|Musical Style: Classic Metal||Produced By: Richard Lynch|
|Record Label: Retroactive||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2010||Artist Website: Saint|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 39:02|
Salem, Oregon based Saint has been on quite the comeback trail as of late. In 2004 the group released In The Battle, its first full length album since Too Late For Living from 1989, in addition to a re-recorded version of its 1984 debut EP Warriors Of The Son. A live album followed in 2005, appropriately entitled Live 05, while full length studio efforts came out in 2006 and 2008, The Mark and Crime Scene Earth respectively.
Saint returns on Retroactive Records for its latest project, Hell Blade. Scheduled for release in early 2010, the album finds Saint staying true to its classic metal roots (think Judas Priest, Armageddon, Accept and Metal Church) but this time heading in the darker and heavier direction. If anything, Hell Blade strikes the perfect balance between the swarthy aggression of Time’s End (the group’s sophomore release from 1986) and raw muscle found on In The Battle.
Mid-tempo pieces “The Blade” and “Endless Night” (notable melodies on both) and “Hell Train” and “Sinner Peace” (with their low-end intensity) best embody the joining of the “dark” and “heavy” in question. The pace picks up with “New World Order” and “To The Cross”, two high-octane tracks driven by endless hooks, while it does not get much more powerful than the albums driving title track. A melodic heading, in contrast, is taken on “Crying In The Night” and “You & Me”. These two almost border on the commercial. Do I dare say that?
Josh Kramer maintains his Halford-like vocal presence. Delivering a performance characterized by passion, heart and guts, Josh brings some low-key touches to “’Endless Night” while exhibiting an aggressive edge on “New World Order”. “Hell Blade” best reflects his versatility and “Crying In The Night” a smoother side to his delivery.
Founding member Richard Lynch lays down some killer bass lines throughout, his low end presence standing out best on “Hell Train” and “Sinner Peace”. Bill Brost, with his heavy footed and persuasive style, puts in perhaps the finest Saint performance on drums since John Perrine from Too Late For Living.
Hell Blade finds Jerry Johnson handling all guitar duties. I feel at this point a rundown of the guitarists appearing on the Saint comeback albums is in order: Johnson also contributed the guitar work on In The Battle while The Mark featured the efforts of Dee Harrington. Johnson and Harrington made Crime Scene Earth a joint venture.
Now, do not be concerned about Harrington missing in action. Johnson proves equally able in the soloing department – I rank the two neck and neck in overall ability – while an extra element of heaviness a second guitarist might lend is not missing.
That said, the only thing we might lose without Harrington is an element of musical depth. Now, what I mean here is that in addition to being a first rate soloist, Harrington is also quite the able songwriter, having helped compose many of my favorite Saint tunes, including “Ryders” (off In The Battle) and “Through The Sky” (off Too Late For Living). With this in mind, if Harrington were around we might be treated to a tenth or eleventh full length song on Hell Blade (or at the very least one of his trademark shred instrumentals).
Production values are the finest of the four comeback albums. The drum sound is particularly strong while guitars deliver the needed edge and bit.
Lyrics touch upon many of the same apocalyptic themes present on The Mark.
“The Ascent”, a short instrumental with a symphonic touch, leads the way to “The Blade”. Classic Saint in the truest sense of the word, “The Blade” proves an impassioned track with its crushing low end and proclivity on the astringent side of things. Despite the weighty milieu, your attention will be riveted by the forthright hook and Johnson’s razor-edged leads in abundance.
A more upbeat direction is taken on “To The Cross”. This one brings a profusion of energy, reflected in its charged verses and terse but spirited chorus upheld by backing vocals guttural as they get. Adding to the exuberant scene is Brost, who literally goes all out behind the drum kit. “To The Cross” touches upon the second coming:
The darkened clouds approach
And sundown is upon them
The earth is quaking now
The fighting’s just begun
Rumors, terror and war
The fig is ripe and ready
At tribulations door
Give it to God
You know He is the way
“Crying In The Night” brings a melodic feel. Melodic, of course, does not mean any less heavy, as is aptly demonstrated in the strapping riffs carrying its distance. It must be noted how the bands youthful vigor approaches the infectious while the same can be said for the non-stop hook chorus.
“Hell Train” slows things to a rumbling mid-paced snarl. Low-key, dark and strapping, this one kicks up a storm of insolence with its forceful bass lines and Josh Kramer’s consummate touches of guts and drive. Johnson’s lead work literally flashes between the left and right channels.
Sustaining the mid-tempo propensity is “Endless Night”. An ominous presence is put forth by the song, holding sway over its commanding verse portions and trudging chorus bordering on the prodigious. The melody you will find gripping and low end muscle massive. “Endless Night” deals with how judgment is at hand:
As we crest forsaken tides
When the word starts burning
And the loved ones left behind
The time is now for turning
One last flight, the trumpets call
A flash, we’re gone, a new day
You can fight or come along
Let’s taste of life a new way
“You & Me” represents a return to a melodic based heading. Similar to “Crying In The Night”, you will be presented with an upbeat tempo and more than abundance of continuous hooks to go around. One cannot help but appreciate the left turn the song makes into a blues flavored instrumental section.
“New World Order” is as heavy as it gets. With hammering guitar riffs and assailing impetus leading the way, the song establishes an aphotic environs and joins it with lyrics of an apocalyptic variety:
World governments colliding
Foot in the end time snare
We’ve beet the drum of reason
No one seems to care
Terrorist militias mounting
The words forgotten tears
And now the end is at the door
It’s at the door insisting
I particularly enjoy the spoken word interlude that gives way to the albums best stretch of lead guitar.
This reviewer’s choice track is “Sinner Peace”, a tenacious four and a half minute assault that finds Saint putting forth a performance that is machine-like in its precision. Unwavering bass lines add to the inauspicious leanings, made evident in a chorus trending towards the portent if not all out foreboding. The focus of “Sinner Peace” is on Christ:
He’s the Sinner Peace
The Knight that’s shining
Full of Glory
He’s your inner peace
He casts His light as He goes before me
“Hell Blade” draws things to a fitting close. Moving at the faster tempo in comparison to the two preceding it, the song maintains the dusky heaviness of much of the albums material while yielding the occasional trace of the symphonic. Harsh and biting backing vocals step forward to drive its chorus. “Hell Blade” is a synonym for the Antichrist:
And he walked out from the sea into the city
To set his rule and be a king
And the people of the world saw he was mighty
Amazing peace that he will bring
From the darkened pit he rises up to power
To build a throne with his armies
On the temple mount he sets up to devour
All the earth is sure to see
Now bow to me
Hell Blade, all in all, features some of the finest songs of the four Saint comeback albums. That said, it does not quite reach the consistency and continuity of The Mark (in my opinion the best of the four). No, not once do I hit the skip button, but rather I wish Hell Blade included an extra song or two in that at just over thirty-nine minutes it is on the short side of things. Still, credit must be given to Saint for the quality production and strength of its performance.
Track Listing: “The Ascent” (:38), “The Blade” (3:37), “To The Cross” (3:41), “Crying In The Night” (3:45), “Hell Train” (4:11), “Endless Night” (4:15), “You & Me” (3:48), “New World Order” (5:01), “Sinner Peace” (4:39), “Hell Blade” (5:23)
Josh Kramer – Lead Vocals
Jerry Johnson – Guitars
Richard Lynch – Bass
Bill Brost - Drums