In the landscape of heavy metal music, it can be argued that one does not delve into the art form without full exploration of the NWOBHM movement from the late 70s and early 80s. Saxon was at the forefront of this movement and possessed every ounce of credibility and authenticity as their peers, such as Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. The “Black Country” is where the core of metal gained its first seed with bands like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple.
Saxon is one of those bands that can be described as fitting the original mold of what heavy metal music really is all about. Like their peers, Saxon’s music is very formulaic. In the same vain as Maiden or AC/DC, though not through a ‘sound-like’ comparison, Saxon subscribes to a formula their fans identify with. Legions of fans pump their fists in the air with every variation of that formula that these bands release in the form of new albums.
Through the 90s, Saxon was almost an afterthought releasing a series of subpar efforts. But, not until 2007’s re-focused release of “The Inner Sanctum” has Saxon been so aggressive and memorable in their new music. There have been 5 albums released since 2007 that have all possessed the metal integrity that should be associated with Saxon. The newest album, ‘Battering Ram,’ makes no exception to this more recent output.
Battering Ram is a damned good album. Production clean, guitars loud, and drums relentless, this is the core sound Saxon fans have come to enjoy. It hits on each and every single cliché every bestowed upon metal music. From partying and sex, to dungeons, torture, and victory marches, Biff Byford’s aggressive vocal delivery covers all subject matter associated with the metal genre.
Once ‘play’ is hit on the first track, you are treated with a very Priest-like opener in the spirit and rhythmic tradition of “Rapid Fire” from the legendary ‘British Steel’ album. Immediately following title track, Saxon gives us yet another taste of tradition in metal music, the speaking-intro to “The Devil’s Footprint.” Ripping a page right from the Maiden playbook on “The Number of The Beast,” the voice is haunting and foreboding, but a little too drawn out. The song is more of the same spirit as the title track.
Other highlights are the riff-laden “Eye of the Storm,” the mid-song breakdown of “Stand Your Ground,” the racing driving tempo of “Top of the World,” and the swaying metallic sheen of “To The End.” ‘Battering Ram’ is sure to be a reference source to demonstrate the capabilities of a new speaker system. However, not one song seemed to inspire the chills and the desire to hit ‘replay’ quite like the brooding “Kingdom of the Cross.” Byford speaks the lyrics while a haunting melody encapsulates the background sound. This track has a very vast soundstage that when amplified, it will fully demonstrate the capabilities of any sound system. Yes, it’s the slowest, most melodic song in the collection, but it is arguably the coolest in terms of the song atmosphere created, and interesting in terms of how Byford gets his story told.
Saxon is a band of high historical significance in the history annals of metal music. Saxon put their mark in metal music across the globe with 1981’s “Denim and Leather” and their early releases in the heyday of the NWOBHM. While they were a household name in Britain, for whatever reason, they never quite reached the heights perhaps they deserved in the US. American fans of metal music would do themselves a disservice to not check out what Saxon has been up to lately. The only thing missing on ‘Battering Ram’ is perhaps the umlaut.