Armored Saint - Symbol of Salvation
Symbol of salvation was released back in 1991, and it has become a timeless classic in my musical universe.

As I remember, it was around my 15'th listen when I realised, that I would never grow tired of this album. It has that special vibe that just sucks you in, and doesn't let go, before the final chord is struck. This was Armored Saint's fourth full length album, and their strongest effort yet. It should have brought them huge success, but unfortunately the band broke up a year after the release, as vocalist John Bush got the opportunity to join Anthrax as their new vocalist.

Symbol of Salvation has recently been re-released as a special 3CD set, which I will get back to at the end of the review.

The music Armored Saint play is pure Heavy Metal. Hard & Heavy, in your face and grooving, with a great atitude in John Bush's vocals. The band is extremely tight and the songs on Symbol of Salvation are all little pearls. Guitarwise there is a lot to enjoy. Jeff Duncan and Phil Sandoval play like they are on fire, and fill the songs with loads of little details. I will even go as far as saying that I'm sometimes reminded of Criss Oliva (Savatage), when listening to the guitar playing on this record. It's imaginative, emotional and perfectly executed. Similar for all the songs is the fantastic rythm section, with Joey Vera handling the bass and Gonzo keeping a tight and grooving rythm on the drums. In every song there is a multitude of interesting things going on in the background, and it's partly this that gives the album its everlasting longevity.

John Bush's passionate vocals is another highlight. His voice is raw, powerful and aggressive, but it always has that emotional edge. It feels like he becomes one with the lyrics of each song. Whether he sings the hard or the soft passages of songs, he has a fantastic presence that just emits true passion.

Reign of fire sets off the album. It is a hard hitting track with some heavy guitarwork, that makes me want to listen to this song over and over. There is a cool little guitar part that sticks out and makes me think of Savatage's "Hall of the Mountain King", whenever I hear it. It appears several times, but maybe it's clearest at 2:47. A perfect opener.

Dropping like flies has the groove. It is as simple as that. Everything works in this song. John Bush's powerful vocal melodies, and the crunchy guitar play together like they were made for each other. But Gonzo on the drums takes the crown. He keeps the song together with his incredible sense of rythm. Another highlight is the 40 second guitar solo split between Phil and Jeff.

Last train home is maybe the most catchy song on the album, with a very melodic, sing-a-long chorus. The song is driven by Joey Vera's brilliant bass line and simple but effective guitar riff. In it's day this song even got some rotation on MTV.

Tribal dance is the most experimental song on the record. It has a primal feel with its jungle rythm and overall groovy execution. John Bush once again gives an incredible powerful performance with a lot of aggression in the way he sings the drug related lyrics. There is something special about this song that draws me in.

Another day is pretty much a perfect song. Starting out as a ballad, the way the song builds with the lyrics is perfect, and when the song finally picks up speed, John Bush sings in a chilling way. If that wasn't enough the guitar solos that follow are extremely heart felt and emotional, making this a real stand out track. The touching lyrics speak for themselves.

Hanging Judge releases a lot of power right from the start and doesn't slow down. Like on Another Day it is possible to relate the lyrics to Armored Saint guitarist David Prichard, who died of leukemia before the album was finished. Again the guitar plays along with John Bush's vocals in a perfect way that enhances the song greatly.

Burning Question is my favourite track of the album. The opening guitar riff is brilliant and the overlaying solo is a perfect intro to the song. John Bush shines again and the way the guitar plays along with his voice right up to the chorus is brilliant. The lyrics are quite thoughtprovoking too.

The final song Spineless is a full out assault on the senses, with a heavy driving riff and a fast and furious guitar solo. It should wake anybody up and give them the power to take on the world.

Other highlights of the album include the excellent twin guitar in The truth always hurts, the beautiful instrumental piece Half drawn bridge, and the grooving monster of a title track, that just keeps on coming. Especially the passage from verse to chorus in this one is excellent. In Warzone John Bush's creates some excellent vocal melodies. Also notice the first solo by David Prichard in Tainted past, which has been lifted from the original 4-track demos.

