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Forbidden Fruit - 72%

Tanuki, September 4th, 2017

...I'm still pissed off about Crusader. After unceremoniously dumping their badass, rock 'n' roll girlfriend for a vapid bimbo by the name of commercial glam, Saxon had nothing to show for it, save a few lascivious stains on their heavy metal bedsheets. Crusader, in spite of its baffling financial success, is a farce. As varied as a bucket of ice, the sheer lack of memorability makes it my uncontested pick for Saxon's worst album. Yes, including Destiny, an album I can't wait to not talk about. Luckily I, as well as many Saxon fans, can take solace in the admirable outlier that is Innocence Is No Excuse.

This isn't a return to form, but it's the next best thing Saxon could've done. It's what they had been trying to do for the last two years, minus the shortcuts and plus their rejuvenated ability to write memorable songs. Unlike anything we've heard since the emotional ballads of Denim and Leather, an evocative, mature, contemplative atmosphere pervades this album. Power ballads like 'Broken Heroes' are positively haunting, implementing an austere yet forceful approach that reminds me of Accept's early work. It may be a few rungs down the ladder from the mighty Balls to the Wall, but to even share a ladder with those bulging, woolly quadriceps is still an accomplishment Saxon should be proud of.

It's rare for a radio-friendly metal album to possess such fleshly qualities, but Innocence Is No Excuse manages it with both effusive harmonized vocals and emotive fretwork. 'Rock 'n' Roll Gypsy' is among the more celebrated tracks for this reason - it's snappy and laconic, boasting a fleshed-out song structure with timely bridges and minimal repetition. Joy of joys, Saxon has finally exhumed their knack for songwriting and managed to overhaul dreary commercial framework with their vivacious thumbprint. The proof is in the pudding: just compare the snazzy closer 'Give It Everything You Got', to Crusader's 'A Little Bit of What You Fancy'. One has held up remarkably well, while the other sounds prehistoric.

Speaking of which, this Saxon album doesn't sound like it was recorded in a cave, unlike the two previous efforts. After an abrupt falling out with longtime record label Carerre, the NWOBHM gods finally got the pampering they deserved from Parlophone Records. Innocence is No Excuse is therefore graced with some of the finest production you're going to hear from 80's metal, with a phenomenal mix and engineering that could even give Metallica a run for its deluge of money. You can discern every buttery burble of bass, every slight warble in Biff's vocal chords, and Oliver's plentiful guitar solos have never sounded quite so punctuating.

In many ways, this practically is Saxon's Black Album. It's superbly produced, it manages to deliver solid and pithy hard rock anthems (perhaps a touch on the samey-side on occasion), and it's viewed as their best commercial album for good reason. The sudden and drastic change in style might still be a difficult pill to swallow, but if you're ever going to convinced of its merit, this is the album to try.