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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.