Saxon are one of the most famous and well-succeded bands from what is called New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Stablished in 1977, unlike their peers of NWOBHM, Saxon grew old with dignity. Saxon sold more than 15 million albums worldwide, and are still touring and making albums. Still led by longtime vocalist Biff Bifford and guitarist Paul Quinn, Saxon were the leading act in the early 1980s. Some say that they are better now than in the classic era. Not so sure of that, but their albums are still great, different, but still great.
Saxon are still one of the pioneers of bringing into Metal historical themes, from album covers to lyrics. During the “Crusader” era, Saxon used to perform with medieval costumes. Their hard, short, sharp, and hypnotic riffing influenced a lot of bands.
If Saxon’s career was a car race, I’d say they made kind of a recovery race because after a very well beginning in the early 1980s, they could sucessfully get over all the self-inflicted troubles in the late 1980s to finally get all the respect they deserve from the late 1990s on.
I divided Saxon’s discography in three: the classical years, the years of decay, the recovery race years, and the modern years.
The classical years
I call it classical years the albums from 1979’s debut “Saxon” to 1984’s “Crusader,” which in my viewpoint comprises perfectly the saxonic golden era. Those are the times of Saxon’s most popularity, and that defines best its unique sonority.
Saxon – 1979
Also called the Conan album, “Saxon” features a band in a learning process, their personality is there but still sparse and diffuse. “Saxon” wasn’t a commercial success. According to the band members, Carrere personnel weren’t able to deal with the heavy sound they were making. The highlight is the track “Rainbow Theme/Frozen Rainbow” a slow tempo piece full of heart which allows the guitars to fly free following the drums cadence. Saxon still play it.
Wheels Of Steel – 1980
The album that defines Saxon’s classic era. Hard, short, sharp, and hypnotic riffing are the motto for this effort. Biff is at his best, with his voice from clean to gritty in a second with his so personal timbring. The hard thing about “Wheels Of Steel” is to pick a highlight for that it is full of instant nine classics. From its simple and minimalist album cover to the motorcycle thematic, “Wheels Of Steel” itself deserved a mention on Heavy Meta Hall.
Strong Arm Of The Law – 1980
For sure 1980 was the Saxon year. “Wheels Of Steel” was still warm when “Strong Arm Of The Law” was released. Saxon didn’t slow down a bit the tempo. The opening track, “Heavy Metal Thunder,” is a blast, and maybe one of the fastest songs of the band, the following “To Hell And Back Again” is also a blast full of Biff’s heart and passion with Graham Oliver and Paul Quinn teaching us a lesson on guitar duo solos. This eight tracked album is also a very difficult one to list the best song. I’d rather say all.
Denim And Leather – 1981
The song “Denim And Leather” is for most one of Heavy Metal anthems of all times. Its simple but effective drumming call the shots to the heavy guitar riffing and to a thundering bassing. I’m not sure if Kiss’s Eric Carr hadn’t had “Denim And Leather” drumming in mind when he wrote the drum’s sonic dimension to “Creatures Of The Night.” Saxon still play most songs of this album. unfortunately, after “Denim And Leather,” Pete Gill left the band due to health issues – he injured his hand before the beginning of the tour. He would come and go for a few times later besides playing the drums for Motörhead.
Power & The Glory – 1983
After a long run of tours, Saxon took a year break from recording albums. Saxon’s comeback to studios had as a result the magnificent “Power & The Glory,” a mandatory album for any headbanger worldwide. With Nigel Glocker on the drums – Glocker is a more technical drummer than Pete Gill – Saxon music got a bit more refined. Before some hesitation, and mostly due to the special (d)effects of “Power & The Glory” official video – the song is fantastic but the video… – I decided on “The Eagle Has Landed” behalf, which is with no doubt my favorite Saxon’s song. Its cadenced drumming is as hypnotic as the strong guitar riffing. It couldn’t get any better. BTW, the art cover was signed by Hollywood film director Ridley Scott.
