Release Date: March 18th
Full details as follows:
SOLID BALL OF ROCK (1991),
Featuring: Solid Ball Of Rock, Requiem (We Will Remember),
FOREVER FREE (1992),
Featuring: Forever Free, Iron Wheels,
DOGS OF WAR (1995),
Featuring: Dogs Of War, Altar Of The Gods, Hold On,
UNLEASH THE BEAST (1997),
Featuring: Terminal Velocity, All Hell Breaking Loose,
Featuring: Song Of Evil, All Guns Blazing,
KILLING GROUND (2001),
Featuring: Court Of The Crimson King, Rock Is Our Life,
Featuring: Witchfinder General, Beyond The Grave,
THE INNER SANCTUM (2007),
Featuring: If I Was You, I’ve Got To Rock (To Stay Alive),
INTO THE LABYRINTH (2009),
Featuring: Live To Rock, Valley Of The Kings,
Back in 1979, when Carrere signed five lads from South Yorkshire for their first album, neither label nor band could have imagined the success and longevity that lay ahead, yet here stand Saxon; 37 years and 21 albums on from their debut, still flying the flag for the late 70’s sound that was famously coined the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” (“NWOBHM”) by Geoff Barton.
NWOBHM spawned a number of metal acts, born out of an underground movement that stepped away from the aristocracy of 70’s rock by mashing the last decade’s rock sounds with the intensity of the DIY punk attitude, took the metal scene in Europe by storm in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Saxon were at the forefront of the movement along with contemporaries like Iron Maiden and Def Leppard. Many of these acts never made it out of the tiny clubs and bars they frequented and while the NWOBHM movement faded by the mid-80’s, Saxon found themselves touring the continent with the likes of Motorhead, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Through that time, Saxon’s success was evident in their ever growing ever and loyal fan base further highlighted by the likes of Ozzy Osbourne touring as their supporting act.
Strangely enough though, while Iron Maiden and Def Leppard went on to enjoy global success, despite the fading appreciation for NWOBHM, Saxon’s popularity would decline in the coming years but not before the band had built up a solid fan base across Europe which, till this day, is the reason why their tours and festival appearances are greeted by grizzled fans in their late 50’s and 60’s head banging to that iconic sound that inspired the likes of Metallica, Megadeth and Pantera amongst others.
So why should one care about the history lesson? Well, Demon Records have recently announced the release of a nine-album vinyl box set, Eagles and Dragons, spanning 18 years (1991 – 2009) of Saxon’s sound which promises to be a treat for all metalheads. Featured albums include Solid Ball of Rock (1991), Forever Free (1992), Dogs of War (1995), Unleash the Beast (1997), Metalhead (1999), Killing Ground (2001), Lionheart (2004), The Inner Sanctum (2007) and Into the Labyrinth (2009).
As a long time metal fan, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks immersing myself in these tunes with the aim of truly understanding what Saxon’s sound is all about. Having grown up in a country where access to music back in the 80’s and 90’s was limited, my childhood was deprived of the opportunity to fully appreciate the breadth of sound that Saxon’s music captured and served as an inspiration for. As I now sit listening to Solid Ball of Rock, riding the tube to work, I’m captivated by the heavy bluesy metal sound of guitar riffs and Maiden style vocals, though the sound is distinctly Saxon. The typical motored choppy guitars and galloping bass on Altar of the Gods contrasted against the more relaxed tempo, The WHO inspired, sound of Ain’t Gonna Take It is just one of the many examples of the musical prowess of Saxon. Throw in the face melting solos of Crash Drive and you’ve got yourself a phantasmagoria of sounds that keeps listeners awaiting each track with anxious eagerness.
Fast forward to Dogs of War and the opening track has a distinctly Sabbath like feel to the riff and yet when the vocals kick in, one can’t help but think of the harmonic tones of a Europe song, another of the many bands that drew inspiration from Saxon. On the whole Dogs of War represents a relatively ‘happier’ Saxon sound, largely due to the generous use of major scales in the majority of tracks on the record, yet another facet of the diversity in their sound.
Metalhead, for me, represents a shift in the band’s sound to a darker, heavier mode which marks the start of an era of such writing. Metalhead is full of wailing guitar solos, phasers overtones to the vocals, pronounced guitar swells and a stunning display of the instrumental mastery that Saxon’s guitarists have over their axes. To top it all off, Sea of Life once again showcases the band’s ability to surprise the listener with its clean interludes and soft vocals eventually giving way to a solid groove that sucks the listener in wishing for the track to carry on in perpetuity.
Like Metalhead, Lionheart carries on in the same vein, steeped in minor harmonics and a more sinister sound compared with the band’s releases from the 90’s. At first listen, the title track may lead the naïve listener to assume it’s something out of an Iron Maiden catalogue but that’s the beauty of Saxon’s ability as a band; to sound like something familiar yet firmly stamp their mark on the track making it distinctly identifiable as a Saxon sound. Beyond the Grave, perhaps one of my favourite tracks on the box set, is again representative of a sound the band’s musical genius, from vocals that challenge the limits of the octave to the atypical emotive guitar solo, the track would inspire the most musically challenged listener to sit up and take notice.
The Inner Sanctum marks a return to the high intensity, Priest like sound that Saxon put out. Tracks like Need for Speed, Atilla the Hun and Let Me Feel Your Power, riddled with the galloping double bass, are a headbanger’s wet dream not to mention symbolic, once again, of Saxon’s ability to turn the knob to 11 when one least expects it. In true Saxon style, the last song on the album takes off on a tangent relative to the rest of the album with its big stadium sound and Def Leppard inspired riffs and vocal melodies.
The last of the albums on the box set may, in fact, most comprehensively capture the various sounds of Saxon. Battalions of Steel and Demon Sweeny Todd revive the Maiden sounding aspects of Saxon’s song writing while Crime of Passion and Voice represent song structures and tones that one may find on a Down album. Contrast Hellcat, which as it says on the label, is back to the Priest inspired writings of The Inner Sanctum. Finish off the album with Coming Home, slide guitars and tambourines that representative in ZZ Top’s sound, cement the diversity in musical writing that Saxon have achieved through their extensive career as a band.
Stepping back from it all, Saxon have so much to offer by way of inspiration and influence drawing on the likes of Deep Purple, Motorhead, Sabbath, The WHO and Led Zepplin amongst others, that one can’t get enough of their sound. There are elements of AC/DC, Maiden, Def Leppard, Megadeth, Down, Motley Crue; one could go on listing the number of sounds that can be found in Saxon’s repertoire, and throughout when it’s all pulled together, its uniquely discernible as their sound and re-enforces their status as ambassadors of NWOBHM that have withstood the test of time nearing four decades of metal mayhem and headbanging.
The release of Eagles and Dragons later this month is all of the above and more with re-packaged tracks and a new album art, promising to be a treat for collectors and fans alike. For those who are yet to have their Saxon cherry popped but love any of the bands mentioned above, the box set would be the perfect addition to their library of metal.
Buy it, plug in and let the music do the rest! It promises to be a journey that you won’t regret.
Written by:- Karan Dutta