Armored Saint – Symbol Of Salvation Live (Album Review)

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The symbol of perseverance endures.

Getting back to business as usual seems an epic struggle even after nearly 20 months of craziness, with fond memories of 2019 and before seemingly born of a bygone era. But with Los Angeles-based heavy metal icons Armored Saint, business as usual has been a blatant misnomer, especially when taking their larger than life show on the road. Reaching back into the better days of 2018 when touring was still the order of things and much further back into the twilight of metal’s decade (aka the late 1980s), they’ve amassed a gilded sonic time capsule to when their metallic traditionalism was at its creative and commercial apex, simply dubbed “Symbol Of Salvation Live.” Yet the charm in this live performance of their much lauded 4th studio LP in its entirety lay not only in its highly proficient and energetic delivery, but also in how the nostalgia behind each song rings so poignantly to those who’ve shared this band’s journey over the better part of four decades.

The youthful vigor and fervor of this event would suggest a band in their 20s rather than their 50s, and when combined with the experience level that comes with more than 30 years bringing metal to the masses, culminates in a truly riveting experience in both the visual and auditory mediums. Between the thunderous roar of the rhythm section providing the foundation of each mighty anthem and the dueling six-string battles of Phil Sandoval and Jeff Duncan after the spirit of Adrian Smith and Dave Murray in their 80s prime, there isn’t a dull moment to be had. But even more enthralling is the triumphant howl with a soulful, smoky edge of a vocal delivery put forth by John Bush, who is still somehow hitting all the notes that he was belting out in his youth in a seemingly effortless fashion. Suffice it to say, while the elder guard of England in Judas Priest and Iron Maiden are still lighting up the stage, the American contingent proves to be no slouch in comparison if this showing is the standard.

Naturally a thrilling performance is only half the battle and every live event will ultimately stand or fall based on the quality of the source material, which translates flawlessly into the retro-metal craze of the late 2010s. Animated bangers such as the opening foray of rocking riffs “Reign Of Fire” and the infectious hooks with a crunchy bottom end rounding out “Dropping Like Flies” provide an explosive introduction to the more polished yet still dangerous incarnation of Armored Saint that ushered in the early 1990s. Versatility also proves to be a salient part of this equation with the more elaborate mixture of balladry and metallic fury of “Last Train Home” and “Another Day”, dredging up some Queensryche-like elements to go with the old school heavy metal bluster. The echoes of the then novel 90s groove and experimental trappings of the era ring loud in the rocking swagger of “The Truth Always Hurts” and the quirky world music additives of “Tribal Dance”, providing a welcome yet slightly jarring contrast with the rest of the set list.

“Symbol of Salvation Live” Album Artwork

When compared against the aforementioned first half of this spellbinding show, the second proves to be stylistically more by the numbers, yet even more intense in terms of impact. The upbeat drive and fury of the title anthem “Symbol Of Salvation” proves one of the standout moments of the entire set, with Bush’s vocals reaching to heights seemingly unreachable, while also going in on some unusual crowd participation territory with a comical reference to famed 80s horror flick C.H.U.D. for all the nostalgia hounds in attendance. The band’s rendition of their entry of the Hellraiser 3: Hell On Earth soundtrack “Hanging Judge” isn’t far behind, bringing the band’s penchant for gallop-happy, Iron Maidenesque cruisers with busy bass work courtesy of Joey Vera to the forefront, ditto the swift sing-along romp “Burning Question”. Things close on a decidedly punchy note with the quasi-thrashing beast “Spineless”, arguably the closest flirtation this outfit ever made with Anthrax territory prior to John Bush joining their ranks.

In keeping with the source album of this concert being dedicated to deceased and original Armored Saint axe man Dave Prichard, a smattering of unreleased demo songs from the “Symbol Of Salvation” writing sessions in 1989 have come along for the ride featuring his brilliant handiwork. In addition to upping the poignancy factor, it showcases a band in transition, with driving cruisers like “Nothing Between The Ears” and “Medieval Nightmares” hearkening back to the Armored Saint of the mid-80s when the exploits of knights in shining armor joisting amid a dystopian wasteland was front and center, and the vintage Priest and Maiden influences were at their most blatant. On the other side of the coin is a smattering of forward looking experimental 90s quirks such as the slap bass steeped, partial nod to Faith No More “People” and the more groove-thrashing modern metallic punch of “Get Lost”. To call this the full package would be an understatement, and in the likely continual delay of an event such as this occurring again, all starving metal show enthusiasts will want several helpings of this.

Released By:
Release Date: October 22nd, 2021
Genre: Heavy Metal

Band Members:

  • Joey Vera / Bass
  • Gonzo Sandoval / Drums
  • Phil Sandoval / Guitars
  • John Bush / Vocals
  • Jeff Duncan / Guitars

“Symbol of Salvation Live” CD/DVD track listing:

1. Reign of Fire (live)
2. Dropping Like Flies (live)
3. Last Train Home (live)
4. Tribal Dance (live)
5. The Truth Always Hurts (live)
6. Half Drawn Bridge (live)
7. Another Day (live)
8. Symbol of Salvation (live)
9. Hanging Judge (live)
10. Warzone (live)
11. Burning Question (Live)
12. Tainted Past (live)
13. Spineless (live)

Additional bonus tracks on the digital/vinyl versions:

14. Nothing Between The Ears (1989 4-track demo)
15. Get Lost (1989 4-track demo)
16. Medieval Nightmares (1989 4-track demo)
17. People (1989 4-track demo)
18. Pirates (1989 4-track demo)
19. Symbol Of Salvation (live) (radio edit) **available digitally only!

9.3 Excellent

Continuing the tradition of classics never getting old, California heavy metal trailblazers Armored Saint unveil treasures from the recent and more distant past, culminating in a riveting, 2018 live rendition of their acclaimed 1991 LP Symbol Of Salvation in its entirety and a smattering of lost treasures from the songwriting sessions of said album

  • Performance 9.5
  • Video / Production 9
  • Audio 9.5
  • Setlist 9
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