As clichéd as this sounds, I think what unites the Saxons, Ravens, Judas Priests and Maidens of this world (among others) is a very communal metal spirit
. What do I mean by this" Well, the aforementioned bands never really intended to be as big as they are now-it just so happened that they have delivered some of the most engaging and riveting metal of the last few decades or so, and metalheads everywhere generally couldn't be more grateful. The bands have their haters, but without these bands metal as an entire genre just wouldn't feel the same. This amateur introductory few sentences leads me to the review of Saxon's latest offering to the metal gods (or their fans, whatever your take on it is), Battering Ram
. This poses two questions. Does the album sound like an actual battering ram" Yes. Is it without question a Saxon album" Of course it is.
Saxon's latest effort is just about as solid and straightforward as heavy metal gets in this day and age. Aside from this however, what about the performance" Each and every band member has put on a solid instrumental performance into this album, and you can really hear the excellent rhythmic battery within the title track, "Queen of Hearts" and "Hard and Fast" among others. The guitar work at best offers a display of furious, crushing heavy metal tones to complement Biff Byford's evidently aged but still fearsome vocal range, and the implementation of this musical furore is displayed with full force on the likes of "The Devil's Footprint" and "Eye of the Storm", whereas the more mid-paced stomp of the anthemic "Stand Your Ground" regains whatever pride may have been lost on previous Saxon records. Above all, the majority of Battering Ram
's songwriting basically tells the listener that the band are still having fun doing this sort of thing, even at an advanced age. Indeed, judging by the excellence of the title track, it's just great to get that impression where you think of the band as a still youthful, vibrant collective spirit rather than a group of mates going through a hard, monotonous metal slog for 50 minutes or so.
What does and doesn't work in this album is clear. Firstly, let's look at the flaws. "Destroyer" is three minutes of metal boredom, essentially. It isn't even as fast as its short run-time would have you believe and by the end you're wondering whether or not it was really essential to put amongst songs as belligerent as "Hard and Fast" or the title track. Elsewhere, the band use a weird synthesiser line in "Stand Your Ground" which rather than adding to the overall anthemic approach of the songwriting, simply takes away all the interest retained by that crushing rhythm section earlier on. The synthesisers were probably intended for a more modern uptake of age-old songwriting ethic, but instead it makes Saxon seem, well, lazy
for want of a better adjective. However, you can safely ignore these two flawed songs thanks to the more adventurous tunes of the record. The two songs which strongly utilize Byford's narrative approach-that is "The Devil's Footprint" and the album's definitive highlight "Kingdom of the Cross"-are undoubtedly some of the strongest pieces of work Saxon have crafted in a long time. The former almost echoes Satan in the adventurous scope and malevolent pace throughout, whereas the latter is simply an ode to those who have lost their lives in the war, and thus sacrificed for a better life in the long run. Indeed, "Kingdom of the Cross" represents two things about Saxon: 1) That the band can change the pace when they want to and 2) that they can write music about realistic topics if and when applicable.
Essentially, this is Saxon proving they can consistently bring their own brand of metal into a more modern age, and as the years roll by, it's for albums like Battering Ram
that the band will be remembered amongst the greats. Despite the flaws and obvious retention of an age-old style (though very few will complain about it), Saxon's latest effort is another album to put up there with the best. IT represents the band as a co-operative collective, the band members working with each other to ensure the maximum level of enjoyment is delivered unto the listener when the 50 minute run-time of the album is over. Long live the kings indeed.