There is no period more important to Metal than the 80’s. In the spotlight were the monsters abroad, with Iron Maiden and Judas Priest riding high, while Black Metal’s rising began to slither underground. The United States brought MTV, a shitload of hairspray, and what were to become ‘the Big Four.’
Beneath the American flames, Armored Saint smoldered; a rare treasure ahead of its time that gave off a special light which allowed those who could see it, a glimpse into Metal’s future and roots all at once.
But, like anything new, it came with a price. Bassist and founder, Joey Vera said, “The struggle was that we felt like we didn’t fit in places and in certain genres. We didn’t know where we belonged.”
The dawn of their career promised a set of strong wings to be able to soar along side the NWOBHM eagles, but because of their progressive edge to their straight up Metal, the infant industry was at a loss on how to sell them, which kept them, essentially, earthbound.
“We didn’t realize how restless we were as songwriters,” he explained. “We’ve always wanted to do almost all of it. We wanted to write a thrash song, we wanted to hang with the trash boys. We wanted to hang with the more commercial boys. We wanted to hang with the art boys. We wanted to hang with the funky boys, We wanted to hang with the bluesy-rock boys. We wanted to do all of it.”
“We’re just kind of on our own island basically.”
Such is the way with family, as well. “Gonzo and John and myself have known each other since we were nine years old. Our blood goes way deep, we are like family. And you know how it is when you do business with family, it’s really difficult sometimes.”
Yet, for everything there is a place and time. For Armored Saint, it seemed their potential was within reach. Just as they had signed with Metal Blade and began to work on their fourth release, they were challenged with the fall of their band brother, David Prichard, to leukemia. Getting back on their feet, they found a replacement, ex-Odin guitarist Jeff Duncan, and Symbol of Salvation was released in 1991.
The critics loved it. The fans loved it. But, it didn’t sell. “We were young and we didn’t know yet how to have that relationship with business people who are much older than us. Mind you, our first record came out when we were all 20 years old, so we didn’t know. We had no experience in even how to sick to our own guns really.”
However, the spirit of the Saint was haunting, and again, the clouds parted to receive them to the stars.
But, then Anthrax happened and snatched up their vocalist, John Bush, to replace Joey Belladonna. Since the band had no intention of standing in the way of anyone’s success, they peacefully parted ways. Vera veered off to empower another powerhouse, Fates Warning, and life just unfolded at will until the turn of the century when Saint would turn a new page.
And nothing was lost…”except a little hair,” Vera said. “It was weird because it felt like no time had passed. It was immediate, like putting on that comfortable pair of jeans that you always loved.”
“When we got back together for Revelation in 1999, we kind of had a hand-shake thing with everybody and we said, ‘Look, you know, let’s just do this because we like it. And let’s put all these other expectations that normally come with a working band out the window,’ the things like, how do we sell more records, how do we make more money, how do we increase our fan base.
“We just felt like those things were such a distraction for us in the early part of our career,” he explained. “We lost sight of why we were doing this in the first place. We try to make sure we keep those criteria in our mind, and hopefully it shows. We’re just a bunch of guys who like to go out and rock out.”
And apparently, it does show – not just to the Generation X’ers who were part of the history, but newer generations, as well, which surprisingly came as a surprise. “All of these fans that we had back in the day, they all came back. And we started getting new fans. We were very surprised by that.”
Why that would be, Vera explained, “We never felt like ‘oh we had fans from the 80’s. Let’s just get together and make records, people will buy it.’ We never had that attitude. It was more like, ‘I wonder if there is anyone out there that cares,’ you know?
And then we got back together, it was immediate. It was like wow, there are a lot of people out there who really want to hear music from us.”
And why shouldn’t they? Today, in an age where Metal’s sub-genres split like atoms as fast as uploading a video on YouTube, why shouldn’t Armored Saint’s square peg find its rightful place? “Maybe it is something we didn’t want to take for granted.” Vera said.
And so, last fall, they delivered Carpe Noctum, a mutually beneficial opportunity taken and a live testament to the energy and music that keeps Armored Saint’s light burning as bright as ever. “We did a bunch of dates in the summer and we had the opportunity to record a few of the shows, which we did. At that time, there was no intention of saying to ourselves, ‘We’re going to make a live record.’ It was more about, ‘Hey they got a mobile unit here. We have this opportunity to record it and it was something decided the day of. And we said, oh well let’s do it. It’s more of a documentation thing.
Originally, we were just going to put it out and have it be a bridge product [since the release of Win Hands Down], but then this idea came up about getting fans involved and helping us put this record out. We got involved with this pledge music campaign, which was to us completely foreign. We didn’t know anything about it and had never done anything like this before.
It ended up, because of this pledge music campaign, it actually ended up helping us do the tour because the tour was very expensive for us to do. We actually were able to help pay for a lot of the expenses because of this record we put out.”
He continued, “It was originally only going to be through the pledge campaign, and I basically went to the label and asked them, why were we going to limit this only the pledge campaign, why don’t we actually make this a real release? At that point, they agreed and we decided we would make it available worldwide.”
“The whole thing has been a trip,” literally and figuratively. “We’ve met a lot of people and we saw a lot of people come out and support this. It was surprising to us how many people and were interested in all these different things we had available. It was really cool.”
He added, “I just want to give a big shout-out and a big thank you to all the fans, old and new, who support the band. The fact that people want to hear music from us and keep coming back and supporting us is basically the only reason we are able to do this. So, thank you.”
Now, ready to hit the road in the UK in March for Hammerfest and a few more shows in Ireland, the band right now is just riding the very high waves and today, they just released a new video from Carpe Noctem, “Last Train Home.”
As for new material, there will be a wait before the Muses pays Vera another visit. “It’s just been too crazy with doing a lot of touring and dealing with the pledge campaign. It’s been a lot of work in the last four or five months…
I really need to not have anything to do and to have some quiet time. I don’t mean like sit in a room and meditate but I do need to have this period of time where my brain settles down and I can start to open up.”
Upon reflection, now with a little more wind beneath their older, stronger wings, Vera said, “Sometimes, it is a tough pill for a lot of people to swallow, guys in bands especially. But, it is really all about role-playing. What is your role? Accept it.
It doesn’t matter how high up a rung you are on that ladder; what matters is you are one of those rungs on the latter. This is something that still, even though we’ve been in this band for 35 years, it is still sometimes hard for certain guys in the band in certain positions to voice their opinions and concerns and get their voice heard and all that stuff.
But, I think in the end, we all try to realize, it has been this exercise all these years of just looking at the big picture and just being satisfied with it.”