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And there it is. Although not a flawless record by any means, "Wheels of Steel" is one of a handful of absolutely essential albums for anyone who wants to have a clear vision of what NWOBHM was all about and to understand how it came to influence almost everything done in heavy metal music ever since.
Learning from the problems faced while recording their first LP, Saxon found a good producer (Pete Hinton, a man whose role in forging the NWOBHM archetypal sound is never properly acknowledged, IMO) and captured in the studio the sheer intensity that was so evident in their live performances. Conjuring the biker spirit that lived in rock music since Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild", mixing it with the obligatory influences of '70s metal (most of all Judas Priest) and adding loads of youthful energy, Saxon forged its own interpretation of what heavy metal should be to survive the '80s and created something that now is almost synonymous with heavy metal, period.
"Motorcycle Man" is almost an epiphany, a near-revelation of what early '80s heavy music should strive to achieve. The simple-but-strong riffs, the intense pace, the unique vocals of Biff Byford...it's exactly what the potentially huge fanbase of long-haired metalheads wanted to hear - unashamedly upbeat heavy music played with unbridled enthusiasm. And it was so groundbreaking that I'm sure nobody even knew at first that this was the new metal they were looking for. Listening to it 35 years into the future, the crudeness of the whole thing is too loud to be ignored, and I'm sure dozens of bands have done it even better in subsequent years. But it sure gets easier when the vocabulary is already at hand, and that's what Saxon did with this single tune: they created a landmark, an example to be followed. That's quite something, if you ask me.
As above stated, "Motorcycle Man" was an instant classic, but some other songs deserve the same accolades such as "Freeway Mad", "See the Light Shining" (with a not-really-complex but extremely effective tempo change that grabs you by the neck and just won't let go), the nice semi-ballad "Suzie Hold On", and the slightly less upbeat (but equally intense) title track, among others. Personally speaking though, I consider "747 (Strangers in the Night)" to be not only the best song on here, but perhaps the finest song Saxon ever recorded. It unites a dramatic feeling (the suspense building of the lyrics about two airplanes with difficulties to land is near perfect) with a main riff that is pure genius, an opening solo to die for, and a driving rhythm that will make you bang your head without even noticing. What a classic metal tune, my friends.
I don't think that "Street Fighting Gang" is in the same league that the other songs are in here, and "Stand Up and Be Counted" is perhaps slightly inferior to the others, too. But make no mistake, "Wheels of Steel" is an album you just have to add to your collection in case you still don't have a copy. This record resumes Saxon and also a fair bit of what NWOBHM was, is, and forever shall be. No less. And oh yeah, it also rocks like a monster, so you won't be disappointed with that, either. Believe the hype and go get it straight away.
Saxon were one of the earliest groups to introduce that early 80’s fresh alternative sound, determined to make something different from the bunch of previous decade exhausted classic rock dinosaurs but at the same time, taking a lot of inspiration from them. As we could hear on their homonym debut, many characteristics of the past 70’s music were present, soon getting tenuous and weak on later records, though. Wheels Of Steel seems to be the transitory stage between early cheesy Saxon and challenging later Saxon, because these songs are an entertaining combination of traditional rock and what was then considered heavy metal, so here we can find some energetic tunes and other rather cheesy, which most of the fans consider the band’s finest.
The record starts pretty promising with the totally vigorous “Motorcycle Man”, the clearest reflection back then of that refreshing new style most of the British movement acts would embrace, based on much more rapid riffs and tempos, certain instrumental complexity and aggression, away from classic rock complication. That pattern also defines tracks like “Machine Gun”, also straight forward hard rock, guitar-based, at times explicitly basic and easy though plenty of power and energy. The biggest difference with what everybody already heard by that time was particularly that loose rhythm, rabid and insatiable in contrast with the usual weighty rock tempos of veteran bands. Saxon were one of the first to play at such velocity, which would get inevitably obsolete soon afterwards with speed metallers like Venom or Raven increasing it considerably. In fact, these guys aren’t specially focused on making fast music; it’s something that comes naturally on the frantic rock & roll “Freeway Mad” and “Street Fighting Gang” but not their main goal. Their efforts put bigger passion and discipline on the instrumental competence, sense and strength of the cuts, reaching decent results on the mellow “747 (Strangers In The Night)” (Is that some tribute to Frank Sinatra and Scandinavian Airlines, huh?), so immaculate and accessible, as well on “See The Light Shining” which combines raw riffing with melody successfully. Those prove the band isn’t exclusively trying to play it hard; their musical nature is actually refined and commercial if you compare their material with what most of their peers would do later. The undisputed proof of their sensitivity and delicate side is the cheesy ballad “Suzie Hold On”, effectively configured with tolerable melody and some delightful guitar harmonies but inevitably breaking the album continuity. Luckily, the heavy riffs of “Stand Up And Be Counted” and the title-track recover Saxon’s characteristic scheme, deprived or romance and soap box opera lyrics.
