Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Armored Saint - La Raza (2010)

I'm not sure how one makes the natural transition from an album like Raising Fear or Symbol of Salvation to wind up at something like La Raza, but I have a feeling it has a lot to do with maturity and trying to adapt a tried and tested formula for a new era. That isn't to say Armored Saint have abandoned all of the traits of their better years. John Bush sounds like he's fresh out of the studio for Symbol of Salvation, and the album still has the bluesy swagger that the band first introduced there and the following Revelation, but even those albums had a certain metal kick to them which felt like the band were building on, and not replacing the legacy of their first three albums.

With La Raza, aside from a few tracks, I don't really get the impression that it's a metal album so much as a rock record...with slightly more aggressive vocals than usual and an occasional throwback riff. The songs are so intent on having a big chorus hook and atmosphere that the guitars feel a little on the simple side. Examples include "Left Hook from Right Field" with its generic riffing that serves as little more than a dulled foundation for Bush to howl. The bouncing grooves of "Get off the Fence" may bear some similarity to earlier Saint tracks like "Tribal Dance" from Symbol of Salvation, but it doesn't amount to much more than forgettable hard rock. "La Raza" itself is also very groove oriented, though Bush's vocals do shine in places. "Black Feet" is largely blues and funk, and "Little Monkey" has horrible rock/punk riffs that sound like something the Offspring would come up with. "Bandit Country" is another song with a lot of clean guitars and funk swerve, despite the big bluesy guitar solo and the chords that support it.

Not every song here is all that bad, though, I liked the clean guitars and symphonic touches that opened the album through "Loose Cannon", which features a melodic rock riff in the verse and a fairly effective multi-layered chorus vocal sequence. Once "Head On" escapes from the gospel intro it does develop some nice dual melodies and grooving metal weight. "Blues" sounds like a decent outtake from Symbol of Salvation, which was a fairly diverse album in its day. But in the end, there are no songs here like "Hanging Judge", "Reign of Fire", "Dropping Like Flies", "Raising Fear", "Out on a Limb", "Warzone", or any of the band's myriad classics. No, this is more like an extended album of tracks similar to "Last Train Home", only not as good.

La Raza is a moody record which shows the band at their most versatile, but that's not always a good thing. And this doesn't really add up to the measure of the band's first four classics, nor is it even at the level of its predecessor Revelations from a decade past. I'm certainly happy to have Armored Saint around again, because I enjoy most of their earlier work, and this is where Bush's voice fits in best (his albums with Anthrax were generally pretty miserable, though not always his fault). I'll just have to hang on to the slim hope that the band might release another proper album some day in the vein of Raising Fear or Delirious Nomad, because I'm not really impressed with this save for the few moments it kicks into overdrive and reminds me why I like those old albums.

Highlights: Loose Cannon, Head On

Verdict: Indifference [5/10]


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