Saxon – Eagles & Dragons: 9 Vinyl Box Set


The boxed collection of the 9 studio albums released between 1991 and 2009

Out on Demon Records from 23 May 2016

Review by Paul H Birch

Saxon – Eagles & DragonsSaxon were one of the few genuine successes of the New Wave of Heavy Metal scene. More so than Def Leppard and Iron Maiden in their early career as far as the general public were concerned, knocking out hit singles the way they did. Nothing lasts forever though, and like Scottish band Nazareth who’d had a similar kind of success before them, they weren’t without resolve and kept on going in what some might call their wilderness years while countless cheap compilations of their early work flooded the market. The bitter irony that Saxon began regaining their stature in the UK through appearing on Get Your Act Together (a TV reality type show fronted by Harvey Goldsmith that took the mouthy attitude of The Apprentice’s Alan Sugar while feigning the insight Sir John Harvey Jones’ Troubleshooter series) is not lost, but that the band have come back with credibility is what counts.

Eagles & Dragons is a vinyl boxed collection of the nine studio albums that Saxon released between 1991 and 2009, a period that took them through the last remnants of their flirtation with AOR to redefining themselves as elder statesmen rock warriors. Not everything is great by a long stretch, but you will be reminded what a genuinely good singer Biff Byford is and come to accept he’s an underestimated lyricist both in a epic narrative manner and as an observer of rock’s minutiae details. Put that alongside neck-wrangling solos and what you basically had were Bob Segar’s Silver Bullet Band playing Blackmore riffed hard rock as a starting point.

1991: Solid Ball Of Rock

1991’s Solid Ball Of Rock opens with what could be Bauhaus rearranging T.Rex’s ‘Telegram Sam’ until a wolf whistle from Byford brings everyone in to play on the right side of party rock with the kind of backbeat intended for live crowd chanting that Queen applied on ‘We Will Rock You’ and Judas Priest with ‘Take On All The World’ then someone passes the Blackmore-viagra for some raw speedy riffed power metal on ‘Altar Of The Gods’ only to leave you second guessing with the pleasant but poppy AOR of ‘Requiem (We Will Remember)’. Just as we’re numbed, they kick us in the teeth and twice below the belt moving from a gallop to a charge with cutting chords over a sci-fi storyline and suitably wailing solo that sounds like a galaxy flung starship fight in ‘Lights In The Sky’.

‘I Just Can’t Get Enough’ plays that AC/DC AOR game with the whole “Get me to a doctor” love business, that Saxon should never have taken on. Whereas the jittery urgent riff of ‘Baptism Of Fire’ strikes a chord with its analogy to the band hitting the stage, and despite being AOR coated the slow rocking ‘Ain’t Gonna Take It’ works with its rampant solo, ‘I’m On Fire’ is warm chorded with the guitars duelling while ‘Overture In B Minor/Refugee’ finds those six strings playing melodically over a lullaby rocking beat before transforming into something more Dio-like. With ‘Bavarian Beaver’ Nibbs Carter’s bass gets to solo before they thrash into ‘Crash Dive’ where it’s heavy but still has an that MTV aftertaste.

1992: Forever Free

There was more coherence to the hard rock AOR present on the following year’s Forever Free but you can imagine many fans still felt it strayed from band’s presumed mission statement. Byford makes out like heavy metal’s Roger Whittaker whistling again on ‘Forever Free’ itself with the band pulling their weight on some inspired MSG-style cruising metal and then follow it with the first of two ecological-orientated rockers, the harmony-chorused ‘Hole In The Sky’, ‘The Great White Buffalo’ being the other later.

‘Get Down And Dirty’ is AC/DC’s ‘If You Want Blood’ reconfigured for Motley Crue but with some crackerjack drumming near the end. ‘Can’t Stop Rockin’ is a bit predictable but has a good hookline chorus, ‘Grind’ does what it says on the tin as AOR hard rock with a rifle-firing solo. Both the motorbikin’ ‘One Step Away’ and ‘Nighthunter’ bring out the Blackmore influences in the band, but I’m not over keen on the Van Halen approach to ‘Cloud Nine’. Personal highlights however are two very different songs.

