|Musical Style: Classic Metal||Produced By: Richard Lynch & David Lohr|
|Record Label: Retroactive||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1988/2011||Artist Website: Saint|
|Tracks: 9||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 31:53|
Old Christian metal bands don’t fade away: They either reform and then hint at the promise of recording new material - with all apologies to Barren Cross, Bloodgood, Neon Cross, Recon, Sacred Warrior and Whitecross - or re-master and re-issue their classic albums of the past.
Which one is it in this case? Well, a little bit of both. Saint is one of a very few Christian metal bands from the eighties to get back together following the turn of the century and actually record new material, with Bride (Skin For Skin & Tsar Bomba), Deliverance (As Above – So Below) and Stryper (Reborn & Murder By Pride) being the others. Saint has been the most prolific of the group, having recorded four albums in seven years: In The Battle (2004), The Mark (2006), Crime Scene Earth (2009) and Hell Blade (2010).
The three classic Saint albums from the eighties - Warriors Of The Son (1984), Time’s End (1986) and Too Late For Living (1988) – have been re-issued numerous times, with the most recent occurring in the summer of 2011 on Retroactive Records - re-mastered and packaged in a 6 panel digipak with liner notes from bassist Richard Lynch - as part of a three disc Originals Collection.
Similar to Warriors Of The Son and Time’s End, Saint presents with a joining of traditional and classic heavy metal on Too Late For Living. New guitarist Dee Harrington, who replaced the departed John Mahan, proves responsible for the “heavy” and “metal” aspects to the Saint sound. While his rhythm guitar abilities are without question - his playing traverses the smoother and more polished side of things, albeit no less heavy than Mahan, who brought a distorted and angrier sound - it is his unparalleled soloing that stands out. His emotional lead guitar work on the instrumental “Returning” is nothing less than jaw dropping while the same can be said for his soloing on the albums dominant title track (shredding front to back) and all out intensity that is “Through The Sky” (incessant approach). It all adds up to a stunning performance that must be mentioned when discussing the more overlooked (and perhaps finest) from the era.
Speaking of newcomers, drummer John Perrine takes the Saint rhythm section to the next level. By far the best timekeeper to grace the Saint line-up (and trust me they have had some good ones, including Larry London and Bill Brost), Perrine provides the frenetic backbone that makes the speed metal influenced “Star Pilot” and deeper and more portent “The Path” stand out unequivocally.
Josh Kramer, with his Halford influenced vocal abilities, helps lend Saint’s comparison to Judas Priest- and rightly so! It has always been my opinion that Too Late For Living represents his finest effort (at least of the three eighties albums), reflected in how he stretches in showing the outer limits to his voice on heavy hitter “The Rock” while adding some more even and poignantly done flavorings to “On The Street” and semi-ballad “The War Is Over”.
Musically, I have always felt that Warriors Of The Son was solid but with a few rough edges while Time’s End better reflected the groups potential in terms of songwriting and production. Too Late For Living finds Saint continuing to grow and mature from a musical standpoint. One of the main reasons being is the number of songwriters in the Saint line-up: Four to be exact in that songwriting contributions are made by Lynch, Harrington and Kramer in addition to former guitarist John Mahan. With this in mind, it has always been my experience that the more songwriters a group presents the better opportunity for not only quality material but the more consistent album as well, a particular that plays out to perfection on Too Late For Living.
The lone complaint, ironically, is that Too Late For Living is a bit short in featuring 9 songs and just over 31 minutes of music. Yes, I wish that Saint had contributed and extra song or two but give the group credit for going with its best material and not giving us any filler in the process.
When I heard that Too Late For Living was going to be re-mastered, I had some strong misgivings. I mean, how could it be possible to improve upon what I already felt was near perfect production? That being said, when you take already excellent source material and combine it with a talented mastering technician, the results can be stunning- and such is the case here. J Powell of Steinhaus, for a lack of better words, brings out the best in the sound here adding even more energy and focus to an already very good group of songs: What we wind up with is the deeper low end with even cleaner leads and more defined rhythm guitar sound.
Track By Track
The albums signature title track rates with Saint’s finest. With crunchy guitars, staunch bass lines and unwavering tempo leading the way, “Too Late For Living” hammers through its verses on the way to a sweeping chorus written from the standpoint of someone who lost their life and looks back in regret:
Too late for living
Suddenly life is gone
I drove the center line
Acting like I knew it all
And I wound up in a faster lane
Heading for my fall
Well I see the Light but it's too late
For me, I'm gone
Too late for living…
Topping things off is Harrington’s front to back ripping lead work.
“Star Pilot” is the albums lone attempt at speed metal- and a very good one at that. The song sets a relentless pace, roaring its distance to mercurial riffing and Perrine’s hyper-athletic drum work (the guy is literally all over the place here). Chorus, expeditious and fixed but resonant at the same time, is of the breathtaking variety. “Star Pilot” combines aspects of spiritual warfare and science fiction imagery:
Plot a course into battle
Ignition thrusters igniting done
Blasting with proton power
It seems we've won but they're not gone
Why am I fighting a battle that's been won?
