I am on some streak at the moment, I tell you. Every release I am getting for review lately is a cracker, and before I even heard “Battering Ram”, Saxon‘s 21st album (wow), I knew that the chances of this one being the album to break this run of quality were low.
Saxon‘s recent output has been nothing short of incredible but this one is out of the park. Andy Sneap is at the production helm once again so that answers the ‘how good is the mix’ question straight away; bright, heavy, clear but not overly polished. Sounds like a heavy metal record should.
Opening with the title track is a masterstroke as it lets you know what you’re in for, not that there can be many listening that don’t know what Saxon deliver – straight up, unashamed, heavy metal. Saxon came up through the NWOBHM ranks and fast became one of its leading lights, although they have forever been in the shadow of fellow NWOBHM-ers Iron Maiden. Now, I am a huge fan of Maiden, but read this over a couple of times to help it marinade – this is a better album than the last three or four Maiden records. In fact, while we are at it “Battering Ram” is better than anything Judas Priest have done since “Painkiller”, and there have been some corkers in that 25 years. These might seem like pretty lofty statements to make but you can find out for yourself just by listening. I have been living with the record for the last few weeks and have listened many, many times because I wanted to make sure I was thinking straight before being as bold as I have been above.
Why is the record so good then? Well firstly, the songs aren’t overstaying their welcome here. There is no fat. If a song is five or six minutes long it is because it needs to be. If it is three or four minutes long, it is because it did everything it needed to in that time. The riffs are just so damn infectious while still being technical enough to be classic heavy metal. That also leads me on to mentioning the fantastic job that Saxon have done in making everything so wonderfully timeless. There is a traditional metal feel to everything here whilst not sounding like it is looking back and being purposefully ‘old’ sounding. In all honesty, this is the kind of metal record Trivium tried to make on their latest outing. They should have sat down with the Saxon lads when they were writing those songs to see how it is done.
Biff Byford‘s vocals are just fantastic; a man of his vintage has no business sounding this good. I am actually in awe with his voice. He must have some secret elixir that some witch in deepest, darkest Yorkshire has made for him. He sounds as good, if not better, than on the first few Saxon albums. Strong, controlled and not the slightest hint of strain shows and he doesn’t sit in a limited range either, in order to be safe.
What I really enjoy most about Saxon in general, and “Battering Ram” is no exception, are the guitar solos. So tasteful, stirring and never present without enhancing the song underneath.
My album of the year so far was fellow Yorkshire lads Paradise Lost and their incredible “The Plague Within” album but this has pipped it with not long to go.