Well, I honestly can't find anything negative to say about this album. Of course there are a couple of songs which aren't as good as the best ones, but every song adds something to the overall feel of the album. It is a true classic that has stood the test of time, without losing anything. It is as good today as it was in 1991. The band sounds inspired and hungry, and that feeling pervades the whole album, and makes it sound fresh, even today. There is so much to dig into, but you also have to be patient. The album didn't hit me right before I had listened to it several times, but then the songs started to get a life of their own.

Metal blade has released this classic as a glorious 3CD set, that will definitely satisfy fans of the band. You get the remastered version of the album, including videos for Reign of fire and Last train home. The second disc contains the original 4-track demos, and finally CD 3 is devoted to a recently recorded interview with all the Armored Saint members and Brian Slagel, the janitor of Metal Blade... This is a real treasure trove of information and I love it. Every song gets a mention and there are some very funny moments. The part where each member fondly remembers guitarist David Prichard is quite touching.

The demos almost deserve a separate review. They are really fantastic! They are rawer and unpolished, and make for a captivating version of the album. It is very interesting to hear guitarist Dave Prichard play on these tracks. Overall the song structures are the same as on the finished release, but there are loads of places where the demos are different from the finished album in some way. A real gem.

The only little problem I have is with the sound of the remastered album. The sound has been beefed up, and is now more bombastic, with a much deeper drum sound. Where the original release was recorded at a slightly low volume, it has now been rectified here. But I find that when listening to this remastered version at high volume the guitar sound tends to get a shrill sound to it. Maybe it's just me or my stereo, but I prefer the original sound of the album, cranked to all the way up.

One plus side is the cover booklet, where the lyrics to the songs are actually readable, as opposed to the original, where I had to use a magnifying glass to read anything...

Well, I think the review speaks pretty much for itself. If you have missed out on this album, now is your chance to discover one of the greatest heavy metal albums ever released.

Written by Steen
Tuesday, July 1, 2003
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Steen: 9/10

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RevelationZ Comments

Comment by Chris (Anonymous) - Thursday, July 10, 2003
Excellent review of this truly classic album! I agree with it whole heartedly. I am going to order the new version right now. I've got to hear Dave Prichard's version of these gems. I think it's extremely cool that Armored Saint has made so much of Prichard's final work available to the fans (Nod to the Old School Demos, now SOS as originally written and arranged).

Comment by Steen (Staff) - Monday, July 14, 2003
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Thanks Chris! Yeah, it's great to have so much old material available. Now I'm just waiting for the next Armored Saint album, to be released in 2004 :)

Posted by Steen (Staff)
Monday, July 14, 2003

Comment by David (Anonymous) - Thursday, August 21, 2003
Certainly one of the greatest metal albums of all time. Bush's performance and also the mature lyrical approach make this one of my top albums. Thanks for reviewing such a fantastic album.
Bush has never been as good as on this one. Althoughhis performance on Only by Anthraz still gets me as well.
Also your comments on the rhythm section are long overdue. Vera on bass and Gonzo are a brilliant piece of metal. Vera plays a bit like Harris except with much better tone and control. Great stuff.

Comment by David (Anonymous) - Thursday, August 21, 2003
And as for leaving Warzone as a footnote. Shame on you. The lead breaks on that cut are the standout moment on the album for me. Just brilliant. Great lyrics again.

Comment by verdelak (Anonymous) - Monday, April 26, 2004
I got this on cassette when it was first released, and I played it so often that I had to buy another one, along with all of their earlier stuff. John Bush is one of the all-time greats!

Comment by Little Drummer Boy (Anonymous) - Sunday, March 19, 2006
SOS is Armored Saints finest release. This one I never grew tired of. My personal fave is Tribal Dance.

Review by Steen

Released by
Metal Blade - 1991

01 - Reign Of Fire
02 - Dropping Like Flies
03 - Last Train Home
04 - Tribal Dance
05 - The Truth Always Hurts
06 - Half Drawn Bridge
07 - Another Day
08 - Symbol Of Salvation
09 - Hanging Judge
10 - Warzone
11 - Burning Question
12 - Tainted Past
13 - Spineless

Re-released in 2003 as a special 3CD edition

Heavy Metal

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