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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Saxon

Into the Labyrinth

Review by Gary Hill

It’s been years since I’ve heard a new Saxon album. I have to admit there was a time when I had a turntable set up with a timer and had their Wheels of Steel album as my alarm clock. Well, I was in for a shock when I put this disc in. The first couple songs were nothing like what I expected from Saxon. In all honesty, those tracks feel like the band is not comfortable with these tracks either. It seems like they are trying to jump on some modern trends, but their heart isn’t in it. For my money, start the disc on track three and you’re in for a great ride. Saxon should stay true to themselves and their fans will stay true to them.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Battalions of Steel

Choral vocals and sound effects lead this off in a very epic metal approach. As the music joins and gradually rises you might think that this is a symphonic metal band rather than Saxon. The arrangement seems a bit clichéd and over the top. Still, when they launch out into the smoking riff that leads to the vocals you just can’t argue that it rocks out. I have to admit I haven’t heard a Saxon disc in a long time, but I had no idea they were doing this kind of epic metal these days. It seems a bit trite and overdone for them. Don’t get me wrong, they do it very well, but it’s not what I was expecting to lead off a Saxon album. This gets incredibly powerful before it ends. This also has some scorching guitar soloing.

Live to Rock
Keyboards starting off a Saxon song? This feels like Judas Priest’s Turbo album on the intro It shifts out to something a bit more typical of Saxon as it carries on. This is a pretty straightforward rocker and a good tune. They should have steered clear of the keyboards, though. I suppose I should say something about the generic title, but it’s Saxon – sometimes that’s par for the course with these guys. 
Demon Sweeny Todd
Keyboards and sound effects start this off, but it’s not as cheesy as the last couple introductions. There’s a verse in a dramatic balladic motif and then they storm in with the most incendiary riff we’ve heard so far. This is so strong it wipes away all the misgivings I’ve had so far. This is heavy metal – with all ten letters capitalized, underlined, bolded, in italics and with about twelve exclamation marks. This is every bit as frantic and ferocious as Judas Priest’s “Painkiller.”

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The Letter
There has always been a place in metal for ballads. When done right they can be dramatic and serve as a great counterbalance to the more crunchy stuff – and make it seem all the harder rocking. This is just a short one (less than a minute) but it’s moody and very powerful. It is essentially an introduction to the next number.
Valley of the Kings

Frantically fast and ferocious, this is essentially the same kind of epic metal as opened the disc, but without all the extra bits that made that cut “over the top.” This is powerful and massive. It’s got a great power metal texture and feels like it is of mythical proportions. Above all else, though, it’s heavy metal. The guitar solo section on this is dramatic and incredible. I can’t spend enough time telling you how impressive this extended solo is, the guitar work itself is awesome, but even the backing music is noteworthy and monstrous.

Slow Lane Blues
Now, this rough and ready rocker is more what I was expecting from Saxon. It might not have the epic power of much of the rest of the album, but it just plain rocks! You could consider this to be along the lines of Motorhead, but this is Saxon – make no mistake. 
Crime of Passion
More in keeping with the Saxon I knew and loved, this is mean – and I am not joking. The main riff is Saxon taken to 11. This is another scorcher and continues the trend of killer music. 
Premonition in D Minor
First off, I have to say that I love the idea of calling an introductory piece a “premonition.” That’s classy. This is a hard edged, screaming guitar solo that foreshadows the musical themes of the next track. 
Voice
A scorching rocker that alternates between hard edged and metal segments, this is another screamer and another that feels more like Saxon. There are quite a few different sections and motifs here and this is another great piece of music. It’s one of the more dynamic cuts on show. 
Protect Yourself
With another killer riff driving it, this is just the next one is a series of smoking hot cuts. 
Hellcat
And it’s yet another screamer. This is modern in terms of how heavy and seriously tasty it is, but it’s all Saxon. The guitar solo on this one is purely incendiary.
Come Rock of Ages (The Circle is Complete)
There’s a lot more of an ‘80’s metal vibe to this. It’s still a killer track, though – and a bit of a change of pace, while still feeling true to Saxon’s true steel.
Coming Home (Bottleneck)

A slide blues jam; this is a change from the rest of the disc. Unlike the early numbers, though, this feels like they deliver it with conviction. It’s definitely Saxon, but it also feels a bit like classic Nazareth. It’s a cool, albeit unexpected, way to end it in style.

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