Back in 1980, an album likes this was definitely advanced and surprising, moving away from classic rock’s old-fashioned patterns and discovering a new ambitious sound most of their compatriot young bands would follow. Their attitude was very European, I mean you can notice that innate desire for velocity and sonic violence American hard rock groups lacked completely in most of cases. However, Saxon were one of those NWOBHM acts that kept the sophistication and elegance of the 70’s, without getting very extreme or outrageous. They make use of melody generally, Biff’s classy tone, repetitive choruses and cheerful lyrical issues certainly makes this music get commercial, far from explicit or controversial. Their urban imagery made a tremendous contrast with Angel Witch or Hell, for instance but contributed to let them reach a wider audience and make their apparition on Top Of The Pops without censorship. After all, these compositions are a vivid reflection of their souls and personality, casual and honest from 5 musicians whose intentions are basically play rock and have a lot of sex (it’s Biff who admitted that, don’t look at me that way). They obtained success on both tasks, musically they managed to create solid numbers which aren’t remarkably technical or carefully designed, on other hand. As I mentioned before, they introduced a new sound, though some tracks lack inventive and originality, giving vocals excessive control with repetitive words that make them ideal to join Blondie, Captain & Tennille or Lipps Inc. on the radio. Direction is kinda confusing on some of the energetic cuts, “Machine Gun” for instance, whose final part is a bunch of noise and the conclusion of “Freeway Mad” is uncontrolled but the most scandalous weak spot of all is undoubtedly that silly ballad which predicted the future commercial glam style of the band during their mid-80’s fall.
So yeah, when it came out it was fascinating but soon afterwards a bunch of even more consistent records were released, making these songs instantly obsolete and primitive. Saxon’s sound fortunately didn’t get stagnant and reached another level on the unforgettable following work Strong Arm Of The Law. Just like what happens with most of early NWOBHM albums, the music here is lacking refinement, musical maturity and certain experience, though it’s clear this was an essential phase the band had to go through to evolve. However, for most of fans this is still the greatest thing the Barnsley bikers ever did, a subjective but reasonable opinion because Saxon wouldn’t achieve such splendor, 1980 was their most glorious year.
“Wheels of Steel” is the second studio album by Saxon. Definitely a classic, you can here some phenomenal NWOBHM here.
This album is very much what bikers would listen to as they ride. The album’s got a rather light, but very tough sound that is extremely fun to listen to. The very light and rather silly lyrical themes, displayed on tracks such as Motorcycle Man, also help you lighten up and have fun with the album. Frontman Biff Byford is one of the best heavy metal singers to grace my ears, (Up there with Dickinson and Halford) and makes the experience that much better. The rest of the band is also very amazing; guitars produce some “crunchy” (that’s supposed to be a good thing) melodies and solos, bass completes the sound, and drums are very well played and keep the music going at all times. Every song on here is quite good at the very least and gets better with repeated listens.
The album begins with some random chatter (Think of a market) before you begin to here a motorcycle in the distance, that gets closer, whizzes by, and Motorcycle Man commences! This song is really upbeat and little bit too fun, actually. The song features a constant beat, and Biff’s singing is great; hearing him yell “Motorcycle Maaaan!” never got old. Early on, a nice normal solo adds some extra flavor, but eventually Biff’s voice melts into the guitar (During the chorus) and the song’s particularly impressive solo begins. With a bit of a drum roll in the backround, the guitar plays some screechy, distorted, long notes that simply scream NWOBHM! Then, following that short but incredible diversion, the song has some more verses and choruses before it finishes in a grand outro. Overall Motorcycle Man is the highlight of the album with its tough, but catchy sound.
