Getting Into: Saxon
|Written by:||Bad English|
In the '70s, the pre-internet days when everything was different, we knew what we knew, and news did not travel so fast, a group of young Englishmen with historical ideas and interests formed a band. The name they chose was a simple one that fits into English history - Saxon. Saxon is a legendary band that survived the end of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal along with Iron Maiden. Both bands survived through to the '90s and simply refused to give up and die; the rest is history. Many NWOBHM bands came back in the '00s. There were plenty of reunion shows, some new reunion albums - but Saxon was never gone.
If "NWOBHM" undisputedly described a sound rather than an era, this is what it would sound like. Saxon has a simple sound, simple riffs, and maybe the best song the band ever wrote, a Conan or Kull the Conqueror type of song that could be in epic movies. Maybe it's about some Saxon hero who slaughtered other heathen warrior tribes in the good old days? The rest is just pure music, simple, like what a man needs - metal, beer, and women (sometimes, but not as much as music). The rest is just music.
Standout songs: "Frozen Rainbow," "Stallions Of The Highway"
|Wheels Of Steel (1980)|
Wheels Of Steel might be the strongest second album in all of music history. The title track has a simply pure rock'n'roll riff, and I don't mind AC/DC or Rose Tattoo rip-offs; the most important thing is that the music works, gives energy, works for head-banging, and its spirit lives forever. One song, which is an '80s icon, is based on real events (anyone want to be a smartass and tell me which one?).
Standout songs: "Wheels Of Steel," "Motorcycle Man," "747 (Strangers In The Night)"
|Strong Arm Of The Law (1980)|
Musically it's the same as always; the band never changes and never will. Simply rock, born to roll. Why should they change if all works fine? In the old days, a tour for big bands covered maybe the UK, a few French dates, Benelux, maybe Scandinavia and some US gigs, not like today, when bands tour all of Eastern Europe and Asia as well. The old system made it easy for bands to put out good albums. Three months on the road, three in the studio, then the albums come out so easy and so good besides.
Standout songs: "Strong Arm Of The Law," "Heavy Metal Thunder," "To Hell And Back Again"
|Denim And Leather (1981)|
Classic metal items, denim and leather, and you don't need a princess of the night, because you look way too cool. 1980s old school metalheads wear denim, and even if we don't, we can still look cool and find appropriate clothes for the subzero arctic. This album gets rid of the rock'n'roll riffs that the Aussies played all the time and gets more metal flowing into the riffs. We can say that this is a classic sound of early metal. The band seems to have found its flow, something they could pull off as young lads and get lost in, and we know where the band is now; time flies, right? The songs are all a bit short, under five minutes. This was also the last album with drummer Pete Gill; it's a great album among great albums, a strong one.
Standout songs: "Princess Of The Night," "Never Surrender," "And The Bands Played On," "Midnight Rider," "Denim And Leather"
|Power And The Glory (1983)|
Power And The Glory is the first album with new drummer Nigel Glockler (though how much he influenced the writing process, I don't know). This was a funeral album, because the old Saxon died and a new Saxon was born. It is in two parts; the opening is more or less the old band, and the ending is the new band. The band still knew the way to compose songs, but this is not the same as the older albums.
Standout songs: "Redline," "This Town Rocks," "Midas Touch," "The Eagle Has Landed"
The band needed to change. Every song here is more varied in structure, not the same-sounding batch of songs, but somehow it all went to pop. Nothing special to be found here, unless you're a Saxon fanboy. Living so far ahead in time as we do now, we can look back and know that Saxon changed, but still, it's kind of unexpected-
Standout song: "Crusader"
|Innocence Is No Excuse (1985)|
This is like when you're a metalhead, but a woman takes you over, you get married and live a soft life now - or perhaps another version, when you take it soft to impress the ladies before asking to dance and try to get laid after. It's the good, heavier side of soft rock. I somehow like it, can play and enjoy it; it's soft ballad guitars with a heavier approach. All songs are outstanding.
Standout songs: "Rockin' Again," "Back On The Streets," "Rock'n'Roll Gypsy," "Broken Heroes"
|Rock The Nations (1986)|
Rock The Nations starts out heavy, and I thought it would be interesting, but after a few songs it turns out to be a boring album. It's nothing special at all.
