Armored Saint made its way to the Gramercy Theatre on July 13 for the third date of the “Symbol of Salvation” summer tour. Fronted by John Bush (also of Anthrax fame from 1993 through the mid –2000s), the heavy metal quintet has been the music genre’s underdogs since the band’s emergence in the early 1980s and are putting their arguably best foot forward by touring behind the 1991 album of the same name.
Rather than just dive right in, the Saint got its audience’s blood and fists pumping by opening with crowd-pleasers from the first three albums: “March of the Saint,” “Long Before I Die” and “Chemical Euphoria,” which are just as catchy 30 years after their collective debuts, but demonstrated the growing sophistication of the songwriting that would emerge on Symbol.
For those unfamiliar, Symbol is one of those rare albums that somehow improves with every listen; there are enough doses of almost every metal sub-genre (thrash, hard rock, prog and classic) to appease even a casual fan.
After a brief audio retrospective of the album, the Saint launched into “Reign of Fire,” Symbol’s anthemic opener and normally heard as a set-closer. From there, the band played the album’s next 12 tracks in sequential order, while maintaining its same vigor and – dare we say it – soul. The straightforward metal attack of “Droppin’ Like Flies” kicked the tempo up a notch; the bluesiness of “Truth Always Hurts” chilled things out a bit; and the title track – a hard charger that forces Bush to hit the limits of his register – maintained the energy, mid-set.
While Symbol is not a concept album, it captures a moment in the band’s history when its future was questionable. There was a bit of brief storytelling between some songs to detail the inspirations for the lyrics and tone. The band had to endure the death of guitarist Dave Pritchard while it was demoing the songs without a label, as Bush told the audience, until Metal Blade Records’ owner Brian Slagel stepped in and fueled the album’s production. “Tainted Past” perhaps best embodied this sentiment with guitarist Jeff Duncan leading in on acoustic, followed by Joey Vera’s staccato bass line and segue for Bush’s lyrics, about letting go and moving forward during life’s journey.
This being the third stop on the tour, it also marked the third time that hard rockers Hanging Judge and Spineless have performed live, much to the joy of a denim-clad New York crowd. The band returned for a four-song encore which included “Win Hands Down” and “Madhouse.”
The intense and fun 20-song set was performed by a band that has maintained its relevance and essence and seems to genuinely love delivering high-octane metal to a loyal fan base of 30-somethings and older (in some cases, much older).
If you can’t catch Armored Saint during this brief tour, there already is some talk of a special reunion of sorts. During the show, Bush quickly acknowledged Frank Bello, his former bandmate from Anthrax, who was in the audience enjoying the concert. One could hope it lends some weight to Bush’s recent statements that “the time is right” for a tour showcasing both metal mainstays.
Concert photos: Justin Smulison
Concert video: Youtube/67meangreen67