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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.