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Nudging Ram - 62%

Tanuki, January 18th, 2018

Barring the heinous sperm bank robberies Saxon committed throughout the mid-to-late 80's, their paradigm has eternally been an electric merry-go-round of blues, rock 'n' roll, and bombastic power metal. Set into motion by the supremely underrated 1997 maverick Unleash the Beast - notable for its fantasy lyrics, vivid solos, and unabashed Dio worship - Saxon has rolled with this formula and justifiably milked it for all its worth. For Battering Ram, Biff was clenching that familiar udder pretty hard, but the metal bucket just wasn't filling.

For their twenty first studio album, Saxon throws more than a few narcoleptic softballs like 'Queen of Hearts' and the ironically titled 'Hard and Fast'. I'm no stranger to mid-tempo rockers, and I even found Saxon's reminiscence of commercial power ballads in 'To the End' an inviting change of pace. But some changes of pace, like the mostly-spoken 'Kingdom of the Cross' epic, or the country-rock hootenanny 'Three Sheets to the Wind', didn't go over well with me, or the majority of Saxon purists, I'd wager. The former sounds like an outtake from Metalhead, whereas the latter would sound pretty cheesy even among the unapologetic country cornjobs polluting the otherwise-solid Dogs of War. Not to mention there's a disappointing amount of self-quotation and over-simplification of riffs and overall song structure. Battering Ram is hurting for its own identity, and the mono-riffed 'Destroyer' and its utterly piss-taking lyricism is prima facie evidence.

And now that I'm done choking this album like it owes me money, I'm willing to dust off its shoulders and give it a little praise. As the high-contrast comic-like album cover might portend, there's an over-the-top blustering throughout certain songs that works in their favor. 'Top of the World' is an excellent 'Leather Rebel'-style horn-raiser where everyone puts on an ardent performance, especially the operatic wailing of frontman Biff Byford. I also got a kick out of 'Stand Your Ground', which manages to out-Accept the bulk of The Rise of Chaos with its intemperate riffing and extravagant excesses. To speak frankly, Battering Ram manages to excel solely because its not afraid to be a little silly. The emergency weather report in the middle of 'Eye of the Storm' is dangerously cheesy, but Saxon is so earnest and unrepentant about it, they manage to make it work.

Despite some well-delivered uppercuts, and despite the title track demanding I come worship at its metal church, Battering Ram is not my favorite modern Saxon album. Far from it, in fact, as I see little reason to spin it over the vastly superior Sacrifice released just a few years earlier. Its songwriting is less varied and creative, Sneap's production seems uncharacteristically scrawny, and even the simple concept of brevity eludes this album. Nearly every track repeats itself too often and drags on for longer than necessary; disappointing after the tightly knit Call to Arms and Sacrifice. Still not a complete disaster by any metric, though nor is it the most destructive demon skull log either.

Smashing the enemy's gates. - 96%

hells_unicorn, November 7th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, UDR Music (Digipak)

Arguably the strongest of the original NWOBHM, barring the exception of Iron Maiden, Saxon has been a beast of many colors since they first emerged in the late 1970s. Part of this can be attributed to their incredible longevity and continual output despite changing trends, though admittedly they ended up embracing a number of them as time droned on. Like with many bands from said movement, a lot of praise is heaped upon their early 80s offerings, as there was a pretty discernible link with the aggressive, riff happy approach of their output at the time and the early speed/thrash metal scene that took off in 1983-84. This was followed by a period of greater hard rock tendencies that culminated in what can be best described as a full out embracing of the hair metal scene by the latter half of the 80s, followed by a period of relative obscurity with the ascendance of grunge, followed by a resurgence that coincided with the power metal revival of the late 1990s, which Saxon signed onto to an extent for much of their subsequent output, though still maintaining a more traditional air when compared to the popularized Helloween worship and symphonic pomp that was big at the time, though they did occasionally incorporate those elements.

This extensive history lesson is necessary to lend a full perspective on what kind of album their 21st LP Battering Ram actually is, which is that of an absolutely captivating and hard-hitting straddle between their early 80s thrash-happy roots and their more pomp-steeped power metal character beginning on Metalhead. Though there were some strong hints at this direction on the last couple of albums, this thing just throws out any notion of restraint and goes right for the throat with a massive, punchy guitar sound that is about heavy enough to pass for Megadeth, yet comprised of a brilliant mixture of a number of NWOBHM trappings that channel many fellow mainstays of the scene from Iron Maiden, Satan, Blitzkrieg and Diamond Head, while also grabbing onto the speeding, Judas Priest infused yet chunkier feel of contemporary German metal maniacs Accept. The rhythm section is thunderous, the lead guitar lines are flashy, Byford's vocals are strong, sleazy and completely on point (literally showing no sign of age), but the real place where this album just brings home the glory is the meaty guitar riffs, packing enough punch to level an entire building like a sonic wrecking ball.

