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About a year ago, when I was getting into Saxon's music, I checked this site to see what are Saxon's best albums. After some not so good average scores for ''Solid Ball of Rock'', ''Forever Free'' and ''Dogs of War'', this album immediately intrigued me, since it was released in 1997, in very bad times for heavy metal, with average score of 87 percents. I read the reviews and said ''It's gotta be good, I'll pick this up''.
Needless to say, I wasn't disappointed, this site didn't let me down. Yes, ''Unleash the Beast'' is definitely one of the strongest and most important outputs in whole Saxon's career. When every other significant heavy metal acts were down at the bottom of their careers, Saxon found strength to actually resurrect themselves and bring new hope to the fallen genre. It was the turning point for Saxon, since after ''Unleash the Beast'' they drastically changed their sound and leaned towards more aggressive, edgy, German power metal-influenced music. Still, they kept their identity and this is 100% Saxon, no doubt about it, with trademark NWOBHM and occasionally hard rock riffing.
Of course, the band performance and production are flawless. Thumbs up for the producer Kalle Trapp, who did an amazing job here, as every instrument is easy audible and gets the opportunity to shine. Also, the sound is very mystic and medieval, which combined with sinister and mostly pessimistic lyrics creates truly unusual, interesting and certainly awesome impression for the listener. Every band member puts up excellent performance as well, and I can't pick anyone in particular, since they all nailed it on their instruments.
It's hard to choose the highlights, since every song except for ''Absent Friends'' totally works for me on every department. From the speedy killer title track, majestic ''The Thin Red Line'', hard rock pieces ''Terminal Velocity'', ''The Preacher'' and ominous ''Bloodletter'', ''All Hell Breaking Loose'' and especially ''Cut Out the Disease'', which is I guess the most sinister song Saxon ever wrote, everything just fits together. I must point out two songs: ''Circle of Light'' and ''Ministry of Fools'', probably one of the most underrated Saxon songs ever. ''Circle of Light'' is a crushingly heavy song that deals with the famous ''walking to the light'', the moment between life and death. ''Ministry of Fools'', on the other hand, talks about incompetence and hypocrisy of politicians (probably thinking of Tony Blaire's government). Musically, it's a great slamming ballsy hard rock that won't leave you indifferent, and combined with great lyrics you have the winner! I must mention the title track as well, it's five minutes of pure headbanging speed metal lunacy. Nothing new for Saxon, you might say. True, but there's one thing that separates this song from every other generic speed metal - the outro. That eerie, ominous riff gives me goosebumps every time, it's so impressive and striking. It gives the song the final kick of genius and puts it deservedly among Saxon's top ten.
''Unleash the Beast'' kept traditional metal alive. It was a wake-up call for old bands and encouraging light for new bands to join together and pull heavy metal out of darkness in which it fell in early and mid '90s. And they did it, since metal completely resurged at the beginning of new millenium. What about Saxon? Saxon continued pushing the boundaries, and there's no sign of slowing down. Heavy metal owes them a lot, just as much as every metalhead around the world. So, in the end, should you get this album? That's a silly question, isn't it...
I've made it a point since my youth to purchase every Saxon album as it was released, since they've always held some quality I find endearing, and are one of my favorite NWOBHM bands, probably the most enduring over their entire career. The 90s kicked off with Solid Ball of Rock and Forever Free, which were alright, but did not have the lasting impact of some of their earlier material.
And lo, while its predecessor Dogs of War had a few decent tracks on it, I was not expecting much out of Unleash the Beast, and thus was entirely blown away when I first sat down to listen to it. Up to 1997, this is by far the heaviest effort Saxon had produced, and every fucking song is memorable. I will go even so far as to say it's the best album they wrote in the first two decades of their career, just edging out the accessible (and oft-rued) Destiny. It's important not only because it brought Saxon's style into the era of modern production values, but added an extra level of aggression that would help fuel the band's excellent future catalog (Metalhead, Lionheart, and the band's opus magnum The Inner Sanctum). It was as if Saxon had broken out of a slump and realized they were one of the last true torchbearers left to this style. For example, compare Unleash the Beast to ANYTHING Iron Maiden has released since Somewhere in Time, or ANYTHING Judas Priest has done since Painkiller. There is just no fucking comparison. Saxon wins. Long live Saxon!
