Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Armored Saint - Nod to the Old School (2001)

I remember being most excited for Nod to the Old School because it would include Armored Saint's original s/t EP, which I had not ever gotten the chance to own, being introduced to their music through March of the Saint (which does include "False Alarm"). So, if nothing else, it would be worthwhile for collection purposes, although after hearing Revelation the year before, that prospect was probably less exciting. This is in fact a smattering of many things, from a handful of live tunes, acoustics, covers, rarities and new originals, and thus pretty important for the long-term fan, because at least a few of the tunes are better than anything they'd drop on their 2000 or 2010 studio albums. And unlike a lot of shitty cash grabs, some care and effort was put here to give those same fans something fresh.

The new track "Real Swagger" is passable, but probably not good enough for any of the records, while "Unstable" promises a little heaviness and groove but also doesn't really hit the marks. There's an updated 2001 version of "March of the Saint" which is decently produced, but lacks a little of the original's magic, and a couple live cuts from Revelation which don't sound half bad on the stage, being that "After Me, the Flood" and "Creepy Feelings" were at least some of the better tunes on that disc. But these are captured with a cleaner sound than Saints Will Conquer, for better or worse, and as weird as it is just to wedge in a couple of these onto a studio collection, they don't detract much. The cover of "Never Satisfied" by Judas Priest is pretty awesome, one of the best tunes here, and "Day of the Eagle" from Robin Trower is also present, though a little rougher in production, and without much familiarity with the original it didn't have the same impact. There's a tasteful acoustic version of "Tainted Past" off Symbol of Salvation, which works, but obviously just doesn't leave me with the impact of the original.

So that was the WEAKER half of the compilation, and the rest is what I was really looking forward to, because you don't only get the 1983 EP, but also some demo stuff from 1988-1989, some of which was recorded on a 4-track demo, but sounds fucking excellent all things considered, like "Pirates" and "Get Lost", fun heavy metal tracks on which the more raw production can't hide John's great vocal lines. The only sucker here is the rehearsal of "Betty '79", a stupid ditty, but this is made up for by a demo for "Reign of Fire" from a few years before it came out, and this version sounds awesome. As for the original s/t EP, I am happily to have finally had it, "Lesson Well Learned" and "On the Way" are both pretty good, clearly establishing March of the Saint with some late 70s Judas Priest vibes, especially on the latter. "False Alarm" is good too and in a way this has more pumping energy to it than the album version, but I'm not sure which I'd prefer.

Nod to the Old School is definitely your textbook case of odds and ends thrown together, with a great variation in quality, but it does at least feel comprehensive, even more so if you've got the limited edition or later pressing with a few more bonus tracks. You don't get the impression that they've left a lot off there that you'll have to track down later, for a Nod to the Old School II. And maybe there is enough material out there for that, especially these couple decades later, but when you put this on the shelf with the albums it feels like a complete set. Nothing amazing, and I don't know that anything here will become your favorite, but a few of the older tunes and demos are really great and if history had been kinder, they might have been inspired to put out a follow-up to this which explored those roots. Instead we had to wait almost a decade for La raza. Imagine having to contain our excitement.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


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