Saxon has always sort of weaved in and out of the consciousness of the United States music scene. Never the A-list headliner they are in Europe, but also a band you’d have a hard time not hearing about if you’re into Metal music of any sort. It’s because of that I was equally surprised as I was not able to find out that their latest record, Thunderbolt (out February 2nd via Militia Guard), was their 22nd.
Considering that Def Leppard prefer we all pretend they have more in common with Queen than Diamonhead, I feel comfortable stating that Saxon, along with Iron Maiden, have to kept the NWOBHM relevant longer than even a 15 year old Lars Ulrich imagined possible. And this record does little to change that.
After the overture of “Olympus Rising”, the record opens with the title track “Thunderbolt”. A song that reminds me more than a little of Udo‘s last years with Accept. Biff Byford’s body may not be ageless, but his voice truly is. There is little chance his vocal prowess this far into his career is any accident. The man takes care of his throat. The next track “The Secret of Flight” has a similar feel to me. But more Rev Raptor era UDO. That’s not to say it sounds like they are lifting anything, just capturing a comparable vibe. The verse riffs carry this track.
The next track exposes what I feel is the record’s only weakness. It comes off a bit schizophrenic. “Nosferatu (The Vampires Waltz)” is an ok track. But, three songs in, we have gone from Serpents of the Underworld unleashing the Gods of War, to a song about dinner table talk between Wilbur and Orville Wright to a song about Dracula? And it doesn’t settle down from there on in. “They Played Rock N Roll” is a sort of 3:42 Saxon biography. “Sons of Odin” is about… Odin’s sons. “Sniper”, “A Wizards Tale” and “Roadies Song” all have equally perplexing titles.
That’s not to say the songs aren’t great. The Dracula track won’t make you forget “Heavy Metal Thunder”, but the rest of those songs are worthy of the Saxon stamp. There is also a song called “Predator” that has ole Biff doing his best death metal growl. While not my favorite track, his growl impresses.
Nit picking and poking fun at their age aside, there is a reason Saxon has stood the test of time. Don’t believe me? Listen to this record and tell me they can’t hold their own with a band like Amon Amarth, of whom they’ve clearly had large influence on. The songwriting, while sometimes lyrically inconsistent, is in line with a band that has some history but isn’t afraid to embrace where they are today. This isn’t an album from a band desperately reaching to past glory. This is what metal sounds like when you have been around so long you realize you have nothing left to prove.
Buy this record! And (fingers crossed) I will finally catch these titans of rock, metal and the NWOBHM live when they come to the States this spring.