Review Summary: She's got WHEEEELS, WHEEEEEEELS OF STEEL!
Sadly forgotten in the ocean of heavy metal that came with and after them, Saxon
were one of the forerunners of the famous British New Wave of Heavy Metal. A few years before now world-famous acts like Iron Maiden
were around releasing their material, the band was already quite active. They hit their peak quite early, after which their popularity steadily shrunk. In the early 80’s, they released their consecutive releases Wheels of Steel
and Strong Arm of the Law
, both of which are perfect indications of their early sound. Of these two, Wheels of Steel
is the better, and has remained Saxon’s best record, despite only being their second. It cemented their position into 80’s metal immediately, and any fan of the period dare not go without it.
Saxon’s approach has always been simple. Not bothering with being technical or pretentious, the Yorkshire quintet had always wisely chosen appeal over anything else. That they helped shape the foundations of the NWOBHM is not difficult to hear: harmonized twin lead guitar, dominant melodic riffs and vocals, all the necessary features are there. Saxon’s strength, especially in their early period, relies on both their simplistic approach and lead section. While the rhythm section fails to stand out in any kind of way, the appeal of Oliver’s and Quinn’s lead guitar and Byford’s vocals is gigantic. Churning out one catchy riff and remarkable solo (which are the only moments when the guitarists show that they are definitely skilled) after another, the guitar assault is never a disappointment. The vocals, however, are what took Saxon to a higher level. Byford’s charismatic voice can surpass most metal vocalists from the movement, if not period. The remarkable fact about his performance is that while he sings in a relatively restrained manner, the power his voice emits his amazing, especially on prime cuts such as Strangers in the Night
or the title track.
Speaking of which, those two tracks are also the guitarists’ best moments. Strangers in the Night
is a more melodic highlight, showcasing some insanely catchy high-pitched riffs, but the title track is even better. While its main riff is basically repeated throughout the whole song with the exception of a solo, it is so huge it doesn’t matter. The song could very well be where Saxon best showed full realization of their approach.
But that is not it for highlights. From the pounding opener Motorcycle Man
to the ballad Suzie Hold On
, every song has its own charm, despite the approach being generally the same. Simply enough, Wheels of Steel is an essential get for any 80’s metal fan. Sadly enough, the name Saxon has since long sunk into oblivion, causing this wonderful work to be too overlooked. Do not let that deter you, for it is essential in the fine world of heavy metal.