Album review: SAXON – Decade Of The Eagle

SAXON - Decade Of The Eagle

BMG [Double CD/4 vinyl 180gm LPS Release date 17.11.17]

British metal legends Saxon, still going strong, released what is considered the first album of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal genre. Originally called Son Of A Bitch, the band formed when Sob (of the Free album, featuring guitarist Graham Oliver and bassist Steve Dawson) and Coast (guitarist Paul Quinn and bassist Biff Byford) came together. Changing their name to Saxon, and Biff dropping the bass, they released their eponymous debut in 1979.

Saxon’s sound has moved from punk tinged NWoBHM to classic British Metal, and in latter years has embraced power metal, rock’n’roll and even a tinge of prog metal.

Demon have done a wonderful job of the 1991-2009 albums, which includes some of my favourite Saxon material. On the eve of a reissue campaign of their first 10 years (hence the album’s title ‘Decade Of The Eagle’), we get a double CD highlighting the years 1979 to 1988 from BMG.

That debut is represented by four tracks, ‘Stallions Of The Highway’, ‘Big Teaser’ and ‘Backs To The Wall’ and ‘Militia Guard’. Fantastic tracks but a little rough and ready. It wasn’t until the second album ‘Wheels Of Steel’ that we got that classic sound, a genre defining album. The title track is so popular it’s becoming over played, but will forever have fans. ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ was equally enthusiastic, the title track (one of a couple tracks here), if a little stripped down.

‘Denim And Leather’ (my fave of the era), the title track was about the NWoBHM itself. It wasn’t well received in some quarters but it is still a classic.

With new drummer Nigel Glockler on board,’ Power And The Glory’ was another fantastic performance, but for me personally it is one of the weaker of the mid 80s. Better was ‘Crusader’, one of the bands best selling. A couple of songs like title here show the album’s best side. The NWoBHM sound was gone, a bit of polish.

A move to Parlophone and ‘Innocence Is No Excuse’, the last album with founding bassist Dawson. It’s one of the band’s most commercial albums but should not be overlooked. Just check out ‘Broken Heroes’ and ‘Rockin’ Again’ for some of Saxon’s best material.

‘Rock The Nations’ was a bit of a down turn, the band’s chemistry not working out. Although Paul Johnson was credited, Biff Byford played the bass parts on the album; the title track features some great guitar work and the single ‘Northern Lady’ features pianist Elton John.

This set finishes with the album ‘Destiny’, now with drummer Nigel Durham. It’s good, solid, commercial, but widely considered one of Saxon’s weakest. The cover of Christopher Cross’s ‘Ride Like The Wind’ is still a classic though.

While every band have those who swear by the early material only, but Saxon over and above every other rock and metal band have the quality and consistency of catalogue throughout their history to explore, and they do. That said, the first 10 years of Saxon’s career is to wonder and behold, and to be cherished too. This is a fine introduction and one does have to await the forthcoming repackages with anticipation that leaves a very warm glow. ****1/2

 Review by Joe Geesin

David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 1 August 2021 and includes the Top 10 albums at for that week and an interview with “metal queen” Lee Aaron.

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