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Saxon peaked here, finishing their 18 month run of incredibly consistent AC/DC inspired heavy metal. In 1981, one would have been perfectly right to consider this band and no other to be the one to take the world over, but we all now what happened afterwards; a gradual decline started after this record, and Saxon have only occasionally raised their heads above the muck of mediocrity since then.
It’s not they did anything substantially different on this record than what was already there on the previous two. But, everything here is fine-tuned to the point of perfection, and when you realize that, it becomes obvious why they had to go down. The sound is absolutely perfect for Saxon here. The razor sharp guitars are intact, but the sound on the whole is quite a bit fuller and vibrant, clear and live at the same time.
This, of course, helps the songs come across like never before. There seems to be an instant rapport with listener, from the first few bars of “Princess of the Night”. But, this immediacy is not the courtesy of production alone. Eight of the nine songs here are among Saxon’s best. They seem to have perfected the skill of songwriting within their own stylistic limits, making the songs punchier and even more electrifying than before.
Take “Play It Loud” for example. There’s no denying that it’s modeled on the already established insistent pumping rhythm, and that its chorus is simply designed for stadium sing-alongs. In other words, “Wheels of Steel” is its granddaddy. But, “Play It Loud” is a more dynamic and engaging song than its predecessor. Similarly, the title track is their most convincing anthem. I mean, look, songs where bands praise themselves and their chosen genre are not my cup of tea at all, but if there’s one band that makes that shit believable, Saxon is that band. They pull through on the strength of simply sounding honest, but also strangely humble about it, and delivering the goods when it comes to music.
Only two songs are not about playing metal and/or being tough as nails. “Princes of the Night” is lyrically as bizarre as they come, praising a retired train (!). See, they’re just a bunch of nostalgic English gentlemen. But, the said song is also one of the best here, just perfectly written all around. The one relative dud of the album is “Out of Control”, which seems to be about Biff’s significant other, although you can never be sure it’s not about a motorcycle. What doesn’t really work on that song is its lame chorus which foreshadows Saxon’s slimier 80s moments. But, that’s only relative to the rest of the record. It’s not like it warrants rushing towards the skip button.
The second side contains no such wobbly parts. The steady, laid-back “Midnight Rider”, while lyrically a bit of an attempt at endearing the band to the American audience is among the band’s most developed and textured, and a nice contrast to the speedy “Fire in the Sky”. Now, that one song that raises this album above the previous two is, you guessed it, “And the Bands Played On”. Never has there been written a more blood-pumping, adrenaline-inducing song about heavy metal itself, which is even more of an accomplishment when you realize it’s not actually, you know, aggressive or dark in any way. Which, incidentally, might make some of you young ’uns consider it “hard rock” or somesuch nonsense, but that will be dealt with case by case.
So, I’m not sure if it brought us all together, especially since I’m an anti-social maniac who would rather watch Sex and the City before pledging any allegiance to “heavy metal as a lifestyle”, but even I can enjoy this fine record in the privacy of my own room. Denim and Leather is everything that’s good about Saxon turned up to… no, I’m not gonna go there.
British metallers Saxon’s fourth album finds them in a great form. New Wave Of British Heavy Metal is at full bloom but unfortunately it will not last much longer. However these metal underdogs managed to preserve their myth. They have a strong line-up and their vocalist Biff Byford is one of the best in the metal scene. By the time they released Denim and leather they had made a good reputation. The nine songs of this album proved that they were not just a shooting star but they had come to stay.
Some of the songs of this album became all-time classics adored by most metal fans. Princess of the Night is one of them. The title may fool you. Don’t look for a girl because the lyrics speak of an old locomotive, its journeys and adventures. It is one of the fastest songs Saxon ever wrote. It has an addictive galloping pace and unmatchable solos. Probably my favorite song by Saxon, it creates dreams about endless walks on the rails of fantasy that awakens with every note of this hymn.
Saxon didn’t forget to dedicate a song to their loyal fans, those who kept the faith alive. This is the song that bears the title of the album, Denim and Leather. It is a steady mid-tempo piece but its true magic is revealed through the lyrics. The lyrics that, nowadays, remind us of some years ago when metal wasn’t found in every corner. “It was you that set the spirit free” sings Byford making us proud of our beliefs and ideals.
