Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Boys of ‘79

Saxon – Call To Arms

UDR/EMI/Militia Guard Music – 2011

Hellions, during that most un-metal of times – the mid 90’s – many metal bands lost their way and succumbed to the temptation of staying “relevant” and tried to incorporate dreadful alternative music into their sound. This proved to be a complete failure for almost every band that attempted it. Old fans reacted in horror and fled in droves; alternative fans found old metal bands to be a joke; and MTV ignored them for the flavor of the day. Metal bands broke up and disappeared at an alarming pace and it seemed that metal would be discarded on the ash heap of music history with disco.

However, a few stalwarts rejected the alternative sounds and defended the true faith of pure metal; bands such as Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Testament and Overkill continued to crank out steel for the grateful legions of metalheads. One band in particular that kept the faith was the mighty Saxon, who not only survived the 90’s intact but became one of the premier traditional metal groups in the world.

Saxon was founded way back in 1976 as Son Of A Bitch but wisely changed their name to something that would actually be acceptable to a record company. They leapt to the forefront of the NWOBHM and released disc after disc of classic metal such as Wheels Of Steel, Denim And Leather, Strong Arm Of The Law, Power And The Glory, and Crusader. They had quite a bit of success in England and Europe but sales in the United States remained elusive. It was at this point that the band decided to incorporate more commercial elements into their sound in order to breakout in the US market.

This was a disastrous decision as the next albums — Innocence Is No Excuse, Rock The Nations, and Destiny — failed to break the band in the States but succeeded in alienating older fans. Those albums were, frankly, crap of the highest order and they were dropped by EMI. It appeared that Saxon was over but the band managed to stage a comeback in the 90’s really starting with Dogs Of War in 1995 and continuing throughout the 90’s and 2000’s. They actually got heavier and incorporated many elements from European Power Metal into their music and toured relentlessly.

The Metal Blog Of Metal had the good fortune to see them in 1998 in small club in Cincinnati with 20 other people. A sleet storm was in progress and very few people came out but Saxon came on and blew the roof off of the dump. They also hung out with the crowd afterwards and signed anything you wanted. I became a fan for life at that moment. I think they would have played a set just for me if I had been the only one to show up. Hails to Biff and the boys for keeping the faith and playing Metal when lesser bands wrecked on the shoals of alternative music.

The latest effort from Saxon is Call To Arms, and it’s another superb album of pure Heavy Metal. The cuts here are what you expect and want from a Saxon album. If you’re looking for turntables, jazz, harsh vocals, songs about how your life sucks, or any other weak-ass shit like that, you are out of luck. What you get is another excursion into songs about Vikings (“Hammer Of The Gods”), The brotherhood of Metal (“Back In 79”), overcoming the odds (“Surviving Against The Odds”), War (“Call To Arms”) and the Apocalypse (“When Doomsday Comes). These are all lyrical themes that belong on a Heavy Metal album and Saxon does their usual classy and professional job on these tracks.

I’ve read elsewhere that this album is more “blues based” than previous efforts but I have no clue what the hell that means as this is classic Saxon with no modern elements or other fat clogging up the disc. Call To Arms has a great balance of fast tracks like “Hammer Of The Gods,” “Surviving The Odds,” “Afterburner,” and mid-paced fare like “Back In 79,” “Chasing The Bullet,” and “Ballad Of The Working Man.” The centerpiece of the album is the title track “Call To Arms” and it’s another in a long line of Saxon tracks that are about soldiers leaving for war. It’s an excellent cut and deserves a place alongside “Broken Heroes” in the melancholy Saxon war songs hall of fame.

Saxon has also released a video for the track “Hammer Of The Gods” and it can be viewed below.

Call To Arms is not scheduled for release in the United States until 9/27/11 and it’s unclear at this time what formats it will be offered in. I have the European two disc digipak version and it features a remixed and remastered Live At Donington 1980. This isn’t really essential as all of the tracks from this show have been released multiple times, including on the 2009 EMI remasters of Saxon and Wheels Of Steel.


The Bottom Line: Saxon has once again crafted an excellent disc of traditional Heavy Metal and they show no signs of aging or slowing down. The band, like Motörhead, have been releasing material that is probably superior to everything they did back in the 80s. Be sure to pick this one up when it’s finally released because they deserve your support for their tireless efforts in keeping the Heavy Metal flag flying.


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