Ahem, anyway, Stand Up and be Counted is very similar to Motorcycle Man, except having different lyrics and not being as good. It’s sort of like an encore to the previous track if you found it too short. It’s great, but not quite up to par with its predecessor. 747 (Strangers in the Night) is a slower number. It contains a rather dark atmosphere, for the most part. You may find that the chorus is repeated a little too much, but the chorus is, thankfully, quite good. The soloing on 747 is a bit too infrequent, so don’t expect much variation. The song may be a hit, but don’t expect it to be especially good compared to the rest of the album. The title track is rather basic hard rock, (Still retains the band's NWOBHM sound, however) but it is rather entertaining and includes one of the albums better solos. Freeway Mad is a very good speed metal song. There are some solos, a few additional sound effects, and some fun singing by Biff. See the Light Shining is a very catchy heavy metal song that is also similar to the first two numbers. A few tempo changes and plenty of soloing keep it fresh, and make it one of the albums highlights.
Street Fighting Gang is more NWOB speed metal. Some interesting solos that resemble motors and whistling distinguish this from the rest of the tracks. Suzie Hold On, despite its cheesy name, is a rather good ballad. The song contains no acoustics, but rather a rockish tempo; Saxon is too tough for acoustic ballads it seems. (Some metal bands should learn from Saxon!) The solo of the song is like a mix of this band and Iron Maiden, which sounds very beautiful. Overall an excellent ballad. Machine Gun starts out as a heavier version of the previous songs with some standard verses and choruses, before the guitars truly kick in. These guitars sound like an extremely distorted mesh that resembles the sound of sirens. Soon, a powerful solo that utilizes both tremolo picking and distorted hammer-ons and pull-offs begins. Following the solo is more verses and choruses, more distorted mesh, and a long explosion to end the song.
Overall, this wild ride lives up to its reputation as a classic, and includes some of the best I’ve heard from this band. A lot of this sounds the same until you give it a few listens, so don’t expect to much diversity at first. This really isn’t a problem when the music is this fun though, so grab some beer and shamelessly sing along to this catchy little masterpiece.
At the end of the 1970's, heavy metal was still in its fledgling years. For the most part, it was spearheaded by to Birmingham bands, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. But as the 70's became the 80's, metal would have its first breakthrough in Britain. This new wave of British heavy metal bands practicing their trade (creatively titled NWOBHM – or – New Wave of British Heavy Metal) combined the British metal of the 70's and the punk rock or the time which controlled the UK's music scene at the time. It was here that metal would truly take off, as hundreds of bands popped out of seemingly anywhere. Of the hundreds of bands that gave the industry a shot, four of them gained a major foothold in the scene. Those four bands were Angel Witch, Def Leppard, Saxon, and of course Iron Maiden. Though each of the four bands would take a different career path, they all recorded albums in 1980 (being Iron Maiden, Wheels of Steel, Angel Witch, On Through the Night) which today are considered to not only be important to the development of heavy metal, but also some of NWOBHM's top works. Wheels of Steel was Saxon's second full length album, and is seen as one of the band's strongest efforts.
Like many of their NWOBHM counterparts, Saxon's efforts on Wheels of Steel are raw, fist pumping offerings. Energy is the name of Saxon's game, and they make use of this valuable asset quite well. Numbers such as 747 (Strangers in the Night) and the title track use this to their advantage, creating a mid to fast paced adventure for fans of the band to immerse themselves in. There's a very good reason for why Saxon garnered so much acclaim with their sophomore effort, and the solid, consistent rhythms that produce the riffy, yet accessible tunes can be considered one of the major catalysts. Virtually every song contains at least one moment where the Quinn/Oliver guitar tandem shows off their rhythmic talents. Indeed, the riffs create one of the more memorable aspects of the band's music; will be remembered days after listening to the album. For the most part, the different instrumental aspects of the album are quite simple, as is the standard of NWOBHM music, but this does not take away from the music at all, really. Saxon isn't the most impressive band musically, but they're a helluva lot of fun to blare through a stereo.
