Thursday, June 13, 2024

Armored Saint - Punching the Sky (2020)

Win Hands Down definitely spun Armored Saint back around to the right direction, but without Punching the Sky appearing five years later, it might all have been for naught. It didn't look like much to me when first announced, the cover another of those digital looking images, from the guy who did Iron Maiden's Brave New World no less. But the advance singles sounded fantastic, and I was certainly excited to hear what might be some of the band's catchiest material in nearly 30 years. Turns out that is exactly what this represents, the proper modernization of their classic style for 2020, with the same lineup no less, and yet sounding more youthful and energized than they arguably had ever been, even during their best records like Raising Fear and Symbols.

It doesn't quite start out on its strongest leg, "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants", which features the title among its lyrics, but that's definitely a driving setup for "End of the Attention Span", the song that first blew me away from this album. Thick, heavy guitar tone that is more muscular than anything off the older albums, but still lets a little of the melody punch through, and a huge groove that frames the verses, which might be off one of their mid-80s albums only if it had gone to the gym and taken steroids. It's heavy enough that if you told me this was a later Anthrax-Bush collaboration I might have believed you, but the structure is definitely set up with a little hard rock flair to the leads, and the charisma of the older albums certainly starts to creep up on you as it progresses. Not all the songs go this intense, but there are a few like "Missile to Gun" and the finale "Never You Fret" which strive for a similar level of speed, and these are also quite catchy, the latter having a few Savatage-Criss Oliva vibes in the playing.

But like Symbol of Salvation, this is quite a varied offering, with some slower but still heavy grooving tunes like "Bubble" or "Fly in the Ointment", and stuff like "Lone Wolf" that captures a slightly more proggy hard rock vibe to it that definitely hearkens back to stuff like "Dropping Like Flies" or "Tribal Dance". The bass tone is super thick throughout this, and it almost has to be, because the guitars are enormous and John's voice is produced to captivate throughout the entire playtime. Leads are all pretty good, always have been, and even though this isn't exactly comprised of the most unique riffing progressions throughout, just about every song here can throw in some catchy hook that you might not expect, meaning the band still has enough ideas to remain relevant. I wasn't a huge fan of "Unfair", they were definitely going with an Alice in Chains vibe on that one, with the more massive bass and a less harmonic vocal style, but it's not really a detriment to the rest of the album either.

Punching the Sky definitely has a loudness production thing which feels heavily digitalized in just how layered the sound is, so it's not going to give you the nostalgic vibes of the first 3-4 discs, but as far as translating that into a context of today, it's a raging success, a catchy album that I've listened to a good number of times in the last couple years, certainly more than the three before it. It's almost intricate enough call it the sequel to Symbol of Salvation, but not quite as good. Having said that, I think it has the potential to drawn in newer generations of listeners, for better or worse, and then maybe get them exploring back down that rabbit hole to the band's prime. They could certainly metalize this a little more, dial back some of the production so it feels more natural, and create a modern masterpiece, but until then this is plenty excellent for my money.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

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