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Where were you in ’79 when the dam began to burst, did you check us out down at the local show? Yes, Biff we tried to climb the fence at the Balloch Rock Festival to see you, not quite secondary school kids taking our lives in our hands. The festival took place in the bear park, that’s right, a sort of drive through zoo, but only with bears. So we either jump the fence and land in the bear enclosure or land on a Scottish bouncer. My preference was to fight it out with the bear without the leather jacket and a degree in attitude adjustment.

But that opening line to Denim and Leather was a call to arms and one we heeded until 1985 and, being a fickle bunch with metal splitting a dozen ways, I sort of lost Saxon with the album released that year. Truth be told I had misgivings about the Crusader album the year before but it was 1985 that I stopped buying the album on the day of release. Strangely enough, the albums that were released up to Innocence is No Excuse were on my daily play list. I played the first five albums every week. I still consider Eagle to be one of the best live albums there is and, with the grooves so tightly packed on that album, I had to put coins on the arm of my record player to keep it in the groves as I had played the album to a smooth finish. Looking back in time Saxon had moved on and so had I, but I wanted them to stay exactly as they were solely for my nostalgia. Up close and live it was the big three for me: Saxon, Priest and Motorhead.

Whistle through time and I sort of sneak up on Saxon albums like watching a loved one do Karaoke. You want them to do well, but if they flop, you feel a shit-ton of embarrassment on their behalf. I’ve been a fool and avoided it but then the album Thunderbolt dropped through my mailbox like a…well…like a Thunderbolt. I pulled on the ear-cones and waited to bounce around an album looking for a hook that would transport me back to the glory days. I would take anything.

Hold on, this album is immense. It’s 47 minutes, if you’ve got the digital copy, of everything that Saxon is, has been and needs to be. All apart from one track that I just don’t get and that is Predator, but I’ll take that, just one track I’m not happy with out of twelve.

We slide into this album with Olympus Rising and it’s like a movie score all done in 90 seconds. It’s the curtain raiser, the teaser before we get the title track and Biff throwing us into Hades and the journey through the underworld. You would expect the title track to be an immense tour de force but Thunderbolt is better that that, with all the Saxon hallmarks of chugging riffs and break-out solos. At this stage I’d normally be asking Graham Oliver what he is doing, but nah, this is intense. The Secret of Flight is just as good. It’s Saxon story telling with melody and the non-stop grinding riffs. It’s what we know and it’s what we love. This is like the mythological version of 20,000ft! There’s a solo in this that will tear the paint from you walls, all underpinned with drumming from Glockler that accentuates every note as we dip into the almost prog tone of Nosferatu.

Tribute to Lemmy, this could go badly wrong, but They Played Rock and Roll is the best eulogy that anyone could give. Incredible that the Philthy kick drum style is so noticeable as is the riffing. This is a tribute to Motorhead, in the style of Motorhead, by a contemporary as worthy as the big man. I take my well-worn hat off to Biff and the posse at this point, sensational work, with a solo that fast Eddie would have given the thumbs up to. Immense. Plain and simple.

And on this album goes skipping Predator and a brief nod to Sons of Odin, which is like an extension of Nosferatu, but its Sniper that I think is going to set the stage alight. It reminds me of something from the Crusader album as its hard and heavy, no messing around metal. The solo, the solos, are all face melting.

A Wizard’s Tale is another Saxon story and its up there with The Secret of Flight. But its lost in memory as it butts up against the stand out track Speed Merchants. What year is this? Has Biff and the posse taken something like that movie Cocoon and we’ve all returned to our youth? This opens like Motorcycle Man and screams to us like its 1979 all over again. This is why pre-secondary school age kids climb bear proof fences in the attempt to see their metal gods. Best track on the album and a time capsule back to the denim and leather days. Track of the year so far, by anyone, anywhere, and by a mile. A tribute to the Roadcrew closes out the vinyl version but the digital pack includes a less polished reworking of Nosferatu.

I’m going through the Saxon discography and have ordered the last four albums as I need to get my relationship with the band back on an even keel. We never split up, but they’ve kept up their end of the bargain being a solid force in the NWOBHM and never dropping the mantle. Pick up this album and listen to Saxon as much as you can.

Review – Craig Grant