NWoBHM legends Saxon release their 21st album and continue riding the crest of a wave, as they have been since the mid 2000s. This album is heavy, uncompromising, honest, lyrically diverse, and typically twin guitar British heavy metal. And since the resurgence in popularity at the turn on the millennium the band have explored their progressive metal roots and since moved to the punk tinged quick-fire metal of their early records, and a bit of rock’n’roll. On repeated listening it’s fair to say this is heavy, and about as heavy as Saxon can get (and as heavy as I want them to get). The current line-up of singer Biff Byford, guitarists Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt, bassist Nibbs Carter and drummer Nigel Glockler has been stable for a long time now and it shows. In fact it’s good to hear Glockler sounding so on form after his break from the band due to ill health last year.
Formed in the late 70s and signing to disco label Carrere, the band rose to fame as part of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (their eponymous debut is widely considered to be the first of the genre), with hits including 747, Wheels Of Steel and Princess Of The Night. And while many will say the band are continuing a purple patch, truth be told the band have never released a really bad album (perhaps one or two below par); the quiet period (outside of Germany) in the 90s more of a marketing and press issue while all and sundry jumped on the grunge and alternative bandwagons.
The Yorkshire formed band were originally called Son Of A Bitch, an amalgamation of the Steve Dawson and Graham Oliver fronted Sob and the Biff Byford and Paul Quinn led Coast. The change of name to Saxon, as they signed to Carrere, was more in keeping with their more metal nature. Their debut album, Saxon, was released in 1979, and featured singer Byford, guitarists Quinn and Oliver, bassist Steve Dawson and drummer Pete Gill. The punchy punky edge drove tracks like Big Teaser and Still Fit To Boogie. The 80s saw a string of hit albums and singles, with the albums Wheels Of Steel, Strong Arm Of The Law, Denim And Leather and Crusader bringing the band to a wider acclaim and the sound that fronted the NWoBHM, and plenty of hugely popular tracks still included in the live set.
Moving to Parlophone (EMI), 1985’s Innocence Is No Excuse was more polished and was a commercial success, and is now sadly overlooked). It was also Dawson’s last with the band. Rock The Nations and Destiny (the former featuring Elton John on 2 tracks) were more a Nadir, and the deal with EMI ended.
With new bassist Nibbs Carer and a returning drummer Nigel Glocker, the band settled with a couple of live albums, before the rebuilding exercise began with 1990’s Solid Ball Of Rock (by far by favourite Saxon opus) on Virgin Germany. Forever Free and Dogs Of War followed, moving from melodic rock’n’roll to full-on power metal. All three received critical acclaim if not the sales. Unleash The Beast (with new guitarist Doug Scarratt replacing Graham Oliver) was another blistering affair and, with Metalhead and a number of official and semi official live sets, saw out the decade. The 2000s saw some serious return to form, embracing prog metal with rock’n’roll, culminating in 2013’s Sacrifice.
Which brings us this album. A solid stable line-up, a heavy heavy sound, and production that kills from the outset. A 21st album that is totally bombastic in every sense, with Byford’s diverse lyrics taking in many subjects.
The opening title track awakens with a smack in the face, the crunchy chorus catchy, the change of pace between is as fluid Byford’s voice.
The Devil’s Footprint, the demonic spoken intro sets the scene perfectly, Hard And Fast, another 80s throwback, is about driving thusly, and out-and-out metal fans will love this song. Eye Of The Storm has a fantastic riff, and groove to match, I wouldn’t be surprised if this became a live staple. Top Of The World opens with a more melodic power metal feel, a touch more light-hearted but with that classic Saxon touch it works tremendously. Probably my fave track of the album. Track 10 and album closer, Kingdom Of The Cross, is a melancholic look at the horrors of WW1, a poem read by Hell’s David Bower with Byford’s singing, bass and keyboards. Meaningful, heartfelt atmospheric and moody, this is a fantastic end to a great album. Bonus cut Three Sheets To The Wind is another uplifting track that truly rocks.
This is a solid and natural follow up to Sacrifice, a mixture of moving up and throwbacks to 1983 and 2000. Production from Andy Sneap helps with the heaviness and blistering work. While the twin guitar will shred your ears to smithereens, the bass and drum work with rock you too.
Yes this is much heavier than some of the more rock’n’roll or prog metal tinged work of the last 10 years, but it’s just a great album. Definite contender for album of the year. 9/10 (and then some)