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Thursday, March 18, 2010

REVIEW: Armored Saint (US) - La Raza (2010)

Armored Saint La Raza

Armored Saint's been one of my favorite bands for several years, not perhaps reaching quite to say, top-5 list, but quite well placed, nevertheless. While they're not the most heaviest and flashy band around, they've managed to impress with catchy melodies and certainly have their unique style, not to mention classy guitar-work (especially old albums with Dave Pritchard, R.I.P 1990). Armored Saint have managed to combine more mellow and rocking L.A scene sound on their songs with decent amount of pure heaviness, catchy melodies and flashy guitar solos, which were especially top notch at the times when Dave was still alive and playing (not to say they haven't been good afterwards, too). The newer direction of the band has been rather more laid back and matured, perhaps "chilled" even, than more flashy appearances earlier on. Ironically, this album even has a song called "Chilled" which quite much sums up the overall feeling of "La Raza", compared to previous albums... even to Revelation.

Revelation (2000) featured slightly more groove oriented and more modern sound compared to earlier album Symbol Of Salvation (1991) and prior to that, thus, making me think that Revelation started a whole new era in Armored Saint career. I enjoyed that album quite a bit, though, because it still kept bottom heaviness in riffs and sounded metal at it's core generally, with bluesy/groovy touch. It had some memorable melodies and songs. Revelation was a good, more "matured" and bottom-heavy by it's sound album compared to 1991 and prior to that, it was more modern, but not 'modern metal' per se. Still, it lacked some 'wildness' in the band's spirit and instrumental playing, which was to be found on their releases on early career. But it wasn't close to any -core subgenre of the metal, which I truly would dislike. It was just honest, pure... metal.

La Raza continues the natural new-era Armored Saint sound progression towards more laid-back and bluesy metal sound. It's almost a bit like they've made slightly "watered down" version of Revelation with bit more radio-friendliness. La Raza features quite groove-laden, chilled, and bit more laid-back feeling, that I occasionally enjoy with Revelation album, but this time they have perhaps toned down flashy melodies and heaviness a bit too much, going over the line. Overall, this release is a little bit too rock oriented and softer offering, than Revelations, and it just doesn't quite stand up against pre-Revelation era material, or even Revelation.  It's too bad, because you can still hear the good musicianship of band members on the record, and i'd love to enjoy this one, but La Raza doesn't just fully deliver. Jeff Duncan and Phil Sandoval are very skilled guitarists, but they don't quite get to show their skills in La Raza. Vera's thick bass-sound and his playing is nice to hear though. John Bush is still a good singer with his sort of a "neutral", rather deep middle-range vocals with certain amount of roughness combined. Bush's vocals don't have that much range, but his mixture of shouting and singing the vocals work very well, and on top of that the man has very charismatic voice. Gonzo Sandoval is one mean drummer, but again, the material doesn't allow him to show off that much. Just check him on Symbol Of Salvation album in 1991! La Raza falls short, not on musicianship, but on compositions and style. They've tried to mature their sound perhaps too much, at least for my taste.

That being said, La Raza as it's own record isn't a bad one, it's just a bit too mediocre and lacks final kick featured on previous album(s). There's good parts here and there but it all doesn't come together. I think, that songwriting and riffs should be heavier and stronger to make this more memorable and headbang-worthy album. There are songs on La Raza, that I enjoy decently listening every now and then, though this record is far off from deserving a regular spin in my record-player. Laid back matured sound of it has it's place to be playing in the background, while having a beer or two. Problem with La Raza is, that when a song starts, you get a feeling that song starts out nicely, and you're left there hanging and asking for more power, but the band never presses gas pedal, thus it never happens. Compared, to say, Megadeth's discography, I find this album being Armored Saint's "Cryptic Writings", more laid back yet decently enjoyable effort, certainly not sucky like Risk, but certainly not very good like Peace Sells either. La Raza is a slight "grower" and some songs have potential value to be included in your playlists for a change every now and then.

Stand out tracks are mostly the first four tracks (Loose Cannon, Head On, Left Hook From Right Field, Get Off The Fence), and after that the album switches gear into more soft and experimental. Despite it's flaws, this is kind of an album that I might give a spin once in a while, when I'm in the mood for something not so fast and heavy, but more matured and bluesy metal.

