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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.