On their first new album for five years Saint are in heavenly form

Metal fans of a certain age will remember the shock when Joey Belladonna took his Headress off, and left Anthrax to walk into the sunset in the early 1990s. The man Scott Ian turned to was John Bush.

Bush had been the lead singer of Armored Saint for a decade, and they’d disbanded a couple of years before. The resulting union with Ian’s thrash kings lasted 13 years off and on (and spawned one of MVM’s favourite ‘Thrax records in “Sound Of White Noise”).

There was a temporary reunion of Saint at the turn of the new millennium, but that was it until 2010’s “La Raza” record. Five more long years have passed, but the band are back – again – for this.

We could beat around the …..urmmm…. bush, we could write hundreds more words of preamble. But that would merely be delaying this simple fact: “Win Hands Down” isn’t just victorious, it is perhaps approaching a career high.

The record crackles with energy, it bristles with barely concealed aggression, it is full of hooks and choruses – and if anyone thought this was a band trading on a name they can think again, because quite frankly, “…..Down” would boot you in the balls if it caught you even pondering such a thing.

From the opening of its title track, this is an album that has everything. Superb riffs, clever wordplay, choruses to chant and yell like you used to as a kid. “Mess” and the even better “Exercise In Debauchery” get this job done in a way that very little has since Skid Row stuck out “Slave To The Grind” back in 1991.

Not the record wallows in the past. “Muscle Memory” adds a pretty modern sheen to Joey Vera’s menacing bass groove, before coming to the conclusion that: “you can face it like a man, or like a wimp/either way you are facing it.”

This is turbocharged, muscular, testosterone filled rock n roll, it’s also very American sounding. At its absolute best – the brilliant “That Was Then, Way Back When” – it manages to add a sardonic sneer as it takes apart the modern technological age.

“With A Full Head Of Steam” lives up to its name, as the guitar work from Phil Sandoval and Jeff Duncan, while the acoustics on the piano driven “Dive” and adds some light and shade.

It all ends in wonderfully unapologetic fashion, with almost literally, a middle finger to everyone, in the shape of “Up Yours,” which brings a superb, confident and strident collection to a close.

After five years without an album, to come back with this proves Armored Saint’s abilities better than you could possibly imagine. “Win Hands Down” takes the competition and teaches them a lesson. Brilliantly.

Rating 9.5/10