In early February, Saxon released it’s 22nd studio album in almost 40 years. There is something to be said about the tenacity of this band. Saxon is not a band that has significantly changed their sound, nor have they had much turn over within the band. The shortest tenured member is, like, 22 years. They didn’t really try anything too experimental with this record that would alienate long time fans, to my ears anyway. You can always find some disgruntled jerk who hates his life and tells you “It’s not as good as Denim and Leather” or whatever “old school” Saxon album is their favorite. The fact of the matter is that Saxon is legendary and opinions like these are stupid! Do not forget this.
“Thunderbolt” is the follow-up to 2015’s “Battering Ram”, from which the band had a hell of a tour with U.F.O. “Thunderbolt” now puts them on tour with such peers as Diamond Head in Europe and Judas Priest in North America. The album has everything that you would consider necessary in a great metal album. Dramatic story telling, riffs, leads, and some of the best topics dealt with on a heavy metal album: predators, vampires, Norse and Greek mythology, wizards, snipers and, of course, Motörhead. Saxon is the only NWoBHM that stays consistent. Since 1979, the band has taken no longer than 3 years to release new material and can always be found on the road, despite their long career. Age, time and trends have not affected the band’s productivity. Get yourself a copy and listen as we go through the album.
“Olympus Rising” is the first track on the album and is basically the intro to the title track “Thunderbolt”. This track needs to be turned to max volume to get you in the heavy metal spirit. Chanting and drums raise the hair on the back of your neck and introduce the “Thunderbolt” track. The Thunderbolt Biff speaks of is the one held by the all-powerful Zeus of the ancient Greek religion. Saxon, or more specifically Biff, has this innate ability to tell a story. They use the back-drop of heavy metal to tell the story of legendary gods and creatures in a way that only Saxon can. Country music is supposed to be the genre that tells a story in a way that nobody else can. Look at some of the greats- Cash, Haggard, Jones and Williams. Biff, however, does this in a medium that I like much more.
The story of Icarus is told in “The Secret of Flight”. If you are not familiar with this story, it’s another Greek myth that tells of a master craftsman who builds a set of wings for himself and his son, Icarus. The father warns the boy not to fly too close to the sea or to get too close to the sun. The son, so elated with his new found power of flight, soars to the heavens and his wings melt from the heat of the sun. A very cautionary tale that can be applied to other situations in our human life. The power of flight has always intrigued mankind. Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt deliver some of the best riffs of their lives on this album, this track being one of my favorites.
“Nosferatu (The Vampire’s Waltz)” is a track that could be considered the oddball of the bunch. It’s dark and full of doom. Here, the band brings another mythical creature to our attention.
One subject that is not mythical but is very real comes from the track “They Played Rock and Roll”. Unless your head has been buried in the sand for the last 30 years, you can probably guess the subject matter on this one. Yes, Motörhead. Saxon had their road-cherries popped by Motörhead in 1979 on their first major tour. An audio excerpt of Lemmy saying his magical line “We are Motörhead, and we play rock and roll” is inserted into the song. Legends tipping their hats to legends, you gotta love it!!
The sixth track, “Predator” tells the story of, well…. a predator. When you think of a predator who is not the alien bounty hunter, you think of an apex killer. Who better to sing the low-end back up than one, Mr. Johan Hegg of the band Amon Amarth. While listening to the incredible vocal duo of Biff and Johan, do not forget to listen to what the band is doing behind them. Riff monsters are sneaking up behind the predator in this one. The combo of the vocals should not cast a shadow on the band. Nigel Glockler is sometimes overlooked when it comes to great metal drummers. Take some time to focus on his abilities when listening to this album.
Years may have changed the way we physically see the band, but their musicianship and, especially, Biff’s vocals have not been tarnished by time. Studio recordings can hide a lot of sin but the proof, here, is in their live performances. As of last year, Biff was in fine form and “Sons of Odin” shows that he still absolutely has it as he screams out Valhalla. “Sniper” and “A Wizard’s Tale” walk us through the life of each of those characters. The subject matter could be anything and the band would make it sound metal and compelling. “Speed Merchants” should be standard listening if you’re a race car driver, or someone in a police chase. Again, not only are the vocals on par with what we expect from Biff but the rest of the band is still just so incredible. Let’s face it, every metal riff and drum roll has already been played. It’s all been done. But the fast paced, in-your-face attack on this album still feels fresh. The band keeps us tuned-in with the ferocity of it’s attack after all of these years. proving to me that they are in it for the right reasons. On the last track they pay homage to the people that make these tours happen. Roadies sometimes get a bad rap, but Saxon tips their hats to these very important, behind-the-scenes folks that keep this circus on the move.
“Thunderbolt” is exactly what 2018 needs. It’s a new, fresh album from a band that has pioneered a genre and a lifestyle. I personally feel that this album is full of classic and deep cuts alike. It’s an album that shows us that Saxon is not about to compromise their style and integrity. NWoBHM is not new. In fact, it’s getting common to see younger metal fans who don’t know much about the whole movement. Newcomers to metal are listening to bands inspired by Saxon and their counter parts in the movement. Even though the style may have come to be years ago, it’s still just as powerful as when it started. This is concrete proof that good metal has no expiration date. Hats off to Saxon on this album. The band doesn’t have to rely on it’s past achievements to claim their place in the upper echelon of metal hierarchy. “Thunderbolt” stands on it’s own as a great metal album. We feel that way and know that you will too.
3-13-18 in Wilkes-Barre, PA at Mohegan Sun Arena
3-15-18 in Youngstown, OH at Covelli Centre
3-17-18 in Uniondale, NY at Nassau Coliseum
3-18-18 in Washington, DC at Anthem
3-20-18 in Newark, NN at Prudential Center
3-22-18 in Uncasville, CT at Mohegan Sun Arena
3-25-18 in Ottawa, Can at The Arena – Td Place
3-27-18 in London, Can at Budweiser Gardens
3-28-18 in Oshawa, Can at Tribute Communications Centre
3-31-18 in Detroit, MI at Dtroit Masonic Temple
4-03-18 in Milwaukee, WI at Riverside Theater
4-05-18 in Green Bay, WI at Resch Center
4-06-18 in Hammond, IN at The Horshoe Casino
4-08-18 in Bloomington, IL at Grossinger Motors Arena
4-10-18 in Casper, WY at Casper Events Center
4-11-18 in Loveland, CO at Budweiser Events Center
4-15-18 in Kent, WA at Snoware Center
4-17-18 in Portland, OR at Veterans Memorial Coliseum
4-19-18 in San Francisco, CA at The Warfield
4-22-18 in Los Angeles, CA at Microsoft Theater
4-24-18 in Phoenix, AZ at Comerica Theater
4-26-18 in Tulsa, OK at Bok Center
4-28-18 in Dallas, TX at Bomb Factory
4-29-18 in Sugar Land,TX at Smart Financial Center
5-01-18 in San Antonio, TX at Freeman Coliseum