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Solid, Ballsy Rock - 73%

Tanuki, January 3rd, 2018

Saxon's descent into pop rock mediocrity had been a long time in the making, spanning several years, several studio albums, and finally culminating in a Christopher Cross cover. Such a convoluted, unfructuous web of nonsense isn't something a band can easily untangle with just one album, unless its name happens to be Ironbound. Thus, Solid Ball of Rock is a comeback 'in spirit'. A courageous recital of the band's old x-factors, without question, but still far from a dramatic turnaround from the hi-fi commercialism of Destiny. That'll come later. Put simply, this album is Saxon taking their losses on the chin, refusing to throw in the towel, and proving to their jaded fans that they can still throw a punch.

With much less emphasis on slow, soppy, major-scale affairs this time around, Solid Ball of Rock delivers a pugnacious barrage of hard-charging blues rock. Uptempo tracks like 'Crash Dive' and 'Baptism of Fire' had been well in order ever since Power & the Glory renounced them, and it's such a breath of fresh air here. During these tracks, Biff's throaty hollers sound rejuvenated, and his intrepid exploration of his higher registers sound so much more natural and fitting than the tremulous glam crooning of Crusader and the bulk of Rock the Nations. Not to mention the unexpected scorchers like 'Altar of the Gods' finally puts Nigel Glockler to the test behind the kit.

No kidding, the man had replaced drum dignitary Pete Gill shortly after Denim and Leather, and only now has the soporific songwriting sped up enough to provide any degree of challenge for Glockler. His untapped potential finally gets to flourish with elaborate fills and a dynamic top-game, particularly in the creative change-ups in my favorite track 'Baptism of Fire'. And that's to say nothing of the infectious shuffles he bestows the more rhythmic, bluesier tracks like 'Ain't Gonna Take It' and the title track.

And then there's 'Bavarian Beaver', which is not a hidden Tankard track. Instead, it is quite possibly the best way I've ever heard a band introduce a new bassist. Nibbs Carter, just twenty-two at the time, stepped up to the oche after Paul Johnson jumped ship after Destiny (can't say I blame the guy), and performed an absolutely hypnotic bass instrumental. I don't know what it is; the pacing, the circulating melody somewhat reminiscent of Xentrix's 'For Whose Advantage', or perhaps it's the vibrant bass-oriented production that had been lacking since Innocence is no Excuse. Whatever it is, there's a touch of magic in this track, and I'm honestly weirded out by how often I revisit it.

But before I get too excited with Solid Ball of Rock, I have to remind myself of two things. One, after spending a few days in a Destiny deprivation tank, I could probably find nice things to say about the latest Hellyeah album. Two, I very rarely touch Solid Ball of Rock. And believe me, there's no one more confused about this confession than myself. This album is genuinely stuffed with hits; 'Altar of the Gods' is a real asskicker, not to mention 'Refugee' is proof that Saxon can still write emotional and ambitious ballads, easily able to go toe-to-toe with anything on Innocence Is No Excuse.

I suppose my reluctance to spend much time with this album is simply due to hindsight. This album is the beginnings of Saxon setting things right again. Not much more, and nothing less. That alone makes it worthy of a recommendation, but it's not my favorite of 90's Saxon. Stay tuned, though. Things are about to get pretty wild.

Not At Full Strength - 67%

OzzyApu, November 11th, 2013

Destiny was just about a piece of shit if you ask me. It had no soul and wanted badly to be accepted as AOR. Saxon came to their senses immediately and returned to the hard rock / heavy metal genres with that sharp ‘80s tone present. Production on this thing firmly brings back the power to the guitars and the drums crash nicely on the snare hits. The title track is a perfect Saxon song. It does everything one would expect them to accomplish: play with charisma, unleash a catchy riff, infuse some nice bass grooves, and pull off a manly sing-a-long chorus. Byford’s clear, high singing is right on par with that surging guitar distortion. Now if only the rest of the album kept up with this level of quality.

For the most part this album is fine. I expected more of a lame streak since Rock The Nations, but Saxon turned it around and made an album with a handful of good songs. “Bavarian Beaver” near the end was the biggest surprise. It’s a short instrumental that acts as an interlude, demonstrating Nibbs Carter’s slick bass playing in a calm manner. It reminds me of Jens Becker’s instrumentals in Running Wild (just much less showy). It segues into “Crash Drive” which rocks with its own kickass riff and turbulent soloing. The bass on this one is also substantial and groovy, but the song only rides on these two – Byford’s vocal lines aren’t catchy at all. Prominent guitars and bass but your vocalist can’t drop the ball! Bravo on adding some variation but man does it end the album on a mixed note.

There was always going to be the obligatory ballad (“Overture In B-Minor / Refugee”) which are tuneful but not exactly interesting or generally slower songs like “Requiem (We Will Remember)” which are upbeat but corny. They’re likable, but when Saxon doesn’t commit it creates problems. This band’s craft is in composing rocking heavy metal that’s ripe with melodic leads and addicting vocal lines. Those marks are reached on songs like “I Just Can’t Get Enough” and “Baptism Of Fire” – hard-hitting, fiery, memorable, and fun. Drumming should be tantamount and click immediately, fitting with the rhythm as they echo in the back. Even when the songs themselves become a tad dull like “I’m On Fire” (epic solo section aside), the drumming can’t be at fault.

Solid Ball Of Rock attempted to propel Saxon back in the realm of good bands. It isn’t standout, but it didn’t do a bad job at reassuring people that they weren’t going to become a lame rock act. Knowing that this isn’t spectacular, I’d keep it around for some more fun songs. Nothing on here undeniably sucks, even if some tracks aren’t to my liking. It’d take Saxon some more time to get to their next great album, but before that they needed to rebuild the road they destroyed from the last couple of albums.

Well, here's an improvement - 66%

UltraBoris, May 10th, 2003

This album is way the fucking Hell better than the last album. Suckstiny, I mean that was just pure crap. This is only halfway to pure crap, and in fact the first few songs are completely excellent!!

The title track starts things off, and man this is a fun catchy song. "The preacher found redemption in a Jacksonville motel..." - then Altar of the Gods is classic Saxon, at 100% strength. Requiem is a bit slower, but still very good, as is Lights in the Sky.

"I Just Can't Get Enough" is a bit cheesier, but still solid. A little 80s-rock influence, coming from their last N albums, but then again this isn't all that far removed from Wheels of Steel or something in the general 80s-metal vibe. Nice chorus, too.

"Baptism of Fire" is the obligatory speed metal offering, and is probably the highlight of the album - either this or the title track. This one reminds me of "Sixth Form Girls" from their very strong (arm of the law) second album.

Here is where the album takes a fucking nosedive... "Ain't Gonna Take It" is crap that combines the worst of two or three Saxon songs that I can't remember... sounds like a leftover from the Destinshit album. "I'm on Fire" is a bit better but they blatantly rip off a solo from a Boston song. I forget which, but it's readily obvious, and it's one of the classic rock staple songs... can't miss it. "Refugee" is more crap, unfortunately. "Bavarian Beaver" is a bit of a noodle bit, and then "Crash Dive" - not bad, and a good closer track. Nice riff after the chorus.

So this album totally takes a sinker about halfway through, but the first six songs are all excellent, and for that the album is possibly worth having. If you like some of the more rockish Saxon albums (not the really bad ones like Destiny or Elton John the Nations, but I mean Power and the Glory), you'll like this one.