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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Saxon

Unplugged and Strung Up + Heavy Metal Thunder

Review by Gary Hill

This double disc set is an unusual one. The first disc is new, but also old. It’s got mellower mixes of classic Saxon tunes. The second disc is a compilation from a few years back, with the opposite end of the spectrum, more powered up classic tunes. I think the set works quite well. Perhaps it would flowed a bit better if some of the more “different” tunes (the bluesy “Coming Home,” for instance) had been moved around to separate the songs that were a little too similar to each other. Still, this has some great Saxon. One thing you can usually count on with that band is killer vocal hooks and great guitar riffs. Both are present in abundance on both of these discs.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1: Unplugged and Strung Up
Stallions of the Highway
I love the guitar sounds on this tune. In fact, I love everything about this. It’s a screaming hot rocker that works really well.
Crusader
There are a lot of symphonic elements to this and at times it feels a bit like a progressive cut. Overall, though, it’s more of an epic metal jam. There are some keyboard sounds in the mix on this that seem a bit cheesy, but other than that, it’s another killer tune that works very well.
Battle Cry
In some ways this is sort of like a middle ground between those first two tracks. It’s harder rocking and doesn’t have those symphonic elements, but the themes here are more epic than those on the opener. Either way, it’s a real screamer. There is a mellower drop down this some slightly cheesy keyboard sounds, though.
The Eagle Has Landed
Here’s another epic metal kind of cut that leans towards progressive rock. This is a killer song. It’s powerful and manages to rock out while still having symphonic qualities. The guitar soloing is awesome and the vocal performance is a screamer.
Red Star Falling
Here we get a real powerhouse metal tune. This has that epic kind of vibe to it. It’s fairly slow moving and dramatic and rather theatrical. It’s also a real metal screamer. It’s another that leans towards progressive rock or at least progressive metal.
Broken Heroes
Another screaming hot Saxon tune, this isn’t a big change, but it’s very strong. These power-ballad turned soaring metallic tunes work so well when done by Saxon. It seems they are better at them than just about anyone else is.
Call to Arms
There are epic metal, almost progressive rock leanings here. This is sort of a power ballad. It’s also a great tune. It has a lot of symphonic elements built into it and is a theatrical piece in a lot of ways.
Militia Guard
An instrumental introduction with a definite martial element at play serves to start this. It really gives a completely different air to it than the song has. I almost wonder if they should have been two different songs. The song proper is a more mainstream rock tune that leans towards progressive rock and epic metal. It’s a cool tune, but not really a standout. It does lend some variety to the proceedings, though.
Forever Free
High energy this is more purely a fast paced metal tune. It’s a great change and a cool tune. It’s got some great guitar riffing and some catchy hooks.
Just Let Me Rock
To me this feels like a cross between AC/DC and Dio. There are definitely valid comparison to both acts on this slower, bluesy number. It’s a cool one and also lends some variety.
Frozen Rainbow
I absolutely love this ballad. It’s got some great acoustic guitar and some wonderful musical moments.
Iron Wheels
A live recording, acoustic guitar drives this one, too. This is evocative and powerful, even though it’s acoustic and fairly sedate.
Requiem
Here is another acoustic guitar based tune. It’s another evocative and poignant balladic piece.
Coming Home
A bluesy tune, this is another acoustic based number.
Disc 2: Heavy Metal Thunder
Heavy Metal Thunder
Frantic metal that reminds me of Judas Priest (in fact, the British Steel album comes to mind) is the basis for this. It’s a pretty cool tune.
Strong Arm of the Law
More of a metal take on a classic blues riff, this is a high energy, straightforward tune that’s very effective.
Power & the Glory
This is more of a power metal tune. It has a bit of an Iron Maiden vibe to it, but it’s all Saxon. The jam later makes me think of Judas Priest quite a bit. There’s some killer guitar soloing in the mix.
And the Bands Played On
Somehow this one is even more meaty than the previous couple songs. I love the riff that drives it and the metal tones here are just magical. It’s another screamer and a killer tune.
Crusader
This is another version of the tune heard on the other disc. To me, this one is more effective. It’s got more contrast between the mellower and more rocking sounds and it just feels more “metal” to me. Of course, whichever one you prefer, it’s a great song.
Dallas 1PM
Driving power metal makes up this cool tune. It’s another smoking hot piece. It drops back to a melodic movement over which a guitar solos. That section brings it back out with some soaring crunch. This is about the assassination of Kennedy.
Princess of the Night
The riff that opens this really reminds me of Iron Maiden. This is a good tune, but not all that special. It has some great guitar soloing, though.
Wheels of Steel
I've always loved this killer metal tune. To me this is Saxon. It’s kind of like a cross between AC/DC and Judas Priest and is a hook laden metallic track. The little repeated “ooh yeah” section on the closing movement, though, is a bit embarrassing and that section goes on too long.
747 (Strangers in the Night)
I love the riff driving this beast. It’s a really killer heavy metal tune with some great riffs and hooks. Even so, it does drop back to a more melodic, but still rocking, movement. That section reminds me quite a bit of UFO. That said, the whole song has a bit of a Scorpions vibe to it.
Motorcycle Man
Somehow this metal screamer makes me think of Deep Purple’s “Burn” quite a bit. It’s another classic Saxon tune, though and just plain rocks.
Never Surrender
A pretty straightforward metal anthem, this is not the most unique or original thing here, but it’s a powerhouse.
Denim & Leather
This metal grind is another scorcher.
Backs to the Wall
Raw, frantic metal is the order of business here. It’s a cool tune and a good way to end it.

 

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