I've been an obsessed hard rock & heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.
Genre: Traditional Heavy/Power Metal
Release: Stormspell Records, 2021
10 tracks, run time: 34:50
Time and again, the heavy metal experts at the tiny-but-true Stormspell Records label have demonstrated their knack for unearthing lost, ultra-obscure metal treasures from days gone by, and their latest cool cult classic reissue, Laden Saint, is no exception. For the uninitiated (which included this writer, until Stormspell's promo landed in my inbox), Laden Saint was a four-piece traditional metal band that hailed from Vancouver, Washington. The band formed in 1985 and kicked around the Pacific Northwest metal scene for a number of years trying to score that ever-elusive record deal, but they never got past the demo-tape stage before splitting up at the dawn of the grunge era.
In 2010, three of Laden Saint's four members—guitarist/vocalist Joe Kasper, drummer Scott Spencer, and bassist Brad Bemsing—got back together to record their self-titled debut album, which they put out as an independent digital release. Now it's 2021, and Stormspell has stepped into the picture to give Laden Saint its first-ever, way overdue pressing on CD.
Stormspell's promotional hype for this album proclaims Laden Saint is "the best '80s classic power metal band you've never heard" and compares them to icons like Metal Church, Flotsam and Jetsam, Vicious Rumors, and Liege Lord, which seems accurate enough. If you're a fan of any of those bands, or melodic '80s power/speed metal in general, Laden Saint (the band and the album) are worthy of a spot in your playlist.
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Once I got past the slightly-goofy, dated-as-hell album cover art (man, Photoshop has come a long way since the early 2000s, hasn't it?) and pressed play on Laden Saint, I was immediately hooked by the band's combo of heaviness, melody, and full-on guitar shred. I'm not sure if the tracks on this album are fresh versions of old songs the band performed in the '80s or if they're all-new compositions, but either way, they maintain that authentic "U.S. Power Metal" feel, in spite of being recorded in the 21st century.
The album gets off to an energetic start with the punchy "Mindbender," which gallops along at a nice Maiden-ish pace with Kasper's sturdy riffing and Remsing's nimble bass work.. Kasper also handles lead vocals and while he's not what you'd call a "powerhouse" singer, he has a clear, sturdy voice that gets the job done, recalling such stalwart workhorses as Biff Byford (Saxon) and Steve Grimmett (Grim Reaper). With the track "Laden Saint," these guys continue the metal "hat trick" tradition of a band naming a song after itself on its self titled album (see: Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Overkill, etc.) The riffy speed burner "Impressions" is loaded with impressive guitar work, and "You Are Mine Tonight" and the moody, crunchy "Upon the Throne" keep the energy level high. The piledriving "Looking for the Doctor" kicks off with some nice drum work from Scott Spencer and has a cool, '70s hard rock bubbling beneath its surface.
"Kill For the Thrill" and "The Saint" are a pair of heads-down bangers loaded with heavy riffing, and the album comes to a satisfactory close with a quick blast of speed and shred on the two-minute-and-forty second instrumental "Psycho."
All in all, these guys pack a lot of power into the relatively short run time of just under 35 minutes—which is just enough to make the listener want more!
Summing It Up
Like many metal heads who grew up in the golden '80s era, I still enjoy learning about and discovering unknown bands from that time period. The long and proud history of U.S. metal is littered with regional obscurities like Laden Saint, who may have had the musical chops to compete with the big names, but whether due to geographic isolation, lack of local support, poor management, or just plain ol' bad luck, never got the chance to make it to the "big show." Thankfully, there are cult metal experts like Stormspell out there, busily dusting off these lost treasures and re-introducing them to the hungry metal masses of the 21st century.
Collectors take note, the Laden Saint CD is a strictly limited edition pressing of 500 copies, so if you like what you hear in the YouTubes posted in this review and want a copy for yourself, buy now or cry later!
© 2021 Keith Abt