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Armored Saint - "La Raza" (CD)

Armored Saint - "La Raza" CD cover image

"La Raza" track listing:

1. Loose Cannon
2. Head On
3. Left Hook from Right Field
4. Get Off the Fence
5. Chilled
6. La Raza
7. Black Feet
8. Little Monkey
9. Blues
10. Bandit Country

Reviewed by on March 11, 2010

"If they had made Armored Saint a priority over the last ten years we might have gotten an album that was more than half full of good songs."

Armored Saint is the ultimate side project. Despite increasing popularity from their 1982 inception through the early 1990s as a result of good-to-excellent long players, Armored Saint called it quits when vocalist John Bush joined Anthrax and bassist Joey Vera joined Fates Warning (among other bands). Armored Saint reunited to write an album when Anthrax was on hiatus (2000’s “Revelation”) and now that the members’ other high profile commitments have finally subsided Armored Saint is back ten years on with “La Raza.” The album combines twenty year old L.A. “Crue” rock with some modern touches and is pretty good, which makes it disappointing.

Album opener “Loose Cannon” starts with a clave tapping out a Salsa rhythm, which is the first of many Latin touches on “La Raza.” The clave is soon buried by strings and a more standard intro, however. Vera’s bass crawl and power chords start the song itself off and the salsa rhythm and string melody from the intro carry over nicely. An Armored Saint optimist would say “Loose Cannon” is a stripped down hard rock gem, but the cynic calls it a showcase for Vera and Bush, who coincidentally wrote all the music on the album.

Just like the wildly varying opinions of the fans, inconsistency is king on “La Raza.” On the downside: “Head On” is a tepid hard rock puncher with soft hands, particularly the bridge section, solo, and the intermittent and flat blues licks. The acoustic guitars, Red Hot Chili Peppers vibe, atmospheric breaks and grunge feedback on “Black Feet” are all things that Armored Saint isn’t any good at. “Little Monkey” sounds like it was written by a Green Day cover band.

But Armored Saint isn’t completely in hock to twenty year old music clichés. “Get Off the Fence” is a throwback bluesy rocker that does work well, putting Bush’s straightforward delivery next to some changing time signatures and chugging riff jams. “Chilled” is just what the title says but in a good way, and the title track has an irreverent main riff and another excellent extended jam session which is fun for everyone.

The bass and vocals alternate driving and riding shotgun, and the guitars of Jeff Duncan and Phil Sandoval take a backseat. Gonzo Sandoval’s drums might as well be in the trunk. Duncan and Sandoval dutifully play the power chord progressions, pedal effects and solos that were written for them, but the music always forgets and comes back to Vera’s bass and Bush’s vocals. Vera maintains his distinct dexterous style, with each note easily heard above all else, and Bush sounds like he always has – his confident and distinct manner making up for a lack of range or subtlety. If you were to mistake this for an Anthrax Jam session from 2004 you would be forgiven.

All in all “La Raza” showcases a band that isn’t too comfortable and can’t get their ideas to mesh. Whether this is due to the decade long gaps between studio sessions and LP releases, the members disparate music projects and diverging tastes, or just that they had a bad set of days at the office, it doesn’t really change the end product. It is a testament to Armored Saint’s experience and underlying skill that half of “La Raza” would play quite well on the PA during a rock show intermission, but if they had made Armored Saint a priority over the last ten years we might have gotten an album that was more than half full of good songs.

Highs: The title track combines all the good aspects of Armored Saint into six glorious minutes.

Lows: It would be nice to hear more from the guitars and drums.

Bottom line: Wildly inconsistent return from L.A. metal vets makes for a disappointing album.

Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls
2.5 out of 5 skulls


Key
Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)