+Great musicianship, fits to certain mood, enjoyable
-Too laid back, lacks heaviness, too rock to be full blooded metal

70 | reviewer: dungeoncrawler

  • John Bush - Vocals
  • Phil Sandoval - Guitars
  • Jeff Duncan - Guitars
  • Joey Vera - Bass, Guitars, Vocals (backing)
  • Gonzo Sandoval - Drums, Vocals (backing)

  • 1. Loose Cannon 05:46
  • 2. Head On 05:06
  • 3. Left Hook From Right Field 05:31
  • 4. Get Off The Fence 04:48
  • 5. Chilled 05:02
  • 6. La Raza 06:41
  • 7. Black Feet 05:07
  • 8. Little Monkey 04:45
  • 9. Blues 03:32
  • 10. Bandit Country 05:16
    • Total playing time 51:55


REVIEW: Salem's Wych (US) - Betrayer of Kings (1986)

Salem's Wych Betrayer of Kings 1986

Salem's Wych from Michigan United States released only one album during their career. They play US heavy metal / early power metal with recognizable epic twist in their lyrics and melodies. Lyrically this could be an album from their country-mates Omen or Manowar, or even from Swedish Heavy Load. Lyrics tell tales epic tales about battles, devil, and death. However, lyrically this album is not one of the most cheesy ones out there, and doesn't really feature high-end fantasy, but rather something more common and realistic. The general sound and tone of the album is less flashy and just bit darker than any with any of the above mentioned three bands have. This is bit darker and heavier kind of power metal from the eighties, than say, for example Omen or Manowar. Not by it's tempo and speed, which most often is quite average, but by it's generally Kill'em All-heavy guitar sound and production, and you don't find happy melodies in Betrayer Of Kings either. It's not exactly brutal record, but unlike many power metal records from that time, it hang on neutral-dark zone.

Vocals by Ron Johnson continue along the same lines with the darker approach. He has has slightly hoarse and rugged, quite powerful and charismatic deep mid-range voice, something comparable James Hetfield at Ride The Lightning-era, but more jagged. Johnson was born to star heavier power metal band. Although, he hasn't got widest range out there, he surely has better abilities to sing than many vocalist out there with similarly rugged voice, and his shrieky shouts pack quite fine amount of power. Johnson actually shows up to be a minor positive surprise. Twin guitars of Tom Bronicki and Mark Gast play no-frills standard quality heavy metal riffs. They are both solid players, while not exactly the most memorable duo around, the fellas still sound professional, playing their power chords tightly and cranking out some quite memorable lead melodies. The guys also know how to play their solid solos, such as the lengthy solo in 'Time Is No More', where the guys take turns at shredding some thundering guitar notes. Ripping guitar tone of the album cuts like barbwire. Crunchy and distorted crisp guitar sound on this album is quite heavy for traditional heavy / power metal band at the time. I'm sure the guys could play pure thrash metal with this guitar set-up if they just wanted to. Production isn't perfect, though, and leaves some low-end thickness in sound to be desired. Luckily Keith Jann's bass playing is skillful and well audible in the mix, and I have no complaints about solid drumming.

Betrayer Of Kings successfully combines traditional US heavy metal with early power metal bits, though leaning more towards the first mentioned. It's not fast and uplifting enough to be what we nowadays consider pure power metal, but lyrically it definitely leans towards power metal fields telling tales of battles and darker fantasy, and musically reminding a bit of Omen occasionally, but with less flashy lead guitars. The overall tempo on the album is rather average and cautious, hanging on middle-tempo fields, and not providing many surprises on that area. There are a few semi-fast songs such as: Fight Till The End There and Attack, never really storming at the full speed though.

Songs of the album are totally honest eighties heavy metal, without any mainstream or hard rock influences included. It's almost honest as it gets, without pretentious happy melodies or high-end fantasy about dragons. The album starts with slower title track Betrayer Of Kings, with rather sadder and mysterious tone. You can hear slower and chugging, tight palm-muted trademark riffs from the first epic song. Relatively heavy guitars and epic feeling of the song blends together really well on this one. Same slower-tempo playing style continues on great and narrative Never Ending Battle with it's totally catchy punchy and pounding bassline and some excellent strong vocals by Johnson. Things speed up with semi-fast Attack, power-chord driven rocker that must be the most commercial and straight-forward song of the album, but it's in-your-face-attitude works and the solo part is very good. All Hail To The Queen is your standard ballad, although not overly happy or cheesy. The song is more like yearning and beautiful with some clean and distorted guitars mixed together, and features the cleanest vocals by Johnson in the album. Surprisingly he can sing decently with clean style also. Things speed up back to semi-fast level again with decent and straight-forward 'Time Is No More'. More epic and uplifting power metal moments can be heard on bloodlust-driven 'Run From The Devil', a song that could well be one of Heavy Load's more frank songs. Battle-spirited and heroic 'Furor's Reign' is another, in my opinion, definite early power metal moment on the album, in veins of Omen or Heavy Load. It's perhaps the best song of the album with title track and 'Never Ending Battle'. Rhythm-guitar driven 'Sweet Revenge' is one of the heavier tracks on the album, while 'Fight Till The End' features some rather nice Maiden-influenced lead guitar melodies and bass-lines.


