Early career (1982–1989)
Armored Saint was formed in 1982 by brothers Phil Sandoval (lead guitar) and Gonzo Sandoval (drums) with lead guitarist Dave Prichard, while attending South Pasadena High School. Next to join were singer John Bush - also a South Pasadena High School Alumnus - and bassist Joey Vera. Gonzo Sandoval conceived the name Armored Saint on his own in the parking lot, at a theater in Monterey Park, after watching the Movie Excalibur. Armored Saint recorded a five-song demo that landed the song "Lesson Well Learned" on the compilation album Metal Massacre II. Three of these demo songs were then used for the band's self-titled EP on Metal Blade Records in 1983. The group then signed with Chrysalis Records in 1984.
Armored Saint released their debut album March of the Saint in 1984 followed by 1985's Delirious Nomad. The debut album yielded a minor MTV hit with "Can U Deliver?". During the recording of Delirious Nomad, lead guitarist Phil Sandoval left the group. Their third album, Raising Fear, was recorded by the remaining four members. Throughout the 1980s, Armored Saint toured, or played selected shows, with many acts such as Judas Priest, Metallica, Aerosmith, Whitesnake, Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper, Saxon, Ratt, Testament, Exodus, W.A.S.P., Dio, Accept, Fates Warning, Y&T, Grim Reaper, Malice, King Diamond, Great White, Stryper, Leatherwolf, Lizzy Borden, Savatage, Helloween and Danzig. By the end of the decade, however, the band was unhappy with their lack of success on the Chrysalis label, and returned to Metal Blade. Soon after the release of their first live album Saints Will Conquer, the band added Jeff Duncan, formerly of the L.A. club band Odin, as rhythm guitarist who is still in the band to this day.
Death of Dave Prichard, Symbol of Salvation and split (1989–1998)
In 1989, while writing and recording rough four-track demos for their next studio album, guitarist Dave Prichard was diagnosed with leukemia. Prichard succumbed to the disease on February 27, 1990, shortly before the recording sessions of Symbol of Salvation began. After a brief hiatus, Phil Sandoval returned to the band and switched from rhythm to lead guitar to replace Prichard. Symbol of Salvation was released in 1991 to widespread critical success. It featured two hits "Reign of Fire" and "Last Train Home". The album was dedicated to the spirit and memory of Dave Prichard, whose solo on the demo recording of the song "Tainted Past" was painstakingly and carefully transferred and used on the album. The tour for Symbol of Salvation was successful; they opened for Suicidal Tendencies on their Lights...Camera...Revolution! tour and Savatage on their Streets tour. They also toured with the Scorpions, Wrathchild America and Sepultura.
In 1992, the band contributed the song "Hanging Judge" to the Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth soundtrack, as well as made a brief appearance in the film. Several months later, John Bush was offered the position of lead vocalist in the very successful thrash band Anthrax. Unsure of Armored Saint's future, Bush accepted the job. The Sandoval brothers attempted to audition new members to create a new chapter, yet after many failed attempts, Armored Saint was officially disbanded.
After Armored Saint disbanded, Joey Vera kept busy playing with such bands as Fates Warning, Lizzy Borden and Chroma Key. He released a solo album in 1994 and started a successful second career as a producer and engineer. The Sandoval brothers formed Life After Death... Life after Death released a self entitled record on the now defunct John Sutherland record label Indivision, and released the Record on the now defunct European label Rising sun, and Jeff Duncan formed DC4 with brothers Shawn and Matt, and former Dio guitarist Rowan Robertson.
In 1999, with Anthrax on temporary hiatus, John Bush and Joey Vera decided to reform Armored Saint. The entire Symbol of Salvation lineup returned to the studio, and in 2000 the album Revelation was released. It included the band's first song with Spanish lyrics, Written by Gonzo Sandoval & John Bush "No Me Digas". A small club tour opening for Dio and Lynch Mob followed.
The following year, the band released Nod to the Old School, a collection of rarities, demos and outtakes (many from the Prichard years), plus a few new tracks. Soon after, John Bush returned to the studio with Anthrax, and Armored Saint was once again placed on indefinite hiatus.
In 2004, Vera rejoined Bush in Anthrax on a temporary basis, filling in for bassist Frank Bello. Early in 2005, Anthrax's Scott Ian announced that their classic Among the Living-era lineup was reforming, leaving the membership of Bush and Vera in question. Bush stated his involvement with Anthrax was over.
This move gave hope to many that Armored Saint would once again record. A one-off show with the Revelation lineup took place in 2005, and in 2006 the band embarked on a new tour.
As part of their 20th anniversary, Metal Blade released a special edition of Symbol of Salvation. Also reissued was the band's long out of print live video A Trip Thru Red Times.
The band finished recording their new album titled La Raza, which was released on March 16, 2010.
On December 7, 2011, the band was invited to play 1 of 4 shows @ the 30th Anniversary of Metallica. The show was at the Legendary Fillmore in Beautiful San Francisco California.
On February 11, 2013, Vera officially announced via Facebook and Twitter that the band had begun working on their seventh studio album. The album, titled Win Hands Down, was released on June 2, 2015. Win Hands Down debuted at #183 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. The album sold double what their previous effort, La Raza, sold upon its release in 2010. In Germany, the album reached #33 on the German Top 100 albums charts.
On February 24, 2017, Armored Saint released their first live album in 29 years, Carpe Noctum.
Asked in March 2017 about the follow-up to Win Hands Down, Bush stated, "We haven't really collectively started working on anything. Sure, all the guys are accumulating some stuff in their minds. I have a lot of lyrical ideas written down, but we haven't started writing any songs yet. Armored Saint, sometimes, we don't move at the quickest pace. I think it would be a good idea if we wanted to make a new record to move on it a little quicker. I've said numerous times I'd rather have the quality of the material than feeling pressured to put out something in a certain amount of time be the primary motivation for it. That being said, we're no spring chickens, I ain't going to lie. Trying to wait ten years, five years for a new record, it's probably a little bit too long. If we do make a new record and if we can try to make the material be as high quality as Win Hands Down, then it would be cool to be able to get something out sooner than later. That being said, we haven't worked on anything yet." On May 23, 2019, Armored Saint announced on their Instagram page that they have begun writing and demoing songs for their new album.
John Bush was invited by drummer Lars Ulrich to audition as singer for Metallica in 1983, following the release of their debut album, Kill 'Em All, as frontman James Hetfield was not confident in his own singing abilities and wanted to focus on playing guitar. However, Bush turned down the offer as Armored Saint was still gaining popularity at the time. In 1986 during the Raising Fear recording sessions, Metallica contacted Joey Vera to replace bassist Cliff Burton after his untimely death.
It was revealed in an outtake from the documentary film Metallica: Some Kind of Monster that Phil Sandoval was involved in an altercation with Ulrich while attending a 1982 party. At that time, every time they heard "Ace of Spades" by Motörhead, they would begin dog piling each other. During one of these outbursts, Dave Mustaine misread the scenario and thought Sandoval pushed Ulrich to the ground; he got involved and purposely ended up breaking Sandoval's ankle. Mustaine recounts that to this day he feels bad about the incident , but that he was simply defending his band mate. Mustaine later made amends by apologizing to Sandoval and giving him one of his own ESP guitars, as closure.
In 1992, Armored Saint appeared in the film Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, performing the song "Hanging Judge" in the club that Terry Farrell's character visits.