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Get Out of 90's Free Card - 74%

Tanuki, January 7th, 2018

The 1990's were a harrowing time even for heavy metal's highest theocrats, so a second-fiddle NWOBHM act sitting atop a teetering mountain of unsold copies of Destiny, didn't have the highest betting odds for surviving the decade. However, Saxon's troubled past awarded them with valuable insight that few other metal bands possessed at the time. Sanding down individualism for the sake of fleeting commercial relevance is a bad idea. Saxon had at least four studio albums to prove it, and thus carried with them the determination to not make the same mistake again. Solid Ball of Rock marked the beginnings of a comeback, and there was only one way Forever Free could capitalize on it.

The rushed, treble-heavy production. The loyal return to gutsy blue-collar riffing. The kickass (but unfortunately rare) Warhammer 40k biker motif festooning the alternate cover. From every conceivable direction, frantic shovels set about exhuming the buried sound of vintage Saxon. While an unimaginative rehash of the past might not seem like the most titillating way to spend time with Saxon, you know what they say about gift-horses. An overt realignment to past glories was well in order, as it was just about the only way Saxon could wrangle back their fans and potentially win some new ones.

And they succeeded, with a welcome reinstatement of taut Motörhead-esque blues metal. While tempo and aggression rarely reach a boiling point, there's a demonstrable return of sleazy riffs and memorable choruses. 'Cloud Nine', in particular, swaggers into view with brazen Strong Arm of the Law affectations. There's a little bit of ostenatiousness to it - certainly the "kiss your ass goodbye" hollering in the chorus feels a bit contrived - but everything else feels so much more sincere than prior outings. And when it comes to sincerity, it's difficult to top 'Iron Wheels'. Eminently passionate and painstakingly delivered, 'Iron Wheels' is an immense acoustic ballad that regards the British working class with a majestic reverence. It's a personfication of Saxon, with a haunting melody and effusive emotion backing Biff's vocals.

If that doesn't excite you too terribly, perhaps I could interest you in the lycanthropic speed metal menace of 'Nighthunter'. Arguably Saxon's very first song to demonstrate their proclivity toward over-the-top fantasy/horror themes, 'Nighthunter' is a hot tamale characterized by the expert synchronous riffing of Quinn and Oliver. It was so well-written that 'Nighthunter' would set the stage for similarly theatric, horror-themed output featured in later albums, just like Saxon's 'Stallions of the Highway' did for Wheels of Steel. Not bad for a '92 rehash, wouldn't you say?

But Forever Free is not immune from criticism - far from it, in fact, considering some of its utterly throwaway filler like 'Can't Stop Rockin' and 'Grind', which are overlong and recycle the same tired hard rock riff ad nauseum. The Muddy Waters cover 'Just Wanna Make Love to You' comes across as a well-intentioned tribute to an extremely underrated progenitor of likeminded music, but I still habitually skip this track. Not because it's poorly performed or in any way unnecessary, but because it only adds to the meandering cruisers this album already has plenty of. And because Biff croaking the song title into my ear is probably in the top ten things I never want to hear. Alongside a doctor telling me I have a urethral prolapse, and the last eight Slayer albums.

Despite this, I insist this is a fine album almost as rock-solid as some of Saxon's very first. A slight improvement over the comparatively tentative Solid Ball of Rock and a severely overlooked effort from the Barnsley Barbarians in general, Forever Free is a surefire indication that things will only get better from here on out... Right?

Taken Down Near The End - 67%

OzzyApu, November 11th, 2013

What happened to the guitars at the beginning? They sound muddy compared to the crystal clear ’80s job of the last one. The soaring echoes are replaced by this middling electric tone without that surging power. That’s my one major complaint, if a little exaggerated, since I do end up getting used to and liking it. Other than that, Forever Free’s along the same lines of the last one, Solid Ball Of Rock. In terms of songs there are mostly fast numbers which have Saxon right at home. “Iron Wheels” is the only slow one, so bar a couple dull songs Forever Free’s lighthearted attitude makes it of one of the cooler Saxon albums of the ‘90s.

From the title track’s hard-hitting rock attitude to the blitzing prowess of “Nighthunter”, this album’s definitely no slouch. It peters out starting with “Grind,” though, going for easy-listening hooks. I’m into Saxon with melody, yes, but when it becomes something that could be found on a family sitcom I find it less compelling. Charisma and energy are all there, but the velocity and impact of riffs beats easy vocal lines. Byford’s still going strong with his gruff wails and boisterous vocals, but those last two songs don’t hold much weight to them. His voice hasn’t lost its gritty or higher registers, so it’s a problem of actual vocal lines.

Give me the mid-paced chomp of “Can’t Stop Rockin’,” the mauling riffs of “One Step Away,” or the lustrous Muddy Waters cover. The eclectic leads and vigor on this album can be heard best in these songs. Headbanging will become an instinctive tick as riffs, licks, and harmonies fly. The production’s balanced overall (less independent bass), so the clarity is high despite missing a little of that ‘80s pitch. “Iron Wheels” is the only song on here that defies the cheerful approach, going for a somber, working-man’s (manly) ballad. It’s fully acoustic, with drums coming in as loud bashes. Byford’s delivers an expressive performance as good as any of his entertaining choruses, but I would have preferred a song like this closer to the end (had the album been shorter).