And the Bands Played On… as shivers run up and down your spine, your senses are stimulated and tears glow through the eyes of us all, especially those who didn’t meet heavy metal when Hammerfall appeared in the scene. Riff and chorus march together to create a genuine epic, with an intense war feeling to defend our heavy metal land. Saxon wrote a masterpiece that no pen can describe. Only your ears can help you realize the size of this song. By the way, Hammerfall was used only as an example. I have nothing against them. In fact I like them a lot.
Never Surrender and Out of Control are songs that seem too typical but they are not. They don’t lack in melodic harshness and their brilliant solos blind those who keep their eyes shut to the glorious light of metal. Rough n’ Ready and Play it Loud have sharp, razor-edge guitars and nice breaks. They are simple hard rock played with metal tensions. It is suggested that you listen to them at maximum volume!
Midnight Rider is another hard rock track with metal extensions, aiming to wound some sensitive ears. It is melodic and easy to listen to, yet it doesn’t ignore its metal roots. It will excite you if you let yourself so. Fire in the Sky is quite a fast one, an ideal mix of power and melody. It’s a successful balancing between heavy riff and beautiful chorus. Of course it features wonderful guitar parts and Byford’s characteristic vocals. Certainly one more classic by Saxon.
With Denim and Leather Saxon contributed a great deal in the building of heavy metal’s armor. It is not the perfect album; it may not even be their best. Still it’s very good and metalheads all over should possess it.
Saxon, the undisputed kings of South Yorkshire Gumby metal (SYGM) and general all round scrappy Yorkshire Terrier’s of NWOBHM. Biff and the boys get a fairly bad reputation both inside and outside of the metal scene. Why you ask? Well, some strange people see the whole Spinal Tap comparison as a negative thing…bizarre! But if you can get over the short comings of Biff Byford’s wardrobe, you’ll surely find some of the greatest rocked up metal around.
NWOBHM was a complete mess of sounds, generally using an umbrella term to keep the music press happy (much like the did with grunge ten years later). Venom sounded like a washing machine full of bricks, Def Leppard spent too much time on their backing vocals, Witchfynde, Witchfinder General, Witchfynder General and General Fynder Witch all imploded without too much hassle and delivered some unfocused variant from the Sabbath mould, but Saxon just provided a most enjoyable AC/DC meets Priest rocking groove that pleased both rock and metal fans. If you enjoyed ‘British Steel’ era Priest then this will be right up your street, if not then I suggest you try before you buy, saving us the “Saxon ist not krieg!” reviews.
Four out of the eight songs here stand up to me as absolute metal classics, guarded in metal’s sacred halls by the Thundercats, yeah, why not? ‘Princess of the Night’ is embryonic speed metal and has some deceptively simple riffing. Saxon, being as they are, didn’t sing much about Satan and Valhalla as such this song is about fucking trains. Not even trains carrying legions of the night to do battle with angels, just a train bringing Biff his copy of Gumby Monthly. ‘Never Surrender’ is a ripping “backs against the wall” type song with brilliant generic bouncy NWOBHM riffs and an effortlessly catchy chorus. Not so much trains in this one. ‘And the Bands Played On’ is perhaps the greatest Saxon song ever, with it’s sing along lead lines (ala ‘747’) and nicely layered riffs. It was Saxon’s ode to the 1980 Monsters of Rock festival, at which they apparently killed at. It is also of note that Saxon writes a song dedicated to every gig they’ve ever done, yes really;
‘Dunstable Civic Hall, 1995, there was 155 there!’.
‘Denim and Leather’ is another NWOBHM anthem and understandably a live favourite- a masterpiece of Gumby metal sing along brilliance. Isn’t the ‘maybe you can learn play the bass’ line comedy gold? After dreaming of guitar and smashing up the drums, the bass must be learnt as a afterthought…if one line in metal ever did capture all the mystique of the faceless bassist then this is it! Anyway, it’s one of the best AC/DC songs Angus and Mal never wrote.
The other songs here are generally excellent too. ‘Fire in the Sky’ is an gold old slab of NWOBHM speed, with some excellent guitar harmonies and Priest aspiring solos. ‘Play it Loud’ is a lovable romp about never turning your music down and kicking lifeguards who take a disliking to Deep Purple (maybe it was Candice Night?). ‘Midnight Rider’ is the only song I don’t enjoy here, it reeks of ‘Hello America’ and musically it does nothing that the other tracks don’t do better. I mean I know your from Barnsley and are totally stoked by “bloody automobile highways” and “sun shining all of t’ bloody night” but spare me the details.
