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It was a whole different world out there when Saxon released their first LP, way back in 1979 (yeah, "when the dam began to burst" and whatever). Many things we now take for granted simply weren't there yet, such as internet, global warming, cellphones, digital music and NWOBHM, to name a few. That said, it's just natural that Biff Byford (V), Paul Quinn (G), Graham Oliver (G), Steve Dawson (B), and Pete Gill (D) still didn't know exactly what to do with their music and it should come as no surprise to learn that it shows on Saxon's eponymous debut album, though was far from ruining it, fortunately.
It all begins with "Rainbow Theme / Frozen Rainbow", an epic heavy ballad slightly in a Uriah Heep vein and with more than a hint of prog rock in it. A good start, but not very representative if we're to be strict here. Then the band delivers "Big Teaser", a tune with a glam rock feel which strongly reminds me of Marc Bolan. And then side one comes to an ending with "Judgement Day", a competent (but kinda confused) attempt to write a convoluted song about the end of the world (c'mon, all metal bands have been there and done that). That means the whole A side of Saxon's debut LP presents no hints of their signature hard-hitting-metal-with-biker-themes attack, and that is to say something about how unsure of themselves the band seemed to be at this point.
Fortunately, side two comes to the rescue with the excellent "Stallions of the Highway" making a clear statement that an exciting new era in metal was just around the corner (or at the flip of an LP if you want to stretch the metaphor further). "Backs to the Wall" is also great in the same no-frills-heavy-metal fashion of the preceding tune, and I think that "Militia Guard" is a nice way to close proceedings, a creative number with a semi-acoustic epic feel and some nice twists and turns here and there. "Still Fit to Boogie" is, ahem, a boogie number without many redeeming factors, but it's reasonably funny and there's nothing fundamentally wrong about being funny, right?
The production is not good at all (most of all, it lacks punch and energy), but I guess the lackluster results of this studio visit paved the way for the heaviness to come, so it kinda was a good thing in the end. BTW, I guess the same can be said about the LP as a whole; it shows not only a band in search of its own musical personality, but also portrays a whole metal generation trying to take the '70s heritage one step further, but not yet sure how it should be done. Musically speaking, this is one for Saxon's (and NWOBHM's) hardcore fans, but those who fit the description will find a fair amount of songs to enjoy here. And if you're interested in the development of heavy metal through the years, then I'll also suggest you to give this one a spin or two.
In the beginning, on the incarnation as Son Of A Bitch these guys didn’t make a difference from most stereotypical British rock acts of the mid/late-70’s, neither did their homonym debut in 1979. Their ways and schemes were actually kinda obsolete in contrast with the monumental speed/power metal Rainbow invented 3 years earlier or Judas Priest proto-heavy metal on their 2nd record – they were still stuck on the usual bluesy, weighty rock ‘n’ roll standards without coming up with a distinctive philosophy and direction yet. The NWOBHM soon exploded and Byford & co. were at the right place, at the right time to become one of the pioneers of that next evolutionary step for the genre even though their sound was still excessively reminiscent of classic rock. Listening to a humble album like this nobody could’ve predicted how relevant their music would be to reinvent the hard rock principles in the 80’s.
There’s a nice variety of songs on the record, starting with archetypical, poppy blues rock on tunes like “Big Teaser” and “Still Fit To Boogie”, whose configuration is absolutely straight and simplistic, pushing guitars away generally to focus on verses and choruses, making the music tremendously commercial and catchy. Riffs are soft, weighty and clearly bluesy, eluding complexity or notable distinction as usual but revealing good chemistry and synchronization between the combo Quinn-Oliver already – even though the composition and progress of guitar lines as I said is undeniably primitive. You might noticed tempos are deprived of the looseness and fire that made Saxon’s songs characteristic later – no double bass-kicks naturally, obeying the usual formulas of classic rock instead on the texture and tonality of those casual riffs as well. Fortunately, there are heavier tracks here like “Stallions Of The Highway” and “Backs To The Wall” that go considerably faster, increasing the energy and power of those still stubbornly bluesy riffs but revealing bigger meticulousness and effective arrangements, although verses remain as tediously repetitive and dumb. The combo is putting greater passion on its lines, some of those cool fills and solos are executed remarkably, yet both Paul & Graham were still trying to imitate Parfitt & Rossi without defining an attitude or style of their own. A more serious effort is displayed on “Rainbow Theme/Frozen Rainbow” and “Judgment Day”, both tastefully-arranged, not incredibly intricate yet adding bigger diversity of sections, rhythm changes and extended, lyrical solos and breaks that provide Saxon’s scruffy hard rock of melody and finesse. “Militia Guard” is another unpredictable piece with an even more unpredictable composition – accented harmonies, lots of starts & stops and rumbling drum rolls. Those titles made the album certainly richer.
