Review Summary: (old) New Wave of British Heavy Metal…
Forty years from now, what do you think you’ll be doing? What kind of person will you be? Will you still even exist? We can only imagine as to the where, what, when and how but when it comes down to the finer detail we simply will not know. Personally, I’d like to think that Saxon got asked these very questions almost four decades ago and answered simply: “we’ll be Saxon”.
It’s a reward unto itself just how the longevity of Saxon remains to this day, especially considering that Thunderbolt
is this British band’s twenty-second studio record. Since the 70’s this metal workhorse has been churning out banging tracks, never straying far from their formulaic song-writing structure endearing fans with Saxon’s version of a head-banging good time with all the typical lyrical cheese that came with it. While bands within the same description of “new wave” easily outweighed Saxon on the popularity scale (the main culprits being Iron Maiden and Def Leppard), this little Barnsley act remained, consistently releasing album after album. Sure, the usual issues of a band with such a career span surfaced from time to time and a revolving door of members followed suit, changing the band’s signature sound to something more mainstream and then again their original heaviness – for better and worse. Good ol’ Biff Byford and guitarist Paul Quinn stayed steady to Saxon’s course and while the guys are enjoying their sixties, Thunderbolt
is as electrifying as you’d expect from a seasoned band doing the rounds on their twenty-second release even as the guys’ hair whitens and their leather jackets fade.
is a no frills, staple display of what “new wave of British heavy metal” has to offer. The only issue is that “new” is no longer new at all, relying on what made Saxon such a premier act ‘back in the day’. For years the formula has been the same; punching riffs, simple four beat timings and solid musicianship. For the die-hard fans it’s the album you would expect… and not much else.
For what it’s worth Thunderbolt
makes the most of a shorter run time, keeping things simple and honest. A short introductory piece leads into a typical Saxon riff-fest full of some of the most practiced and tight sounding string work to hit the shelves so early in 2018. At times the lead works found in the album’s title track are gorgeous ear-melters, if only marred by Byford’s typical evenly cheesed vocal passages. It can’t be helped when lyrically Byford ties himself to the likes of Olympus, warring gods and Merlin/King Arthur sagas – but that’s not exactly news to the Saxon fans. Pleasantly is the featured effort of Amon Amarth front-man Johan Hegg who growls his melodies over Byford’s “Predator”. It’s clearly not the perfect harmony match but the gravel behind the typical unchanging vocal style of Biff adds to the track, diversifying the album. Weirdly enough the album’s true highlight comes in “They Played Rock and Roll”; a sung, high octane tribute to Saxon’s long-time touring partners and brothers Motorhead. Byford takes the obvious lyrical direction in telling a tale of how Lemmy and co. spent their lives on the road (“falling asleep with the sun”)
. A quick sample of a live Motorhead show helps bring the nostalgia of Lemmy’s signature sung growl back for the fans and in parts Byford even manages to emulate the vocal timing of his fallen (musical) brother, allowing this nostalgia to bend on the listeners’ imagination and in turn hear the mighty Motorhead again.
Overall credit needs to be given where and when it’s due. Saxon may be one of metal’s most long-standing acts and Thunderbolt
stands as a testament to the band’s legacy. Twenty-two albums in Saxon have stayed the course and while their new album may be old news, the band’s simplistic approach to music just doesn’t have the same listening power it did thirty years ago. Take Thunderbolt
as you will, because Saxon don’t seem to be finished with music just yet.