Saxon always have been economic rather than flashy and ‘Denim and Leather’ stands up as an excellent example of heavy metal precision, much like those steam engines Biff is so obsessed by (who is he Fred fucking Dibnah? Steeplejack heavy metal!). The band generally perform excellently with lots of memorable hooks, riffs and solos. Pete Gill’s performance was a bit disappointing for me as I was already aware of his phenomenal drumming with Motörhead and as such I knew he could sound a lot better than he does here…not that this is Lars Ulrich drumming by any means. I suppose it’s also that he uses less double bass than on ‘Strong Arm of the Law’ as well…crikey, that shows this albums age, when double bass was still something noteworthy in metal!
Looking to get all nostalgic for a time when England actually still was a proud heavy metal nation? Look no further, Biff and the boys will have you leathered up in no time (no, not lathered, bad Pete) and rocking like a Gumby in a time when every metal fan dressed like some denim clad refugee.
Paragraphing edited along with some minor spelling and grammatical errors. I’m going to do this with most of my reviews now.
If there ever was a record that tried just a little too hard to represent the early 80s heavy metal phenomenon, but was nowhere near good or interesting enough musically to live up to this promise, it has to be Saxon’s quintunessential ‘Denim and Leather.’ The band may be entirely forgotten today – they’re still touring to a cult following – but these Yorkshiremen were once one of the biggest names in the home-grown New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement (NWOBHM). On its release in 1981, this album hit #9 and the single reached number 12. This means that, at one time, people were more interested in listening to Saxon than Tony Capstick & the Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band.
‘Denim and Leather,’ while completely mediocre, is nevertheless regarded as a genre classic by many. It’s certainly the last ‘quite-good’ album the band would produce in its original style, before moving to a more polished ‘quite-bad’ sound in a consistently failed attempt to break into the American market like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest managed (Saxon lacked only the talent). Whilst very little of Saxon’s output is comparable to their contemporaries even in this alleged classic period, the early albums are mostly enjoyable affairs, especially if you enjoy songs driven by derivative guitar riffs and embarrassing macho lyrics, as I do. You’d still be better off listening to Manowar, but Saxon were always a lot more radio-friendly.
‘Denim and Leather,’ follows the more impressive ‘Wheels of Steel’ and ‘Strong Arm of the Law’ released in quick succession the previous year, and is sadly the weakest of the three. This album suffers in a similar way to Iron Maiden’s sophomore release ‘Killers’ of the same year (which still fared better), by containing some classic, immortal staples of the Saxon live set amidst a sea of forgettable mediocrity. The main songs in question are helpfully singled out at the start and end of the album, in the form of the energetic ‘Princess of the Night’ lamenting a decomissioned train – not a prostitute like you thought – and the anthemic title track. ‘And the Bands Played On’ is slower and more heartfelt, and probably the highlight of the recording, as well as incredibly short to boot. It isn’t a flaw of Saxon albums that they never hit the forty-minute mark, as they were defecated forth from the studio in such rapid succession as to exceed the yearly output of more quality-centric bands.
Listening to this album is a reasonably enjoyable experience, if you disregard the fact that you could be spending your time listening to something more worthwhile, but it really hasn’t stood the test of time outside of its NWOBHM context. If anything, the music here veers away from the speedy heavy metal sound that was finally coming together in earlier songs like ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’ and retreats into overly familiar, Led Zeppelinesque hard rock for the most part. Saxon’s artistic integrity seems to be fairly low, as every interesting feature – a pleasant guitar solo here or nice use of vocal harmony there – is instantly negated by blatant attempts at popularity. This wouldn’t be a problem if the band wasn’t so insistent on its rebellious, back-streets image, best expressed in the punk angst of ‘Play it Loud.’
