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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. I went to bat for their inconsistent but fascinating debut, and I've extolled 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. So I'll take the liberty of being Odysseus, attempting to sail between these two opinions and sounding like a dumb, arrogant prick in the process.

Saxon released Strong Arm of the Law less than four months after Wheels of Steel. Since we live in a time when the most successful metal band releases three albums in fifteen years - one of which called Lulu - I'll give Saxon credit where it's due. 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.

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 that's to say nothing of the album's closer; the very cautiously paced 'Dallas 1 PM'; a track concerning the assassination of JFK. Saxon's longest track to date, it even features an interlude that samples the real-life broadcasts of emergency services and news reporters. Although the effectiveness is profound, bordering on gruesome, can we talk about the mood whiplash here? It's not that I don't appreciate 'Sixth Form Girls' describing the bejeaned arse 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.

And I wish slightly insensitive sequencing was the only thing inconsistent about this album. Biff's voice sounds simply haggard on this album - likely the result of endless touring and recording two shouty 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, while Paul Quinn's fabulous fretwork can sound somewhat 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 still has its moments. If you've been sneering throughout this entire review, let the records show I enjoy this album. I love 'To Hell and Back Again' and 'Sixth Form Girls', they're some of my all-time favorite Saxon songs. However, I can't help feeling Strong Arm of the Law seems a bit arbitrary, a pinch on the repetitive side, and hampered by a sub-par production. Sadly this will serve 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 delving into all that.