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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.