It’s strange to think that after 28 years, Saxon can release what is probably their best album to date. Biff Byford may have many years behind him, yet he has further developed as a vocalist and discovered a range in his vocal styles that can easily be compared to Rob Halford.
Stratovarius drummer Jorg Michael performs incredibly on this album, and the riffs have evolved to a more heavy perspective, while the solos faster-paced, are filled with gleaming passion and reflected against powerful and infectious song-writing.
Opener ‘Witchfinder General’ begins with a short pick rake, drowning in delay and then the song bursts into life all at once. The drumming is furious and never loses pace. The chorus becomes slightly more dramatic, focusing more on the vocals, before screaming out to the next verse. The song falls into a deep bass-line with echoing laughter in the background before a manic solo takes the stage.
Before you have time to settle, ‘Man And Machine’ enters, a swift snare followed on by a catchy and vicious riff that falls into a mid-tempo song that’s simple enough to enjoy and complex enough to impress. This is Saxon sticking to what their good at, and it turns out to be excellent. This song has probably the best solo on the entire album.
The Medieval-style instrumental ‘The Return’ is mysterious and captivating. It makes the perfect opener for the title track ‘Lionheart’.
‘Lionheart’ is a patriotic track and far from diverse as far as Saxon are concerned. Another solid riff that creates a tight rhythm. No corners were cut in the production. All of this creates the potential to make this a milestone in heavy metal.
As far as diverse goes, there’s not a track more new and expressive than ‘Beyond The Grave’. The Ballad-esque intro carries this track until a more distorted sound and heavier drumming take this soft masterpiece, yet the vocals remain as operatic as ever. Enter a Slash-like solo, performed almost as effortlessly as tuning up.
Many Saxon fans will fear this change in pace while others open their arms to such a fresh sound. One thing that’s impossible to debate is the fantastic song writing.
‘Justice’ is defiantly a track worth noticing. It questions how anyone can determine innocence and guilt. Guitarists Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt perform effective and dramatically to create a very memorable track. It’s down to earth, powerful and awe-inspiring.
Although the lyrics are a little cheesy, ‘To Live By The Sword’ is still a great track. It has the familiar pattern that die-hard Saxon fans will recognise, with well thought out lyrics, a patriotic heart and a spectacular rhythm. It opens with yet another riff with a fantastic hook just before the vocals enter. All of that seems to become redundant compared to the drumming.
An acoustic intro to the next track, ‘Jack Tars’ tells the beginning of a story about a patriotic sailor of the Queen’s Navy, loyal until death. This is a sweet, heartfelt track, yet still seems a little empty.
If I’ve already named my favourite riff from this album, I apologise: This is it! The bass barely audible until the chorus, kept well alive by spirited singing, intense drumming and beautiful lead work.
As the album nears the end, a luminous sound sparkles the atmosphere, followed swiftly by a headbang-ready rhythm, with an almost epic chorus and dramatic drumming. This song tells us that there’s a place out there that every person soughts after, “We’re all searching for Atlantis/we’re all looking for our Shangri-La”.
The song itself still feels like it’s missing a certain amount of feeling and lets down the lyrics.
To finish ‘Lionheart’, ‘Flying On The Edge’ offers the type of riff and drumming rhythm you could march Trafalgar Square with.
Yet, as the Middle 8 enters, there’s a temporary lapse in pace as the vocals steal the focus before a short solo throws everything back into place. A great song to end a great album.
: ‘Man And Machine’, ‘Beyond The Grave’, ‘English Man O’ War’.