23 February 2013 (released)
05 February 2013
Saxon, one of a multitude of English heavy metal bands that burst onto the scene in the days of the 1980’s British-metal boom, are one of the genre’s enduring successes. Having sold over 13 million albums worldwide, their influence can be heard to this day, and as a testament to their passion for metal, they still hit the road on lengthy tours, selling out venues across the country and in Europe, and even as far afield as Japan. Their influence has been cited by the likes of Metallica, Pantera, Slayer and a long list of other bands that follow the heavy metal path laid down by Saxon and their contemporaries.
According to frontman Biff Byford, Sacrifice, the band’s 20th album, released later this month through UDR Records, is a “less tricks, more power!” kind of affair that makes efforts to recall what made the band great in the first place. Byson’s brief to the band was to “be raw and be real”, whilst also “not being afraid to looking back at the old classic material for inspiration.” On most of that brief, the album seems to pass, but with the vast technical innovations that have taken place since much of the classic Saxon material was recorded, like ‘Wheels of Steel’, ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’, ‘Denim And Leather’, ‘Power And The Glory’, to name but a few, some of that same “raw” sound gets inevitably sacrificed as a result of the tantalising draw of the added power and contemporary edge that modern recording is able to offer. Nevertheless, hard-core Saxon fans can rest assured that the band’s traditional emphasis on frantic riffage, stomping and pounding drums, and operatically sung lyrics about steel, transport and living somewhat on the edge permeate the entire album.
The album’s first full track, ‘Sacrifice’ is notable for its very modern metal-guitar sound, that is mostly reflective of the heavy music released in the last ten years, as opposed to the sounds created by the band in the 1980’s. But, it’s when you listen to the arrangements of the riffs and chords, and the way the vocals work sometimes with and sometimes against those parts, that the old Saxon can be heard.
For those listeners who prefer what the band did in its hey-day, then ‘Made In Belfast’, the album’s third track, will be far more reassuring. Whilst the overall production of the song is a little unfamiliar, with compressed synths padding out the verses, and a vocal melody that is again, much more 2001 than it is 1984, the lyrics and chorus manage to offer that classic Saxon intensity and sound. However, it is in the introduction to ‘Warriors of the Road’, with the sound of fast, high powered engines racing by that fans will feel the band are heading right back to its roots. With a split-4 beat, huge fills and the consistent bell of the ride cymbal, along with the call and answer of riff and vocal in the verses, and a rousing overall pace, you have classic Saxon smashing down your doors.
Despite the cleansing and sometimes sanitising impact that modern day recording can have on a metal album, ‘Sacrifice’ does sound “raw” and it does sound “real”, and in places it does recall some of the best of Saxon. ‘Stand Up And Fight’ will whisk listeners back to the muddy and piss-ridden days of Donnington, whilst ‘Guardians Of The Tomb’ is rife with the melody that made Byson such a force in the metal scene. ‘Walking The Steel’ is what it is – Saxon at their best singing about alloy metal with profundity.
It’s fine to come to this album with some expectation but its important to remember that times have changed, and Saxon, whilst having tapped into their own roots, are doing what they might have failed to do in the past: staying fresh and remaining relevant to new audiences.