Crusader – 1984
I’ll ask your permission to get very emotional here. “Crusader” is the first Heavy Metal album I’ve ever listened to. To me THE saxonic masterpiece, though some people consider it overrated. As a matter of fact, more than 30 years later, I agree that “Crusader” sure features some of the commercialism that would guide the band for the rest of the 1980s, but still a masterpiece. Being the first album ever listened to has a very strong effect. The art cover was Paul R. Gregory’s. I’m not sure about that but I guess it was “Crusader” that kicked off the Heavy Metal tradition of bringing into album covers painted pictures. With “Crusader” Saxon’s golden era is over, and the decay years are about to come.
The years of decay
Years of decay go from 1985’s “Innocence Is No Excuse” to 1988’s “Destiny.” Those are the years that Saxon deluded by their crescent popularity, and their desire to reach more audiences, definitely decided to change their musical directions. To do so, the band changed their hearts for a more palatable sound to American FM stations. Looking back, it is now clear that it was such a blatant mistake, because they couldn’t conquer the pop audience, Saxon were still heavy to them; and they lost their hardcore fans due to the light Metal they were doing. We will never know if those directions were Saxon’s sole option or EMI’s. I believe they were both. The point is that Saxon, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Girlschool, Queenrÿche, and Savatage all took that path. All, except Def Leppard turned back after some years.
Innocense Is No Excuse – 1985
It’s Saxon’s first album specially conceived to hit the charts, and to play on American FM radios. Given the musical directions that Saxon were taking since “Power & The Glory,” “Innocense Is No Excuse” was a natural outcome. It’s not a bad album but to hardcore Saxon’s fans that were used to some raw and vibrant material, it was a pure deception, to say the least. It’s the last album with bassist Steve Dawson.
Rock The Nations – 1986
Not really a bad album, strictly speaking. There are some good songs in it, the title track for instance. It’s just too rock’n’roll to Metal fans. Things could get worst as we’ll see, but “Rock The Nations” were Saxon’s swan song. There are two ballads in “Rock The Nations,” and a lot of pianos. Do you know who played them? Elton John [!?!]. Yeah, you read right. Sir Elton John. With all due respect, it was too much. As Steve Dawson had left the band, Biff recorded all bass lines – btw, Biff is also a bassist.
Destiny – 1988
With this album Saxon hit rock bottom. One who thought “Innocense Is No Excuse” or “Rock The Nations” were the worst Saxon could do, were terribly wrong. “Destiny” is the album that features Saxon’s cover to Cristopher Cross’s “Ride Like The Wind.” Is there anything else to say?
The recovery race years
“The recovery race years” are comprised by 1991’s “Solid Ball Of Rock,” 1992’s “Forever Free,” 1994’s “Dogs Of War.” After the failure of “Destiny,” things couldn’t get any worst. Future got uncertain to the band after the dismissal from EMI, the public and gigs downfall. It seems that Saxon have waken up with those three albums, and began their recovery race. In my opinion, I’d say that they were recorded in a kind of automatic pilot, songs didn’t differ too much following a formula, not the good one from the golden days, but a better one. Two things are clear though: Saxon’s will to keep the control of their career, and the need to adapt their music to the new days.
Solid Ball Of Rock – 1991
Saxon have recovered their enthusiasm. The change jumps to the eyes. This eleven tracked album is the milestone to Saxon’s recovery race. Nibbs Carter, the new bassist, and who is allegedly the person responsible for the revival, wrote three songs. “Requiem (We Will Remember)” is a tribute song to all rock bands and musicians that ever influenced the band.
Forever Free – 1992
And the recovery race goes on. “Forever Free” is the album that features Saxon’s come back to bike and harder songs. “Forever Free” is a mix with the early 1980’s albums and the good songs from the decay era. Guitars got sharp again.
Dogs Of War – 1994
In my opinion the best of this phase. Still seems a hodgepodge from the golden years with the decay ones but the changing style is noticeable. Riffing is getting more chordly, the guitars rougher and down tuned. The highlight are the title track and “The Great White Buffalo” with its great riffing in ascending tempo. Graham Oliver, one of the founding members, was dismissed.
