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I Fought the Law - 80%

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

My Saxon retrospective has been smooth-sailing thusfar, which is a relief, since this is only their third album. I went to bat for their capricious but fascinating debut, and I've dubbed Wheels of Steel as the best of their holy trinity. But now, I sail between the Scylla and the Charybdis. The Scylla is that many Saxon purists - not to mention "Biff" Byford himself - believe Strong Arm of the Law is their best. The Charybdis is, I don't. In fact, I think it's far and away the worst. So I guess that makes me Odysseus, attempting to sail between these two opinions and sounding like a prick in the process.

Saxon released Strong Arm of the Law less than four months after Wheels of Steel. Just think about that. We live in an age when the most successful metal band releases three albums in fifteen years - one of which called Lulu - and they're still praised to the moon when their most recent album doesn't completely suck. So I'll start by giving Saxon credit where it's due: Biff and the boys were dedicated, and they were on a mission. However, 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 have no issues with songwriting. Like their stablemates Motörhead, Saxon is very faithful to their formula. For now. You have your typical tire-squealing speed 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, that 'Heavy Metal Thunder' was originally set to be the album title. Suffice to say, their point was proven. Searing double bass beats, bouncing riffs, and beefy rock 'n' roll chords pepper both songs, making it one of the most celebrated Saxon 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 and the severely overlooked 'Taking Your Chances'. And that's to say nothing of the album's closer; the very cautiously paced 'Dallas 1 PM'. Their longest track to date, concerning the assassination of JFK, even features an interlude that samples the real-life broadcasts of emergency services and news reporters. Although the effectiveness is profound, bordering on macabre, it suffers from a bit of a mood whiplash. It's not that I don't appreciate 'Sixth Form Girls' describing the bejeaned ass of college girls. So too do I appreciate their noble and sympathetic outlook on a terrible tragedy in US history. But maybe not one straight after the other, perhaps.

I wish slightly insensitive sequencing was the only thing inconsistent about this album. Biff's voice is sounding pretty haggard here - likely the result of perpetual touring and recording two metal albums in effectively one summer. Add to that the first stumble long-time producer Pete Hinton has, and Strong Arm of the Law is sounding fairly anemic. Pete Gill's drums sound much more hollow and pallid, and Paul Quinn's fabulous fretwork I found a bit damp. This is particularly noticeable in '20,000 Ft.', and also provides a decent example of how guitar solos sound disproportionately bright in comparison.

But don't get me wrong, this album deserves the vast majority of its praise. If you've been sneering throughout this entire review, let the records show I like this album a lot. I love 'Taking Your Chances' and 'Sixth Form Girls', they're some of my all-time favorite Saxon songs. However, I can't help feeling like Strong Arm of the Law is a bit arbitrary, a pinch on the repetitive side, and hampered by a sub-par production. Sadly it serves as an augury of Saxon's trials and tribulations throughout the remainder of the 80's. But on the bright side, we still have one more incredible album to discuss before diving face-first into all that.