The record is plenty of clichés, countless blues licks and kinda vain, insubstantial lyrics with little to offer musically or technically – in fact, for a 1979 release this sounds particularly old-fashioned. People like Scorpions and Motörhead were redefining the concept of heavy metal by that time, while sadly Saxon were stuck on the tiring classic rock principles, on their earliest creative stage unable to formulate challenging ideas or thoughts. British groups had been playing this kind of music for a decade and actually these numbers sound very much like the misleading, uninspired material the big daddies were doing by the mid-70’s when they started repeating themselves and abusing of the same musical patterns. Heaviness and aggression is virtually inexistent here, even though Biff & the boys have always been a proudly melodic heavy rock act with undeniable reminiscence of Uriah Heep and Led Zeppelin – most of these tracks are excessively cheesy in contrast with what their veteran idols themselves were doing in those days, anyway. The group starts exposing its sensitive side here on that sweet ballady sequence on “Frozen Rainbow”, from that moment on they’d often include tender songs on their records and strong melodies (“Suzie Hold On”, “Out Of Control”, “Nightmare”, etc.). It all sounded so rudimentary and primitive in the beginning, although their music was designed with sophistication from the beginning – it might not be difficult or ambitious but arrangements are notably clean while harmonies are constructed delicately, even evocating hypnotizing Eastern sounds on “Militia Guard” for a second. So you see, this is no average guitar combo but I insist they’re just trying to satisfy the blues rock standards without adding own ideas – while Biff’s voice was as generic and sloppy as it has always been, accompanied by some unexpected obnoxious cheesy choir they soon got rid of wisely.
Saxon’s Saxon had no musical relevance, it’s lacking NWOBHM characteristics completely, plenty of 70’s rock clichés, scandalous simplicity (some songs hardly reach 2,5 minutes in total) and rather embarrassing lyrics in the vein of what Byford would sing on the band’s mid-80’s American adventure instead. It hasn’t aged well at all, more than 35 years later and a bunch of musically stronger succeeding albums it certainly sounds obsolete. Some of the tunes are however amusing, honest and well-played, including some of the group’s most talented instrumental sections on “Frozen Rainbow” but deprived of the grace and inspiration of the hungry years of Strong Arm Of The Law and Power & The Glory, yet indirectly contributing to the evolution of Byff & co.’s own sound – fortunately, they finally found the rainbow as we know.
1979 was an interesting year for metal in the sense that it was basically the year when metal could now no longer be described as rock and roll(as it was for most of the 70's) and soon people realized a new term was required to describe the music. In the early part of the decade there were so few bands it was no worry but by the end with albums such as Hell Bent For Leather, Accept's self titled, Overkill, and Saxon's self titled the genre came full circle.
But really, the forming of the genre term and the sound for which it was known for in it's "teen years"(roughly '77 or '78 to '82) before going all out was not as distinct a term as it is now. Let me put it this way, when listening to these albums you can tell they are harder and heavier than the rest of what was inhabiting rock and roll at the time, and there was enough of it that it only made sense for there to be a new term. But honestly it's only slightly harder and heavier.
Which leads me to today's album, Saxon's s/t. An album that plays out like a rock album but with a metal tendency, and as important as the album was(with what probably is the first NWOBHM album, and musically as I'll touch on more later) it feels more like a demo. The songs don't really seem finished.
Probably the main exception of that is the colossal opener "Rainbow Theme/Frozen Rainbow", which is probably one of the best songs Saxon has ever written. Very prog rock in feel(kind of a more straightforward, shortened, metalized version of Greg Lake era King Crimson), the fantasy lyrics, and alluring melodies create an interesting vision in the head which is perhaps too far removed from the rest of the album. But nevertheless is a great tune with unusually good actual singing from Biff and a strong, lyrical solo.
