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Warning! This Album May Induce Nationalism! - 76%

Acrobat, May 6th, 2008

Bit of a mixed bag this ‘un. I really do love a bit of Saxon, they’ve created some of the most memorable metal ever and this album (in places) is no exception. But combined with this mighty metal onslaught we do get some really uninspired moments, reeking not of stagnation or repeating past glories but rather trying to keep a sense of tradition but then combining it was a newer sound and frankly these songs don’t work.

‘Lionheart’ has one absolute shining moment, that to these ears could well be the best thing to come out of the entire SYGM scene. The title track! Defiantly English, which is an astonishing rarity in the modern metal scene. Seriously, how many other bands can you think of who dare to be this English, in this day and age? Maiden, come to mind. But every other fucker seems to sing about Norse mythology, they may be from Tunbridge Wells but by George will every fucking English band sing about Valhalla and Odin. ‘Lionheart’, the song, is as English as fish and chips, drinking luke warm bitter on a hot summers day, suppressing your emotions, bad dentistry and Madonna (what?). This song is about Richard the Lionheart, who crushed many a Saracen infidel in the Third Crusade and was actually a renown anti-Semite (ha, as if my Patriotism descended into anti-Semitism this early in a review!) and it’s a ripping yarn on Biff’s part which in the hands of a lesser mortal could have descended into jingoism or fake cockney accents. But Biff doesn’t seem to have the same cynicism so often associated with the English and as such it’s a tale delivered with utmost conviction and a misty eyed wistfulness. Musically, the song is a triumph as well beautiful melodic riffs, a dynamic structure underscored by shimmering acoustic guitars. Majestic and harmonious, simply put if you like melodic metal you need to hear this song. If this song were any more English it would be ‘Lazy Sunday Afternoon’ by the Small Faces. I know this is a lot about a single song but I rather like it…listen and look out of your window over England’s green and pleasant land (If you live in a city or abroad you may well be fucked).

The best songs elsewhere are ‘Witchfinder General’ which is a mighty collection of riffs and is an example of a more modern Saxon sound working rather well. The riffs here are as close to thrash Saxon have got, along with ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’. The lyrics deal with the familiar, yet welcome tale of Matthew Hopkins and the general havoc he brought to the English countryside…well what do you expect when fucking Protestants run the country? Spanish who? What? ‘Man and Machine’ is quite a strong song, the verses are a bit dull but the chorus is memorable. ‘English Man ‘O’ War’ is a more old school Saxon song with some nice crunchy riff work.

Elsewhere, there’s some fairly pedestrian metal to be had. ‘Beyond the Grave’ was a bizarre choice of first single as it does really achieve any tension, excitement or bombast as say the title track did (hint, ‘Lionheart’ should have been the single’). It’s just a fairly bland number built around arpeggios with a tremolo effect on them. ‘Jack Tars’ shows Saxon pushing the boat out a bit (how appropriate for a naval song!) it’s a nautical themed folk song and it’s pleasant but I would of liked to see the ideas developed as it somewhat unfinished. The rest are metal by numbers affairs really, nothing horrific but then again hardly outstanding and when compared to ‘Witchfinder General’ or ‘Lionheart’.

‘Lionheart’ is not a classic by any stretch of the imagination. However, it’s a confident album with some impossibly strong songs for a band in their 4th decade of existence. The performances too are some of the bands best, hell, I’ll say that Doug Scarratt is the best guitarist Saxon have ever had (some lovely Iron Maiden alike solos to be found here). So it may be a stark contrast between the almighty holy excellence of some tracks with more humdrum songs, but a worthy album nonetheless.