Standout songs: "Rock The Nations," "Waiting For The Night," "We Came Here To Rock"
| ||Destiny (1988)|
So Steve Dawson was out, and a new bassist came in for this album only. His name was Paul Johnson and this has nothing to do with anything. The album is good if you're living in the '80s with no internet and you can't dig any deeper. Metal encompasses so many genres; now that we have the internet to help, an album like this wouldn't survive today at all. Most people have one genre and maybe six bands that play it. I have millions of bands and many genres; I am not a metalhead, rather I love music, and to me, metal is about many genres. At this point, this is probably the most off-topic album review in any of the Getting Into articles. I'd call this album pop-rock.
Standout songs: "Ride Like The Wind," "Where The Lightning Strikes," "I Can't Wait Anymore"
|Solid Ball of Rock (1991)|
This is an album that can open up to you if you spin it more than four times. A lot of metal fans whine about how the '90s killed metal. No, they didn't; they brought new genres. The bands killed themselves off with new, softer sounds, changing styles and overwriting themselves. Well, Saxon and Iron Maiden survived through this time up to now, and here we have a mixture of hard rock, the kind that's close to heavy metal, and the softer sound of the previous three-to-four Saxon albums.
Standout songs: "Solid Ball Of Rock," "Lights In The Sky," "Baptism Of Fire"
| ||Forever Free (1993)|
I'd say this is back to the roots with the heaviness factor, but it's more heavy hard rock, not speedy heavy metal like in the old days. The lyrics are somewhat like AC/DC, in the Brian Johnson era. If you're looking for ballads, here we have "Iron Wheels," which is apparently a song Biff wrote for his old man. I say the more ballads the better; it's the best way to get ladies, and not as bad as some cheesy pop-sounding rock albums.
Standout songs: "Forever Free," "Iron Wheels"
|Dogs Of War (1995)|
A heavy comeback as pure metal with few rock elements, this was the last album with founding father and guitarist Graham Oliver. It's a pretty heavy machine that still tries to be '90s somehow. Grunge did not kill metal; metal bands weathered it by themselves, and though there were many copycats, new genres were born, such as death-doom, black metal, and other black/doom subgenres. Basically, the '90s enriched metal! As far as Saxon is concerned, Dogs Of War is an album fairly typical of those bands in the '90s who wanted to play heavy without repeating themselves and get out of their genre without wander too far in the land of experiments.
Standout songs: "Dogs Of War," "Burning Wheels," "The Great White Buffalo," "Walking Through Tokyo"
| ||Unleash The Beast (1997)|
This is a bit of an experimental album, if you don't dig too deeply into it. It's like imperial stout, but if you try new species and ingredients within. What was missing here was the keyboards. It's not such a strong album; even standouts from other Saxon albums wouldn't manage here.
Standout songs: "Circle Of Light," "Ministry Of Fools"
The first thing I thought was that this was industrial, then no, it's not - it's like Iced Earth and Demons And Wizards hired Biff Byford as their singer, or a bit like Fates Warning in the old glory days, with a heavier touch in writing those riffs.
Standout songs: "Travellers In Time," "Conquistador," "Song Of Evil"
| ||Killing Ground (2001)|
If you've forgotten the NWOBHM sound, as Saxon was once playing in the old days, then this is a decent '90s heavy metal album, following in the footsteps of the German masters Grave Digger, Running Wild, and Rebellion. It's a decent album, an album you can bang your head to for 50 minutes. The cover song is indeed awesome; a bit of heaviness was exactly what it needed. This is simply awesome heavy metal and hard rock at its finest. The band has released so many albums, some good, some så , så (works better in Swedish), some failures. This simply hits the nail on the head.
Standout songs: "The Court Of The Crimson King," "Coming Home," "Shadows On The Wall"
Another heavy metal album that is simply heavy. There's nothing more to add; it seems the band stuck with the '90s heavy metal sound and did it on a higher level. This album does contain some new elements that the band has never attempted before, specifically the two instrumental songs in the middle of the album. They're no longer than a minute, and the band has done intros before, but never this sort of track in the middle of the album.
Standout songs: "Lionheart," "To Live By The Sword," "English Man'O'War," "Searching For Atlantis"
| ||The Inner Sanctum (2007)|
This is an album that hit the big nail with one song, a song whose message remains relevant today, but that's all I'll say about that. It's heavy metal, a bit better than Lionheart; the band put in a little more effort, in the right place at the right time.
Standout song: "Red Star Falling"
|Into The Labyrinth (2009)|
Deep Purple meets Metallica, another album with some new elements. I'd listen to a few choruses and be unable to recall Saxon doing them before. "Slow Lane Blues" is, in fact, a blues song. There are also keyboards here, and the good kind, not the kind that ruined Europe's "The Final Countdown." Nice work by Matthias Ulmer. Great album.
