From humble beginnings as Son of a Bitch to the recording of classic NWOBHM albums such as Wheels of Steel and Denim and Leather, to attempting 80's hard rock, to experimenting with German power metal in the later days, British metal band Saxon has come a long way. They've released a few good albums, a few mediocre albums, but the band is generally regarded as one of the strongest New Wave of British Heavy Metal acts both today and back in the musical movement's heyday. Now in their 31st year of existence (my, time sure flies), Saxon doesn't really have much to prove. But does that mean they're just going to sit back and coast through another four albums? If The Inner Sanctum is anything to judge by then, no, the Barnsley rockers still going strong.
So what type of musical direction does Saxon take on The Inner Sanctum, the band's eighteenth studio album? To tell the truth, the record is somewhat of a combination of old and new. The razor German power metal sound of Lionheart mixed with the fun, hard hitting NWOBHM sound of Wheels of Steel. Unsurprisingly enough, this stylistic combination works out quite well, with the aggressive, melodic nature of the former compliment the raw, classic elements of the later influences. Particularly effective is the band's frontman Bliff Byford. For the most part, Bliff sounds like either Helloween vocalist Andi Deris (see State of Grace), Grave Digger vocalist Chris Boltendahl (Let Me Feel Your Power), a combination of both (Ashes to Ashes), or, well, classic Bliff Byford (Going Nowhere Fast). Despite his age, Byford still delivers stunning wails, screams, sung moment, and really, anything else one would expect him to do. He will never be considered one of the genre's better vocalists; however, he always delivers an excellent performance throughout the album.
At 5:37, The Inner Sanctum's opening track State of Grace would be one of, if not the finest tracks on the album. After about a quite minute long intro which helps create suspense and interest in the music, the song morphs into a Helloween influenced piece of work. It's not quite as savage sounding as Let Me Feel Your Power or Atila the Hun and not quite as catchy and anthemic as the likes of Going Nowhere Fast or I've Got to Rock (To Stay Alive), but the song still packs quite a punch with its mystical feel. Atila the Hun, the album's epic at over 8 minutes as another superb track in which each of Saxon's five man line-up proves his worth, especially guitarists Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt, who's sharp, duelling axe work would put many of their contemporaries to shame. However, three of The Inner Sanctum's middle tracks, specifically I've Got to Rock (To Stay Alive), Red Star Falling, and Going Nowhere Fast are not the strongest songs Saxon has ever crafted. Fans of the English band's mid to late 80's works will probably enjoy them, as they're quite similar. However, to me they seem more like weak filler tracks and somewhat disrupt the flow of the album. While they do not necessarily kill The Inner Sanctum, as the rest of the tracks are excellent, I just cannot give the album a higher score because of them.
With that said, The Inner Sanctum is a very good record from a very underrated band. With album number eighteen Saxon definitely shows that their age has not caught up with their music's quality, nor will they coast aimlessly through the rest of their playing days. With songs such as Need for Speed and If I Was You the British band puts forth efforts which reflect its past sound and its present sound. Really, if you're a fan of Saxon, or any other similar band, The Inner Sanctum is an album you'll want to pick up. It's that good.
State of Grace
Need for Speed
Atila the Hun
Let Me Feel Your Power