In direct contrast to the generally mixed bag of outright winners and otherwise passable rockers that rounded out <into The Labyrinth and The Inner Sanctum, this album just opts to close the deal with a massive riff assault from the very onset and just keeps on going until the finish with few breaks to speak of. The opening title song "Battering Ram" hits with the same ferocity as something out of Primal Fear or Paragon, laying out the speed metal with a crunchy tone and a droning Maiden-like harmony riff brilliantly, taking one back to the early days of 1980 when Saxon was among the most aggressive bands of the day apart from Motorhead. Similar musical stories are told through "Hard And Fast" and "Stand Your Ground", which offer up a similar mixture of thrashing speed with a touch of harmonic guitar interplay and enough attitude to take modern adherents of German speed metal while still maintaining a signature NWOBHM flavor. Occasionally the band will play with the atmosphere a bit with some keyboard additives like on "The Devil's Footprints" and "Queen Of Hearts", both bringing in a slight epic character that held on from their brief association with Freedom Call, the former also featuring a brilliant guest narration by Hell vocalist David Bower that could almost pass for a homage to what was heard on Number Of The Beast.

There is almost too much good stuff on this album to handle, and all of it delivered with such a militaristic consistency that it transcends almost everything that this band has done within their 38 year history, as presumptive as that may sound. They've essentially managed to bridge all of the best elements of their past together into one cohesive package while also injecting a modern production that just blows the top clean off the whole thing. It's arguably the most aggressive thing they've ever put out, though also one of the more theatrical and deep efforts when accounting for some of the less overtly metallic elements, particularly the participation of David Bower as a guest narrator as mentioned before, though it should be noted that the band's lone ballad featuring his voice in "Kingdom Of The Cross" redefines the entire nature of the concept into a nostalgic and somber storybook narrative with a recurring chorus refrain. An analogy could be made to something by Sabaton in that it recalls a horrific battle in a very visual way, but with a slightly more elaborate melodic content and more of an organic flow. Everything on here just falls into place with astounding results, proving both that a band's golden years need not be limited to before the age of 40, and that it is very possible for old dogs to learn a few new tricks.

Never surrender - 76%

Felix 1666, October 30th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, UDR Music (Digipak)

The end of the year 2015 is coming nearer. In order to prevent an autumnal depression, I have asked myself which was the best new track of the year. Nuclear Assault's "Pounder" (the song) brings back the sound of my youth in an outstanding manner. Slayer's incredible title track of their recently published album marks a massive milestone in the youngest history of thrash. But Saxon's new full-length delivers the cherry on the cake. Its opening title track presents one of these very rare riffs that have the power to split your skull in a matter of seconds. 100% metal fills the room and makes your head bang immediately. The thundering riff and the ironclad drums are the driving forces that form this twinkling jewel in an overwhelming way. Biff's vocals are relaxed and vigorous at the same time. Inter alia due to his flawless performance, the song is perfectly balanced between heaviness and seniority. (I wish I could say the same about myself.) In order to complete the generic picture, the programmatic lyrics are taken from the great metal dictionary. Each and every word illustrates the power of the metallic movement. Do you want to have a small selection? Here we go: "metal church / barricades / walls will resonate / screaming hordes / decibels / concert hall / let the hammer fall / battering ram" - and this excerpt is just taken from the first verse and the chorus. However, a brilliant masterpiece that embodies the spirit of pure metal.

Of course, the British legend is not able to keep this quality level. Even God himself has some very good ideas (the creation of Mother Earth) but also some less intelligent thoughts (allowing Joey DeMaio to make music - nobody knows why). Anyway, instead of trying to understand the incomprehensible actions of the director in heaven, we have to take care about "The Devil's Footprint". After the celestial opener, this song about inexplicable traces in the snow kicks off the grounded part of the album. Saxon provide their usual mix of metal. On the one hand, they are not afraid of performing a powerful ballad ("Queen of Hearts", a solid song, only its torn riff at the beginning makes me dizzy). On the other hand, they do not lack of aggression ("Destroyer", another solid song, but it is a challenge to get used to Biff's shrill squeaking at the end). Saxon move between these poles in an experienced yet spirited manner. However, this is not the best Saxon album of all times. A few songs do not shine with intoxicating ideas. But I guess this is just a matter of personal taste. From an objective point of view, Saxon cannot be blamed for offering a stale, lame or lifeless album. Although the title track remains absolutely unrivaled, it would be a lie to say that the highly appreciated geezers have already shot all their powder after the performance of the opener.

The biggest surprise is marked by the bonus track. I thought that it is just another moronic song about the (alleged) joy of drinking alcohol. But the straight tune sparkles with positive vibes that remind me of the best songs of Krokus and AC/DC and scores with its relaxed atmosphere. By contrast, the relatively heavy "The Devil's Footprint" combines a bulky riff with a fluently streaming chorus and "Top of the World" also convinces with its winsome flow. All these songs have one thing in common. They profit from the masterful production. In my humble opinion, this sound is the blueprint for pure heavy metal albums of our time. Just focus on the fantastic sound of Nigel Glockner's tomtoms, for example during the chorus of the title track. Or listen to the perfect appearance of his cymbals. Apart from the drum sound, the guitars shine in full glory, too. They possess the necessary sharpness and depth in order to meet the requirements of the compositions. Towering about everything is the voice of Biff which shows no indications of age-related wear. With few exceptions, he sings like a young God. But I guess this is a matter of course. We may not forget that he is even much younger than this bearded newcomer. What was his name? Right, this recalcitrant guy is called Lemmy.