Acoustic guitars evoke medieval mannerisms with all the raga-tuning nuances of something off Led Zeppelin III but this is written with a lot more earthly wisdom to it, for ‘Iron Wheels’ is a folk song relating how coal miners were made old before their time by the harrowing conditions of their labours. A pretty tune regardless and it shows the band experimenting while holding onto their Northern heritage and succeeding. I reckon Saxon’s cover of the Muddy Waters’ blues classic ‘Just Wanna Make Love To You’ had both their own fans and blues purists up in arms back in 1992, but I really like the way they’ve rebooted it with uptempo scratchy riffs and much whammy bar action over a big Chinnichap 70s drum sound and a sonic production job to boot. Call me crass, I don’t care.

1995: Dogs Of War

With gaps stretching between albums, 1995’s Dogs Of War opened with its title track’s raging riffs and battering drums, followed by the hard rock with attitude of ‘Burning Wheels’ that turns out to be quite a sexy little number, not something Saxon are usually renowned for.  They continue on a roll with a rather experimental number in ‘Don’t Worry’ that dips its toes in country rock, a little prog and more besides with some shooting-from-the-hip guitar playing near the end.

‘Big Twin Rolling (Coming Home)’ is old time rock ‘n’ roll with some balls and a tad Van Halenish on the harmonies while ‘Hold On’ has some great guitar work. The guitars keep rocking and there are some big bluesy moments near the end but it’s the constantly rolling drum patterns bashing away that really grab your attention on ‘Demolition Alley’. Reverting back to AOR they offer the harmony lead ‘Give It All Away’ and ‘Walking Through Toyko’ that’s a curious mix of percussion, keyboards (or studio effects), and bell chimes along with some interesting solos. Back to basics they conclude with the riffs and hard rocking chords of ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ wherein the fluid syrupy guitar solo is worth hearing. This album however was to be the last featuring both original guitarists, for Graham Oliver was soon to leave.

1997: Unleash The Beast

With only a two year wait for Unleash The Beast the AOR was bid goodbye and a taste for that European twilight darkness being felt, as too began a penchant for brief instrumental overtures to more epic numbers. Thus the oscillating synthesisers of ‘Gothic Dreams’  is like Tangerine Dream taking you for a graveyard walk only to have Nigel Glockler’s drumming to come on like Thor’s hammer cracking giants over the head as they stampede into ‘Unleash The Beast’ with Doug Scarratt now  joining Paul Quinn on guitar duties.

The stadium raunchy bop rock of ‘Terminal Velocity’ works up a sweat while ‘Circle Of Light’ plays with themes from the Poltergeist movies while applying  harmony guitars and screams, then broken chords with a voice echoing in the distance giving way to harmonies – And yet still it reminds one how they influenced Megadeth! Is the trench warfare storyline of ‘The Thin Red Line’ in praise of the glories of those who fought for the British Empire or a sly dig at those who let them down? Many might let such thoughts pass them by and simply enjoy the song’s soaring solo, particularly when a second guitar comes in to reinforce it.

‘Ministry Of Fools’ comes across as a wonderful melange of bright punky chord chops and a melodic chant suitable for a remake of A Clockwork Orange directed by Terry Gilliam whereas ‘The Preacher’ promises to be something of an epic but doesn’t make it for me, ‘Bloodletter’ is pleasing enough melodic power metal while the modern slow driven metal of ‘Cut Out The Disease’ again begs a question: is it about former band members?  Whereas the acoustic strummed ‘Absent Friends’ would appear to be more about someone who’s died; with a rather Beatles busking feel the song paints a quite vivid aural picture. And then, dash the peace and love vibes as ‘All Hell Breaking Loose’mixes metal with blues boogie, all tightly played as the end the album in assured self-belief.