Bill Bryford’s vocals earn the accolade of actually being distinctive, despite imitating the alternating wails and groans of every other band of the time, but the other musicians aren’t particularly notable. The twin guitars of Graham Oliver and Paul Quinn do nothing new and exciting, especially in contrast to the triumphant dual guitar melodies produced by every notable heavy metal band of the decade. The only instance of drums that stands out is the slow, plodding march of the title song. ‘Denim and Leather,’ the song, is a run-of-the-mill stadium anthem, but by its own low standards it actually manages to impress. Even outside of the catchiness of the chorus – which conjures in my mind, for some reason, a literal melting pot of torn jeans and beaten leather jackets being brewed in an attempt to capture the essence of heavy metal through clothing – the unoriginal leading riff is quite cool, and it’s quite nice to hear the chanting of fans fading in at the end to lead out the album.
The lyrics are pretty silly but nicely optimistic, as Bryford tells you to think positive and become a singer like him, embracing the life of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s the kind of song that makes you realise how sterile it is to judge music based on artistic merit rather than the simple feeling it generates, and the way it can inspire these feelings in an entire generation’s sub-culture. But then you listen to one of the dozens of better albums that were released the same year that accomplishes exactly the same thing, and cast Saxon aside like the pointless underdog it ever shall be.
…METAL! Heavy fucking metal! This album is all about power, steel, fistfights, beer, motorcycles, cigarettes, denim and leather. I can safely say that this is in fact the most Metal album I’ve ever heard. “Kings of Metal” may try, “Kill ‘Em All” and “Feel The Fire” definitely have the Metal spirit with the capitol M. But there is nothing that can challenge Saxon’s “Denim And Leather” in sheer drinking, fucking and headbanging joy.
So yes, lyrically this is superior to every other album I’ve heard, and it will make anyone who is Metal at heart go absolutely wild.
“I was lying on the beach, taking the rays
Listening to Deep Purple, reminiscing of old days
I was hassled by a lifeguard, so I kicked him to the ground
There’s always someone somewhere who’ll try to turn you down”
Listen and learn, kids. Biff Byford is the fucking man.
Also musically, this is one of the highs of NWOBHM, no doubt about it. Very catchy and memorable riffs and absolutely mindblowing solos - early Saxon had some of metal's greatest solos. Every song has a fucking awesome solo to back it up - are at the forefront along with Byford’s awesome voice – he may not have a great range, but he’s got the balls, my friends. Also, the drumming is truly intense here. The style is pretty standard for this type of music, but it’s played way better than most drummers can hope to. Perfectly placed insanely cool fills (especially on “Play It Loud”) and very solid rhythm works provides the important backbone for this album, along with the well played and perfectly mixed bass.
Together on this album, the guys blast out some truly immortal anthems of Heavy Fucking Metal. Motorcycle-song Princess of the Night opens the album in a speed metal manner, and from there it’s just a ride of crazy heavy metal all through.
“Never Surrender”, “Rough And Ready” and “Play It Loud” are probably my favourites on here along with the title track. Classic fuck-the-world-and-play-heavy-metal anthems done better than most can ever hope to be, and with some of the catchiest riffs ever, especially “Play It Loud”. And as previously mentioned, the lyrics OWN!
“Standing on a corner, asking for a smoke
I’ll kick you in the deep, boy, steal away your girl
Talked into a night-fight, they cut me to the bone
Don’t you mess with me, boy, you better leave me alone!”
And of course the previously mentioned title track… DENIM! AND LEATHER! BROUGHT US ALL TOGETHER! IT WAS YOU THAT SET THE SPIRIT FREE! I have orgasmic sensations when that plays in my speakers. A midpaced heavy metal anthem like no other, and should be considered a true metal classic, just like the entire album.
But really, there’s nothing on the album that does not completely own. Sure, when they try to write love lyrics on the song “Out of Control” it comes off as very forced, cause Saxon aren’t supposed to write love songs- but musically, it’s killer. More melodic than the rest, and very nicely done. And this album has plenty of brilliant lyrics to make up for one song that falls short in that one department.
“Fire In The Sky” also has some kinda out of place lyrics, suddenly dealing with nuclear war, but it works quite well, and again the music rocks. Pay special attention to that cool lead section that appears in the middle of the song. Not typical Saxon style, but very catchy, great stuff. I could go on dissecting this album a bit more, but I’m gonna let you guys find out for yourself, if you don’t have this already (in which case you haven’t experienced Metal).
“I’m sick of people saying our music is too loud
They never stop complaining, try to turn us down
But if you want it louder, we’ll turn it up full blast
They’ll never stop the music, they’re living in the past!”
