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The Beginning of Heavy Metal's Most Ardent Warrior: Saxon - 76%

Superchard, January 23rd, 2019

Poor Saxon, fighting valiantly and hard as early as 1970 under the moniker "Blue Condition", changing their name to what we now call them in 1977 and putting out their first of many albums as early as 1979, Saxon have always been around in some form or another from heavy metal's most formative years to present day and never got much attention. To some degree I feel sorry for them, but I'm a little sorry to admit I was never a big fan of them either, despite knowing about them. I'd listened to their biggest early hits, Strong Arm of the Law, Wheels of Steel, Denim and Leather, etc, but for whatever reason just never acquired much of an appreciation for them and their role in the revitalization of the heavy metal genre leading into the new wave of British heavy metal scene; picking up the tempos, toughening up hard rock, but they were hesitant to reject the blues elements that had been a part of heavy metal since its inception while their competitors were tapering off the loose ends of their sound. For that reason, I think Saxon has always felt a little stale, and their music has always had that old man stench that has repelled me to this day, not to mention I feel the band has stagnated their entire career.

Their self-titled debut is quite good though. Want to get a glimpse at the earliest signs of power metal? Look no further than "Rainbow Theme", "Frozen Rainbow" and "Militia Guard". Especially "Militia Guard", with imperial marching snare drums, nationalistic guitar melodies, pounding bass lines and a song that ultimately screams "blueprint for Manowar to base a career off of". Meanwhile the majority of the album actually borrows heavily from Motorhead, unfortunately very seldomly do Saxon manage to combine these elements in individual songs, leaving the album feeling just a tad inconsistent. All the while this entire album has a very old vinyl sound to its production that's most apparent on "Big Teaser" and "Still Fit to Boogie" with Biff Byford's clean vocals cracking through, and that raw old school 70's punk rock attitude is totally in tact for the majority of the album, this release gets my approval for some of the most warm, ear pleasing production I've heard of its era. Unfortunately, not everything is as well comprised as some of these standouts regardless of how flawless the recording is.

Maybe you'll get something out of the plain Jane punk rock of "Stallions of the Highway" if you're a big time Motorhead fan, but apart from that growling guitar tone, I'm not getting much from some of this stuff. Just a year later, bands like Iron Maiden, Angel Witch and Diamond Head would leave them in the dust sounding dated, but not without their merits. Also in 1980, Motorhead would release their world shattering Ace of Spades which took this bluesy, punk rock, NWOBHM sound and arguably perfect it. The adrenaline-charged "Still Fit to Boogie" would've been a kick ass tune for its time when cheesy AC/DC lyrics were commonplace, the song really does slay, but unfortunately I just can't get past that supercharged party rock sound with its cliche, overdone blues rock outro I feel like I've heard a million variations on by a million other bands.

So Saxon is a very mixed bag. I'm on board with it most of the time, but even on the album's best tracks I feel like there's still room for improvement, mainly in the guitar department. Saxon's a band with two guitarists, and I would've never known. Paul Quinn and Graham Oliver come up with some pretty basic stuff that works well enough, but where are the twin leads? Where are the guitar solo battles and trade-offs? How about I give an example that can be heard: "Judgement Day" has a clean section, but they're just strumming three note arpeggios the entire time, and it's a pretty lengthy moment. There's only a small bit of atmosphere created here. It's kind of a neat section as Saxon don't really experiment all that often on their debut, but it's also a bit disappointing, they could've done so much more with that section, they could've gone off on an instrumental tangent, thrown in some acoustic guitar solos, used keyboards to create even more atmosphere, so on and so forth. It's a gripe I've always had with Saxon, I've just always wanted to hear more from this band, and I usually find them just scraping the tip of the iceberg when their creative moments do arrive.

Regardless of all my squabbling, Saxon is still a decent release. I appreciate it for its place in the early stages of the NWOBHM scene, but when stacked up against so many other great albums of the same genre and era, Saxon is a pretty pedestrian album by comparison, with all the cheesiness of early Accept. They were definitely in the right mindset, I would just need to hear a little bit more innovative ideas other than the early power metal that can be heard here.