1998: Metalhead

1998’s Metalhead adds battle zone noises to its eerie intro, getting ever intense as ‘Metalhead’ itself ensues with Byford’s voice distant and affected in the mix as the number bludgeons with a down-tuned metal shrug. And works.  Next up, they rise from an Arabian hashish haze for ‘Are We Travellers In Time’ moving at a steady tank trailing pace, mixing the mournful and tune-worthy well with treated harmony vocals again coming into play.  A burst of flamenco guitar introduces ‘Conquistador’ before they give Maiden a run for their money over a frenetic riff with crashing drums all played with a Spanish flavour even as they rock out, and with some grandstanding electric guitar sounds thrown in you know they’re on a roll.

‘What Goes Around, Comes Around’ features squonking guitars and vocal grunts over a straight enough rock tune with a hookline chorus and sarky verses while ‘Piss Off’ has a kind of a twisted groove but the following ‘Watching You’ adds grind to that groove and works. ‘All Guns Blazing’ is one of those octave jumping up and down the neck riffs with drums kicking hell for leather before slowing down to half speed during the solo while ‘Prisoner’ has some inspired guitar widdling but the song itself is pretty ho-hum.

Two numbers in particular take that modern metal edge and give it some added Sabbath weight on Metalhead, ‘Song Of Evil’ fits that bill with a richocheting speeding barrage of noise and Byford’s voice pitched high, it slows down to builds up again for a sharp slicing solo where notes are bent savagely and the whole song punctuated by tricky-dickey timing on the drums. And the album finishes with ‘Sea Of Life’ where the bass tumbles out as guitars spew forth, keyboards layer what becomes a series of guitar arpeggios, the bass resounding underneath as. From there it moves into a slow metal march giving the impression of warriors fallen in battle as Byford sings: “Someone has to pay the ferryman to cross the sea of life”. Moving toward the epic there’s a blues solo incorporating piercing shreds and as ascending keyboard return the guitars begin to grind then gently fade.

2001: Killing Ground

With each subsequent album the musical intros get more over the top, on 2001’s Killing Ground it sounds like rockets blasting off to the moon while a guitar sirens, a bell tolls, cannons blast and another guitar begins to pick out a melody as once more the drums kick in and ‘Killing Ground’ interchanges between chugga-ta-chug staccato and wailing speedy riffs over staggered drum beats, and amid guitar shrieks battle talk is espoused before slowing down for a bass solo, the other instruments returning and it all ending with one almighty scream. A cover of King Crimson’s ‘Court Of The Crimson King’ is positively restrained by comparison – a quite straight, deeper toned electric rock version sure and it lacks Ian McDonald’s mellotron but it swops elaborate whimsy for precise grit.

For traditionalists there’s the battering rock of ‘You Don’t Know What You’ve Got’, the speeding hooked riff of ‘Deeds Of Glory’ and ‘Coming Home’ is raw boogie at its heart while the heavy grooved ‘Running For The Border’ takes the storylines of ‘And The Band Played On’ and ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ collectively and sets them in Mexico. You hear an opening line go “In a desert valley near the Rio Grande” and you think you’re heading into similar territory but the slow scorched earth metal of ‘Shadows On The Wall’ concerns the potential Armageddon of nuclear testing. Darth Vader voices,  choral effects, synthesisers and mournful bluesy solos render this rather gothic in tone.

In isolation the guitars to ‘Hell Freezes Over’ are a little too close for comfort to AC/DC’s ‘Hells Bells’ but Byford’s melodious vocal approach offsets that. With songs like this the whole warrior and mythology angle Saxon subscribe to is perfect for today’ sci-fi and fantasy preoccupation on TV. ‘Dragon’s Lair’ follows the theme with a torpedo racing riff and some clever scaling asides, guitars later mimicking a battle during this musical quest. Ending with ‘Rock Is Our Life’ I expect the song to fall flat on its backside by its title alone but am taken by the invigorating little jig to its riff.

