Mighty metal men…
Released by Militia Guard Music on 7 September 2018 and reviewed by Andrew Manning
Having travelled to France in 1978 to sign their first record contract Saxon are about to commence a European tour 40 years later and to support this the latest release Thunderbolt is being repackaged as a special tour edition. Some artists just plug and play as a heritage act but it can often be noticeable that treading the boards in this way can soon become very tiring with no passion or excitement radiating from the stage. To their credit Saxon try and keep the spirit of the old days alive and continue to look forward by releasing new material which must help revitalise the band as they continually introduce new music into their set alongside the classics.
Saxon may now be the preserve of only 2 original members Biff Byford (vocals) and Paul Quinn (guitars) but the current line up has real longevity with Doug Scarratt (guitars), Nibbs Carter (bass) and Nigel Glockler (drums) clocking up in excess of 80 years service between them. Their brand of hard rock transports the listener back in time without the need for spandex and Top of the Pops appearances which have long since gone. The music remains largely unaltered and what you expect is what you get with the sound continuing to pack a punch.
After the menacing sounds of the short intro ‘Olympus Rising’ the real business starts with ‘Thunderbolt’ as riffs blast from the speakers like a full on tornado. The vocals have the usual trademark power and passion from Barnsley’s great tea drinking lover Byford as he screams ‘unleash the gods of war’ with angry vigour. If you need an injection of British Heavy Metal then this will traverse quickly through your veins. A live version of this number is also available on this release. ‘The Secret of Flight’ is possibly the best track on the album with a combination of monster hooks and infectious guitar licks. Could this be the bastard son of Maiden and Priest? It’s masterful and real classic Saxon. Sit back and crank it up to enjoy the experience.
Long term fans will know that Byford loves telling historical stories through his lyrics and once again he does not disappoint with tales of vampires on ‘Nosferatu’ and Vikings on ‘Sons of Odin’. The former is a blast of gothic sounding metal with the organ and accompanying strings creating a scene of fearful apprehension. Written in Whitby where Bram Stoker penned his Dracula novel this cinematically paints the picture of the Transylvanian devil. There are three versions of the track on this release ‘The Vampire’s Waltz’ both studio and live along with a raw version. Not sure if the triple play really enhances the release and possibly overkill springs to mind which provides a useful introduction to the subject of Motörhead. Back in 1979 the band embarked on their first ever tour supporting Lemmy and the boys on the ‘Bomber’ tour and ‘They Played Rock and Roll’ is a full on rocker sounding very Motörhead-ish. Written about their heroes who introduced them to Jack Daniels and bullet belts it even includes a sound bite of Lemmy screaming “We are Motörhead, and we play rock and roll!”. Nice tribute guys.
Daunting with a repeating pounding riff ‘Predator’ hits like a battering ram. Saxon rarely use guest artists but the growling vocals here of Johan Hegg of Amon Amarth add some menace as his lower voice introduces an element of death metal which is certainly a radical move for the band. ‘Sniper’ is just old classic heavy metal. Riff junkies will love this one. It bursts into life like a shotgun as Byford urges ‘let the bullets fly’.
It has been a real masterstroke bringing back Andy Sneap to produce his second Saxon album. He is currently filling in on guitar for Glenn Tipton on Judas Priest’s current tour and this is someone who really knows how to mix classic metal with a sharp dynamic focus on both the guitars and drums as showcased on the masterful ‘A Wizard’s Tale’. Another blistering historical tale of mystic lands and dreams fantastic which packs a punch with raucous searing guitar playing alongside the passionate vocal delivery.
There is a type of retro feel to ‘Speed Merchants’ if you sit it alongside ‘Motorcycle Man’ from the Wheels of Steel album with the new track being as fast and furious as its predecessor. The assault on your ears begins with the sound of a powerful racing engine before big riffs and chant-along vocals enter the fray designed to make you want to pump your fists in the air. ‘Roadie’s Song’, being a tribute to their road crew, is another solid rocking commercial number which perfectly sums up the simple way that Saxon can deliver the goods.
On the evidence here Saxon have certainly been revitalised with the music providing a worthy reminder of exactly why they blazed triumphantly to become one of our treasured metal bands. In some quarters their musical pedigree is remarkably underappreciated but for those in the know they still remain something special.
- Olympus Rising
- The Secret of Flight
- Nosferatu (The Vampire’s Waltz)
- They Played Rock and Roll
- Sons of Odin
- A Wizard’s Tale
- 10 .Speed Merchants
- Roadie’s Song
- Nosferatu (Raw Version)
- Thunderbolt – Live in Frankfurt 02.03.18
- Nosferatu (The Vampire’s Waltz) – Live in Los Angeles 22.04.18