Review – Saxon: Battering Ram

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  • Bio: "Somewhere around South Yorkshire, UK there was a band that started life as SOB during 1976 with founder members Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson. This band joined forces with another local band, Coast, featuring Biff Byford on vocals and Paul Quinn on guitar." - Official Website
  • Label: UDR Music
  • Release Date: October 30th, 2015
  • Genre: Hard Rock, Heavy Metal
  • Website: Visit Website
  • Rating (out of 10):

The United Kingdom’s hard rock/NWOBHM legends Saxon are one of the most important figure heads within the style next to the likes of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. In all, the band has unleashed twenty full-length efforts since settling on this name (originally having formed as Condition back in 1970, then SOB in 1976, and finally as Son of a Bitch for a year starting in 1977), not to mention a plethora of other miscellaneous materials in the years to come. It’s now 2015, three years shy of the band’s fortieth anniversary as Saxon, and we’re given their latest studio album, Battering Ram. But is it the same level of quality long time fans have come to expect, or is it a step in the wrong direction so late in the group’s long-term career.

Much like the band’s most recent output, Battering Ram brings in their signature vintage heavy metal sound full of fantastical atmospheres against a solid, heavy sounding production. Thick riffs and bass chords are matched with a solid drum presence and mid-range clean singing approach, all of which are met with a decent amount of enthusiasm comparable between Hammerfall and Anthrax. There’s little that makes it all that unique sounding an effort in this day and age, but damn if it doesn’t still kick ass in that very Saxon way, all the while holding the most professional, take charge kind of attitude you’d find on recent Helloween and Grave Digger efforts. Those latter statements and comparisons reassure the listener right away that these legends haven’t forgotten how to write some solid material and raise a little hell in the process.

“Battering Ram” has the attitude of Judas Priest wrapped up in faster paced chugging riffs and layered vocals at times. This surrounds a slower, far more melodic chorus that later extends into an impressive guitar solo just after a fairly epic build up that utilizes the clean singing to reinforce the war theme through harmonies meant to represent an urge to bellow out a battle call. “Queen of Hearts”, however, is a bit of a departure. While much of the song carries itself as a traditional heavy metal performance, there’s a hint of progressive metal heading into the gloomy chorus, briefly channeling a Nevermore presence from time to time that works perfectly with the oppressive aura behind the music.

“Top of the World” is a far more melodic endeavor, and it works to create a truly inspiring, upbeat performance, even though the track itself is grounded in a darker tone. The tighter chords in short execution join the lower tones of the bass guitar, the instrument which really pushes this track along when the drums are simpler fills, leading to a chorus that feels rainy, yet empowering. This is largely thanks to the short bursts of energy felt at key moments during it, as well as the quickened pace the rest of the time behind the soothing clean singing that remains the same from start to finish.

Saxon

But heavy metal isn’t all that Saxon bring to the table this time around, nor should it be all you ever expect from them. “Stand Your Ground”, which is more of an anthem track with some lighter Motorhead-styled technicality in the riffs behind the main verses. It’s a nice touch that gives the song a bit of a rebellious undertone thanks to some punk influence. Then there’s “Three Sheets to the Wind”, which is a high energy feel good rock cut torn straight out of the seventies to mid-eighties that wraps up the album on a much more joyous note. It’s a fun track that the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd or Deep Purple would unleash on the radio back in the day to plenty of praise.

While Battering Ram as a whole is fantastic save for the audio samples on “Eye of the Storm”, there is one song that just doesn’t work out that well. “Kingdom of the Cross” is a dismal, battle-themed tale of medieval fantasy in the vein of a slow moving Manowar epic complete with harshened spoken word narration (which also appears on “The Devils Footprint” in an Iron Maiden “Number of the Beast” sort of way) and synth effects. While almost literally the polar opposite of “Top of the World”, and a track that should work out in theory, this one is done in by the sombre chorus. the nasal clean singing and guitar notes just sound incredibly unnatural, not to mention out of place.

And that is something that speaks volumes to Saxon as a band. The fact that they are approaching their forty year anniversary and still churn out a quality album like this, albeit one that can stick a little too close to traditional heavy metal structures at times after all these years, really just reaffirms why they’re still in existence and revered as one of the most important bands in the success of the NWOBHM movement back in the day. Saxon may have a storied past, but this new outing is just as refined as some of their most popular earlier releases, if not more so with how natural and professional it all sounds. If you’re new to this beast, Battering Ram is a great place to start exploring these legendary musicians.

Saxon

Digital review copy of this release provided by UDR Music
via Adrenaline PR.