I can’t tell if I like this more than Solid Ball Of Rock or not. Both have dull tracks, both have ballads, and both feature Saxon doing well for the majority of it. “Iron Wheels” whoops the shit out of the slower songs on the last album, but this one tops out early, making me stick in for longer than I want to in order to finish it. The previous album was more inconsistent, so I don’t know. The one thing I do know is that both are keepers regardless of how great and bad they aren’t. They fall in that category of being good enough for what they are.

Saxon Sticks With It With British Bulldoggery - 80%

DeathRiderDoom, June 27th, 2009

Well, what you probably wanna know is “Does it sound like classic Saxon (and therefore does it kick ass)? The answer – yes. This one kicks ass and has all that classic sound you want – without that faltering wimpiness many of you felt they came to embody in the mid/late 80’s. present on this one are hare riffs, catchy melodies and awesome general arrangements, with few weak moments in the mix – just more classic Saxon, as great and fun to rock out as ever. I’m surprised I didn’t track down this one earlier. Many years ago – my introduction to the band was a CD of their greatest live hits – I was hooked. After that I set about collecting their early 80’s hit albums, then their very earliest works, and the awesome 2000’s releases, but this middle-period had somewhat eluded me. Usually early 90’s releases aren’t at the top of my priority list; reason being the old ‘decline of metal’ argument, during this period. Even if bands were still going (we could have guessed the juggernaut force of Saxon would never stop rockin’), they often pussified their sound by attempting to add grunge, alternative rock, or god knows what else to their sound, often sounding like crap – and often being about as conducive to making you rock as a big sack of the stuff. What we have here is the complete antithesis of said statement; here Saxon continues their quest to rock harder than anyone, despite the wavering popularity of metal, and the tough times they were going through. They don’t relent on rockin, fist in the air tunes, and craft some excellent metal here – very much classic Saxon doing what they do best.

Anyway, many great tracks abound; ‘One Step Away’ is a mid-paced number with the hallmark ripping guitar solo, and classic Biff melodies. Totally memorable and catchy, and absolutely traditional Saxon for the purist. ‘Iron Wheels’ is a memorable, soft number, with very crisp acoustic guitars, and heart-touching working class British spirit. Lyrics are as British as ‘Let it Rain’ by Bruce Dickinson, and speak of one mans life in the coal mines, and descent into sadness. The point is gotten across by Biffs awesome, emotive vocals, great guitars, and generally awesome songwriting. Certainly a memorable and heartfelt softer number on par with any of I’ve heard lately. ‘Nighthunter’ is a badass track centred around a massive chorus, with thundering double kick underneath. Cool lyrics and another ripping solo courtesy of Oliver make this one another track in the long lineage of awesome, straightforward rockers from this Juggernaut band. ‘Forever Free’ your title track is eaily the standout on this one however – an absolute classic worthy of any greatest hits album from the band. Thrilling chorus, and excellent, passionate and rebellious lyrics about motorcycles and liberty. Fucking killer number.

The main low-point of the album is the lame cover ‘I Just Wanna Make Love to You’ – a poor track which should have been tossed aside in favour of more balls-out rckin’ about motorcycles, or English history. These lame covers have always irritated me – and I barely see a place for any cover on albums actually – I prefer them as b-sides or merely as part of the live set – although I don’t see Wacken crowds appreciating this one either. While there are no real other low points, perhaps a couple tracks might just be a tad straightforward and lacking in dynamism. ‘Cant Stop Rockin’ is your obligatory rock-centred track, benefitted from tough riffs and excellent, vocal hooks courtesy of Biff. Another badass rocker in the tradition of the Awesome Saxon. Simplistic, yet utterly catchy and totally awesome. Formulaic – yes, but Saxon delivering the goods like always.

While it’s not the high point of their career this one still kicks total ass and gets its hooks into you a bit. I found myself repeatedly playing it on the ipod because, well – it’s just more Saxon – and as we all know – Saxon rules. Yeah it doesn’t quite have the freshness of WOS or Denim and Leather, or the complex layering of Lionheart or other more recent works, but continues the no BS rockin; in this dark time for metal with the same utter passion and honest conviction that Saxon were always known for. ‘Get Down and Dirty’ is a head-nodding, traditional rocker that could sit comfortably on any Saxon album, while not being amazing or complex. What we have here is a great, fun album besting most of the horrible drivel that was coming out at this time. Saxon sticks to their guns with British Bulldoggery and churns out more songs in the style they’re known for. Far from a disappointment, this album has seen many plays already, and will not be a dust collector. Great party music as always from these true British stalwarts, and really re-instates your faith in heavy metal. A typically solid effort from Biff and crew – with the title track kicking a tonne of ass.