The NWOBHM icons put out their 21st studio album on October 16th. Produced by Andy Sneap and recorded at his Backstage Recording Studios in Derbyshire, it’s the hard-hitting fivesome’s follow-up to 2013’s Sacrifice and their first release since drummer Nigel Glockler suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm in late 2014 (he has since fully recovered).
Formed in South Yorkshire in 1976 by vocalist Bill Byford and guitarist Paul Quinn – who remain the only original members in the lineup – Saxon have never strayed too far from their winning formula, but is this latest effort up there with seminal works like Strong Arm of the Law and Denim and Leather?
Based on the first song, the unrelenting title track, the answer would appear to be “yes,” the song gloriously recalling the golden age of hard rock that was the 1980s without sounding old-fashioned (a trick effortlessly repeated on songs like “Destroyer” and “Hard and Fast”). The good work continues on the tracks immediately following the opener, especially the Alice in Wonderland-inspired “Queen of Hearts” with its eerie, stop-start brilliance.
Second guitarist Doug Scarratt, an integral part of the band since 1996, combines impressively with Quinn to produce a dynamic and irresistible dual guitar sound – ably supported by long-time bassist Timothy “Nibbs” Carter – that again comes powerfully to the fore on storming tunes like “The Eye of the Storm” and “Stand Your Ground.”
For a band who are occasionally – and unfairly, in my view – overlooked whenever the true architects of NWOBHM are mentioned, I’m pleased to say there are no disappointing tracks on this record. “To the End” offers a reflective respite from all the explosive riffing, while “Kingdom of the Cross” is a very powerful and haunting tale of the First World War.
Commenting on this song in the album’s press release, Byford states, “Nigel had a piece of music which he played on a synthesiser for a couple of years that I really liked. We had an actor (and singer), David Bower from the band Hell, read the poem and I sang the choruses. I didn’t want it to be typical Saxon, so it is just keyboards, bass, me and Dave.”
For a group that has three over-60s in its ranks, Saxon sound remarkably alive, alert and full of energy. Byford is in fine voice throughout, the guitarists are firing on all cylinders and playing as well as they’ve ever done, Nibbs Carter gets on with doing what he does best and who’d have thought that Nigel Glocker had had a serious health scare only a year ago?
Essential, then, for fans of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal – and of classic rock in general – and one of the best albums of its type you’ll hear this year.
01. Battering Ram
02. The Devil’s Footprint
03. Queen of Hearts
05. Hard and Fast
06. Eye of the Storm
07. Stand Your Ground
08. Top of the World
09. To the End
10. Kingdom of the Cross
Run Time: 46:30
Release Date: October 16, 2015
Check out the song “Battering Ram” here.