"Gothic Dreams" is a fine intro to the record, with swelling synthesizer/choirs that part curtains for the rumbling steel of the title track. Once that speed metal verse rhythm comes in, you know that Saxon has been putting in long hours to make this album fantastic. Biff's vocals were the best they had yet been, every line carefully composed and delivered through his veteran throat. His mid range is excellent, but he can also shriek when he deems it necessary. The four chord chorus is dripping with Nibbs' saucy basslines and even the fucking guitar solos burn with a fire this band had quelled for too long. If you cannot raise your fist in the front row and bang it along to the sky diving "Terminal Velocity", you are NOT metal and do not belong here!
"Circle of Light" maintains the band's hammer gait, a dark track with a gorgeous payoff. Again, the band has successfully taken their roots approach to blue collar NWOBHM and bathed it in something above and beyond the call of duty. "The Thin Red Line" could have been on the Top Gun soundtrack and kicked everything else there in the arse. Perfect for truckin' and fighting'! "Ministry of Fools" takes a toss at Maiden-style melodic riffing, eventually coming one of the most dear tracks on the album (as if you could choose favorites, really). The chorus to this song is just incredible hard rock bliss:
'We're not listening, listening to you
We're not listening, don't tell me what to do
We're not listening, listening to you
We're not listening to the ministry of fools'
"The Preacher" takes another jab at authoritarian impostors, and "Bloodletter" makes for a nice successor to a classic like "Wheels of Steel". "Cut Out the Disease" is probably the most heavy goddamn songs Saxon has ever composed, and the darkest on this record, with some atmospheric synthesizers behind the intense string hammering, not to mention the colossal crunch of its verse rhythms. "Absent Friends" is a bluesy rock ballad, and while it lost this album 1/2 a point, Biff still sounds great singing it. "All Hell Breaking Loose" picks the pace back up to close the album; strangely the tune reminds me of Running Wild.
Yeah, so...Unleash the Beast. If you couldn't already tell, I'm rather fond of it. If you're into this sort of thing, you know, quality heavy metal music, and you've made the grave life mistake of missing out, you should probably be heading out to the store about now, or clicking on your little iTunes icon.
I mean, you like heavy fucking metal? I don't see why you would not dig this. Do fans of symphonic Hollywood metal dig Rhapsody? Same logic.
This album is commonly viewed as the first part of their late 90's "resurrection" or whatever you'd like to call it. Anyway, it displays a much rejuvenated Saxon in comparison to some of their mid-80's - mid-90's works, where, at best, the consistency was seriously lacking. For example, the two first tracks on the previous album, 'Dogs of War', completely rule (especially the title track), but the rest of the album is, if I'm to believe all the reports, more or less a fluke.
Now, on this album, the consistency just so happens to be one the main selling points. Actually, not even the classics (Wheels, Strong Arm, Denim) were thoroughly consistent; in fact, the weak stuff from those three combined would probably be enough make up a really bad best-of compilation - this album, however, manages to be exactly 90% consistent (discounting the intro, there are ten tracks, do the math), which is quite impressive when you take into account that the old stuff reached maybe 70% tops in that area.
But let's not forget: when those albums were good - man were they dead fucking on. "Motorcycle Man", "Machine Gun", "Heavy Metal Thunder, "Strong Arm of the Law" "Princess of the Night" to name a few - timeless, untouchable heavy metal classics and even moreso if you're strictly talking about the NWOBHM scene. That's where this album falls a bit short - only one song on here really belongs among those songs, and although two others come pretty close, the trade-off for increased consistency appears to be a decrease in the number of TOTAL fucking stand-out tracks. So this album probably ends up receiving a rating similar to that of the classics, as it's pros and cons even it out.
But disregarding quality, how does it compare to Saxon of the old, in overall style? To start with, the rock n' roll-ish vibe that was largely evident on earlier albums is just about dead and buried here. No boogie-woogie tinged stuff like "Stand Up and Be Counted" or even something bluesy like "Strong Arm of the Law" - this is just straight-up heavy metal all-around. Even when the occasional old-school rock riff comes through, it's still played in a total metal fashion so that you don't even take notice of it.
