To my way of thinking, live albums can be placed in one of three categories: the good, the bad and the ugly. There is absolutely nothing that compares to the live concert experience. The excitement of those around you feeds your own as you listen to your favorite music at loud volumes while enjoying the showmanship of the band. So many artists attempt to capture this feeling on recorded material but it is difficult to replicate. That is why the albums that manage to make you feel as though you were a part of the audience for that show become instant classics. The bad live albums feature bad performances that make you wonder exactly which song they were doing at any given time. Most in this genre just fall under the ugly banner as they are most often poorly recorded and mixed with flashes of brilliance that then sputters back into mediocrity.
With all this in mind, I approached the new Armored Saint live album, Carpe Noctum with a bit of trepidation. Which category would this album fall into? I certainly had heard some of the band’s older music but had never spent time with any of their previous albums. From the first moments of “Win Hands Down”, the title track of their 2015 album, my fears were allayed. With the crowd cheering as the music kicks in, I felt I was a part of the audience. The band makes a smooth transition into “March of the Saint” off the 1984 album of the same name, followed by another track from that album, “Stricken by Fate”. The remaining selections on this eight-song album include “Last Train Home”, “Mess”, “Aftermath”, “Left Hook from Right Field” and “Reign of Fire”. The older songs live peacefully alongside the newer ones with the uninitiated unable to discern the difference. The vocals of John Bush are as strong (or stronger) as they were in the 80’s. The band plays with the same enthusiasm and skill as always. Recorded at the Wacken Open Air Festival in 2015, the sound and production on this album is stellar. John Bush expertly works the audience throughout, exhorting them to be a part of the show.
Loving music festivals myself, I could picture the scene and felt as though I was sharing in an experience with other music lovers half a world away from me. The sound of the audience and any small imperfections represented in this recording are all a part of the live experience. Carpe Noctum isn’t so overproduced and slick that it feels like a studio recording – a trap many bands fall into when they create a live album. Armored Saint has remembered that the crowd is as much a part of the concert scene as the band. In a way, it is refreshing that this offering does not include many of their more well-known tunes. This is a live album, not a greatest hits. Most of those songs were part of their 1988 live album, Saints Will Conquer. It’s fun to hear other great music from them performed live.
As you can guess, I have placed Carpe Noctum in the good category for live albums. Everyone has their own criteria for what makes a good live album, but this checks off all the boxes for me. The sound of the crowd, the interaction with the audience, good music performed by skilled musicians, not overproduced – it is all there. If you’re looking for a greatest hits album, look into the Armored Saint catalog and you will find that. This album has piqued my interest in the band. I will definitely be listening to more in the near future. I am not a huge fan of live albums in general, but this is worth your time. Whether you are a casual fan, a diehard or new to Armored Saint, I recommend you add Carpe Noctum to your music library.