Review Summary: New Wave of Ballsy, Honest Metal...
The year was 1980 and Saxon had already released two albums; their underrated 1979 eponymous debut and one of the pillars of the entire NWOBHM movement, Wheels of Steel
. 1980 is considered a monumental year for heavy metal as Iron Maiden released their debut, Diamond Head gave us the colossal Lightning to the Nations
, Black Sabbath returned to form, Ozzy Osbourne returned to the living and Motorhead recorded their definitive album. A number of other excellent albums were also released back then but one band did what is generally considered a very hard feat; release two quality albums within the same year.
Strong Arm of the Law
was released just four months after their breakthrough album Wheels of Steel
and it follows the same formula as its predecessor. For those of you who are familiar with NWOBHM (and I’m sure that the vast majority of you is very knowledgeable) there are no surprises here. This is plain and simple quality heavy metal. No frills, anthemic, celebratory, high energy and emphatic heavy metal. What do you expect from a solid metal album? Whatever your answer is, you’ll most probably find it. Saxon embodies all that is good about heavy metal. Face melting guitar solos, ass whopping vocals, a rhythm section so tight that could turn coal into diamond and on top of that a very thin layer of cheese. Apart from helping shape a whole genre, Strong Arm of the Law
is arguably one of the albums that heavily influenced thrash and speed metal. The listener can spot the influences by Motorhead which is quite reasonable since Saxon toured the UK with Lemmy and Co. during 1980. We can also listen to Saxon’s influences in bands that belong to the true metal movement. Therefore, apart from the album’s musical value, its historical value is indisputable. However, let’s proceed to a more detailed analysis of the album’s sound.
Strong Arm of the Law is riff driven
. The band sounds more mature and confident than in the past and even though the album might lack the standout tracks like “Denim and Leather”, “747” or “Wheels of Steel” it’s more solid overall. From the very beginning the listener can sense that this is a high energy album. It’s impossible not to headbang or move your limbs when you listen to songs such as “To Hell and Back Again”, “Heavy Metal Thunder” or “Taking Your Chance” with their fast rhythm and aggressive vocals. Remember those Motorhead influences? You can easily spot them on the very first notes of “Taking Your Chances” and the whole “To Hell and Back Again”. The album also includes anthems such as “Hungry Years” and especially the title track which is based on a true story that happened during the band’s first American tour when their bus was pulled over by highway police. The chorus of “Strong Arm of the Law” is highly addictive and will grow on you instantly as you’ll find yourself singing to it as often as the one on “Wheels of Steel”. The album also features some fast paced drumming which is clearly evident on “20,000 Ft.” as it is on the forefront on this track. It also goes without saying that Biff Byford is on top form at this point of his career as he manages to turn simply good compositions such as “Sixth Form Girls” into excellent songs. One of the album’s highlights is “Dallas 1 PM”. Dealing with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Saxon sample at some point the actual report from a news bulletin of that time with their music and create an excellent closing track.
If one can find a flaw in this album it’s the fact that the band’s sound hasn’t progressed enough compared to their previous effort. However, as they say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Strong Arm of the Law
is one of the best NWOBHM releases along with the likes of Angel Witch
, Lightning to the Nations
, Iron Maiden
and others. Saxon is one of the most no-nonsense, honest bands out there. Even their logo has remained exactly the same over the course of their career. If you denounce false metal you’re a friend of Saxon. Even if you haven’t heard the band yet, you’re a friend of them.