The next thing is that there is a much "darker" vibe to everything; for example, there's hardly anything along the lines of light-hearted stuff like "To Hell and Back Again" (arguably an important staple for the development of power metal) on here. The production may have something do with this...but a number of songs seem pretty dark and moody in the first place, something that was never quite evident on the early albums.
Oh yeah, THE PRODUCTION - now let's not forget about that part. As you can expect, the sound is completely modernized - the guitars are downtuned, as well a very evident full-on metal crunch to them and the drums carry a bigger punch. Now, this description fits just about every single new metal band coming out today, which unfortunately often results in many bands ending up sounding very similar - but THIS production job somehow manages to completely stand out. While the playing is pretty tight and precise, it doesn't sound mechanical and/or lifeless at all - a problem a lot of other bands struggle with, especially the ones who let Roy Z inside the studio! 'Resurrection' (the album), this is not. The rather thrashy drum sound probably adds a bit to the "liveliness", as the hi-hat is often kept pretty loose. Somewhat comparable in sound is Running Wild's 'Black Hand Inn', because it has just that slightly "deep" tone, while still being totally crunchy and intense, although this album is probably a bit less slick.
As for the only two remaining musicians from the classic line-up, Biff Byford is unmistakably still Biff Byford - his voice isn't quite like anyone else's, even though he has a somewhat lower and deeper voice on this release (like the guitars), perhaps due to age or just to fit in with the "darker" sound. Also, Paul Quinn's leads are pretty evident, I believe; at least I think it's him playing a large part of the solos, as many of them are very old-school in nature and do a good job of recalling Saxon of the old. A very competent job for sure, not aged in the least bit.
To go more into detail, namely into describing the songs, what we have here is some extremely catchy material (aided by the production, of course, but anyway...). Most songs exhibit the simple, direct, punchy, balls-out and to-the-point. Everything sounds pretty fresh, as it's a new and fresh style they're working with; while the style is pretty familiar, nothing feels overly rehashed and this was before metal's big comeback had REALLY come through (or is that era still awaiting us?).
Let's start with the best: "Terminal Velocity". This song completely and totally rocks - simple ideas are at work and this song resembles old Saxon more than most songs on here as it's a bit on the rockish side riffage-wise (absolutely nothing wrong with that), but again, the metal-ness of the playing is undeniable. What is truly to be revered, however, is the flat-out AMAZING execution and construction of it - if you're talking about some of the most "well-done" songs of all time, this one definitely ends up in my top five. This is absolute and utter perfection - from the insanely cool little lead fills to the soaring and attitude-filled vocal lines, I cannot possibly rave enough about it, as that could fill half of my review. "Heavy Metal Thunder", "Princess of the Night", any other classics, step aside, because this seriously tops anything else they've written up to this point and that is saying a lot, you all know. The solo owns too...bah, I'll just stop there; this songhas to be heard to be believed anyway.
Now, I would have given this album a higher score had I reviewed it after maybe two listens, but some tracks on here suffer from the "catchy but gets old quickly" syndrome that so many other songs out there suffer from. "Terminal Velocity" manages to be both catchy AND good for hundreds of listens - many of the other songs aren't even as good to begin with PLUS they tend to get a bit old after about four listens. This especially concerns the slower stuff, like "Cut Out the Disease" and "The Preacher", both having a nice and thick atmosphere.
Many tracks check in as just plain "solid", including "All Hell Breaking Loose", "Bloodletter" (two songs that probably resemble old Saxon more than any others), "Circle of Light" (another atmospheric but heavy number, with an intro that's totally out of Accept's "Midnight Mover") and "Ministry of Fools". That last song is a bit of a surprise - this sounds like a mix between Judas Priest's "Parental Guidance" (note: from 'Turbo') and Poison's "Cry Tough". I find this song rather "happy" and party-hearty musically, even though the lyrics, as indicated by the title, deal with random anti-government stuff. This song therefore sticks out a bit from the rest of the album, but it ain't bad in any way and it's still metal as fuck (but every time I listen to it, images of ENORMOUS goddamn hair awake nonetheless!). Oh yeah, and even the album's intro "Gothic Dreams" is damn solid too, arguably even a bit of a waste of a fitting intro to something bigger...
