Taking a sharper, re-invigorated approach to the production, on this, their 20th album, Saxon have produced 10 of their strongest, heaviest and most inspired songs for many-a-year, and a more than worthy successor to their last album, A Call To Arms, according to a press release.
“Less tricks, more power!”, roars frontman and founding father Biff Byford. “My brief to the band was to be raw, be real and not be afraid to look back at the old classic material for inspiration.”
BraveWords' Mark Gromen has given the album and 8/10 in the track-by-track overview below:
I was critical of the last studio effort, for being more of a hard rock album than outright metal. No such ambiguity here! While pre-release press has Biff Byford mentioning thrash, there's no need to worry that these Englishmen have undertaken a major stylistic re-write. The intensity has been upped, guitars in particular are heavier and faster, yet it doesn't come at the expense of their infectious abilities as song smiths.Early momentum wanes, before ending strong. Nine new songs, the opening 'Procession' being nothing more than a jungle soundtrack (myna bird calls and the like), akin to the audio portion on some Disney theme park ride. There is a bona fide tenth track, 'Luck Of The Draw', albeit available exclusively as an iTunes download. The limited, digi-book edition features a second disc, containing five re-worked Saxon originals.
'Sacrifice' - Gritty and aggro, from the get go. Ties into the Mayan / indigenous South American cultures (live human sacrifice) which also graces the cover art.
'Made In Belfast' - Opening with acoustic lilt of Irish jig, that reappears later in the tune, this is a historical ode to the shipyards of that fair city, an industry which birthed the likes of the Titanic (although that ill-fated vessel is never mentioned).
'Warriors Of The Road' - Like the roar of the Formula 1 engines it references, this one tears out of the gate and never downshifts. Think 'Stallions Of The Highway' on steroids! Crazy guitar flourish at the end
'Guardians Of The Tomb' - First real tempo change from the frenetic start, beginning with a somewhat Asian acoustic melody. That quickly gives way to more Western sounds, especially guitar driven music. Lyrically refers to the terra cotta Warriors that "guarded" Chinese emperor's final resting places.
'Stand Up And Fight' - Despite the traditional Saxon lyrical territory, something of a throwaway, musically as well. "It's you against the world, stand up and fight"
'Walking The Steel' - A mid-tempo song dedicated to the post-9/11 rebuilding of the Word Trade Center in NYC. "Rising from the ashes, for all the world to see. Rising like the Phoenix, towards the sky... The Twins will stand, hope will never die."
'Night Of The Wolf' - A little acoustic guitar, at times all by itself, in juxtaposition with electric six-string barrage. "Hear them calling, night of the wolf. Barking at the moon."
'Wheels Of Terror' - Was worried about the seemingly recycled hit title, but this deals with "Battle tanks of war." After several songs that seemed to loose/step down the initial enthusiasm, this is generally wall-to-wall guitars.
'Standing In A Queue' - Personal experiences of Biff on the road (especially dealing with hamstrung situations in the USA).
Of the digi-only extras, there's an orchestra backed 'Crusader', complete with opening "Who dares battle the Saracen" voiceover and backing vocals, come the chorus. Hard to improve on the original, if you ask me. Strangely enough, there's also a re-recorded version of 'Just Let Me Rock', which appeared with the aforementioned on that album of the same name. Neither it, nor 'Forever Free' (now twenty years old, but still not quintessential Saxon) offer anything new. The remaining pair are both acoustic takes, practically bookending the band's career. First there's 'Requiem (We Will Remember)', originally off Solid Ball Of Rock and one of my favorites, 'Frozen Rainbow' from the debut, which remains dear to my heart, having grown up with its non-traditional Saxon stylings ('Still Fit To Boogie').