Too melodic for thrash, too heavy for hair and too American to be NWOBHM, Armored Saint were the ugly duckling of ’80s metal. Their story is almost as epic as their name implies: eternal hope brought down by constant disappointment, brothers in metal banding closer together while bad fortune, bad timing and tragedy threatened to destroy them. In the end, it’s the tale of a close-knit family united by friendship and a mutual love of music, together against the world—even when it seemed like the world won.
The core of the band, drummer Gonzo Sandoval and guitarists David Prichard and Phil Sandoval, had all been friends since grade school. Inspired by bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, they started Armored Saint in 1982 in the Sandoval family garage with “some guy named Mike” while attending South Pasadena High School near Los Angeles. Fellow student John Bush had a versatile voice and a PA, making him the perfect choice for frontman. Bassist Joey Vera replaced Mike. The rest was history.
Their muscular SoCal take on New Wave of British Heavy Metal melodies helped win them an important fan: nascent Metal Blade chief Brian Slagel. The label founder would be their constant cheerleader as they weathered major label woes, Phil Sandoval’s dismissal during the Delirious Nomad sessions and—the biggest blow of all—the death of Prichard, the heart of the band and one of their principal songwriters, after a battle with leukemia at the age of 26.
The band regrouped and used Prichard’s final compositions as the basis for their fourth album. Symbol of Salvation proves that Prichard’s premature loss was just as devastating as Randy Rhoads’ or Chuck Schuldiner’s. Fantastical fist-pumper “Reign of Fire,” the soaring “Another Day” and the groovy “Tribal Dance” alone showcase his range and genius. The other musicians brought their best as well—new guitarist Jeff Duncan contributed heartfelt ballad “Last Train Home” and the sinister title track, while Vera’s soulful instrumental “Half Drawn Bridge” pays tribute to his friend. The band’s determination to do justice by Prichard shines through on every track, making this the Back in Black of the denim-and-leather set. Slagel has said it’s his favorite Metal Blade release.
Unfortunately, the album came out in 1991—not a great time for traditional metal. Glowing reviews didn’t translate to sales or tour attendance. Then Anthrax put in a call to Bush to see if he’d be interested in replacing Joey Belladonna, and that was that. For a while. Armored Saint reformed in 2000 and remain active with the same lineup. In 2018, they toured Symbol of Salvation in its entirety and discovered that, although it took almost three decades, the album had finally found its audience.
In order to be eligible for Hall of Fame induction, we need to include the voice of everyone who performed on the album. A notable voice is missing: Prichard’s. But because he didn’t actually play on the record (outside of a patched-in solo), his story —and the band’s—can be told here. We welcome Symbol of Salvation as it spreads its reign of fire to the Decibel Hall of Fame.
Need more Armored Saint? To read the entire seven-page story, featuring interviews with all members on Symbol of Salvation, purchase the print issue from our store, or digitally via our app for iPhone/iPad or Android.