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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'