Betrayer Of Kings tends to wander towards more gloomy and darker heavy/power metal blend with rather rough edge sound, rather than being happy power metal played in "major" scale. It's not really happy, yet it's not really very dark. I would say the album is from neutral to mildly dark, with sadder tone, and with surprisingly heavy guitars for power metal genre and lyrical content. Vocalist Ron Johnson is definite highlight in the album, despite not being one of the most memorable singers around, he still has more charisma than your average vocalist, and he really pushes his technically decent singing skills to the top limit. Another highlight are well composed gloomy melodies and solid guitar solos by Tom Bronicki and Mark Gast. Although, the music is power-chord dominated, songs have space for fine lead guitar melodies and guitar solos. While the album isn't most complex and surprising one around, and it is quite straight-forward in it's core, Betrayer Of Kings do have enough guitar hooks and tricks on it's sleeve to keep it sounding fresh. The album's speed tends to drag a bit at times, but the slower songs are pretty good efforts with quite epic and narrative lyrics, avoiding the usual problems of several power metal bands - over-the-top-cheesiness. Yet complexity and epicness of this album cannot be compared to something truly epic heavy metal such as Manilla Road, for example. Salem's Wych's style is much more in-your-face compared to adventurous patterns of Manilla Road. One more positive thing this album has, is in my opinion very good bass sound that really stands out along with saucy guitar sound. The quite short, little over 33minutes length of material, provide honest and quality moments with darker eighties heavy/power metal, but lack just little bit of finesse and unique moments to make this record a major classic or masterpiece.

Still, highly recommended for all fans of early heavy/power metal, especially for those who favor darker sound of power metal. Generally, fans of bands such as Omen, Heavy Load, Griffin (US), and out of the newer bands perhaps American Aska. Speed-freaks might disapprove, as this isn't fastest album around. This album as vinyl is quite valuable and rare (find out all necessary info from the seller before buying). There are many CD bootlegs around not worthy spending for. Betrayer Of Kings provides more straight-forward kind of epic, honest early power/heavy metal with good quality, and I can't quite agree with the guy who gave it 65% in -- well it's all about the taste in the end of the day..


81 | reviewer: dungeoncrawler
Search this record from

Not available as new from - There was quite high priced piece as used though - if you really want this LP then check if it's still available below

  • Ron Johnson - Vocals
  • Tom Bronicki - Guitars
  • Mark Gast - Guitars
  • Keith Jann - Bass
  • Bill Neff - Drums

  • 1. Betrayer of Kings 03:36
  • 2. Never Ending Battle 03:24
  • 3. Attack 03:41
  • 4. All Hail to the Queen 06:07
  • 5. Time is No More 03:16
  • 6. Run from the Devil 04:09
  • 7. Furor's Reign 02:18
  • 8. Sweet Revenge 03:04
  • 9. Fight 'till the End 04:06
    • Total playing time 33:41

For Collectors:
(Following prices have raised since ’99 but will give you direction)
Used album price @ Martin Popoff’s Heavy Metal Record Price Guide (1999):

Label – Metal War
Type – LP/US/86
Near Mint – $80
Very Good+ - $50

REVIEW: Sacred Blade (CAN) - Of The Sun + Moon (1986, remastered)

Sacred Blade Of The Sun Moon 1986

Sacred Blade was Canadian band formed in 1981 by Jeff Ulmer (guitars, vocals [later also bass and keyboards]) and Will Rascan (guitars) - later on known as Othryworld in the new millennium. Initially the band played more standard heavy metal with US metal and early Judas Priest influences, but after several years of releasing demos, one appearance in Metal Massacre IV compilation, and still not getting full length out, the band's style matured (in a good way) to something different. By the time they released their first album Of The Sun + Moon under Black Dragon Records label, five years after the formation, Sacred Blade had found pinnacle of their sound: mysterious, beautiful, containing "dreaming in space"-like progressive elements - yet maintaining part of that rough energy and "kick" featured in their earlier demos.

Of The Sun + Moon's songs are generally more complex than in your average-80s-heavy metal record, and production is very clear and crisp for it's age, although could be bit heavier. The band plays US sounding heavy metal with quite atmospheric progressive edge within. Combine something like Crimson Glory (guitar leads) and Judas Priest (rhythm guitar), but add more progressive metal edge to the music in flavor of Queensryche, and you know the roughly what this album is about. Of The Sun + Moon manages to capture a magical and unique feel with it's melodies, and is one of my definite all time favorite heavy metal records.