21 studio albums and still going strong, what more do I need to say? Biff and his crew are reliable partners for fans of honest, handmade metal that cannot deny its closeness to the working class. Saxon deliver down-to-earth music and they do it with conviction. The old guys know their strengths and they are clever enough to conceal potential weaknesses. Maybe they should have shortened the album. One or two of the less strong tracks are dispensable. To be honest, I am thinking of the colourless "To the End" and, to a lesser extent, the very restrained "Kingdom of the Cross" comes to mind. Anyway, the overall impression leads automatically to a specific question. When will the indestructible band release album number 22? The waiting has begun.

Saxon - Battering Ram - 89%

Silicon Messiah, October 20th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, UDR Music (Digipak)

The first, released in 1979. The last in 2013. Battering Ram is number 21. An incredibly impressing number. Saxon's latest effort has been hyped up these last days and has finally arrived. Often when reading a review of a Saxon album they are praises for staying so true to themselves; always releasing the same high quality metal, no matter what's trending. At the same time, other bands of the same class, like Priest and Maiden, receive loads of hate for not trying to emulate thirty year old hits. (And when they do try, they get hate for that, too.) To me, it's kind of the opposite. It's a lot more interesting to listen to a band who dares to try new stuff. I think that's why Saxon hasn't reached the same level as the above mentioned Priest and Maiden in my book, although I still consider myself a devoted fan.

With that said, I won't say Saxon's style is anything to talk bad of. I probably actually fall into the first category of reviewers as well as the second. Ever since the seventies and through 2015 (and with no sign of slowing down!) Saxon has released 21 fucking albums formed by the same tough, classic heavy metal, showing genuine love for the music they play. In that category, Saxon and Motorhead stand unthreatened. When it comes to "modern" Saxon, I think their sound peaked around The Inner Sanctum (2007) and Into The Labyrinth (2009), while latest effort Sacrifice (2013) showed a grayer, more dull side to the band's sound. And so I'm pleasantly surprised to start up Battering Ram, and being met by a more full, darker sound. It feels more modern in its production than its predecessor.

Biff Byford and his unique style hasn't deteriorated in the least. He's as reliable as ever before and delivers every syllable with style and the authority befitting one of heavy metal's titans. Screamingly tough in 'Eye Of The Storm' to classic heavy metal shouts in opening title track shows a man who shows no sign of getting tired. 'Queen Of Hearts' shows an effective verse, with an almost hypnotic performance by Byford. It doesn't however quite deliver in the chorus, but gets repetitive. Nigel Glockler's solid drumming is perfectly produced to show his tight and well trimmed style. His rhythm section in the fast, aggressive 'Destroyer' is perfect. And at the same time Byford makes one of the best vocal deliveries on the album. The entire album is filled with inspired riffs and well performed hooks, incredible deliveries and an overall surprisingly well polished sound befitting the modern Saxon.

Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt trades solos and keep trying to one-up the other time and again. It feels like every song has a new treasure to offer from the two guitarists. The speed metal solo of the 'The Devil's Footprint' (one of the album's highlights) both rocks and gives a dark, cozy atmosphere at the same time. A few of the songs do feel like betting on the safe horse. 'Hard And Fast', for example, rocks some great solos but fails to deliver in full like other songs do. But it isn't just solos that the guitarist's deliver with great accuracy. A few of the riffs shows to be some of modern Saxon's greatest, as well as some leads. 'Top Of The World' is probably the album's weakest song, feeling like a 'Conquistador' junior (the original is from Metalhead (1999)), but still manages to deliver an incredible lead guitar part and a riff in the middle that just makes me happy.

For some reason I find myself trying to find something about Battering Ram to complain about. Something to point at and say, "why the fuck did they do that?" But I can't. Not even the ballad (something which has never been Saxon's best side), 'Kingdom Of The Cross' manages to fail. It's calm and easy, with soothing guitars and a spoken voice breaking Byfords almost menacing voice, and it leads the album close to its end. The best ones on Battering Ram are easily Quinn and Scarratt, and - of course - Byford. If I have ever doubted, that doubt is long gone by now. No one will be able to dislike this album (but I'm guessing some will complain anyway). I won't hesitate to say Battering Ram might soon find its place among Saxon's greatest albums in my collection. Actually, I'm not sure what surprises me most. The upswing since (not bad, but) somewhat tame Sacrifice or that it's possible for Saxon to sound so fucking inspired after 21 albums, like they were as young and hungry as on Crusader (1986). Of course, Sacrifice did have something Battering Ram doesn't. The fuck ugly song title 'Standing In A Queue'. That's probably it.

Standout tracks: Battering Ram, The Devil's Footpring, Destoyer, Eye Of The Storm

Originally written for 'getmetal.com'