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Where is the arm when it is needed? - 80%

Felix 1666, January 26th, 2020

This year we celebrate the goddamned 40th anniversary of Saxon’s second and third album. Here I want to speak about “Strong Arm of the Law”. If this is no cool name for a metal album, than I doubt that there exist cool titles for metal outputs at all. Moreover, a look at the track list proves evidence that Saxon delivered their part in terms of identity-creating buzzwords. “Heavy Metal Thunder” or “To Hell and Back Again” shaped the outlaw image of an entire music genre. This was generic and greenhorns might be of the opinion that it sounds primitive, but dudes, we are speaking of 1980 and at that time, songs like “Heavy Metal Thunder” were exactly the stuff the growing scene needed – in terms of the music and of the lyrics.

The opener is a pretty aggressive statement with concise riffing and “To Hell and Back Again” is almost a harbinger of the speed metal revolution. Not as “fast as a shark”, but still an up-tempo rocker with swift guitars. The same goes for “20,000 Feet”, another nice up-tempo headbanger of the first generation. Of course, Saxon mainly delivered traditional stuff (naturally without knowing that we would call it traditional 40 years later). The title track, for example, mirrors the 1980’s status of the heavy metal development pretty well. The basic riff could originate from the Young-factory as well, the melodic elements do not come off badly and the chorus builds the central part of the conventionally structured track. Finally, Biff’s vocals tower above the music. His voice was never the most voluminous one, but he is able to convey the lyrical content authentically. Thus, he gives comparatively simple rockers like “Hungry Years” something special. Nevertheless, it would be an exaggeration to say that all pieces are real jewels. “Sixth Form Girls” nearly marks a real flop. On the other hand, the album followed hot on the heels of “Wheels of Steel”. So when taking in consideration that only four months lie between these two full-lengths, nobody can blame early Saxon for creative undercapacity.

Listening in 2020 to these tracks leads to the surprising conclusion that they still sound fresh and nearly timeless. Maybe the almost eroticising fact is important that one is confronted with one of the first steps of metal and I cannot exclude that the originality of this classic compositions is influencing (or even manipulating) my perception. Anyway, the album does definitely not suffer from an ill-defined production. The intention to create a really heavy album is still tangible.

Finally, the album dealt with one of the most discussed crimes of human history. ”Dallas 1 PM” did not only glitter with its stoic yet somehow threatening guitars. Its lyrics about the murder of JFK made clear that heavy metal does not shy away from topics which have been (and still are) rather unpopular in radio-friendly music. And even more than 56 years after the shots from Dallas, it is still an open question who killed the President. Just one thing seems to be sure, it was not Lee Harvey Oswald. Why should he have wait until the limousine had passed the building where they found “his” ridiculous shotgun? He just paid the price for somebody else. But I digress – and I admit that I cannot maintain that “Strong Arm of the Law” has been discussed as often as the death of Kennedy during the last four decades. But it has stood the test of time in its own way and I am sure a lot of Americans would have been happy if a strong arm of the law would have protected the President on Elm Street. Maybe we know more about this crime when it comes to the 50th anniversary of Saxon's third work, but I don't think so.

I Fought the Law - 80%

Tanuki, July 16th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2009, CD, EMI (Remastered)

Strong Arm of the Law was flexing its biceps less than four months after Wheels of Steel. Just think about that for a second. In 2016, the most successful metal band of all time had released three albums in fifteen years - one of which called Lulu - and they were still praised to the moon when their 2016 'return-to-roots' album didn't completely suck. So I'll start by giving Saxon credit where it's due; Biff and the boys weren't messing around, and they were doggedly determined to capitalize on the success of Wheels of Steel as soon as they could. But I won't be going into raptures over their psychotic productivity, because if Strong Arm of the Law needed anything, it was a little more time in the oven.