But the most impressive part of Saxon's attack is by far vocalist Bliff Byford. This powerful singing often sets the tone of the music, whether it be through a strong, proud chorus or a melodic effort in the verses. By far my favourite performance by Byford on Wheels of Steel occurs during the chorus of 747. Very calm concentrated, yet energetic and determined at the same time, Bliff steals the spotlight from the guitarists not only as he sings " We were strangers in the night / Both on separate flights / Strangers in the night (x2) / Lost on separate flights / Going nowhere", but also on tracks such as Suzie Hold On or the title track, Wheels of Steel. Yes, the melodic, yet raw, clean yet rough style of Bliff Byford is most definitely Saxon's greatest strength, and most impressive member.
Though perhaps not one of metal's best albums, Wheels of Steel is still a very worthwhile album. Through driving rhythms, impressive vocal deliveries, and infectious leads, Saxon has succeeded in creating an 39 minute album full of early metal anthems that metal and hard rock fans alike can rock out to. Wheels of Steel was Saxon's breakthrough album and assured that like some of their counterparts, Iron Maiden, Diamond Head, or Angel Witch for instance, they would be remembered years down the road. Unlike today, where the majority of bands attempt live off of the successes of their latest albums for a few years, Saxon did not sit back. Instead they headed right back to the studio to record their third album in to years, Strong Arm of the Law, which was greeted with similar praise as Wheels of Steel. This is a great album, and I would definitely recommend it to fans of rock and metal.
Originally written for Sputnikmusic
Wheels Of Steel might sound somewhat dated and simplistic by today’s standards, but remains an example of what traditional heavy metal is all about. It’s direct, raw, melodic, loud and proud! Much more mature than the band’s debut, it made Saxon really popular at the time and earned them a top 5 position in the UK charts.
Wheels Os Steel is the best Saxon album to this day and their heaviest of the 80s. Its sound was much harder and heavier than anyone at the time. Well except for Motorhead perhaps. Remember, it was February 1980 when it was released. At the same time it manages to be melodic, although driven by heavy guitar riffs.
What puts Saxon aside is that they are unique. Even though they play traditional heavy metal they are pretty diverse lyrically. They don’t sing about evil, witches, death and all that stuff. They are much more direct and closer to the listener, talking about motorcycles, street fighting gangs, an air-flight and much more, which makes them at least interesting. Someone might say that they are silly. I’d say they are sincere and don’t try to write ‘thoughtful’ lyrics because they are a heavy metal band and play simple, though inspired music.
So, what about the songs themselves? They are all really good, some of them standing out. The first track Motorcycle Man is a very aggressive and fast song. Pretty melodic, with nice solos. A suitable opener for the album. Street Fighting Gang and Stand Up And Be Counted are both fast and very melodic with great refrains and cool lyrics. Machine Gun has some excellent rhythms throughout (check out at 1:40) and good solos which make really interesting. 747 is the most melodic song and probably the best Saxon song. A live favorite, 747 features outstanding guitar work at the beginning followed by a great bridge/refrain, with very good lyrics and vocals. The album has no fillers and all the other tracks are perfect early 80s metal.
Saxon’s sound is very unique as I said (even Biff Byford’s voice) and can’t be compared to another band. You have to hear it yourself to decide. Saxon may not be the best players. They can’t play very technical solos but they have the most powerful riffs. Biff may not be the best singer, but he sings his heart and lungs out. Just as the rest of the band, they give it all. And that’s what heavy metal is all about, at least for me.
Saxon's Wheels of steel album is yet another example which truly shows
how attractive Saxon's music is. Even though it's not that heavy often,
what it lacks in heaviness, it gains in speed, and vice versa.
For example, the opening track Motorcycle man has got a rather simple
riff but is a very nice track nonetheless, the drums and the twin guitars
with Biff's screechy vocal lines only make it better and better. A great track.
Stand Up And Be Counted is a bit repetitive but has got a fantastic chorus
and good vocal lines, and the opening riff really blows your mind up.
While not being so fast-and-furious as the other tracks, it is heavy all
747 (Strangers in the night) has got interesting verses and good vocal
lines and a great solo. The title track, Wheels of Steel is a bit hard rockish,
but you can't deny Saxon hadn't had influences in that time from rock, can you?
