This year brings a reissue of NWOBHM heroes Saxon’s “Heavy Metal Thunder”, initially released back in 2002 with the then current line-up re-recording a handful of their most iconic and best tunes from the early portion of their discography. Other than the initial shaking of the head at yet another Saxon release going by the name “Heavy Metal Thunder” (sharing its name with a live album, a DVD, and a split – other names are available fellas), this offers a great excuse to delve back into the output of one of the best and most underrated bands to ever do it.
The question of why a band would bother re-recording past glories always niggles (and re-issuing those re-recordings is even stranger), but on “Heavy Metal Thunder” it’s handled well. Biff Byford, more so than most singers of his era, has aged fantastically, his unique and instantly recognisable voice as powerful and if not more so than it was when his band first helped re-ignite the heavy metal flame. Production values are tasteful here, tone thick and hard-edged along with audible driving bass and a beefy drum sound. Ultimately the original recordings win out as originals tend to do and these re-recordings might not hold much worth on their own for many (even more so as a reissue, having been available for years). As a full-length experience however the first disc of “Heavy Metal Thunder” is frankly rather magnificent, a near flawless collection of some of the mightiest songs our genre has ever coughed up.
‘Princess of the Night’ shines as a clear contender for the best song they’ve ever written, a rapid fire riff as catchy as the chorus and its raucous midsection firing off in multiple hard-hitting directions. The pumping groove of ‘Strong Arm of the Law’, the harmonised guitar parts of ‘Power and the Glory’ and slower-burning tracks like ‘Crusader’ are largely infallible, while ‘Wheels of Steel’ is hands down one of the most badass songs ever written, overflowing with stomping power and machismo swagger. Then there’s the definitive anthem; it might have been lower key than the clattering vigour or breathless abandon of ‘The Trooper’ or ‘Breaking the Law’, but ‘Denim and Leather’ with its rallying call to arms refrain celebrating just what it means to be a metal fan at its core is just as much a part of the metal psyche.
The second disc of the initial 2002 release of “Heavy Metal Thunder”’s small collection of live material has been replaced here however by a much larger set taken from Saxon’s 2014 appearance at Bloodstock, the UK’s most prominent truly metal festival. This is what will be of note to long-time fans already aware of these now over a decade old re-recordings. It’s worth noting that while Saxon are one of the more consistent bands out there, since 2007’s “The Inner Sanctum” they’ve been somewhat reinvigorated and on an upwards trajectory with every album. Most recent album “Sacrifice” was essentially the best album they’ve laid down in three decades, and the live shows tell a similar story. “Sacrifice”’s title track marks the only new song in a set that honestly could have included more as they are just that strong (Biff’s wail as the song reaches conclusion is as blood-curling as Saxon get), and the rest is largely the same hits included on the first disc delivered with the enthusiasm and energy of a band half their age. As evident during the crowd sing-alongs during ‘747 (Strangers In the Night)’ the crowd lap it up, and it’s wonderful to hear this band on top of their game still.
It might be not all that noteworthy in the grand scheme of things, but this re-issue ultimately surpasses the initially released edition due to a far superior live disc, with both that and the studio material demonstrating a delicious show of strength from a band who get nowhere near as much credit as they deserve (you can hear their dependable, pounding gravitas in everyone from Sabaton to Grand Magus these days). Saxon are the absolute indomitable essence of heavy metal and we’ll take as many reminders of that as we can have.