Standout songs: "Battalions Of Steel," "Valley Of The Kings," "Slow Lane Blues," "Crime Of Passion"
| ||Call To Arms (2011)|
Simply a blast, what can I say? They're 60 years old and have such a good, heavy sound for old-timers. What's missing are emotions, music with emotions, emotions that you can relive when reading the lyrics and match with the music. You could stick to the band's classics and easily skip this one, but it's still a killer album. The whole album could be a live album; the band could play the whole thing and never fail. It's a brilliant work, with a World War I-themed song and an emotional intro that makes you wonder if you've left home for a metal gig or for the war. Your parents will probably worry about you; a child going out to a metal gig all alone in the big city at night is somewhat reminiscent of that time when wives and mothers didn't know where their loved ones were or when they were coming home.
Standout songs: "Hammer Of The Gods," "Back In 79," "Surviving Against The Odds," "Mists Of Avalon," "Call To Arms," "Ballad Of The Working Man"
Sacrifice is basically equal to the previous album; it's heavy, definitely, but the thing is that while every song could be played live on a big tour none of those songs will survive as an essential in a set list of old classics that the band would play. Otherwise, this is a heavy album and a good one, still an ass-kicker.
Standout songs: "Made In Belfast," "Warriors Of The Road," "Night Of The Wolf" (and generally the whole second disc)
| ||Battering Ram (2015)|
I'm going to say this: we all know that good cognac gets better with every year it stands in the barrel, but whisky doesn't. At the same time, whisky doesn't get worse, either. It can't be better than the '70s sound, but it won't be worse than the late-'80s and early-'90s poppy rock. It's a decent, heavy album; I was surprised by what good songs the band can still write.
Standout songs: "Battering Ram," "The Devil's Footprint," "Queen Of Hearts"
Some say that Saxon should stop writing new albums and just play live. Well, I disagree - maybe this album is not one of the band's highlights, but there are some heavy metal moments in it. The riffs, drums, bass, vocals, and lyrics are all there; the key to successful songwriting from the '80s is lost, but because of their experience, the band managed to compose a solid album.
Standout songs: "Thunderbolt," "They Played Rock And Roll," "Nosferatu (The Vampires Waltz)"
For the pandemic days: a good album of classic tunes that we all listened to when we were growing up (us old farts, at least); I think the band could have chosen better songs to cover from some bands, but it's still good. "Paint It Black," "Speed King," and "Problem Child" are the best songs here.
Studio outtakes, best of B-sides, lost sides, whatever else you want to call it:
Son Of A Bitch - According to certain unsubstantiatable sources (Wikipedia and memory of the old days), Saxon's original name was "Son Of A Bitch." Then, the story goes, bassist Steve Dawson was kicked out of the band in the '80s, and then guitarist Graham Oliver left in 1995. The two of them wanted to sue for the rights to the band name, but in the end, they formed a new band called Son Of A Bitch, later to become Oliver/Dawson Saxon.
|Victim You (1996)|
An awesome classic heavy metal piece, better than Saxon in the mid-'80s, actually; it's an album that kicks ass, with a good singer, a good whisky voice, and classic riffs. Not so poetic, but still metal lyrics, some ballads and insults to modern values, even now- heavy metal. It's a bang-your-head, drink-craft-beer, bone-a-metal-chick, old school album that follows the classic guidelines. It seems those two lads went back to their roots, like in the old Saxon days. Vocalist Ted Bullet has an awesome voice, a mix between Brian Johnson and Rose Tattoo.
Standout songs: "Bitch Of A Place To Be," "Treacherous Times," "Old School"
| ||Motorbiker (2012)|
When industrial meets glam rock, when Rammstein meets Judas Priest, this is basically what it sounds like. It doesn't fit into any category that Saxon could write. It's like the old days, before the internet, when you had to get some tape from a friend or take a chance and buy it, you'd listen to it once or twice and think the band sucks, but later, after listening 5-10 times, it becomes your favorite band and album. That's just what this is; you need to listen many times to get into it. This album also contains some spoken parts, quite a few, and one famous Briton's speech, one that another NWOBHM band made more famous (you can guess which one).
Standout songs: "Motorbiker," "Nevada Beach"
The whole grindcore, goregrind, djent, and whatever other modern genre scenes could cease to exist and we wouldn't lose so much in music as we would if this band had never been. Saxon is a brilliant band; the show must always go on, the music never dies, and this band will live much longer than we will. I certainly hope so.
Guest article disclaimer:
This is a guest article, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.
This is a guest article, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.
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