Red alert star craft approaching
Everybody put on your gear
Once again into battle
Out to space no reason to fear
Our Lord protect us we know that He is here
“Accuser” is the only track here I question. Part of the problem is its length: At just under two minutes the song barely has a chance to establish itself (it comes and goes before you know it). Perhaps if an extra minute or two had been added to its length it might hold up better. Otherwise, it is not bad musically - I rank it just above filler territory - but it is far from the bands best effort.
“The Rock” is more along the lines of what Saint is capable. What we have here is a tenacious cruncher, driven by heavy duty guitar riffs and an emotional milieu but all the while setting a tempo on the tireless side of things. One has to appreciate how Kramer exhibits the full range to his voice, particularly during the songs vigorous chorus. “The Rock” reinforces where our focus should be:
Many come and many stray
Lose their faith they walk away
Turn their back on what they know
What is left where can they go
We are called to stand tall
Eyes upon the One who's love redeems us all
Eyes upon the Rock
Now's the time come one and all
In the light you can not fall
Saving grace is here for you
Ask who've sinned he wants you too
Things take a mid-paced heading with “On The Street”. This one allows an abundant melody to stand out, evenly flowing its length as edgy rhythm guitars and an ample low end force puts things over the top. A passage during the final minute finds the guitar dropping out of the mix to allow Kramer’s vocals to stand out over resounding drums. The emphasis here is on moving forward in faith:
Was all alone
Out on the street
Down and beat
Then he came
He talked to me
He cleansed my heart
He said move forward
Walk in faith
It's time to watch
The moves you make
Follow the truth
I placed in you
You know what's right
Know I'm with you
Now it's time for you to stop running
The time is now salvation's calling
Jesus is the way for you, that's right
The following three songs, “Returning”, “The Path” and “Through The Sky”, join together to form a suite based around the Book of Revelation.
“Returning” is an instrumental guitar aficionado’s delight. The song, as one might imagine, allows Harrington to stand out with his deft lead guitar abilities - blazing, fluid and at times emotional - while also playing up some darker low end undercurrents (there is almost a power metal feel here that brings to mind Sacred Warrior). The final moments descend to an acoustic guitar played over narration from Revelation 6:6.
“The Path” cuts in at once, ominous and disquiet to some low key flavorings as the song gradually builds momentum until culminating for the resounding tendencies that are its no-nonsense chorus. A technical feel is added as a result of the intricate drum work. Perhaps it is the all out heaviness or swarthy elements, but I am reminded of Time’s End (it almost sounds as of it was written with the album in mind). “The Path” deals with the false prophet:
I am the false prophet in tribulation
I'm seeking mighty goals and reputations
I serve the prince of hell
He's not forgotten
And there so many fell
And now they're rotten
I search from town to town
To drag who I can down
Don't step in my path
“Through The Sky” is Saint’s best ever, bar none. The song might slowly fade in but proves a high intensity player the rest of the way, reinforcing a concentrated aura and some of the most brazen guitar riffs you will every hear. Band performance, at the same time, is nothing less than inspired: Harrington’s solo is one for the ages while Perrine, again, is relentless behind the drum kit. The second coming is the subject at hand:
Soon the world will see God's face
Raging through the sky
His fiery eyes will find you
So make a choice to live or die
Let me tell you this my friend
The truth is to be known
Vengeance, death or victory
The choice is yours, yours all your own
Like the devil seeks his thrill
To quench his thirst to be fulfilled
The prince of death will pay, listen to me
“The War Is Over” closes things in the form of a semi ballad (sort of like “Alpha Omega” from The Revelation/The Mark). The song slows the tempo while backing off from some of the guitar driven fortitude but still retains Saint’s trademark crunch. Some moving - almost worshipful - underpinnings can be found, as reflected in its stirring chorus and emotionally charged lead work. Penned by Josh Kramer, “The War Is Over” proves aptly entitled:
You rescued me from the serpent's coil
And all the traps that ensnared my mind
The war is over you won it a long time ago
The truth is sometimes bitter sweet
It's hard to take where it hurts the most
But Lord you're great, the power hits deep down inside
The prince of shadows has lost his hold
His tactics fail, as they unfold
Yet fighting continues in vain until the end
So let battle commence I'm armed for war
You've trained me for the fields of doom
Where many before me fought and many died
The war is over…
Too Late For Living adds up to a great album with a great message. Yes, some might argue that Time’s End is the better effort musically. My thought is that whereas both albums might rank neck and neck in terms of songwriting, Too Late For Living is the better effort production wise. My recommendation is to get both and decide for yourself! Thanks to Retroactive Records for making the two - along with Warriors Of The Son - available in a superior re-mastered format.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Too Late For Living” (3:54), “Star Pilot” (3:24), “Accuser” (1:59), “The Rock” (2:48), “On The Street” (3:36), “Returning” (4:41), “The Path” (3:38), “Through The Sky” (3:53), “The War Is Over” (3:58)
Josh Kramer - Lead Vocals
Dee Harrington – Guitars
Richard Lynch – Bass
John Perrine - Drums