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Saxon

Call To Arms

Review by Mike Korn

On their last album Into the Labyrinth, Saxon tried their hand at a very multi-faceted set that showed they could play many styles of metal and hard rock. At this point in their career, I wouldn't think there's anything left to prove, but that disc nevertheless was another fine notch in their belt. With Call To Arms, they've managed to better it significantly. This is still a hungry band.

Call To Arms runs the gamut from racing speed metal to catchy hard rock crunchers to an emotional ballad to melodic power metal, throwing in enough quirks to demonstrate they're not stuck in the past. That being said, Call To Arms feels like a more traditional Saxon album and the best tunes are ones that remind me of classics like Denim & Leather and Crusader. The production is probably the best I've ever heard on a Saxon disc and brings the talent of every member to the fore. It’s particularly true of the ageless Biff Byford, who definitely shows more range now than he ever did "back in '79.”

Needless to say, this is another essential album from one of Britain's greatest metal bands.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Hammer Of The Gods

This song is so crisp and full of energy, there's no better way to kick off an album. It's a fast and tuneful metal song about an invasion of blood-thirsty Vikings...an iconic metal subject! Byford sounds absolutely great on this brisk and speedy racer.

Back In '79

This song is indeed a trip back in time, as it is a kind of sequel to "Denim and Leather". It's a very crunchy, deliberately paced tune with simple riffs and a terrific sing-along chorus that invites the listener to "show me your hands.” It's really a kind of thank-you to the long-term metalheads who have supported Saxon since the early days. A perfect heavy metal anthem!

Surviving Against The Odds
Here's a quick and peppy metal number that reminds me of old Saxon tunes like "Backs Against The Wall" and "Street Fighting Gang.” It's got a tough but catchy sound, with a chorus that embeds itself into your brain. The lyrics are again autobiographical and relate the difficulties overcome on the way to stardom.
Mists of Avalon
In contrast to the grittiness of the last two cuts, this begins with an almost ethereal feeling before morphing into a very melodic power metal cut. In the last twelve years or so, Saxon has proven their worth with these fast, but very melodic, tunes. Some diehards may think this is kind of "poofy,” but the guitar soloing of Paul Quinn and Doug Scarrat is top notch and the tune is a real grower.
Call To Arms
This melancholy ballad relates the tale of soldiers called to war, very likely World War I. The chorus riff is real heavy but the song's emotion is transmitted by Byford’s vocals. The tune bears a strong resemblance thematically to Motorhead's "1916.”
Chasing The Bullet
If there's an average tune on the disc, this is it. It's quick and catchy, but just seems like Saxon by the numbers. It's not awful but definitely comes across as filler.
Afterburner

No mercy is granted here with this heavy duty blaster, the heaviest tune of the album by far. Close to thrash but not quite there yet, this is a short, sweet kick in the head.

When Doomsday Comes
This is an ominous mid-paced cut with a stalking, kind of progressive feel to it. The dark lyrics seem to reveal the dread of impending alien invasion, as Byford sings "resistance is futile, we've run out of options". The big surprise here is the perfectly placed synthesizer solo towards the end.
No Rest for the Wicked
The dark feeling continues with this song, which is marked by an exceedingly memorable chorus. Byford's whispers of the title while acoustic guitar plays are kind of creepy. It’s not the best track on the album, but an interesting one nonetheless.
Ballad of the Working Man
Saxon's ability to change gears is further proven here. This has an almost Thin Lizzy sound to some of the twin guitar work and the song is a rugged hard rocker celebrating the working class. You could almost see hard-working Brits having a pint down at the pub while this tune plays. Except for AC/DC, perhaps no metal band connects with its base as honestly as Saxon.
Call To Arms (Orchestral Version)
The title track is reprised here, but reworked in a way that gives it a stirring, soundtrack-like feel. The loud guitars are still there but boosted by lush strings and other symphonic instruments. I may even like this better than the regular version.
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