Armored Saint - Win Hands Down
Metal Blade
Heavy Metal
9 songs (51:00)
Release year: 2015
Armored Saint, Metal Blade
Reviewed by Goat

Armored Saint are one of those bands – the good, but not great. The kind of band that you like more than other people based on some random little feature that appeals to you personally – John Bush's voice, say, which will never be placed alongside the Dickinsons and Halfords but which is distinct enough to be recognisable and has a strange agelessness all of its own. (Seriously, listen to 1985's Delirious Nomad then come back to Win Hands Down, and tell me the man isn't immortal.) I've long been a Bush fan, his contributions enough to make even those lesser Anthrax albums enjoyable and to elevate Armored Saint material from the merely ok (2010's La Raza, looking at you) to the pretty darn good. So it naturally follows that an album full of pretty terrific material will sound outstanding when fronted by one of the J Bushes not currently running for President – and indeed, Win Hands Down is an outstanding album. Just what I needed, in fact; the more alert of you will noticed that I've been on extended leave from this site since September, burnt out on writing and tired from the real world's incessant demands. Yet I've not stopped listening to metal, and Win Hands Down has been on my playlist since the June release date. I've been meaning to write about it since then, the kind of good, honest heavy metal album that reminds you just why you got into the genre in the first place.

Compared to La Raza, Win Hands Down... wins hands down (come on, you were expecting that!). The opening title track is a deliciously heavy old-school pounder that builds excitingly into a groovy chug immediately heavier than anything from the previous album. It hits the anthemic chorus before the first minute is up, thereafter throwing in widdly guitarwork a la classic Megadeth and a jazzy prog meander straight out of recent Opeth before returning to the chorus at the song's end – a hell of a lot more interesting than your standard heavy metal song and proof that you can experiment with your sound without losing your essence or the listener. It's a terrific opening track that shows the band off perfectly, from the frontman belting his heart out to the talented musicians behind him crafting a melodic yet still clearly heavy freakin' metal backdrop.

Keeping it interesting, the band change it up a little with the following Mess, going a little darker in tone and building up to another intensely charismatic yet prog-tinged metal tune. Restrained experimental aspects (with what sounds like a sitar at one point) help give flavour to the otherwise groovy riffs, the whole song something like Faith No More with a hefty dose of classic Metallica. That classic metal feel continues with the opening riff to An Exercise In Debauchery, a heavy, pounding, 'message' song like classic heavy metal used to do so well – that the message is about porn addiction is neither here nor there when the band are throwing in bass and guitar riff trading and killer solos like this. Even the more ballad-type songs are professional and interesting, the likes of Muscle Memory and In An Instant balancing the emotion with almost danceable grooves and infectious hooks, while Dive, a melancholic piano-backed ballad, is the poorest track on the album only through the relative lack of energy to everything else.

The main focus is on metallic pounders like That Was Then, Way Back When and With A Full Head of Steam – both of which chug along powerfully with plenty of exciting widdly guitarwork and even well-used female vocals (from Pearl Aday, Scott Ian's wife) on the latter track. Those, despite the catchily aggressive closing Up Yours, together make the second half of the album a bit of a step down from the excellent first half, but that's more a compliment to the opening tracks here than anything. Ultimately, what Win Hands Down proves is that when a band that have been making music for longer than most of us have been alive get motivated and write some great songs for their frontman to belt out, then you get an album like this – a thoroughly modern take on classic heavy metal that's as much fun to listen to as it seems that the band had fun making. This is only the third Armored Saint album since the millennium; a tragedy when they're as good as this. Let's hope Bush and the boys can make the wait for the next Armored Saint album much shorter.





Killing Songs :
Win Hands Down, Mess, An Exercise in Debauchery, That Was Then Way Back When, Up Yours
Goat quoted 85 / 100
Other albums by Armored Saint that we have reviewed:
Armored Saint - Delirious Nomad reviewed by Stefan and quoted 96 / 100
Armored Saint - La Raza reviewed by Goat and quoted 77 / 100
Armored Saint - Symbol Of Salvation reviewed by Aleksie and quoted 89 / 100
Armored Saint - Nod To The Old School reviewed by Danny and quoted no quote
Armored Saint - Revelation reviewed by Danny and quoted 90 / 100
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