Saxon. What is there to say about a band who, forty years into their career, can still churn out new music as vital and enjoyable as they do on Thunderbolt, their twenty second full-length studio outing?
This far in, of course, you pretty much know what you’re going to get from a Saxon album. But there’s an extra something in the air around Thunderbolt, a sense of history that finds the band looking back for inspiration and hitting the target square on when they find it. I don’t mean looking back in the ‘Crusader’ sense either; Forty years in the business has prompted the band to look into their own past, with uniform success. The much trumpeted They Played Rock n’Roll, a paean to the band’s first tour of the UK with Motörhead in 1979, sees the band cracking out the rose tinted denim and leather jackets in fine style; similarly the spritely Speed Merchants hearkens back to simpler times, it’s fast-paced riffage prompting the mind to thoughts of Wheels of Steel-era Saxon in particular.
The Roadies Song could also have come from that faraway, halcyon time, too. A hymn to the men and women who keep rock n’roll on the road from their position in the stygian depths of the business, it’s the sort of song the band might well have written for the Denim and Leather album.
But it’s not all dewy-eyed nostalgia. Latter day Saxon albums have to have a few epic tales of heroism and glory and Thunderbolt is no different. The Secret of Flight and Sons of Odin both fit this template to a tee, with the latter particularly impressive in a surprisingly Manowaresque fashion.
The twenty first century is acknowledged in the shape of some death metal vocal presence in the fast and furious Predator, but for the most part this is tried and tested true metal, as trad as it gets and none the worse for that.
Whenever you speak to vocalist Biff Byford – who incidentally puts in one of his most impressive vocal performances in a long time throughout Thunderbolt – about his beloved life’s work, he’s always very keen to point out that Saxon consider themselves to be very much songwriting craftsmen, and that artisan approach to the trade delivers in spades for the band here. Coupled with the best production the band have enjoyed for quite some while courtesy of Andy Sneap, the quality of the songs on offer on Thunderbolt marks this album as one of the best the band has delivered in the last decade or so. Impressive, and most a welcome addition to the band’s canon.
Thunderbolt is out now on Militia Guard Music through Silver Lining Music.