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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.