Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Armored Saint - Raising Fear (1987)

March of the Saint and Delirious Nomad were hardly albums that were infested with stinkers, but it was Raising Fear that really brought the band to the next level, a record I listen to without ever wanted to skip anything, one that ramped up my excitement level considerably. This is all due to the better songwriting, this thing is packed with tracks that embed themselves instantly into my memory and have not vacated even once, through the grunge years, the extreme metal onslaught, the modern era in which there are 500 albums released every week...this is another of those latter-80s gems which shall be forever be enshrined in my collection as long as I can carry mind as long as it can hold a thought. It's not flawless, and it's not even the best Armored Saint album, but certainly another contender during a year already choked up with timeless classics. Ironically, it would be their major label swansong, before they moved over to the more appropriate Metal Blade roster.

The title track just blasts off, with some of the faster and more intricate riffing the band had mustered to its day, little guitar leads running up and down the intro while they chug into John's verses. Though the mix on this album is actually a little inferior to those before it, the songs more than compensate, and when Bush hits that chorus and shifts it up, I was just blown over. This is definitely a qualifier for the USPM niche, as some of their songs will be again the future, I'm not sure if the band is always equated with that style, but I think this one fits with the constant momentum and steadier use of the bass drum, that and some of the guitar licks feel similar to the stuff Riot and Sanctuary would be putting out shortly after this album dropped. Following this with the Lynyrd Skynyrd cover seems a risky choice, but "Saturday Night Special" is dirty and groovy and once again, Bush nails it with the vocals, and it kind of shows more of that transparency for the hard rock roots that have never abandoned Saint. That's the weird thing, this cover wouldn't have sounded out of place on any of their albums, whether the debut or any of the more modern releases, even Punching the Sky.

But can that compare with hooky, killer originals like "Out on a Limb", "Chemical Euphoria", or "Crisis of Life"? Not exactly, and tracks like these are where the real strength lies. The riffing has definitely gotten more interesting, the choices catchier and the intensity more consistent as they find themselves more directly competing with the harder thrash sounds of their Californian scene and beyond. These guys don't have the hyper-melodicism and anthemic sound that the European power metal bands were starting to unleash, and they don't have screamy Rob Halford vocals, so they would hang in there by just writing bad ass, relatable tunes with unquestionable energy. Just listen to how nasty and awesome "Human Vulture" is, I remember one of the 'cool' older metalheads from my high school, who I envied for his great taste and long locks, had a t-shirt for this song, and it was inspiring. But there are no cuts on Raising Fear that I ever want to skip, the hooks are as fresh as they were when it released, and even though I don't find the production the best of their discography, it's still clear and potent enough to drive all of its 52 minutes of content home.

My appreciation for this album has indeed grown since it released, which puts it on a similar trajectory to its predecessors, only I started out having this one in a higher regard. As I hinted above, it's not the best of their works for me, but it's certainly worthy of the silver medal in their catalog, and one I'll happily keep listening to even when they're feeding my all my meals through a tube. Was also cool to see a knight-like character from the debut return, to seismically smash up Los Angeles like one of their earthquakes, palm-tree oases and all hurling through the debris as the electric-charged, spiked titan wreaks as much as havoc as this album does to my brain. Great shit.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]

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