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Fill Your Heads With It - 70%

Tanuki, January 11th, 2018

I've noticed the recent glut of re-recorded metal albums has been arousing some indignation lately. I can't imagine why, when Iron Savior is releasing Megatropolis 2.0 less than seven years after the original. Heavy Metal Thunder is Saxon's foray into this maligned trend, but I say we cut this one some slack. The year was 2002 and music consumption was a completely different beast. For starters, visiting a record store didn't involve a dream-quest of unknown Kadath. So if you wanted to investigate your favorite band's back catalog, put on your detective trenchcoat and prepare to put in some effort, bucko, because YouTube won't exist for another three years.

Your options were simple: You could make blind purchases (and risk buying Destiny), read magazine reviews and make informed purchases (and risk buying Destiny), see them live (and risk Bruce Dickinson tearing up your "Play Classics" sign), or buy a slapdash 'Best of' album with a botched setlist and mastering. Like all of them. Saxon, typically one step ahead of the pack, gave you an early alternative; their greatest hits on one CD, sporting a very glossy new paintjob.

Barring a few glaring absenses that I'll belabor in just a moment, Saxon decided on a sagely "something for everyone" approach with a slight bias toward their mature, mid-tempo offerings. Gritty speed metal is still represented and exemplified by 'Motorcycle Man' and the immortal track that named this album, but mostly we're winding down with '747 (Strangers in the Night)', 'Crusader', and the ode to the grassy knoll 'Dallas 1 PM'. And I got a bit of a problem with this one. Truthfully I was never the biggest fan of the original, but the revamp still managed to sour my mood. Nevermind the fact that this historical eulogy couldn't clash harder against the bombastic, youthful disposition of the album, but Saxon completely omits the emergency broadcasts in the acoustic bridge. Why?

Also absent is the crowd's jubilation in 'And the Bands Played On', which is equally unacceptable. Such a primal sound promulgates the entire mood of that song; it exudes this awesome aura of sitting outside at a festival listening to your favorite bands rock out. Without it, the track is still a masterpiece thanks to its earworm melody, but it feels a lot less alive. In terms of entire song omissions, I believe the raunchy riffing of 'Sixth Form Girls' or the completely kickass 'Street Fighting Gang' would've been a much better fit than 'Dallas 1 PM'.

So that's the theory, now for the practice. Heavy Metal Thunder is classic Saxon... say it with me - on steroids. Which is good and bad. The good news is, the broad appeal of tracks like 'Back to the Wall' and 'Never Surrender' has been filed to a dagger point, played with a Killing Ground echelon of unbridled energy. Biff hollers his lungs out through these songs with even more righteous spirit than most of his 90's output, and Scarratt and Quinn's solos scintillate with so much more complexity from all the extra years of practice. The bad news? Perhaps you can guess; I've already given you some clues.

The very glossy paintjob? The crowd-noise rant, which seemed petty, even for me? All the subtleties, all the atmosphere, and much of the technical finesse - particularly in my beloved 'Princess of the Night' - is gone. Lived its life like a candle in a category five hurricane. Between the extra thick production and the band's tendency to play every note in fortissimo, brute force has complete control while precision is left patiently waiting for its safeword. Even as someone introduced to Saxon via Killing Ground, I'm pretty bummed about this, and found myself sorely missing a lot of the subtle intricacies of the original versions.

But I'm not just equivocating when I say Heavy Metal Thunder is still a well-performed collection of Saxon's homeruns. Believe it or not, there are plenty of occasions where I choose to listen to the re-records over the originals. As such, I would recommend this to just about any Saxon fan... except Saxon newbies staring wide-eyed at the bajillions of Saxon albums wondering which is a good jumping-on point. Heavy Metal Thunder might be a tempting choice that appears to be Saxon's CliffsNotes, but you really owe it to yourself to hear the classics first.