2004: Lionheart

While quite a wait for 2004’s Lionheart it was worth it. ‘Witchfynder General’ is raging power metal driven over a layering of distorted guitar chords with a creepy narrative from Byford as the bass snorts like a stallion and banshee sounds are felt in the distance. Very Hammer horror, very good. ‘Man And Machine’ has them turns towards aggressive sci-fi thriller themes and then as a choir give voice over arpeggio guitars and bell chimes we veer from ‘The Return’ to the strident and evocatively stirring ‘Lionheart’ itself. Saxon have composed an awful lot of songs wherein they’ve celebrated the British warrior spirit, been castigated in some quarters for doing so, but they do a grand job here.

Elsewhere, the coarse broken chorded ‘Beyond the Grave’ grows to be rather enchanting, ‘Justice’ serves double time with its slashing hard rock and ‘To Live By The Sword’ thrusts even harder before becoming a musical battle of much pounding and shredding. The acoustic sea voyaging ballad of ‘Jack Tars’ arrives timely thereafter but they’re at it again with ‘English Man O’War’ where they add variation to their roaring hard rock. Thematically,  it would seem the vessel has sunk with ‘Searching For Atlantis’ but this evocative melodic prog tinted power metal is more a metaphor about things we can’t have and the concluding ‘Flying On The Edge’ would seem to be a heavy ‘747(Strangers In The Night)’ rescripted for a German market that never wavered in its support for the band.

2007: The Inner Sanctum

With a three year wait taking hold 2007’s The Inner Sanctum took those favourable fantasy themes found in Lionheart further, making them more cohesive even as they became darker and more contemporary.

The power metal of ‘State Of Grace’ is driven to a Hellion paced riveting metal stampede come ‘Need For Speed’, while there’s a little respite in the rocking strut of ‘Let Me Feel Your Power’ and ‘Red Star Falling’ while ‘If I Was You’ is AC/DC with a melodic rock chorus. From title alone I grow suspicious of ‘I’ve Got To Rock (To Stay Alive)’ and while there’s an AOR quality to its catchy hookline it’s quite Gothic , with Byford’s voice subdued in an air of mystery as the music takes on a rough and ragged mood.

Similarly impressive ‘Going Nowhere Fast’ features deep vocals over this ruminating rock until the moment Byford lets out a vicious scream and a solid high noted solo ensues. ‘Ashes To Ashes’ is an atypical metal battle hymn and then from ‘Empire Rising’ to ‘Attila The Hun’ they bridge horror, history and heavy metal as an Arabic guitar figure extends over the face of this epic, Glockler pulling in double time even as guitars and what sounds like a flute (or keyboards) extemporise until Byford screams out and the song fades with a coda taken from ‘Empire Rising’.

2009: Into The Labyrinth

Back in business with more of the same came 2009’s Into The Labyrinth, ‘Battalions Of Steel’ taking off where ‘Attila the Hun’ left off – medieval flavoured melodic power rock with a cutting and slashing riff and a chorus that comes on with the empowering rush of Black Sabbath’s ‘Supertzar’.  After that ‘Live To Rock’ can only fill out time until we catch our breathes and then have to hold them as Byford relates in graphic horror the tale of the ‘Demon Sweeney Todd ’ with a hi-hat noticeably snapping manically while guitars whiz here, there and everywhere. The bleak tones of ‘The Letter’ imply Jack the Ripper its author  and matter get no cheerier as we enter the ‘Valley Of The Kings’ and we contemplate old Universal films of The Mummy as Byford sings “The pharaoh’s curse will take your breath”.

‘Slow Lane Blues’ meanders a little but there’s a swarthy hard riff and sprawling solo to keep guitarists happy. Likewise, ‘Premonition In D-Minor’ comes with a mega-heavy jagged riff, pinched guitar squeals and undulating tones but is not that strong an actual song. Mind you, ‘Crimes Of Passion’ approximates Saxon’s early sound while there’s slow bluesy wailing with much shrilling and shredding come the solo, and ‘Voice’ with its corroding arpeggios will do just nicely for the Penny Dreadful fan. There’s modern Euro-metal to be found in ‘Protect Yourselves’ and similarly again with ‘Hellcat’ while also this curious feeling Giorgio Moroder stepped in the recording studio and started playing with the knobs. ‘Come Rock Of Age (The Circle Is Complete)’ the end is nigh. This whole nine album collection lifts off your turntable after an acoustic slide and tambourine rendition of Killing Ground’s ‘Coming Home’ that’s a veritable Old Testament walking blues.

