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High Fructose Corn Sanctum - 68%

Tanuki, January 13th, 2018

So. Some sorry assemblage of smutty speed metal was sure to select the short straw as Lionheart's subsequent subject. Less of an album and more of a sacrificial lamb offered to a ravenous fanbase who had just finished gormandizing the 2004 masterpiece down to its last bit of gristle, The Inner Sanctum was predestined to be a quickly-digested disappointment. In the past I've judged some Saxon albums a bit harshly for the unpardonable sin of following (or even preceding) a much better album, so I'll attempt to judge The Inner Sanctum only by its own merits.

...In just a second. The year was 2007, and the fabled "return to form" album was becoming less of a rarity with each passing millisecond. One by one, veteran bands were having a shakeup and penning their "best album in X years" album. Mötley Crüe's Saints of Los Angeles, Megadeth's United Abominations, Helloween's Gambling with the Devil, no matter the genre, metal was rising from its ashes like a phoenix from the hood of a ram-air Firebird. Sadly, Saxon was early to the party again, having already commenced their furious return-to-form campaign ten years ago, too early for most people to care or even notice. Thus, by the time The Inner Sanctum waltzed in, there's an understandable air of complacency and a "been there, done that" template.

In a way, The Inner Sanctum is very similar to Judas Priest's Angel of Retribution, both in theory and practice. It appears to be a streamlined illustration of the band's paradigm, with just that tiny bit of emphasis on past-glory recital to keep old fans happy. The trouble is, it comes off too strong and ends up sounding like a complete self-parody. 'Need for Speed' and 'Empire Rising / Atila the Hun' still deserve inclusion in Saxon's ever-expanding roster of ballsout speed metal and historical epics, respectively, but with the caveat that they seem more like a caricature than their own entity.

Most drum rhythms define 'phoned in', which is somewhat justifiable as this is Glocker's first performance on a studio album in over ten years. What isn't understandable is how Quinn and Scarratt often take turns aimlessly whammying between verses, in lieu of any sort of memorable solo. The somnolent 'If I Was You' and fittingly-titled 'Going Nowhere Fast' are the worst examples of this. The oversimplified song structures and blatant instances of filler seem carried over from Metalhead or worse still, Dogs of War. Honestly, listen to 'I've Got to Rock (To Stay Alive)' and tell me that doesn't like an AC/DC tribute band warming up.

Despite my unpleasantries, there are of course high points to be enjoyed here. It's impossible to ignore 'Let Me Feel Your Power', a burly speed metal bruiser that sounds straight out of Motörhead's Inferno. And that's about one of the nicest compliments I can give to modern speed metal. This track is so searingly brilliant, in fact, that it would lend its title to a live album released nine years later. The opening track 'State of Grace' is another keeper; Saxon's trademark style of mystical, proggy NWOBHM is infused with modern power metal and makes for an engaging listen, even while breaking Saxon's unwritten law of no keyboards.

Subjective complaints aside, The Inner Sanctum is stymied by a subaqueous production and a notably brittle-sounding Biff. Not only is he less ambitious in his vocal lines, the timbre of his voice is missing a lot of the fullness possessed in earlier albums. Unfortunately I would recommend just about every 21st century Saxon album over this one, as I found it to be a bit meandering and unambitious for its inflated runtime. That said, you don't have much to lose by giving The Inner Sanctum a chance to prove me wrong.