Superchard gets super hard for
Frozen Rainbow
Militia Guard
Big Teaser

Old and Saxon-y - 85%

Tanuki, July 7th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2009, CD, EMI (Remastered)

As is typical with almost any veteran metal band, the earliest installments can feel a little... off. The debut album will either be tentative about finding a niche and thus rife with haphazard experimentation, or confident about finding a niche and thus rife with one very misguided idea. Not naming names, but Rocka Rolla. Saxon finds itself in the former camp; remarkably similar to their later output, yet an ever-shifting mirage of psychedelic prog rock, rosy-cheeked pop metal, and the occasional rock 'n' roll fist-raiser we're all expecting. As capricious as the result may be, I can't view it as a bad thing in this case. In fact I consider Saxon among the most interesting and versatile of their early catalog, unfairly shadowed by the holy trinity on the horizon.

It feels like a waste of my keyboard to explain that this NWOBHM debut was jointly inspired by British punk and the aesthetic of 70's British prog rock. Vastly preferring the brevity of the former and the mysticism of the latter, Biff set about spearheading a peculiar hybrid of audacious punk and atmospheric Zeppelin-worship. This is at its most overt in the brilliant 'Rainbow Theme/Frozen Rainbow' opener; a moody, enchanting, and utterly immortal ballad of NWOBHM. It's difficult to imagine any song more fitting to commence Saxon's imperishable legacy.

By 1979 standards, there are also a fair few vigorous tracks. 'Stallions of the Highway' is credited with paving the way for Wheels of Steel, and then there's my personal favorite 'Still Fit to Boogie'. This track boasts superb drumming, streetwise riffs with a responsible amount of 60's rock influence, and even a sizzling, prototypal glissando solo that would go on to become one of Saxon's many trademarks. It's also in this track where Biff is at his most flexible. Due to him already fronting previous incarnations of the band throughout the 70's, his voice is already sounding rich and capable of reaching higher registers with practiced ease. On the other hand, his bluesy vibrato affectations throughout the proggier tracks like 'Judgement Day' are a bit on the contrived side. Much like fellow metal god Rob Halford, Biff's best notes are the high ones. Best leave the low notes to Al Atkins and Lemmy.

What's more, the enjoyable amount of variance this half-hour album offers comes at a price. The aforementioned pop metal comes in the form of the abysmally corny 'Big Teaser'; a track celebrated by some fans, but, at least to my ears, sorely lacking in substance and direction, much like the bulk of Accept's early work in the late 70's and early 80's. More discordant still is 'Militia Guard', an overlong Queen-style rock anthem that becomes far too complicated of a juggling act of harmonizing soul choirs, acoustic refrains, and noodly solos.

These transgressions are easy to overlook with a little thing called context. Shortly after 1979, Saxon managed to both establish their style and jettison all of the dated prog-experimentation good and early, in many ways like Motörhead's self-titled debut, now that I think of it. Coming up next, three superb albums, and no one can agree which is the best. Now where have I heard that before?

In a time before NWOBHM... - 70%

Drequon, April 12th, 2015

It was a whole different world out there when Saxon released their first LP, way back in 1979 (yeah, "when the dam began to burst" and whatever). Many things we now take for granted simply weren't there yet, such as internet, global warming, cellphones, digital music and NWOBHM, to name a few. That said, it's just natural that Biff Byford (V), Paul Quinn (G), Graham Oliver (G), Steve Dawson (B), and Pete Gill (D) still didn't know exactly what to do with their music and it should come as no surprise to learn that it shows on Saxon's eponymous debut album, though was far from ruining it, fortunately.

It all begins with "Rainbow Theme / Frozen Rainbow", an epic heavy ballad slightly in a Uriah Heep vein and with more than a hint of prog rock in it. A good start, but not very representative if we're to be strict here. Then the band delivers "Big Teaser", a tune with a glam rock feel which strongly reminds me of Marc Bolan. And then side one comes to an ending with "Judgement Day", a competent (but kinda confused) attempt to write a convoluted song about the end of the world (c'mon, all metal bands have been there and done that). That means the whole A side of Saxon's debut LP presents no hints of their signature hard-hitting-metal-with-biker-themes attack, and that is to say something about how unsure of themselves the band seemed to be at this point.

Fortunately, side two comes to the rescue with the excellent "Stallions of the Highway" making a clear statement that an exciting new era in metal was just around the corner (or at the flip of an LP if you want to stretch the metaphor further). "Backs to the Wall" is also great in the same no-frills-heavy-metal fashion of the preceding tune, and I think that "Militia Guard" is a nice way to close proceedings, a creative number with a semi-acoustic epic feel and some nice twists and turns here and there. "Still Fit to Boogie" is, ahem, a boogie number without many redeeming factors, but it's reasonably funny and there's nothing fundamentally wrong about being funny, right?

