Nobody – make that NOBODY – of trad metal’s old guard makes music in 2024 – or for the last decade and a half, really – that stays as true to the spirit of the genre as Barnsley Big Teasers Saxon. Not for them triple albums full of bloated journeys into prog, not for them duets with Dolly Parton or Baby Metal, whoever they are, not for them yearly tours with a greedy ‘resting on laurels’ vibe; No, for Saxon, thankfully, it’s all about the one thing we love more than life itself:
HEAVY METAL THUNDER.
Seriously, without listening to one note of the music, titles like Hell, Fire and Damnation, Madame Guillotine, Fire and Steel, Kubla Khan And The Merchant of Venice and 1066 tell you all you need to know; It’s boys own stuff all the way here, folks, led from the front by Peter ‘Biff’ Byford, whistling teeth n’all, and NOW BOLSTERED BY ADDED METAL APPEAL.
That’s right, as if just the prospect of a new Saxon album wasn’t enough, we now have to get our heads around the fact that Diamond Head‘s Brian Tatler has joined the band, replacing the ever more idiosyncratic Paul Quinn and thus boosting the band’s appeal to Lars Ulrich to previously undreamed of levels. Tatler comes together in stunning style with incumbent axe god Doug Scarrett on incendiary headbanger Fire and Steel (‘fire and steel, made by Yorkshire hands’ bellows Byford, with justifiable pride), a fast-paced neck-threatener that’ll have you rubbing your ears in disbelief that a band with a lead singer in his seventies can come up with something quite so vital, quite so, well… heavy metal as this.
Kubla Khan And The Merchant of Venice is classic latter day Saxon; Faster than the band’s early glory days, built on the evergreen pistons that are Nigel Glockler’s legs, it moves through the gears before hitting cruising speed early and then proceeds to gouge the ears with searing melody, singalong guitar playing and Byford’s timeless roar. This is undoubtedly heavy metal as it should be played. Masterfully executed, effortlessly ticking all the boxes with peerless ease, the sound of Artisanal genius at work.
Slowing things down a little, Pirates of the Airwaves drives a line deep into memories of those glory years I mentioned earlier with it’s tales of ship-based law infringement; you can imagine watching a home-videoed clip of this on You Tube of the band appearing on Top of the Pops in 1982 with Biff resplendent in those silver loon pants he favoured at the time. In short: Timeless brilliance in all respects.
1066 is predictably brilliant, a whistlestop lesson in Anglo Saxon history that should be made compulsory curriculum fodder in all schools immediately, with Byford reining in his more florid impulses and simply letting the song do the heavy lifting. That it’s good enough to do just that is yet more testament, as if any were needed, to just how good a heavy metal songwriting unit this band continues to be.
Penultimate track Witches of Salem isn’t quite as effective, but that’s relative of course – most metal bands of this vintage would kill to operate at these levels – but the band round things out with the superb, Nibs Carter-driven Super Charger to end on a high, underlining once again just what a vital source of heavy metal this band continues to be. And long may that state of affairs continue to last.
Hell, Fire And Damnation is out now.