a surprising effort that departs slightly from the sound of the band's older releases but will satisfy old fans and first-time listeners alike.
La Raza continues musically where Revelation left off, with a slower, groove-oriented sound heavily influenced by Pantera. There are still plenty of thrash elements in the album's sound, especially in the technical solos, but the music is slower and has more of an even flow to it, as opposed to the frenetic riff-fest of March of the Saint. There's a great degree of maturity and craftsmanship in the compositions of La Raza. The groove is matched by an early '90s Metallica hard rock sound, giving the album plenty of accessibility within its intricacy. The exception to the theme is "Little Monkey", which is a straightforward thrash tune with its roots in the band's early work.
Bush outdoes himself in the vocal performance on La Raza. He sings with soul and emotion throughout the album, but still adds aggression to his voice. These subtle nuances in his singing technique are what make Bush such a unique singer. His voice sounds just as good on La Raza as it did on We've Come for You All, his best album with Anthrax and his most recent studio album before La Raza. The fact that We've Come for You All came out in 2003 and Bush still sounds as good now as he did then is a testament to what a talented and dedicated performer he is. Even when singing comedic or silly lyrics, such as on "Little Monkey" or "Bandit Country", Bush has the technique and the talent to make them sound just as serious and intense as the most controversial, politically-charged lyric sung by any other band.
Armored Saint may not be the most commonly spoken name in the thrash scene, but they are undoubtedly a talented group of musicians that can play with the genre's best. La Raza is their chance to diversify and express the full range of their skills and influences. To do so almost three decades after forming is an ambitious gamble, but it has paid off hugely. This album will rank as one of the band's best because of the risks involved and the expansion that resulted from it. Like many of their predecessors, Armored Saint is breaking the mold in thrash, and in time, other bands are sure to follow their example and influence.