The production is not good at all (most of all, it lacks punch and energy), but I guess the lackluster results of this studio visit paved the way for the heaviness to come, so it kinda was a good thing in the end. BTW, I guess the same can be said about the LP as a whole; it shows not only a band in search of its own musical personality, but also portrays a whole metal generation trying to take the '70s heritage one step further, but not yet sure how it should be done. Musically speaking, this is one for Saxon's (and NWOBHM's) hardcore fans, but those who fit the description will find a fair amount of songs to enjoy here. And if you're interested in the development of heavy metal through the years, then I'll also suggest you to give this one a spin or two.

Great NWOBHM...especially for it's time - 86%

Human666, August 10th, 2007

This self titled debut album comes from one of the most talented NWOBHM acts, an album which will be a great influence for some of the bigger metal acts in history (such as Metallica, for instance) and will open the way to new genres in the metal music. As for today this album doesn't sounds so special or outstanding of course, if you know something about metal it won't surprise you too much. But as for 1979, I ain't sure why the hell this album wasn't a huge success. I mean, this IS heavy metal with balls, and a good one, and back then in the end of the 70's it's supposed to be something groundbreaking doesn't it? Anyway, if you are looking for a great old school heavy metal, keep reading, you won't regret after knowing this album.

'Saxon' have mostly simple, catchy heavy metal tracks such as 'Backs To The Wall', 'Stallions of The Highway' and 'Big Teaser' with simple and rhythmic power chords riffing which are easy for listening and also pretty enjoyable. Sometimes bordering in the 'hard rock' genre, but doesn't gets pussy for a bit and flows pretty well. However, for me the highlight of this album is the opening track 'Rainbow Theme/Frozen Rainbow' which is by all means one of the best epic NOWBHM songs ever written. It opens with quite loud bass and then comes in a regular power chord strumming, it doesn't sounds like it's an epic song at start, it builds up pretty well and sounds like a good hard rock tune, and then the drums rolling a bit and after a minute and half it slows down. The vocals are very melodic and epic, the guitars has some great fills and adding some cool variations to this song. The chorus is quite catchy and epic as well and the lead guitar is marvelous. The solo is moderate, deep, epic and thrilling. Just well constructed and flows greatly. Then the first riffing comes in and the song becomes a bit faster and ends in kinda hard rock tune, as how the album will continue till it's end.

What can I say, this is one of the greatest heavy metal albums from the 70's. The song writing is great (and it will just improve in time), there aren't any bad tracks, it's short and valuable album which marks the first breaths of the wonderful NWOBHM genre. You can't miss this album if you are into old fashioned heavy metal, you simply can't. Great debut of a great band!

A seamless seam for the generations - 82%

Gutterscream, January 6th, 2006
Written based on this version: 1979, 12" vinyl, Carrere

Do you know how many uninteresting/lousy hard rock bands were treading water in ’79? If you were to leaf through countless boxes of records dating from that time, your fingers would be as black as the chances of 90% of the bands to become anything even remotely celebrated. Some had been scraping by for years, jaded enough by now to know their hometown wasn’t going to be hanging “Jackassville – home of…” banners at the entrances any time soon. Others grooved wax for the first time, optimistically, possibly even with thoughts of future red carpets unrolling in their heads. Actually, 90% is a touch generous. How about 3% of all the material released in that time was actually going places worth the bus fare. But besides this bleakness, bands trudged onward, labels small and large took chances on bands that may have had just the charisma, just the magnetism, and maybe enough talent to be the next Van Halen or Foreigner, or for the more realistic, the next Status Quo or Y&T.

So there’s Saxon, a John Doe in line with all the rest, throwing demos and handing show billings to any exec that’ll listen. Oh look, some German band called Accept got picked up by Brain. And there’re the blokes in Samson. Hey, we’ve played and partied with them before. And who’s that, Hellix? Oh, Helix. But low and behold, here comes a suit from Carrere with a pile of papers and a smile, but that doesn’t mean they’re going anywhere.

But unlike many waiting on that same line, they did go somewhere. Maybe they didn’t leave skid marks like Maiden would a year later, but managed to become a more conspicuous fixture than Praying Mantis and the aforementioned Helix and Samson, and their two and a half decade regime began without their better-known, more steely “Princess of the Night” resonance.

