SAXON – Thunderbolt

No matter what you think of new material from old bands, you have to give them credit for not stagnating and / or only go out as nostalgia acts. When it comes to Heavy Metal, bands such as Iron Maiden, Accept and Judas Priest refuse to lay down and rely on past glories. They might not release one album per year anymore but they keep on doing what they always have done – release new music and then tour the hell out of it. That also includes Saxon, one of the hardest working and most creative of all classic Metal bands. When, as a teen, I got into metal for real, Saxon’s Denim And Leather (1980) was the first Heavy Metal album I bought (I don’t count all my Kiss and Sweet records here) so they do have a special place in my heart. That said, I have never been a major Saxon fan. Apart from that album – and their live album The Eagle Has Landed (1982) – I always thought that their albums have been somewhat uneven. Except for their 1979 self-titled debut which is horrible. But I still bought some of the follow-ups.

I lost interest in Saxon after 1983’s Crusader (which title track is brilliant) and apart from Rock The Nations (a record I really like for some reason), I have only heard the odd song here and there by the band throughout the 80’s and 90’s. I know I have probably missed out on some of their stuff but the first “new” record I decided to give a go was 2007’s The Inner Sanctum which I liked and since then I have checked out every album they have released. I think Saxon of today is a reliable and good Heavy Metal band and I find many of their latest albums enjoyable – and these guys do know what they do. And the fact that Biff Byford,  who is pushing 70, still have such a powerful voice is nothing but impressive. So, yes, I like Saxon but they have never been on top of my list of favorite bands and I guess they never will be. But every time they release a new album I do feel the need to check it out – and every time I hope it will blow me away. Their new album is no exception.

Opener “Olympus Rising” is an intro with an atmosphere that brings us right into the title track that sets the standard right away when it hits like a fist right in the gut. The tune screams classic Saxon, heavy, aggressive and ballsy but still with enough melodies to make the song stick. A brilliant track that bodes very well for the rest of the album. And classic Saxon is also what we get with the thunderous metal stomper “The Secret Of Flight”. All over the fat riffs and the heavy beat lies a real catchy – not as in `hitty´- melody that’s almost hummable. Great stuff. The mid-paced “Nosferatu (The Vampires Waltz)” is easily one of my favorite tracks on this record. And when you write about Nosferatu there’s no other way but to arrange the song in dark moods and that is what Saxon have done here. It’s really heavy and malevolent sounding with a symphonic touch but also very melodic and contains an amazing refrain that really sticks right from go.

“They Played Rock And Roll” is a tribute to Lemmy and Motörhead and sound wise, that’s what you get as well. It sounds like a mix of Saxon and Motörhead, hard and kicking. But as a song, I find it only ok and it actually falls a bit on the way-side. “Predator” is a heavy and bouncy metal track that gives me a bit of a Saxon meets Accept vibe that comes with a surprise. For the first time ever Biff sings a duet on a Saxon song. It is Johan Hägg of Swedish Viking Metal band Amon Amarth that brings on some growl for good measure. I’m not a fan of either growl or Amon Amarth but the fact is, it fits the tune really well and the song is really, really good. Devil horns up! “Sing me a song, you’re a singer…” is the verse of Black Sabbath’s “Heaven And Hell” and that’s what I sang when I heard the initial rhythm to “Sons Of Odin” because they’re more or less identical. But the song as a whole is pure Saxon – heavy, fat and hard with a smooth and memorable melody throughout the song. Very good.

Then “Sniper” comes along like a punch on the chin – tough, hard and aggressive and even tough I get a classic Saxon feel out of it, it’s nothing special at all and to me it’s just another standard metal tune that fails to move me one bit. The same with “A Wizard’s Tale”. The Accept vibes are back, especially in the riffs but the tune is a filler and soon forgotten. And the filler alert continues, this time with “Speed Merchants”, a fast, raging and upbeat Heavy Metal tune. It strikes hard but it’s forgettable. “Roadie’s Song” brings things back on track, though.  It’s a straight ahead hard rocker with plenty of groove, a really direct refrain and a memorable vocal melody. A good tune, that never reaches great. As a closer we get “Nosferatu (Raw Version)” and the title is self-explanatory, it’s exactly the same tune as the “original” one but without the symphonic input. It’s still a good tune but I prefer the “original” one.

After a really good start that made up for a killer Saxon album that could have been their best work in ages and ages – I actually thought it had the blow-me-away potential I have been hoping and waiting for – it goes downhill pretty fast towards the end. What a shame. Among the first seven tracks there is proof that Saxon still have the potential to make a true Metal classic but they don’t manage to go all the way. However, it’s admirable that the guys still have the passion and fire for their music and that they love Metal and the lifestyle it brings isn’t even under discussion. No matter if I’m not a big Saxon fan and probably never will be one, they still have my deepest respect. They were really close this time – close but no cigar, I’m afraid.

6/10

More Saxon reviews:

Battering Ram
Sacrifice
Call To Arms

Tracklist:

1. Olympus Rising
2. Thunderbolt
3. The Secret Of Flight
4. Nosferatu (The Vampires Waltz)
5. They Played Rock And Roll
6. Predator
7. Sons Of Odin
8. Sniper
9. A Wizard’s Tale
10. Speed Merchants
11. Roadie’s Song
12. Nosferatu (Raw Version)

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