Apart from a few itinerant instances of repetition and self-quotation, I take no umbrage with songwriting. Like their stablemates Motörhead, Saxon is very faithful to their formula. For now. As such, you're served a bevy of tire-squealing speed metal assaults like 'To Hell and Back Again' and 'Heavy Metal Thunder' - a song written in response to complaints that Saxon wasn't a 'proper' heavy metal band. (Fun fact: It was such an issue at the time, they originally planned to call this album 'Heavy Metal Thunder'.) Searing double bass beats and bouncing riffs bolstered by beefy rock 'n' roll chords garnish these songs, making them Saxon's most celebrated mainstays for a reason.

Naturally if those tracks aren't to your speed, you're extensively catered to with a swath of addictive, blues-laden cruisers like the moseying title track, the severely overlooked 'Taking Your Chances', and the album's most infamous musical statement, 'Dallas 1 PM'. Their longest track to date, concerning the assassination of JFK, is a painstakingly paced ballad that even features an interlude that samples the real-life broadcasts of emergency services and news reporters. Although its effectiveness is profound, bordering on macabre, I believe it came at a price. Saxon, convinced they could be this noble and introspective on a regular basis, decided to pen more and more moody ballads until they eventually began replacing the teeth-clenching, fist-pumping speed metal sleaze altogether. Makes me wish Biff was visited by the Ghost of Christmas Future, who'd show him ghastly auguries of forgettable filler like 'America (Sailing Home)' and 'The Great White Buffalo'.

I wish ominous prognostication was the only thing this album was guilty of; Biff Byford is sounding pretty haggard here, likly the result of perpetual touring and recording two screamin' metal albums in effectively one summer. Add to that the first definitive stumble long-time producer Pete Hinton has, and Strong Arm of the Law is sounding like a particularly indigent demo. Pete Gill's drums sound much more hollow and pallid, and Paul Quinn's fabulous fretwork is sounding inexcusably damp. This is particularly noticeable in '20,000 Ft.', and also provides a decent example of how guitar solos sound disproportionately bright in comparison.

Strong Arm of the Law deserves the vast majority of its praise, and let the records show I do spin this album more times than my criticism would imply. 'Taking Your Chances' and 'Sixth Form Girls' are some of my all-time favorite Saxon songs, dripping with sleaze and unshakable catchiness. Even so, I'm afraid this album doesn't hold a candle to either album before or after it. Sadly, both the production and overall musical direction woes will serve as a forecast of things to come, with Saxon's slippery descent into commercial rock mediocrity enveloping almost the entire remainder of the 80's. But on the bright side, we still have one more incredible album to discuss before diving face-first into that steaming morass.

Heavy metal! - 92%

Anzuhan, November 4th, 2004

This is one of my most favourite heavy metal albums of all time beyond doubt. The album grabs your skull and bangs it with an iron fist and doesn't let go.

As I said before, the title track, er, kicks your ass, and really depicts the whole aspect of the album: heavy metal, swift and hard. . Great riff, intensive combined with Biff's vocals make it a truly amazing song. Probably the best track on the whole album.

To Hell And Back Again is a great song too. The chorus is great, and Biff shows again what a great singer he is.

Strong Arm Of The Law slows down a bit, but attacks with strong lyrics and a great solo, instead of fast riffing and drumming. Thumbs up! Taking Your Chances and 20,000 feet both have a great melody and vocals with amazing riffs. They both have choruses capable of blowing your head up.

Hungry Years, while being not so fast as the other songs, is great. A bit hard rockish though, but who cares? Once my friend said Saxon was about making AC/DC faster and adding a bit more balls to Bon Scott, perhaps he wasn't so wrong, was he? :-)

The two last songs are sweet too, although not as great as the other songs on the album. Still, without them, the album wouldn't be so great.

If you like heavy metal, heard Judas Priest and are eager to hear more good stuff from the UK -- get this. It's atleast worth a try!