If I still have to explain to you where metal was in ’79, you deserve a slap, but not before heart-racers like “Stallions of the Highway”, “Backs to the Wall”, and “Frozen Rainbow” sidewind unwittingly with a diminutive, country-less din that will soon be regarded as the launching pad to a style of rock that’ll take on a more massive tensile strength in time to come. In that light, the metal component in Saxon’s debut is very limited, splurging with a less purposive, more accidental uprising of harder tone, secret implication and a nifty flare that’s still essentially hard rock any way you crush it, but has a fluency that is the stone tablets of the future NWOBHM sound. In a nutshell, the debut from Saxon is one of the very few seamless seams attaching the genres. Sure, in hindsight it’s pretty clear, but then it was just a few interesting steps past the norm, and little did they know something else was going on. Yeah, Maiden may be honored as the genre’s shining light, but their debut is less subtle in its tying of the styles (which is a fair reason why it's more accepted in metal circles). And to give an example of how merely moderately metallic the debut's material is, some of the stuff on Boston’s debut isn't as nimble as this, but the guitar tone is twice as heavy, and has Boston ever in your wildest dreams been considered a metal band?

Surprisingly, slower, steadier songs are few and far between. The peppy “Big Teaser”, the quasi-Kiss-esque “Still Fit to Boogie”, coolly gliding “Militia Guard” and their faster brethren easily outdistance the two more conventional tracks on the disk, one of which bravely switches places with the more obvious album opener “Frozen Rainbow” for a mild curveball, and “Rainbow Theme”, the song itself a far cry from one of your show-‘em-what-you’re-made-of type of tunes, manages to hold the line with some cool hauntingly impassioned rhythms, a warm-blooded blues-inspired solo, and a minor flair for the epic the other tracks rarely draw upon. The singer with the silly name changes his voice according to the song. Lively falsetto lives during most of the faster tracks, but with something like “Rainbow Theme” he pulls the tone down to earth for a more customary approach which I feel is even more impressive yet. The lengthy “Militia Guard” strides along nicely, marching militantly into an abrupt, oddly strong acoustic roadblock and then into the meat of the song that’s not as exuberant as it is catchy.

Even if this had been released sometime in late ’80, this album would still be more the bridge to the musical species than just about any other album released at that time. The sound this created isn’t about timing, but about the sound itself. Just so happens Saxon hit that dead on as well. And in regards as to how this four-piece persevered beyond most of their peers, all someone had to do was listen and recognize the promise; the possible songwriting strength that was clandestinely hugging curves on a highway that was pretty much one lane. Then tell a friend. Hell, they may do it even better with the next release.

This is the album the band should be most proud of.

Impressive! - 85%

Dethrone_Tyranny, September 14th, 2003

Well the first Saxon release is more raw than their later releases. Of course, the quality of musicianship that would appear on their later albums is what mainly lacks on this disc, but you still have some killer tunes on here. It would be a large step forward for the band on their next release, but if you like traditional hard rock/metal, then check this one out. After all, this album marked the start of the NWOBHM, highly influenced by bands like Judas Priest and UFO.

Rainbow Theme - A really strong bass line opens up this track, followed by an really nice hard rockin' groove beat. About a minute later, the pace slows down into a very melodic and enchanting number, with Biff Byford showing off just how fuckin' good of a vocalist he is.

Frozen Rainbow - I have no idea why they turned this song into 2 tracks, but it's all really the same song. This track starts up during the solo, which is amazing, by the way, and speeds up from there.

Big Teaser - A less impressive tune, but overall decent, just straight forward hard rock. The chorus is the only highlight here.

Judgment Day - The drum intro that kicks off this tune just smokes, as well the catchy riffing that follows. This is a song that softens and then speeds up at various times through out, ending with one incrdible solo.

Stallions Of The Highway - By far one of the best tracks on the album, this song totally rules all the way through. One of the infamous biker tunes that Saxon is so damn good at doing, so I am hopeing to hear it at this year's Biker Fest in my city when Saxon takes the stage. >:)

Backs To The Wall - Not one of my favorites, but it's the only song that Saxon still plays live from this album today. A great hard rock song none the less, but that's about it.

Still Fit To Boogie - The title of this song sounds like something Motorhead would come up with...as well as the sound. Okay, maybe not the vocals, but the musical influences of Motorhead are quite clear here.

Militia Guard - Ah yes, Saxon is not only known for writing killer biker tunes, but also war tunes as well, and this is one of the best war songs that they have come up with. The marching drum beat and neo-classical intros are the highlights here, but the rest of the song itself is just incredible and underrated.