|Musical Style: Classic Metal||Produced By: Jared Knowland|
|Record Label: Armor||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2014||Artist Website: Saint|
|Tracks: 9||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 31:21|
Among eighties Christian metal legends, it can be safely said that few stand as tall as Salem, Oregon based Saint. The list of accolades is long and varied, and starts with acclaimed classic eighties releases Warriors Of The Son (1984), Time’s End (1986) and Too Late For Living (1989). Extended hiatus took Saint past the turn of the century to its most prolific period: Starting with In The Battle from 2004 the group has released an album every two years- The Mark (2006), Crime Scene Earth (2008), Hell Blade (2010), Desperate Night (2012) and Broad Is The Gate (2014). Despite enduring significant turnover within its roster, including four different guitarists (John Mahan, Dee Harrington, Jerry Johnson and Matt Smith), too many drummers to mention and a pair of vocalists (newcomer Brian Phyll Miller recently supplanted original front man Josh Kramer), Saint has maintained the quality (if not upped it) on each subsequent release.
Musically, Saint has gained renown for its traditional metal leanings, with Josh Kramer lending to its comparison (accurately I might add) to Judas Priest from his Halford-like vocal abilities. As many of you know, a new vocalist can potentially alter a bands sound, but much to its credit Saint stays true to its NWOBHM roots on Broad Is The Gate despite the addition of the talented Miller (the same smooth transition was made by Saint as Sacred Warrior when it recently replaced Rey Parra with Eli Prinson). When placed alongside one another, Miller sings in the higher register than Kramer (observation and no way a critique in that I remain a fan of Kramer’s abilities) with a touch of raspy grit and gravel, which allows for a slight Dio quality to his delivery. My impression is that Miller is a natural power metal vocalists (he auditioned for DragonForce in 2010) but proves versatile enough to complement the Saint style of classic metal. As we shall see later in the review, he correspondingly allows the group to branch out a bit musically in comparison to past releases.
As for Kramer, he has not been heard from since last appearing on Desperate Night two years ago (Miller, for those wondering, provided a bit of foreshadowing by making a guest appearance on the albums title track). My wish is for Kramer to return to the scene and record a much-needed solo album. Perhaps he could collaborate with former colleagues John Mahan and Dee Harrington in terms of songwriting (Kramer, at the same time, is no slouch in this area himself). I would not be surprised if founding member and bassist Richard Lynch has a backlog of un-recorded songs he could also contribute. With four potential songwriters (the same ones that wrote all the material for Too Late For Living) it would make for a killer album- or at the very least one of the more highly anticipated regardless of year released.
The better Broad Is The Gate material does not disappoint. It starts with the albums commanding title track, as incisively driven moments (in which prodigious guitar walls and darker undercurrents prevail) stand alongside those which border on the accessible (as can be found in the catchy refrain). “Broad Is The Gate” also introduces the second new member to the Saint family in Matthew P. Smith, who rounds out the guitar team with holdover Jerry Johnson. Of note is how the two adorn the song with an extended stretch of scintillating duel lead guitar.
“Hero” sustains the aggressive mid-paced emphasis in upping the heaviness overall. A bit shorter at three and a half minutes, the song comes across reverberant with its staunchly done chorus and Jared Knowland’s emphatic timekeeping skills. Two songs into the Brian Miller era and the overall impression is a slightly more accessible (the word deserves repeat again) Saint. No, not commercial or any less assertive but reflecting the greater engaging feel (at least on first listen) all the same.
“We All Stand” takes the energy level to the next level. This one proves up-tempo all the way, with knife-edge guitar riffs storming front to back and Richard Lynch’s immediately recognizable gruff backing vocals accenting the refrain, which gives rise to a surprising sublime feel. Likewise, “We Will Fight” stomps and storms its length, albeit at the more tempered pace with a bedrock of animated bass lines and more lower register backing vocals (this time chanting the songs title) holding sway. Some power metal elements stand out in the choir-like vocals at the beginning and classical keyboards opening the instrumental section.
“Never Same” also finds Saint branching out in mixing symphonic elements with a classic metal basis (sort of like Promise Land). The orchestral keyboards that accent the atmospheric feel of the first minute reflect this best. Guitars gradually build and make their presence felt as the song moves ahead, upholding the ethereally done verses (in which the orchestration returns) and alluring chorus (that finds Miller singing in a lower register). This is not so much the albums best track as potential song of the year.