The modern years
From 1997’s “Unleash The Beast” until now. There are nine albums belonging to that phase. Saxon recovered their respect and audience, and reestablished themselves as headliners in big festivals as Wacken Open Air Festival. Concerning to the music, Saxon changed the songwriting to a more modern guitar and drums playing.
Unleash The Beast – 1997
The beginning of Saxon’s european and modern metal years, with no coincidence the first to feature Doug Scarratt as a replace to Graham Oliver. Though “Unleash The Beast” is still shy on its intent, the path was beginning to be paved firmly. The decay years songs are finally over.
Metalhead – 1999
“Metalhead” is the beginning of Saxon’s big festivals headlining. “Metalhead” leaves behind all the diffidence and modesty of its predecessor. It’s hard and strong as only Saxon can be. The good old times were back. They later became a regular fixture at Wacken Open Air Festival, and also headlined the first Bloodstock Festival in the UK. In 2001, they again headlined the Wacken Open Air Festival.
Killing Ground – 2001
Saxon began very well the new millennium reinventing themselves. “Killing Ground” is the staple of Saxon’s new phase. Some think of it as much european sounding but its power and glory (ops!) are amazing. “Killing Ground” is also a comeback to historical lyrics themes. Originally, it is a double cd; one “Killing Ground” songs, and the other classical themes with a modern recording.
Lionheart – 2004
Based on the life of Richard Lionheart, one of England’s most beloved kings, “Lionheart”restores Saxon’s mighty, and epical songwriting. Biff and the guys are back with harsh songs, stamped drumming, and everything else from Saxon best we missed all those years. The guitars needed a bit more power in the title track but that’s okay, we forgive you guys!
It’s told that Saxon should’ve headlined 2006’s Dubai Desert Rock Festival along with Megadeth, but before the band were due to play Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing had withdrawn the band’s permission to play the festival. It was rumored that the historical lyrics in Crusader were the reason for this.
The Inner Sanctum – 2007
In such a long discography and career, as Saxon’s, sometimes the band mixes their eras. That’s “The Inner Sanctum,” a blend among Saxon’s eras. “I’ve got to rock (To stay alive)”summons all. In my humble opinion, I guess that somebody messed up the post production due to the opaque sound of the guitars and the drums. A little more bright to them would have made “The Inner Sanctum” memorable. The reviews, though, were positive. It’s a good album, but as I said, it deserved a more accurate mixing and engineering. Imagine “Attila The Hun” better produced…
Into The Labyrinth – 2009
Saxon’s career was up again headlining festivals all around and receiving the well deserved tributes all around. UK had been lost but the mighty Saxon’s warriors were able to have conquered it again with Biff and Quinn in the lead. “Into The Labyrinth” is a bit more epic than “The Inner Sanctum,” and much better produced. Listen to “Batallions Of Steel” to check it out what I mean.
Call To Arms – 2011
“Call To Arms” is kind of well-deserved self-tribute. “Hammer Of The Gods” is a good opening track, but the best is to come next, “Back In 79” features that Doug Scarrat is very well-fitted to Saxon, and Nigel Glocker still pounds the drum as he please. The physical CD is also double with some songs from the classic Doninton Park show in 1980. Guitar riffs are more chordly, as a sign of the new Saxon era.
Sacrifice – 2013
“Sacrifice” is the guitar album. Paul and Doug are both very inspired with the killing riffs, licks and leads. Not my best, but still a good choice.
Battering Ram – 2015
The title track tell us all. Martial guitar riffing, Biff’s angry and harsh voice, thundering bass, and inspired drumming. Guitars tones are back to the “Crusader” era, I mean, the guys are making chords more with the A and D strings, which allows a thinner, but with more pleasant distortion, sound.
Well, that’s it but fear not, Saxon’s promised a new album this year.