It has a superb chorus and memorable vocal lines ("She's got -- wheels, wheels of steel!").
In Freeway Mad Saxon speaks about life on the highway, and Saxon does it good.
A wonderful riff combined with aggressive riffing make it a fantastic song,
and especially the solo! See The Lightning has got, like Wheels of Steel, a
most memorable vocal line in the chorus.
Then just before the best track in the album come two in my opinion worst songs
on the whole album -- Street Fighting Gang and Suzie Hold On. In all, they're
not very interesting, the riffs are dull and boring. One might ask, why did they include these songs?
But then comes Machine Gun. A mind-blowing riff and without question the
best song on the whole damn album ("Machine gun! Machine gun! Machine gun!").
In the middle it has er... some funny wankery with the guitars that utterly
make you quiver. It has a nice solo, too.
Simply put: this is the NWOBHM album. Get this, and you'll never regret it.
The second studio release from Saxon is every bit as legendary as it possibly gets. A milestone among the NWOBHM scene and metal in general, and standing as the superior album of 1980, above albums such as "British Steel" and "Iron Maiden". With raging riffs often nodding to the fury of total speed metal, incredible solo sections of truest heavy metal style, and the soaring vocals of frontman Biff Byford, this goes in to kick your ass and doesn't fail in the least.
The sound is rawer than on most Saxon albums, and doesn't sound as refined as their masterpiece "Denim And Leather", which here works really fucking well. Songs like "Stand Up Be Counted" and "Street Fighting Gang" start out with furious main riffs with an absolutely fucking vicious sound and guitar tone. These two songs are not often mentioned when talking about this album, but I fucking love em!
"Stand Up And Be Counted" is standard upbeat early 80s Saxon which means total ownage. A very catchy main riff and inspiring vocals, and it peaks at a vicious chorus - a superb guitar melody duals with Biff's excellent vocal work.
"Street Fighting Gang" is more aggressive, with lyrics that basically say "fuck school, let's go kick someone's ass!" Hell yeah. This band in their early 80s defined what Heavy Metal is all a bout.
This album just never lets up, and is a nonstop ride to metal heaven showing no speed limits. This has more classics than any other Saxon album, pretty much. Opening track "Motorcycle Man" is definitely among Saxon's top 10 material. Just kickass, catchy speed metal with tons of attitude. Same with the short but sweet "Freeway Mad" and monstrously insane closing track "Machine Gun". Like Boris said, this is fucking crazy for it's time.
And of course, "747". We all know this one - the huge mood changes and atmosphere it creates while rocking hard at the same time. An undeniable classic, and one of the band's most well known tracks, although it's ten times better live. And then we mustn't forget the title track. "Wheels of Steel" is about cruising down the freeway, ignoring the speed limits and taking no shit. It rides pretty much two riffs for about five minutes, but somehow manages not to get boring - only Saxon and Priest could pull something like that off.
I can't go without mentioning the remaining two songs as well - "See The Light Shining" brings some more catchy fast riffage but is a bit more melodic and laid-back than the rest. It also features a very nice breakdown towards the middle. Then we have "Suzie Hold On", definitely the best Saxon ballad I've heard. It's a ballad, but still has some damn nice riffs and a brilliant lead section in the middle.
Should you get this? I don't know, are you metal? If so, you already own it. "Wheels of Steel", while not quite the catchy heavy metal monster that is "Denim And Leather", is a metal record with punch, and is a hard kick in the nuts to all poseurs out there. Long live heavy fucking metal!
Note: This is my first review on this site. Not that anyone cares, but it is.
After the release of their self titled album, Saxon recorded an album that certainly established many NWOBHM standards and contained many classics that still remain as mandatory live pieces. After an overview of the album and a couple of listens, you will conclude that this is the purest traditional heavy metal album ever: mid-tempo songs with crunchy riffs, faster pieces with repetitive high standards, a high pitched vocalist, lead guitar duels in all songs, a pounding and slow bass and a big variety in the lyrics.
Let's go from the beginning, cover art. As the album, simple and classic: for the first time the almighty Steel Eagle shows it's shiny face to light grabbing a wheel with a very sober background. Not pretentious at all, just raw but yet very formal, like the music of the album.
