Album review: SAXON – Denim And Leather, Power And The Glory, Crusader (reissues)

SAXON - Crusader

BMG [Release date 25.05.18]

BMG continue with their Saxon reissue campaign and have produced fine editions of their fourth, fifth and sixth albums. And we can announce these the same week as the first three remasters (Saxon, Wheels Of Steel and Strong Arm Of The Law) all break into the UK Rock Top 40.

Here is proof of Saxon’s influence on the subsequent worldwide metal scene.

Saxon are currently touring their latest opus and heaviest album to day Thunderbolt, which has taken the world by storm. 39 years on from their debut. After all this time, they sound as good as they ever did.  Numerous top 40 albums and Top 20 singles and, the best part of 40 years later, they’re still attracting new fans.

Formed in the late 70s and originally called Son Of A Bitch, Yorkshire-formed Saxon were still riding high on the crest of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal with these 1981, ’83 and ’84 albums (1982’s live The Eagle Has Landed seems to have been omitted. Yes these albums have been reissued many times before, but they have been coming up 10 years out of print, and the packaging is pretty bloody good too.

1981’s Denim and Leather, the band’s fourth, was the last with the original line-up of vocalist Biff Byford, guitarists Paul Quinn and Graham Oliver, bassist Steve Dawson and drummer Pete Gill. Opener ‘Princess Of The Night’ (about a powerful steam train) is one of the band’s best known numbers, biggest singles and still a live staple. A catchy riff and a mean guitar solo. ‘Never Surrender’ follows perfectly, and the underplayed ‘Play It Loud’ has a great groove to it.

Lyrically the album draws from a Motorhead and Judas Priest influence, and also from personal experience. From the music itself, there’s also the band’s seminal Monsters Of Rock performance the previous year (‘And The Bands Played On’), and the 1980 North American tour (‘Midnight Rider’ –absolute monster of a riff – this one demands to be added to the playlist).

There’s many a critic labelled ‘Fire In The Sky’ (nuclear war) a weak song – but no, it’s a real blast in every sense. Then the title track tells of the start of the genre, and it remains a live favourite to this day.   ‘And The Bands Played On’, ‘Never Surrender’ and ‘Princess Of The Night’ – three singles show just how strong the album is.

This album is a personal favourite and many of the tracks surpass the much lauded and overplayed to the point of cliché Wheels Of Steel. The songwriting is spot on – the metal was fresh and alive and kicking, without taking themselves too seriously.

Bonuses include two single B-sides and some live tracks taken from the subsequent tour (with new drummer Nigel Glockler, Pete Gill pulling out at two days’ notice due to a hand injury). These extra tracks are welcome but the same as on the previous CD remaster.  ****1/2

Glocker would record the 1982 live set with the band (any reason why this hasn’t been remastered???), his studio debut would be 1983’s Power And The Glory. This a solid album with some tracks nodding to the power metal scene Saxon were a big influence on. ‘Nightmare’ was a solid single that has another great groove, and ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ was a monumental moment in history as well as for Saxon.

Some other tracks like ‘Redline’ stand out, but overall the album was lower in profile and standard compared to those immediately either side. The title track and ‘Nightmare’ were probably the best choices as singles.

The bonus tracks are where we hit an issue; the Kaley Studio 1982 demos are there as before and a welcome addition to the Saxon catalogue, and we also get two original outtakes of tracks not issued on the album.  Bonus. But (and yes there is a but). Two tracks previously issued, a Jeff Glixman version and a live single B-side are not included. A very basic error.  ***1/2

1984’s Crusader was one of Saxon’s mightiest albums, and the last for Carerre (the unauthorised Strong Arm Metal causing a band/label division). The opening intro and title track epitomise Saxon’s British Heavy Metal perfectly. By then the Saxon sound and song writing had moved on from the NWoBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) and, while some critics have labelled certain tracks cheesy, Saxon were unashamedly being Saxon.

It’s far from Saxon’s heaviest, but it’s big, bold, brash, and ballsy. ‘A Little Bit Of What You Fancy’ is a rocking classic, ‘Sailing To America’ shows diversification and range (especially the vocals) with a commercial edge. It was a great single choice, as was ‘Do It All For You’.

For the first time, a cover, the Sweet’s ‘Set Me Free’.  It works, well worthy of a listen. Some great extra tracks, including ‘Borderline’ and ‘Helter Skelter’ that didn’t make the album. Then some more Keley demos from 1983, and another big BUT.  Adding ‘Living For The Weekend’ has meant that one of the previously issued demos has been dropped.  ****1/2

Three classic albums that deserve (even demand) to be in any remotely respectable collection, metal or otherwise, the sound is fantastic and the packing (hard back cases with booklets that feature lyrics and loads of pics) is excellent.

The let downs (there are two and they’re both major to more than just a passing fan) – the lack of sleevenotes beyond a paragraph or two (they don’t need to be essays), and the cockup/omission of previously released bonus tracks. I might be a tad pedantic here, but I’ve known the band personally long enough to care about the minutiae.

With a few minor tweaks, how reissues should be done.

Review by Joe Geesin

Album review (Saxon, Wheels Of Steel, Strong Arm Of The Law – reissues)
Album review (10 Years Of Denim And Leather Live 1990/The CD Hoard – reissues)

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