"Win Hands Down"

By Dr. Abner Mality

The arrival of a new Armored Saint album is always a cause for celebration in Mality-ville. We don't get too many of them, for one thing. And for another, they may just be the great American metal band (apologies to Metallica, Pantera, Slayer, et al.) Let's sit back and crack open "Win Hands Down" and see what we've got.

The title track starts with a furious squall of heavy guitar distortion...this record sounds HUGE! A massive production brings out the best in every instrument. Everything is dense and LOUD. Already this album is obviously heavier and more jacked than "La Raza", the last Saint album that was rather laid back (though not without its charms). I can't overstate how great everything sounds here, especially the smoky, soulful vocals of John Bush. What a natural and powerful metal singer this guy distinctive in a sea of guys who sound alike with their roars and screeches! The HUGENESS continues with "Mess", another up-tempo power metal track that features some curves like sitar and lots of backing vocals. The songs on this album sound like traditional Armored Saint but in some ways are structured more unusually than in the past. "An Exercise in Debauchery" keeps the metal flowing with another headbanging cut...Jeff Duncan and Phil Sandoval are totally shredding it on guitar and bassist supreme Joey Vera gets to show his chops off as well. It's good to hear Joey every five years or so, because you forget how much he blows away most other bassists.

With "Muscle Memory", we get something a little different, more based on rhythm than just plain hammering riffs. A song that takes a while to digest. "That Was Then, Way Back When" and "With A Full Head of Steam" are back to breaking necks...the title of the latter song is more than appropriate here! "In An Instant" is a big, dramatic epic with emotional singing from Bush and more HUGE layers of guitar and instrumentation. Then the album detours with the piano based ballad "Dive", the first of its kind for Armored Saint and an interesting experiment. The album ends with a rather playful and irreverent "Up Yours", which doesn't strike me as the best song to end the album with. But that complaint is like attacking Mt Rushmore with a chisel.

This is one of Armored Saint's heaviest and most ambitious albums. For sure, it is their best since "Symbol of Salvation" and it blows "La Raza" right out of the water. The tragedy is that these guys will never have the success of inferior bands like Avenged Sevenfold or Slipknot.

Great American heavy can count on it when you see the name of Armored Saint on an album.