The majority of the album however just flies by without much notice. "Big Teaser" and "Still Fit To Boogie" are straight Rock 'N' Roll tracks with a few harmony induced guitar lines that distinguish it, but are nevertheless nothing special. Paul Quinn and Graham Oliver were always an underrated guitar duo and some of their interplay is quite nice to hear especially at this early stage, and the aforementioned songs probably express it the best out of the songs on display here, but it doesn't enhance the songs as much as one might hope.
There is of course a motorcycle related song in "Stallions of the Highway" which boasts some catchy, bluesy vocal melodies and a surprisingly pounding rhythm section for the time(courtesy of Steve Dawson and Pete Gill), but ends sooner than one would hope, and some of the riffs have an unfinished feel to them, like their just playing the theme of the actual riff or something.
However, there are still some stronger songs to be heard. "Judgement Day" has a very good solo, and a good deal of rhythmic changes that create a very metal mood(actually it's one of the few songs on the album that really feel metal) and lyrically it's very strong. The same goes for "Militia Guard" which is the second best track after the "Rainbow Theme/Frozen Rainbow" for it's sheer exuberance and power. Not to mention one of my personal favorite Paul Quinn solos. It just plays out perfectly in the structure of the song and is very melodic.
So really, the album doesn't leave much of an impression it just kind of flies by. As I said earlier, it has a demo feel but the 3 main highlights("Rainbow Theme/Frozen Rainbow", "Judgement Day", and "Militia Guard") make it an important release for metal and Saxon fans, and it does have some interesting musical elements coming to fruition in the genre that had only been messed around with earlier and not presented as cohesive as they are here such as the epic, historical piece that closes the album that would become such a staple for bands as varied as Manowar, Running Wild, and Iron Maiden or the more varied but not exactly unorthodox structure of a song like "Judgement Day". So overall, a good album, and an important one, but not a great one.
This album, Saxon's self-titled debut is often regarded as the first ever NWOBHM record. And this probably is true. It was released in 1979, just before the sudden outbreak of NWOBHM hands all releasing their debut's. I think this album however, is a bit underrated and overshadowed by the band's next 3 releases- Wheels Of Steel, Strong Arm Of The Law and Denim & Leather. Of course, those albums are all undeniably stronger than this debut, but either way, this album is still an important release.
When compared to those next 3 albums, this record sounds quite a lot different. Opener, 'Rainbow Theme' and second half, 'Frozen Rainbow' are actually kind of progressive, and Biff lays down some excellent vocals. I actually think that these 2 songs are some of the most interesting the band have ever written. 'Big Teaser' is a single and has a noticably more mainstream sound to it- but it still rocks quite hard. The lyrics are pretty cheesy (then again this album is pretty cheesy!) but it is catchy. 'Judgement Day' is one of the stongest tracks, and the longest too, clocking at 5 and a half minutes. It's a well structured NWOBHM song and has some nice vocals once again, and a variety of different guitar riffs and styles. 'Stallions Of The Highway' is often seen as the best song off this album, since it is the most 'Saxon-like' song on here. While it certainly does sound more like what was to come, I don't think it's the best track on here. Good biker anthem though. 'Backs To The Wall' is another catchy single on the same lines as 'Big Teaser', but maybe better. 'Still Fit To Boogie' is the most forgettable song on here and my least favourite- it just isn't very memorable to me.
'Militia Guard', the album's closing track is easily the strongest. This is quite simply one of the best songs Biff and co have layed down, and should receive way more live play. It is great in so many ways- the opening military-style drumming instantly grabs your attention along with the guitar riff that goes with it. The verse that kicks in, while switching to a fairly bog-standard guitar riff, is excellent and there is a cool breakdown about over half way through and this leads to an even cooler guitar riff complete with a lengthy drum roll. Following that is the decent guitar solo which fades and ends the album.
The album is worth hearing just for that song alone, but overall this is a solid debut. It still has a few flaws, but you can expect that. Firstly, the production is, well, quite poor. Now, many NWOBHM debut's were poorly produced, but in many ways this added to the sound better- Venom's Welcome To Hell and Black Metal for instance were extremely rough in sound, but it worked because it gave the record's a heavier, more aggressive tone. But in this debut, the guitars sound very thin and kinda 'tinny' for the most part. With a better production job, the album could've matched other records like Strong Arm Of The Law a bit better.
