Metal Blade Records/Rocket Distribution
Reviewed By Simon Milburn
There’s always a little bit of excitement associated with a new release from the criminally underrated Armored Saint. Even if it’s a live album such as their latest one, dubbed Carpe Noctum, for me there’s an expectation associated with Armored Saint and a lot of that has to do with the pipes of one of the best vocalists in metal, Mr. John Bush. 2015’s Win Hands Down was a killer release from the long standing quintet, and a more than worthy follow up to 2010’s La Raza.
I thought it was interesting that Armored Saint, with the backing of a label like Metal Blade, still opted to utilise PledgeMusic to get this new live album released to the masses. Sure, there were the usual updates along the way and whatever types of rewards for those who chose to pony up big time upfront. Still, I’m not sold on this being the way to go for a project like this when they already have label backing. Perhaps I just don’t understand the biz well enough to get my head around how this all works. I don’t know.
Carpe Noctum captures the band live at one of the world’s biggest metal festivals, Wacken, in 2015. But in doing so, the whole experience sounds almost sterile and contrived to the point of the live tracks from Metallica’s Jump in the Fire EP and Slayer’s Live Undead EP, both of which first appeared way back in the early part of the ‘80’s. It sounds odd, right? I mean, in this day and age, with the technology we have for recording anything live - phones, GoPros, digital SLRs - all of which provide multi-camera angles and sound that could almost be straight from the mixing desk - it is absolutely astonishing that this release from Armored Saint sounds so damn stale overall.
Perhaps it’s just the crowd sound mixed with the album that tarnishes the “live” feel of the album. I suspect it is. During the likes of “Win Hands Down”, the excellent “March of the Saint”, “Last Train Home” and the closer “Reign of Fire”, sure it’s all about the band and without question, all five cylinders of the group are firing flawlessly. What doesn’t work is the faded in and out crowd that makes the end result seem assembled post production rather than a true representative release that absolutely captures the mighty Armored Saint live to perfection. And you know what? That flat out fucking sucks. This is not about the band sounding identical live compared to their studio equivalents. No way. This is about the fact that not only does the band deserve to be better represented live, but so do the fans, especially those who ponied up for the PledgeMusic campaign.
Look, the eight tracks here are undeniably good. There’s no doubt that Armored Saint sound incredible live and to be honest, I’d expect nothing less of these metal veterans. Whoever mixed this with the “crowd” noise whenever appropriate, I think they got it all wrong. It feels contrived and it feels non genuine. It sure as fuck does not feel like it’s live and ultimately that is the one thing that completely betrays this live release. When John Bush asks “Are you alive out there?”, suddenly the crowd appear and they sound watered down. It may as well be a bootleg sourced from the mixing desk with some random crowd noise thrown in for shits and giggles.
I really want to love this album so much but whoever is behind the blend or mix of crowd and live band needs to get a lesson in capturing live music a-la Metallica’s Live in Seattle ’89 or Slayer’s Decade of Aggression. There’s much to be learnt for this individual and sadly, it’s Armored Saint and fans of the band that will pay the price this time. It sounds live but doesn’t feel live. So much potential that falls so short and don’t even start me on the fact that a band with a career as lengthy as Armored Saint’s is not represented past eight tracks. On many levels this band deserved so much more than this and here we are left with Carpe Noctum. This release should be titled more like Caveat Emptor really.