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Wheels Of Steel - 90%

Condor_Lord, May 12th, 2004

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)