The only band I know along Sacred Blade (with this record) playing "so traditional heavy metal", yet still capturing that dream-like magical feel with progressive elements, is Crimson Glory. Of course we don't quite have another "Midnight" with those piercing insanely high screams on vocals in this record. Instead we have man called Jeff Ulmer, who plays another of the guitars and also on vocals. He doesn't sound as quite exceptional or professional singer than Midnight, but he manages to do good job nevertheless. Ulmer has quite catchy clean mid-range, combining some Halford'ish high screams, but with more shrieking edge. He's not most memorable singer around, but holds his own well, and is at least quite versatile with his range, although he has toned high screams and shrieks to the minimum compared to the early demos by the band. 

The guitar playing by Jeff Ulmer and Will Rascan is the most memorable thing in this album. Melodies in Of The Sun + Moon are ever as brilliant as in first two Crimson Glory records, if not even more mind-blowing. Compared to Crimson Glory, Sacred Blade has slightly more progressive approach to their music, leaving heavy / power metal elements bit more to the background, although the style is still audible in their playing. Of The Sun + Moon's melodies are very versatile, without really never boring the listener. This album paints a picture of wandering in endless alien lands under glowing stars and moon - sometimes broken by aggression with songs like Salem.

The album consists of total twelve songs of which there are three instrumentals, or interludes to the actual vocal-backed songs, and nine are actual full tracks. While I many times consider too many intros and interludes to be filler, in Of The Sun + Moon they are executed perfectly well fitting into the complex and beautiful mood of this album, bringing rather epic feel to the album, especially by acoustic guitar parts which are mostly used in these instrumental songs. Of The Sun + Moon is one of those particular albums, where acoustic guitar parts are played so well they are nearing perfection. They just take atmosphere of this album to the another level without never making things sound boring or too wimpy. Acoustic guitar parts complete the magical feel of the sound along with great versatile prog-like bass-work of James Channing. The three instrumentals don't weaken the actual album either, but are instead the finishing touch to the album. You will notice this surely when you listen the whole album through-out from first to the last song.

Of The Sun + Moon is one of those albums with many faces, ranging from straight forward aggressive heavy metal tracks like Salem and Master Of The Sun into more slower tranquil space-drifting Moon, which is superb by the way, and to more gloomy ones such as The Pressing and Legacy. Hybrids of these previous two styles such as priest-laden Fieldz Of Sunshrine work perfectly as well. The album is generally dominated with mystical, mysterious and strange atmosphere, that's truly unique, yet part of the album is filled with fair amount of head-bang material too. But asking the best track out of this album would make the rest look worse than they are. Why? Because they're all great! Out of nine actual tracks there's no single weakling to be found, making this album one of the best 80s heavy metal records, which, anyone who digs traditional heavy metal or progressive heavy metal, should hear. I insist! 

For the fans of bands like Crimson Glory, Fates Warning, Queensryche, and.. what the hell.. for anyone enjoying some of the best bits of 80s heavy metal. You MUST hear this one! Pinnacle moment of dream-like 80s early progressive heavy metal, that was ahead of it's time, yet remained unknown for the mainstream... this one will blow our mind! KULT metal at it's finest.

Note: The album was remastered some years ago and released as limited edition by the band members themselves. If it's still available, and you're interested in getting one (you should), check the link below! (re-written 28.11.2012)

96 | reviewer: dungeoncrawler

You can order Of The Sun + Moon directly from the band by clicking here

  • Jeff "The Pilot" Ulmer Vocals, Lead & Rhythm Guitars
  • Paul "Pol" Davis Drums
  • Will "Nascar" Rascan Rhythm Guitars
  • James "Zed" Channing Bass
  • 1. Ayltuthus I 00:38
  • 2. Of The Sun + Moon 04:26
  • 3. Fieldz The Sunshrine 04:28
  • 4. Salem 04:27
  • 5. The Reign Of Night Rainz 01:27
  • 6. Legacy 04:27
  • 7. To Lunar Windz... 04:24
  • 8. The Enlightenment 03:29
  • 9. Master Of The Sun 06:55
  • 10. The Pressing 03:10
  • 11. In Light Of The Moon 03:08
  • 12. Moon 08:10
    • Total playing time 49:09

For Collectors:
(Following prices have raised since ’99 but will give you direction)
Used album price @ Martin Popoff’s Heavy Metal Record Price Guide (1999):

Label – Black Dragon/BD015
Type – LP/US/86 (gatefold)
Near Mint – $22
Very Good+ - $12