These nine albums have been an engrossing listen. Listening to the songs in isolation, or as a collection of songs for each album can be difficult, knowing how the music scene changed and artists reacted to it to survive plays its part. Sticking to your guns doesn’t always work, yet finding something in what you do that once more resonates with the times must not only make you feel good but renew your own vigour to do well.

Last October Saxon released Battering Ram, their 21st studio album; it reached the UK Top 50 and went to number 12 in Germany. Saxon are now credible again though frankly Eagles & Dragons shows they have been for an awful long time. While I am not now compelled to listen to these albums one after another in quick succession I will be returning to a significant number of tunes before too long and fans can look forward to them touring later in the year with Fastway and Girlschool as special guests.

7 out of 10

SAXON Eagles And Dragons exploded packshot (without print) copy

Solid Ball Of Rock:

  1. Solid Ball Of Rock
  2. Altar Of The Gods
  3. Requiem (We Will Remember)
  4. Lights In The Sky
  5. I Just Can’t Get Enough
  6. Baptism Of Fire
  7. Ain’t Gonna Take It
  8. I’m On Fire
  9. Overture In B Minor/Refugee
  10. Bavarian Beaver
  11. Crash Dive


  1. Forever Free
  2. Hole In The Sky
  3. Just Wanna Make Love To You
  4. Get Down And Dirty
  5. Iron Wheels
  6. One Step Away
  7. Can’t Stop Rockin’
  8. Nighthunter
  9. Grind
  10. Cloud Nine

Dogs Of War:

  1. Dogs Of War
  2. Burning Wheels
  3. Don’t Worry
  4. Big Twin Rolling (Coming Home)
  5. Hold On
  6. The Great White Buffalo
  7. Demolition Alley
  8. Walking Through Toyko
  9. Give It All Away
  10. Yesterday’s Gone

Unleash The Beast:

  1. Gothic Dreams
  2. Unleash The Beast
  3. Terminal Velocity
  4. Circle Of Light
  5. The Thin Red Line
  6. Ministry Of Fools
  7. The Preacher
  8. Bloodletter
  9. Cut Out The Disease
  10. Absent Friends
  11. All Hell Breaking Loose


  1. Intro
  2. Metalhead
  3. Are We Travellers In Time
  4. Conquistador
  5. What Goes Around, Comes Around
  6. Song Of Evil
  7. All Guns Blazing
  8. Prisoner
  9. Piss Off
  10. Watching You
  11. Sea Of Life

Killing Ground:

  1. Intro
  2. Killing Ground
  3. Court Of The Crimson King
  4. Coming Home
  5. Hell Freezes Over
  6. Dragon’s Lair
  7. You Don’t Know What You’ve Got
  8. Deeds Of Glory
  9. Running For The Border
  10. Shadows On The Wall
  11. Rock Is Our Life


  1. Witchfynder General
  2. Man And Machine
  3. The Return
  4. Lionheart
  5. Beyond The Grave
  6. Justice
  7. To Live By The Sword
  8. Jack Tars
  9. English Man O’War
  10. Searching For Atlantis
  11. Flying On The Edge

The Inner Sanctum:

  1. State Of Grace
  2. Need For Speed
  3. Let Me Feel Your Power
  4. Red Star Falling
  5. I’ve Got To Rock (To Stay Alive)
  6. If I Was You
  7. Going Nowhere Fast
  8. Ashes To Ashes
  9. Empire Rising
  10. Attila The Hun

Into The Labyrinth:

  1. Battalions Of Steel
  2. Live To Rock
  3. Demon Sweeney Todd
  4. The Letter
  5. Valley Of The Kings
  6. Slow Lane Blues
  7. Crimes Of Passion
  8. Premonition In D-Minor
  9. Voice
  10. Protect Yourselves
  11. Hellcat
  12. Come Rock Of Age (The Circle Is Complete)
  13. Coming Home (Bottleneck Version)