SAINT: Heavier Than Thou

If the 70’s brought the first wave of Christian hard rock bands like Jerusalem and Rez, then the following decade would bring some of the bona fide metal bands like Bride, Messiah Prophet, and a band from Oregon named Saint. In those days, faith and a love of heavy metal were not breathed in the same sentence without condemnation from both the church and the metal world. But these pioneering bands fought through and found themselves a new vehicle to present the gospel. If you were a self-respecting Christian metalhead in the mid ’80s, Pure Metal Records was the source to get your fix, and Saint was one of the best bands the label had. Eschewing the pop metal explosion that would soon occur, Saint stuck with a classic metal approach, marrying the sound of Judas Priest or King Diamond to the message of John the Revelator. Saint coined the term “apocalyptic metal” and it still fits them almost 40 years later. Join me as I talk with Saint mastermind Richard Lynch about their recent Immortal Festival performance (read my recent Immortal recap feature), discuss their new album Heaven Fell, and chew over the relevance of a band who writes almost exclusively about the end times.

What was your reaction to the Immortal festival? I know you said you’d like to play it again.

Rich: It was so much fun, life changing for couple of the guys who never played on a stage that big. We were asked to return next September and have agreed to do so.

Awesome. Hopefully the audience will grow all the more for next year. Your festival setlist was a good mix of classics vs. newer material. Were there any songs you felt got left out, or want to squeeze in next time?

We have a large catalog and not everyone will be happy with the song choices, but I think most fans appreciated the songs we selected. We could easily do a new Saint set and a Josh Kramer era Saint set and still not cover everything I’d like to play, so next year will probably be close to the same – covering the staples of our 40-year conquest. We have a year to make changes, so I guess you’ll have to be there to see.

The band sounded pretty tight together and singer Dave Nelson has really found his own voice, and that’s pretty evident on your new album Heaven Fell. When did this album come out?

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to hear ourselves with a 20-second sound check, so it was a miracle that we sounded as good as we did. Dave is a great fit, and really enjoyed the show. Technically Heaven Fell was released this week 9/22/22. I’m already being pressured by the guys to start the next project, so we’ll start writing new material soon.

Does Heaven Fell have a theme or concept and what does the title track mean?

Dave seems to think of it as a concept project, I think it’s kind of close. Starts off with “In the beginning” and ends with “We met our maker.” The song “Holier Than Thou” is similar to the message in The Calf. Religion, works-based faith, and control. Seeking to destroy those who don’t agree with their personal beliefs, they are holier than thou. If Christians would stop shooting at each other, we might be able to reach more of the lost.

And the title track?

The return of Christ.

I just wanted to emphasize that, so nobody tries to equate the meaning of “Heaven Fell” with Kiss’ “Heaven’s On Fire.”

What was production like for this album? I understand the guys contributed quite a bit this time?

Yes, everyone was part of the process. Dave was the biggest contributor as he wrote 99% of the lyrics. Matt (Smith) comes in second for writing six of the music compositions.

That shows. I think Dave has really found his own voice and become really comfortable in his own boots this time. What was Jared (Knowland)’s contribution behind the scenes?

Production: I do nothing without his blessing. I guess he would be above Dave in contribution now that you mention it. What he did with the drum tracks really brought the album to life. He also chose all the guitar tones, put in hard breaks where needed and produced the album. I don’t know if we could do it without him.

Agreed. There are layers and layers of depth in the sound on this album. Sounds like that is all Jared.

Yes. The production is world class, let’s not fail to mention Rob Colwell’s mastering to the mix.

There are no filler songs here. What are your favorite tracks, Rich?

“Holier Than Thou,” “The Chosen One,” “Morning Star,” “Vengeance,” “Words of Wisdom,” and “Heaven Fell” are my personal faves, but I like the whole thing.

I have to say Heaven Fell tops Hell Blade, which was Saint’s highest ranking album in the modern era (I’m referring to Heaven’s Metal’s Top 100 Christian Metal Albums of All Time list that we compiled some years ago.) My congratulations. It is a metal masterpiece!

You mentioned that the guys are pushing you towards the next album already. What’s in the works for Saint? Any shows planned? Videos?

Thank you, Chris. At this time, we have a rerecording of Warriors of the Son 40th anniversary cd in the works, most of it is done, but we haven’t hit 40 years yet, so I haven’t really worked on it the last few months and I’m not sure how it will be received seeing Dave did all the vocals. I have a ton of ideas from the guys to go through for the next project, and that’s always scary because you want to keep doing yourself right… I figure sometime in 2024 we’ll have a new release. We have been asked to return back to Immortal in 2023, but would like to do a handful of shows next spring/summer.

Nice. There’s a theory floating around that I would like your take on, that basically says heavy metal flourishes or languishes based on which political party holds power in a country. For example, the theory claims that heavy metal’s golden era in the ’80s happened as a backlash to the Reagan years. I’m not really buying into it, but it is interesting, nonetheless. Your thoughts?

Yeah, I think styles and fashions come and go and then return as the multitudes get tired of any given style. It’s not like the price of gas or inflation which is obvious…

Saint’s music is more relevant than ever. Why do you think that is?

I think we’re approaching the Return quickly. It’s evident. If I had to guess, because I don’t know, I’ll be surprised if we make it past the 2030’s. I’ll be even more surprised if I do…

Apocalyptic metal, indeed.

Thank you, Rich. It was a pleasure meeting you guys and seeing you play live for the first time. Lord willing, I’ll see you again soon. Say hi to Jerry, Dave, Matt, and Jared for me!