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An Anthem for the Times - 80%

DeathRiderDoom, January 18th, 2010

#35 In My NWOBHM Rarities Review Series

Saxon’s ‘Forever Free’ full-length was probably the most lacking full-length I had heard to that point, yet ironically was actually still a passable, and gutsy offering. One of the highlights of said album was the awesome ‘Forever Free’ an song which manages to mix Saxons slower, reflective semi-balladry almost AOR style, with it’s early, groundbreaking, working class aggression. Here they didn’t opt to use this as the promotional single for the album (this time there was only the one single put on offer by Virgin Records but times had changed), instead choosing the metal term-laden ‘Iron Wheels’, a high point in the album, but doesn’t have the awesome rebellious spirit of the b-side. Anyway, a nice little single here, from what was arguably the darkest time for Saxon, and really the end for metal as a whole, for some time. As I mentioned in my review for the full-length, here Saxon is able to produce no-nonsense proud heavy metal even up against the odds, in metal’s darkest hour. Commendations.

‘Iron Wheels’ is the albums passionate ballad, but rather than being about love lost, or youthful summers, this is an historic, British pride anthem, the likes of which you can only expect from Iron Maiden (‘Clansman’), Bruce Dickinson (‘Let it Rain’) or of course, the mighty Saxon. From what I can tell, this song is not only an ode to better times, and a reflection of past glory, but also a poem of the sands of time, and mortality. Biff delivers in a solemn tone about mortality, growing old, past glory and despair, and lyrics of Britain’s mining and industrial past, which really grab you by the heart. Definitely a strong point of the album, and a great ballad, but not really a pop ballad. I’m not sure if that’s what Branson’s Virgin was after though, but in 1992, Bon Jovi, GNR and Badlands were about the only forms of acceptable ‘heavy metal’ music that was still getting airtime, so possibly they were. Either way, Saxon stuck to their guns and produced an excellent effort in the ballad tradition.

‘Forever Free’ is a killer track that I feel should have made it into their regular live set. This ones got it all; it manages to retain some awesome, classic-Saxon sounding riffage (e.g ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’ or ‘747’) and the badass, no-bullshit rebellious attitude as if to say, it might be 1992, but don’t fuck with the Saxon!!!! Biff’s reverbed hollers just ppond that meaning into, in this song about cruising the highway on your bike, and taking no shit from nobody. Utterly classic Saxon! Good solos, and a thick, massive production job on this track manage to carry it through – and it’s an instant classic that will get its hooks in you. With these two solid tracks, why the fuck were people proclaiming Saxon had lost it at this time? Filler on the album aside, these are two strong offerings, easily deserving of moving a few hundred thousand copies of the album worldwide. This was a tough time for real metal, and one where we didn’t even know if we would wake up and metal would have disappeared – it certainly got close. These days we all know that heavy metal will never die, but it was different time back then – a fickle market had begun to turn its back on heavy metal, and it may have seemed like it would go for good. Thank fuck for bands like Saxon who refused to lay down and die, and remained ‘Forever Free.’

-DeathRiderDoom