As well as that, this album is very short. It doesn't even clock over 30 minutes! It could maybe have had just 1 or 2 more tracks making it a 9 or 10 track record. I can imagine that a lot of people will say how 'corny' or 'lame' the album cover is (the sword-wielding viking)- but I actually think it suits the album quite well!
There were a lot of better NWOBHM debuts- Iron Maiden, Raven, Venom, Diamond Head etc all had stronger first releases than Saxon, but this was one of the first/THE first NWOBHM record to ever be recorded. And while it isn't exactly the strongest collection of songs Saxon have made, and it is rough around the edges, I still think a NWOBHM collection would not be complete without it.
This self titled debut album comes from one of the most talented NWOBHM acts, an album which will be a great influence for some of the bigger metal acts in history (such as Metallica, for instance) and will open the way to new genres in the metal music. As for today this album doesn't sounds so special or outstanding of course, if you know something about metal it won't surprise you too much. But as for 1979, I ain't sure why the hell this album wasn't a huge success. I mean, this IS heavy metal with balls, and a good one, and back then in the end of the 70's it's supposed to be something groundbreaking doesn't it? Anyway, if you are looking for a great old school heavy metal, keep reading, you won't regret after knowing this album.
'Saxon' have mostly simple, catchy heavy metal tracks such as 'Backs To The Wall', 'Stallions of The Highway' and 'Big Teaser' with simple and rhythmic power chords riffing which are easy for listening and also pretty enjoyable. Sometimes bordering in the 'hard rock' genre, but doesn't gets pussy for a bit and flows pretty well. However, for me the highlight of this album is the opening track 'Rainbow Theme/Frozen Rainbow' which is by all means one of the best epic NOWBHM songs ever written. It opens with quite loud bass and then comes in a regular power chord strumming, it doesn't sounds like it's an epic song at start, it builds up pretty well and sounds like a good hard rock tune, and then the drums rolling a bit and after a minute and half it slows down. The vocals are very melodic and epic, the guitars has some great fills and adding some cool variations to this song. The chorus is quite catchy and epic as well and the lead guitar is marvelous. The solo is moderate, deep, epic and thrilling. Just well constructed and flows greatly. Then the first riffing comes in and the song becomes a bit faster and ends in kinda hard rock tune, as how the album will continue till it's end.
What can I say, this is one of the greatest heavy metal albums from the 70's. The song writing is great (and it will just improve in time), there aren't any bad tracks, it's short and valuable album which marks the first breaths of the wonderful NWOBHM genre. You can't miss this album if you are into old fashioned heavy metal, you simply can't. Great debut of a great band!
Do you know how many uninteresting/lousy hard rock bands were treading water in ’79? If you were to leaf through countless boxes of records dating from that time, your fingers would be as black as the chances of 90% of the bands to become anything even remotely celebrated. Some had been scraping by for years, jaded enough by now to know their hometown wasn’t going to be hanging “Jackassville – home of…” banners at the entrances any time soon. Others grooved wax for the first time, optimistic, possibly even with thoughts of future red carpets unrolling in their heads. Actually, 90% is a touch generous. How about 3% of all the material released in that time was actually going places worth the bus fare. But besides this bleakness, bands trudged onward, labels small and large took chances on bands that may have had just the charisma, just the magnetism, and maybe enough talent to be the next Van Halen or Foreigner, or for the more realistic, the next Status Quo or Y&T.
So there’s Saxon, a John Doe in line with all the rest, throwing demos and handing show billings to any exec that’ll listen. Oh look, some German band called Accept got picked up by Brain. And there’re the blokes in Samson. Hey, we’ve played and partied with them before. And who’s that, Hellix? Oh, Helix. But low and behold, here comes a suit from Carrere with a pile of papers and a smile, but that doesn’t mean they’re going anywhere.
But unlike many waiting on that same line, they did go somewhere. Maybe they didn’t leave skid marks like Maiden would a year later, but managed to become a more conspicuous fixture than Praying Mantis and the aforementioned Helix and Samson, and their two and a half decade regime began without their better-known, more steely “Princess of the Night” resonance.
