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An important album, just not a great one - 73%

Whackooyzero, December 28th, 2010

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.