Coming in right behind the top track on here is the title track and "The Thin Red Line". The former is a very fast and intense speed metal number with excellent riffs and melodies everywhere - textbook stuff, basically. At first I found myself a little put off by the chorus, as it completely drops the snare drum and thus the whole pace for a few seconds, but later I've come to enjoy it a lot more and now I actually think of it as a nice "innovation" more than anything else - and the chorus does indeed have a pretty fucking nice melody. The latter song is a bit experimental - midpaced and epic, perhaps a little in the vein of "Crusader" even though this doesn't sound anything like it otherwise. The vocals are especially awesome, both in the verse and chorus: "They'll be coming in the morning boys - you gotta hold the line!!" and "You came for the glory, to fight and to die!!" Fuck yeah!! It's 6.20 and feels like 4 blank, almost TOO short for a song of that caliber! (On a sidenote: what's up with those random "war" noises in the beginning? I can't tell if it's a bunch of marching soldiers, a helicopter or even a train, it sounds like a mix between all three!!)
A completely worthwhile album. By far one of the best "rejuvenations" ever to happen - you know you're good when you can write stuff that is on par with your old stuff, 16 years later.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot that track at number 10...namely the remaining 10%. Well, let's just say that it's an acoustic ballad, that it's a tribute to a friend of theirs who passed away and that it makes "Watching Over Me" sound like "Painkiller". It can actually be argued that this album is just as inconsistent as the stuff of the old because of this one track...because it's like if you combined the forces of all the weak tracks they ever put out on EVERY album before this one, creating this absolute fucking disasterpiece of a track (either that or that bad best-of album I mentioned earlier;)). It's really that terrible...I am at a loss of words for describing it more in detail, it just seems so absurd having 9 more or less owning tracks and then getting this. At least 'Something Wicked This Way Comes' followed a constant "mediocre thrasher/crappy ballad" pattern, never rising above said mediocrity.
But skip that one and you get one of the most consistent Saxon albums ever made, and again; being able to kick this much ass after some 20 years in business is definitely admirable. They've still got it and of course Lemmy is still God. Oh wait, wrong band. "Long live the Saxon", then.
This one is pretty much solid heavy metal from beginning to end. There's only one ballad, and none of the silly rockish moments that they seemed to enjoy during the 80s.
We start with Gothic Dreams - everyone's doing intros nowadays, why not Saxon? This leads into the title track - holy shit!!!!! Pure fucking speed metal - by far the best song Saxon has ever done. Apparently, they all sat down and listened to Painkiller and came up with this afterward. This song fucking rules, that's all I gotta say. Nice fucking leads, nice fucking riffs, and they throw in a few midpaced moments just for variety, and the whole thing fucking kicks ass.
Then, "Terminal Velocity" sounds a bit like an update of "20,000 Feet" - not quite as fast, but with some nice riffs. "Circle of Light" and "The Thin Red Line" are nice fun power-metal singalongs, and then we get to "Ministry of Fools". More speed metal. Not quite as "rip your fucking head off and shove it down your throat" as the title track, but still, very nice and aggressive. "When it comes right down to it, you're all the fucking same!!"
Then, "The Preacher" - about 7 years after it ceased to be relevant, they jump on the old Jimmy Swaggert thing. Yeah, every band's gotta do it at some point. Decent song, kinda unspectacular, though. Probably the weakest on here, aside from the ballad. "Bloodletter" is next - more speed metal, kids. Another classic.
"Cut out the Disease" is a bit different - more thrashy, midpaced, and downright menacing. You'll headbang for four minutes, and then kill your family. "Absent Friends" is the ballad, it sucks, it's obligatory, skip it. Go to "All Hell Breaking Loose" - more fucking speed metal!!!
Yes, they almost completely nailed this one. Some great speed to be had here, and none of the bullshit of the late 80s, or even on some of their earlier albums. Highly recommended.