The album starts with Motorcycle Men, slightly faster than classic mid tempo songs, with a standard riff going and going, some decent solos and outstanding drumming -for the time-. Biff's voice is at one of it's highest stages, including several high pitches and vibratos. Bass is almost unhearable and, as expected from the title, very cheesy lyrics.
Stand Up And Be Counted goes next, nice tune, a little slower, yet, nothing special, besides the chorus guitar harmonies that would have been better with some studio work; bass guitar here plays an essential role with pounding long notes in the background and drumming, again, for NWOBHM standards ranks very high.
Then comes 747 (Strangers In The Night) one of the best metal songs ever recorded. Cool lyrics (quite unexpected at this point after the cheese of previous songs), nice intro solos and, better than all, the fucking chorus: while the drums and bass go on with a mid tempo pseudo aggressive line, some electric and melancholic arpeggios break into scene while Biff's voice recreates all the solitude of the song's character… just fucking classic.
The album's title track is another highlight, Wheels Of Steel. This song is certainly the heaviest of the album, a crunchy riff -somehow very Diamond Headesque- that goes on and on all over the song with some good solos and a regular vocal line, with the pounding bass that by now you know I love. Again, the drums make the song here -Pete Gill was certainly an awesome drummer-, without being too brilliant, but it's the only instrument that actually provides changes to the song; lyrics are as cheesy as it gets.
Freeway Mad is the lowest spot on the album nothing, it's like taking an Elvis LP and speeding the LP player to make it sound fast and high pitched -I did that, and believe me, it sounds similar-.
See The Light Shining, dedicated to ex-Motörhead's Fast Eddie, is a cool track but it could have been named Stand Up And Be Counted revisited; the chorus harmonies are outstanding and the slow part of the end is a tempo change very unsusual for Saxon; best solos on the album.
Another cool track is Street Fighting Gang, with a nice guitar duel at the intro and some cool solos -besides Biff's siblings and Dawson's "solo"-,cool for headbanging and getting in a metal mood; cheesiest than cheese.
Suzie Hold On is just the bad song of the album, forget about it.
The album ends with Machine Gun, faster song on the album, the standard fast NWOBHM track, it does not sound very good on the record but in live versions -The Eagle Has Landed pt. 1, with Fire In The Sky- it's way better; maybe it is too long for being that way; vocals sound a little out of place on some parts.
Production is essentially poor, particularly guitar distortion and bass sound -almost unhearable-, but, nevertheless, the album rocks and is certainly a NWOBHM classic with a big influence in many future bands and in Saxon itself.
(Originally written for Raging-Metal.com - http://www.raging-metal.com/reviews/r0526.html)
This is pretty much a staple of the NWOBHM - at times, it's a bit rockish and silly, but some of the tracks here are pure fucking metal that deserve to be paid immediate attention to.
"Motorcycle Man" starts off the album in great speed-metal fashion. Nice headbanging anthem to be had here. "Stand Up and Be Counted" is a bit slower, and kinda rock-and-roll-ish, which Saxon also was known for at the time.
"747" is just a downright cool power metal song. It's not quite as heavy as some of the other tracks here but the riffs are complete metal. Nice lead guitar to be found in here too. The title track, it's just a bit boring. Okay, it's very boring. But hey, we've got "Freeway Mad Next", which comes roaring back to kick our faces in. Yes, when they sing about owning the highway, they suddenly get very very good.
"See the Light Shining" is also pretty silly, and "Street Fighting Gang" is a step up with some cool riffs. "Suzie Hold On" is pretty damn crappy. It's a stupid ballad. Again, sometimes they just wanna play nice happy rock 'n roll...
at other times, they fucking own us all with their monstrous speed metal riffs, like the last song!! Machine Gun!!!!! This thing nearly would give fucking Blitzkrieg a fright - for February, 1980 - read, before Rapid Fire, this is really fucking insane. We have to sit through the rest of the album for quite a while, but when we get here... PREPARE... TO... DIE!!!!!
Fuck yeah!! The album begins great, ends great... in the middle, kinda goes through the motions a bit. Get it, though - just for the last track!!!
MACHINE GUN!!! MACHINE GUN!!!