If I still have to explain to you where metal was in ’79, you deserve a slap, but not before heart-racers like “Stallions of the Highway”, “Backs to the Wall”, and “Frozen Rainbow” sidewind unwittingly with a diminutive, country-less din that will soon be regarded as the launching pad to a style of rock that’ll take on a more massive tensile strength in time to come. In that light, the metal component in Saxon’s debut is very limited, splurging with a less purposive, more accidental uprising of harder tone, secret implication and a nifty flare that’s still essentially hard rock any way you crush it, but has a fluency that is the stone tablets of the future NWOBHM sound. In a nutshell, the debut from Saxon is one of the very few seamless seams attaching the genres. Sure, in hindsight it’s pretty clear, but then it was just a few interesting steps past the norm, and little did they know something else was going on. Yeah, Maiden may be honored as the genre’s shining light, but their debut is less subtle in its tying of the styles (which is a fair reason why it's more accepted in metal circles). And to give an example of how merely moderately metallic the debut's material is, some of the stuff on Boston’s debut isn't as nimble as this, but the guitar tone is twice as heavy, and has Boston ever in your wildest dreams been considered a metal band?
Surprisingly, slower, steadier songs are few and far between. The peppy “Big Teaser”, the quasi-Kiss-esque “Still Fit to Boogie”, coolly gliding “Militia Guard” and their faster brethren easily outdistance the two more conventional tracks on the disk, one of which bravely switches places with the more obvious album opener “Frozen Rainbow” for a mild curveball, and “Rainbow Theme”, the song itself a far cry from one of your show-‘em-what-you’re-made-of type of tunes, manages to hold the line with some cool hauntingly impassioned rhythms, a warm-blooded blues-inspired solo, and a minor flair for the epic the other tracks rarely draw upon. The singer with the silly name changes his voice according to the song. Lively falsetto lives during most of the faster tracks, but with something like “Rainbow Theme” he pulls the tone down to earth for a more customary approach which I feel is even more impressive yet. The lengthy “Militia Guard” strides along nicely, marching militantly into an abrupt, oddly strong acoustic roadblock and then into the meat of the song that’s not as exuberant as it is catchy.
Even if this had been released sometime in late ’80, this album would still be more the bridge to the musical species than just about any other album released at that time. The sound this created isn’t about timing, but about the sound itself. Just so happens Saxon hit that dead on as well. And in regards as to how this four-piece persevered beyond most of their peers, all someone had to do was listen and recognize the promise; the possible songwriting strength that was clandestinely hugging curves on a highway that was pretty much one lane. Then tell a friend. Hell, they may do it even better with the next release.
This is the album the band should be most proud of.
Well the first Saxon release is more raw than their later releases. Of course, the quality of musicianship that would appear on their later albums is what mainly lacks on this disc, but you still have some killer tunes on here. It would be a large step forward for the band on their next release, but if you like traditional hard rock/metal, then check this one out. After all, this album marked the start of the NWOBHM, highly influenced by bands like Judas Priest and UFO.
Rainbow Theme - A really strong bass line opens up this track, followed by an really nice hard rockin' groove beat. About a minute later, the pace slows down into a very melodic and enchanting number, with Biff Byford showing off just how fuckin' good of a vocalist he is.
Frozen Rainbow - I have no idea why they turned this song into 2 tracks, but it's all really the same song. This track starts up during the solo, which is amazing, by the way, and speeds up from there.
Big Teaser - A less impressive tune, but overall decent, just straight forward hard rock. The chorus is the only highlight here.
Judgment Day - The drum intro that kicks off this tune just smokes, as well the catchy riffing that follows. This is a song that softens and then speeds up at various times through out, ending with one incrdible solo.
Stallions Of The Highway - By far one of the best tracks on the album, this song totally rules all the way through. One of the infamous biker tunes that Saxon is so damn good at doing, so I am hopeing to hear it at this year's Biker Fest in my city when Saxon takes the stage. >:)
Backs To The Wall - Not one of my favorites, but it's the only song that Saxon still plays live from this album today. A great hard rock song none the less, but that's about it.
Still Fit To Boogie - The title of this song sounds like something Motorhead would come up with...as well as the sound. Okay, maybe not the vocals, but the musical influences of Motorhead are quite clear here.
Militia Guard - Ah yes, Saxon is not only known for writing killer biker tunes, but also war tunes as well, and this is one of the best war songs that they have come up with. The marching drum beat and neo-classical intros are the highlights here, but the rest of the song itself is just incredible and underrated.