Not far behind Strong Arm Of The Law, this album defenitly delivers the goods. Fast riffing, tough as nails lyrics, powerful vocals delivered by one of the best in metal, and killer choruses...just check out the first and last songs and you'll know what I mean. This album is just full of attitude, full of it! Not one weak point on the album, just killer riffing and attitude from begining to end.
1. Princess Of The Night - If the opening riff does not grab your attention at a sudden instant and force your ears against the speaker, then I don't know what will. The entire song itself is pure energy and power, with a catchy as hell chorus and a solo to die for.
2. Never Surrender - One of the more "in your face" Saxon tunes. More or less, it's mainly the chorus that possess the tough attitude, but the overall song kicks ass as well.
3. Out Of Control - The pace and riffage is basically in the same tone as the previous tune, though in a less intense way. Of all the songs on the album, this one is probably the least catchiest and/or memorable, but as I stated before, there's not one weak track on here and every song is well worth a listen.
4. Rough And Ready - You know, I absolutly HATE when a band has several kick ass songs that make it big, and then some others that kick just as much ass but get little or no attention. This happens to be one of those songs. Being more or less as catchy and powerful as Princess Of The Night and the title track, I think this song simply deserves more attention than it gets. Well, it gets no attention, but hey it's still a kickass song.
5. Play It Loud - Are these not some of the coolest ever lyrics or what?? If you wanna know what they are then listen to the damn song. But aside from the lyrical factor, the music is quite heavy and supports the lyrics with a mean, distorted tone.
6. And The Bands Played On - Despite it's short length, this happens to be one of the best tracks on the album. The verses are probably some of the catchiest I have ever heard, much catchier than the chorus for sure.
7. Midnight Rider - The main riff here is quite groovey, and the singing tone that Biif uses fits the groove quite well. Mid-paced and catchty, that's what this song mainly is. Yeah, a combination of those two characteristics = one awesome song.
8. Fire In The Sky - Aside from Princess Of The Night, this is the only other speed metal tune on the album. The song is about an outburst of radiation that claims the lives of many, so the intensity and speed of the song fit quite well with that. The great thing about Saxon is that when they write songs, no matter what they're about, they make sure that the lyrics fit the music correctly. Not many bands do it this well.
9. Demin And Leather - The heaviest song on the album, as well as the most powerful. This, in my opinion, is one of the greatest Metal anthems as well as major crowd mover when played live, even today. The song itself is about the outbreak of the NWOBHM scene back in '79, and the audience that Saxon drew which set them apart from the rest of the bands. After all, Saxon was the first NWOBHM to ever get signed. Yeah, all thanks to the fans. This song is basically a tribute to their fans everywhere.
Saxon further their solid metal attitude here - quality songwriting with nice, prominent, memorable riffs are the norm here. Nothing is quite as insanely speed-metal as on the previous album, but nonetheless this one is quite enjoyable.
"Princess of the Night" is the fastest song on here - this is certainly speed metal, though not quite as heavy as say, Machine Gun. It has a really great solo in the middle, though, bringing to mind Highway Star at times. "Never Surrender" is a bit slower and more anthemic, with a nice chorus. It's merely okay on the studio release - definitely hear it live for greatest effect. "Out of Control" has silly lyrics - something that on a previous album would not have worked, but here the riffs make the song quite consistent.
"Rough and Ready" is also pretty damn heavy, and "Play It Loud" is good solid defiant heavy metal attitude, with great riffs to boot. "And the Bands Played On" is a tribute to Donington, Monsters of Rock (a performance that must be heard to be believed, Saxon completely tore it up that day!!). The song brings to mind "Rock Hard Ride Free" by Priest in the way the intro melody works and goes into the song.
"Midnight Rider" is not quite fast, but the riffs keep the song moving steadily enough. "Fire in the Sky" is apparently about nuclear death or whatnot - still, the music fits in with the rest of the album. Decent classic heavy metal - doesn't quite turn the riffs to 11, but doesn't descend into self-mockery either.
The title track... it's pretty nice, though the chorus is just a bit silly, and has to be heard live to be truly appreciated. Most of Saxon is that way - this album included. It's pretty decent, as the songwriting is there, but the intensity is not nearly as strong as on the live albums.