It seems to be becoming the norm to begin reviewing a new Saxon album by referring to the fact that they’ve spent the last fifteen years or so making decent albums that are just as valid as anything recorded during their so-called ‘classic’ period of the early 1980s, but the fact remains that there has been a consistently high level of quality throughout the Barnsley Big Teasers’ recent output and “Sacrifice” – their 20th studio album – not only follows that trend but successfully sets the bar a little bit higher than normal.
Since the release of the rock solid “Unleash the Beast” album back in 1997, each Saxon release has gotten harder, heavier and tighter, culminating in 2011’s excellent “Call to Arms” receiving rave reviews pretty much across the board and cementing Saxon’s reputation as one of this country’s best rock acts. However, “Sacrifice” threatens to make all of that praise look a little premature as this appears to be the album where Saxon have really upped the ante and delivered what could well be – sonically at least – the best album of their career.
No small praise but the moment the headbanging main riff to the title track kicks in you know you’re in for something special. Despite it being instantly recognisable as Saxon, the track displays all the energy and vitality of a band thirty years their junior and screams “METAL” – if it were a person, it would be leather-clad, throwing the horns and shoving it’s tongue in your face!
But it doesn’t end there, as new anthems such as ‘Warriors of the Road’, ‘Stand Up and Fight’ and ‘Guardians of the Tomb’ immediately embed themselves in your head, as if they’ve always been in there along with the band’s established crowd-pleasers. Singer Biff Byford’s voice is as strong as ever, leading the anthemic charge through most of the songs, but it’s the guitar work of Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt that lifts this album above anything from the band’s recent catalogue. Remember how energised and dynamic Megadeth sounded on “Endgame”? This is Saxon doing the same thing, with both guitarists riffing and soloing as if their lives depended on it, effortlessly locking in with each other and creating some of the best guitar harmonies that Iron Maiden never did. Drummer Nigel Glockler isn’t shy either, keeping it all locked in and tighter than a spandex codpiece.
It isn’t all full-speed ahead though, and when Saxon slow it down they’re just as effective, like on the mid-paced ‘Walking the Steel’ which stomps along on a heavy groove, breaking down into a gentle guitar break and then coming back at you for a final bash before fading out. The oddly-named ‘Standing in a Queue’ brings things to a close with Byford telling a story about that very British pastime of waiting around in an orderly fashion, and it’s all over. The ten tracks whizz by in a ball of energy that makes you want to put the damn thing on again as soon as it’s finished, and that is undoubtedly the aim as Saxon approach their 36th year of existence still making aggressive and catchy songs and proving why they are so beloved by metal fans. Long may their reign continue.