Best NWOBHM release - 95%

Dethrone_Tyranny, September 22nd, 2003

Aside from Angel Witch's debute, this album is definetly the best NWOBHM release by far. Ahead of its time, the album deliveres non-stop heavy metal that would influence many speed/thrash acts later on in the 80s and even today. At this time in 1980, the only other bands that could even live up to this style were Motorhead and Judas Priest, but they had already been around a while by this year and this was Saxon's 3rd studio release barely. It's so surprising to me that more speed metal bands have not covered Saxon material, especially from this album, which without a doubt is their fastest up until the late 80s. The influence that this album had on Manowar's "death to false metal" image is undeniable, considering that Saxon went on tour with Black Sabbath in 1980 in support of this album, when Joey was part of the road crew for Black Sabbath. Just give a listen to the speed metal classic, "Heavy Metal Thunder", and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Heavy Metal Thunder - Who would have ever thought a song like this would have come out in 1980?? Total speed metal, and the first song to have ever used the term "heavy metal" in the song title. This is probably the best song on the album. Either this one, or....

To Hell And Back Again - ....this killer tune! Another speed metal number that was really ahead of its time. The riffage is fucking phenominal and if I had to choose 1 song from Saxon that was the most underrated, it would definatly be this one, without a doubt. The attitude and energy makes this one an instant classic.

Strong Arm Of The Law - Man, this chorus is is catchy as all fuck! I mean, the song itself is pretty average and mid-paced up until the chorus comes along, then it'll be playing in your head over...and over and over and over......and over.....

Taking Your Chances - God damn! The riffs here are fucking awesome, groovy as Hell but fast at the same time. Since there is really no amazing solo to be hear, nor catchy chorus, I'd have to say that the riffs are the only highlight, and by the way they sound, it's enough to rank this as one of Saxon's best songs. Actually, the solo towards the end kicks a lot of ass as well.

20,000 Feet - Total speed metal, with killers riffs and awesome verses sung by one of the best. The song is about flying in a jet airplane, so there are really cool sound effects at the end, which leads us right into...

Hungry Years - ...this bluesy number. Not being a huge fan of blues, I'll just go ahead and pass this song off as average. The entire song is blues based, from the riff rythm to the solo, making the overall song decent at the most, and the weakest point on the album.

Sixth Form Girls - Now this is a really fun song with catchy riffs and an incredibly catchy chorus. Oh yeah, the lyrics are really nice as well, just read the title of the song and you'll know why... ;)

Dallas 1PM - One of the heaviest songs on the album, and also one of Saxon's all time best songs, along with the first 2 tracks on here. The song itself is about the assassination of JFK, complete with sound effects such as a gun fireing, an ambulance and radio broadcasting of the tradgedy. Saxon was suppose to perform this one live when I saw them on tour, but didn't due to the 9/11 attacks. >:(

Metal down your throat!! - 85%

UltraBoris, August 25th, 2002

This has to be the greatest Saxon studio album. Sure they throw on a few rock moments, as opposed to all out metal moments, but even those manage to be quite great, sounding like a precursor to Accept, as opposed to something that survived the 70s and refused to die.

The first track... "Heavy Metal Thunder". Fuck yeah, this is heavy indeed. Great speed-metal riff that threatens to snap your spine quite a few times, combined with awesome soloing as well. My goodness this song just fucking owns. "To Hell and Back Again" is even faster, surprisingly!!! The riffs aren't quite as well formed, but here, Saxon has really got some good idea going. "Strong Arm of the Law" is a bit slower, but sounds like something Accept could've put out in1983-84, or so. Very much ahead of this time, this album is.

"Taking Your Chances" is more power-metal than anything else. The chorus is a bit boring, but the riffs underneath are good. That's what the previous two Saxon studio albums were kinda missing at times - well-defined riffage. It's certainly here.

"20,000 Ft." is more speed metal with a nice melodic main riff. "Hungry Years" is a bit slower, but as opposed to kinda rocking, it totally BLUDGEONS you. If it's not speed metal, it's power metal. "Sixth Form Girls" has silly lyrics, but the song is totally catchy. Then, "Dallas 1pm" is just fucking ominous - the way the riffs are set up, they completely hep the theme of the song develop.

So what we have here, folks, is a Saxon album that manages to hold one's attention from beginning to end, consistently. Something that only their live albums tend to do, their studio album managed to pull off. Very nice.