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The Inner Sanctum

Review by Mike Korn

By now, there's not much to say about Saxon that hasn't already been said..."the venerable British metalheads remain as solid as a rock,” "the band should have been as big as Priest and Maiden,” "these English rockers prove old school metal isn't dead,” so on and so forth, etc. etc., etc. All of which is of course true.

The band continues to refine itself more than 20 years after their first release. The Inner Sanctum is probably their most well-rounded record yet, containing graceful epic metal and bluesy crunchers in equal proportion. Charlie Bauerfind's production is extremely clean, which is kind of a two-edged sword. I definitely miss the gritty, sweaty vibe of Saxon's classic days, which seems to be missing from most of the metal scene these days. At the same time, The Inner Sanctum allows us to hear how musically advanced the band has become more than ever before. Cuts like "State of Grace" and "Attila the Hun" would have been beyond their reach in the era of Wheels of Steel and Strong Arm of the Law.

So once again, I must restate what has been said before: Saxon is pure British steel and there's nowhere better to sample it than right here.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 3 at

Track by Track Review
State of Grace
A sonorous Gregorian chant and very subdued playing start us off, but there is soon a gradual fade in of racing guitar and pounding drums. This cut has a very "regal" feeling to it and veteran Biff Byford's vocals are restrained throughout. This is a most unusual introduction to the album and showcases the more melodic, epic side of Saxon which has come to the fore in recent years. It's a heavy cut, but not "rowdy" or "vicious" at all.
Need For Speed
This is a bit more like the Saxon we've come to know through the years...a fast scorcher with aggressive riffing and drum work. Byford kicks things up a notch with his vocals and as always, the guitar soloing by Doug Scarrat and Paul Quinn is outstanding. They are definitely in the same league as Tipton and Downing or Smith and Murray.
Let Me Feel Your Power
This is even heavier and faster than "Need for Speed" and I wouldn't feel uncomfortable calling this a thrash tune. The thick power chords in the middle are as chunky as anything Saxon has done. This has got to be a killer live!
Red Star Falling
After the previous two rippers, the pace drops here with an epic semi-ballad recounting the fall of the Soviet Union and the East Block. I wouldn't put this quite on the level of "Shadows on the Wall" or "The Eagle Has Landed" but it is quite moving in parts and Byford shows a completely different side to his vocal skills. "Where were you when the Red flag burned? / The ashes scattered, the tables turned?"
I've Got To Rock (To Stay Alive)
Now this is like the classic Saxon from the glory days. There's that familiar chainsaw guitar sound I haven't heard since Denim and Leather and the riffing is more in the bluesy AC/DC mold. It's not every band that can go from "Red Star Falling" to a rocker like this. This is definitely a back to basics cut, complete with a bass/drum "slowdown".
If I Were You
This is not too far off the previous track in feeling. It's a little more tense, with an ominous undercurrent. The chorus is one of the album's catchiest. The lyrics seem to be condemning crime: "If I were you and you were me, would you live your life differently?"
Going Nowhere Fast
There's more ballsy blues to be found in this crunchy rocker. You can again detect that AC/DC type feel to the simple riffing that will get your head banging. Some killer oldschool guitar soloing puts the cherry on the top of this basic but effective cut.
Ashes to Ashes
This number mixes a huge epic chorus, complete with multi-tracked vocals, with some of the most straightforward and simple riffing on the album. The result is one of the album's most memorable cuts, combining the no-frills feel of classic Saxon with the more refined and melodic sound they've been aiming for the last few years. The "Ohh, ohhh, ohhh" groaning in the mid-section was something I could have done without, though.
Empire Rising
This sonorous instrumental serves as a fitting intro to the following epic and conjures up a feeling of ancient warriors marching to battle.
Attila the Hun
This sprawling number is the longest and likely the heaviest tune Saxon has ever performed and chronicles the infamous career of the "Storm from the East.” There's a bit of an Eastern feel to the tune, which is appropriate. This ranges from fast and furious to subdued and melodic and ends with an orgy of thick power riffing at mid-pace. It's the perfect capper to a fine record.
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