Review Summary: Melodic keyboard soaked 80's metal with a small helping of progressive rock. A lost gem from the NWOBHM.
There is no doubt that the great majority of the new metal bands that exploded onto the British scene during the NWOBHM in the early 80's followed a similair approach with their music. Their basic influences were rooted in stalwart 70's British metal acts such as Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Budgie but there was an injection of enthusiasm and energy into the music that gave the genre a new lease of life. Saracen, to a certain extent, are no different to the norm but they tried to expand upon their basic sound by adding keyboard textures and bringing in progressive rock influences.
Like many debut albums the material on offer spans a large period of time during a band's formative years and as such the music feels more like just a collection of songs than a coherent whole. This is certainly the case on 'Heroes, Saints and Fools'. The album has its fair share of formulaic catchy 80's metal exemplified by the galloping 'Rock of Ages' with its Maiden-esque riff and the entertaining 'Ready To Fly' which contains some passable Rob Halford like screams from lead vocalist Steve Bettney. There is also a pop metal single in the guise of 'No More Lonely Nights', replete with an irresistable hook, hand-claps and cheesy lyrics which somehow manages to cross Kiss with Abba and leaves you humming along and tapping your foot while assuring yourself that it is bloody awful. But when the band move away from the more conventional hard rock sounds of the times and attempt more ambitious prog rock influenced material they really start to shine and take on a character of their own. This is where the main strengths of the album lie. The title track itself is an entertaining seven minutes of organ soaked harmonies, acoustic guitars and medieval tinged melodies with some accomplished soloing from lead guitarist Rob Bendelow. Other highlights are the dreamy instrumental 'Dolphin Ride' which floats along on a wave of rolling drums and synth and the driving 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' with its infectious riffs.
It would be stretching the imagination to label this sort of music as progressive but it is apparent that the band have been influenced by some of the prog rock titans of the previous decade. Some of the medieval steeped themes come across as rather cumbersome on occasion and the quality is inconsistent but for a debut release the band show an amazing level of maturity. Saracen never attained much success with their particular brand of music but this debut was a very likeable and accomplished release. If you have a taste for some melodic keyboard soaked 80's metal with a smattering of progressive rock then give it a try.