A return to traditional metal territory presents itself on “Who Are You”, with brazen guitar feedback at the start giving way to the grooving bass guitar driven presence carrying things the rest of the way. A darker aura rises to the forefront correspondingly, as freight train-like guitars and exuberant refrain align with the albums best stretch of radiant soloing. The up-tempo flavorings and uplifting feel border on the infectious (in similar fashion as Hell Blade tracks “You & Me” and “Crying In The Night”).
“Demon Pill” is the first of two shorter pieces in the two and a half minute range. The song proves the better of the pair in launching at breakneck speed with hooks galore and unremitting tempo certain to have you returning time-and-again (those newfound Saint engaging qualities once more stands out). “Reach For The Sky” does not work as well within an abbreviated framework, every bit heavy and nearly as fast but fading out before it has a chance to build (the song almost comes across half done as a result). I do not mind an occasional shorter piece but two and a half minutes pushes the limit of acceptable song length in my opinion. I cannot help but think it would have made better sense for the group to extend either one into the three-minute range by adding an additional chorus, verse or protracted instrumental section.
Speaking of which, closing instrumental “Metal Cross” falls within the throwaway category in that it does not even reach two minutes. Again, why not add an extra couple of minutes to the song and let Johnson and Smith show off their licks and chops accordingly. When I think of Saint instrumental pieces, full length tracks “The Returning” (four and a half minutes and off Too Late For Living) and “Gog & Magog” (five minutes and from The Mark) immediately come to mind. These two set the benchmark in terms of how a Saint instrumental should be done.
Lone complaint as it pertains to Broad Is The Gate comes to mind as a result: the album is WAY to short at just over thirty minutes (it would not be inaccurate as a result to place it within the EP category). As a reviewer, I understand that good songs do not necessarily grow on trees and the cost of studio time, mixing and mastering are not cheap. That being said if the group has no new material available then why not re record a couple of its classics from the past with Brian Miller on vocals (in similar fashion as Sacred Warrior did with Eli Prinsen on its 2013 comeback release Waiting In Darkness). At the very least, this would help push Broad Is The Gate close to a much more satisfying forty minutes.
Previous two Saint releases Desperate Night and Hell Blade set the standard as it pertains to production for independent albums, and Broad Is The Gate proves no exception Specifically, mix is clean enough to allow all instrumentation to stand out, particularly drums (packing the needed punch) and vocals and lead guitar (neither dominating but not relegated to the backdrop either).
I like to describe Saint lyrics as reflective of depth and substance. In other words, the group proves you can communicate the faith in an intelligent manner without hitting you over the head. Albums title track stands out in this regard with its message of how salvation is a narrow path: Broad is the gate that leads us into sorrow. Anguish and pain will fill each lonely day. Wide is the highway that's paved with good intentions. Narrows the path that leads us to the way. “We All Stand” touches upon a similar theme: No way I’m given up. I’ll chase the final day. A path before me now is there to light my way. We all stand for the everlasting King. Raising our hand to the throne. Blessed be to the One who set me free. Praises to Him all alone
“Who You Are” almost comes across worshipful - Oh You bare the scares. A shining star is what You are. You spill Your life blood out for me. And with no dignity You took my shame and I’m to blame. Oh Jesus, I know who You are. You’re the Bright and Morning Star - while “Reach The Sky” deals with End Times themes: Anarchy raging as a bowls about to spill. To give a dose of death to die. Bronze feet aglow as the armies spin their wheels. The demon dance is done, the Son of Man we hear His cry. Every tongue and nation. They will knell this day as they meet creation. His will will have its way.
Broad Is The Gate cannot help but leave me with mixed feelings. On one hand, its better material is outstanding. The presence of Brian Miller also injects some newfound energy and accessibility to the group’s performance and songwriting at the same time (which in no way is a knock on predecessor Kramer). On the other, the album is too short at 31 minutes, a particular compounded by the presence of a couple of skip buttons. Naturally, I would like to see any future release from Saint include more material, with the main reason being its current line up exhibits such great promise (this is potentially the best Saint roster ever). The formula is to maintain the high level of songwriting and production but with at least 10 songs and 40 minutes of music next time around.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Broad Is The Gate” (4:12), “Hero” (3:20), “We All Stand” (3:44), “Demon Pill” (2:35), “We Will Fight” (3:55), “Who Are You” (4:08), “Reach The Sky” (2:25), “Never Same” (5:18), Metal Cross” (1:45)
Brian Phyll Miller - Vocals
Matthew P Smith - Guitars
Jerry Johnson - Guitars
Richard Lynch - Bass
Jared Knowland - Drums