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Saxon - Thunderbolt (Album Review)

Monday, 19 February 2018 Written by Simon Ramsay

Since getting their act together again towards the end of the last century, and with a misjudged mid-late 1980s detour into American hair metal territory a distant and somewhat disturbing memory, NWOBHM stalwarts Saxon have been enjoying what seems like a never ending Indian Summer.

They have churned out several behemoths of consistently high quality in the shape of  ‘Call To Arms’, ‘Battering Ram’ and the thrillingly heavy ‘Sacrifice’, and this past decade has found them in astonishing form. ‘Thunderbolt’, the 22nd album of the Yorkshiremen’s 40 year career, continues that run.

With razor-edged riffs, well-executed tempo changes, an artillery of rhythmic firepower and face-frying solos, this record delivers a pummelling barrage of anthems that worship at the marvellous and ridiculous altar of all things metal.

Some have slated Saxon for sticking to a familiar blueprint, but no one who hears the fist-pumping title track, as well as the equally vintage Sniper and Speed Merchant, will be upset they haven’t tried their hand at disco. Besides, one of this album’s strongest attributes is the variety the band have mined from their beloved genre.

Joining the aforementioned numbers in the old school corner is The Secret of Flight.  Possibly the best song Iron Maiden didn’t cut in the early ‘80s, and brandishing a soaring melodic hook, it’s the kind of short, sharp anthemic crowdpleaser Bruce Dickinson’s gang haven’t delivered for ages.  

Over in the contemporary corner, meanwhile, lurk Nosferatu (The Vampire Waltz) and Predator. The former’s epic orchestral bombast suggests Biff Byford’s a fan of European symphonic metal acts, while its creeping leviathan tempo is perfect for aged headbangers who can no longer keep up with songs that shift at 1000 beats per minute. The latter, meanwhile, is bludgeoning modern metal that’s almost perfect, except for some hilariously jarring death metal growls.

For all this record’s fantastical tales, its finest moments are personal. They Played Rock and Roll is a piledriving tribute to Motörhead that suitably apes Lemmy’s mob and even features his famous on stage declaration. The grandiose mythology of Sons of Odin is a nice nod to Ronnie James Dio, and Roadie’s Song, which salutes Saxon’s touring brethren, is the devil-horned offspring of And The Bands Played On and Motörhead’s We Are The Road Crew.  

Andy Sneap, who seems to possess the midas touch when it comes to reinvigorating venerable metal acts like Accept and Judas Priest, has returned as Saxon’s producer for the third album in a row and the result is another sonic monster. Byford’s voice, in particular, still sounds superb as he hits high notes that suggest he’s either invulnerable to the aging process or was secretly recording in those tight fitting spandex trousers he sported during the ‘80s.  

Of all the acts who emerged in the NWOBHM era and are still active, few continue to build on their legacy like Saxon. For now, the wheels (of steel) show no sign of falling off this juggernaut.

Saxon Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri February 23 2018 - CARDIFF Cardiff University Students Union
Sat February 24 2018 - CAMBRIDGE Cambridge Corn Exchange
Sun February 25 2018 - HULL City Hall
Thu October 18 2018 - GLASGOW Barrowland
Fri October 19 2018 - LONDON Roundhouse
Sat October 20 2018 - PORTSMOUTH Portsmouth Guildhall
Sun October 21 2018 - MANCHESTER Academy

Click here to compare & buy Saxon Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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