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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.