Album review: SAXON – The Eagle Has Landed 40

SAXON - The Eagle Has Landed 40

Silver Lining (3CD, 5LP) [Release date 02.08.19]

With a massive parp of the trumpets, and deservedly so, Saxon are celebrating their 40th Anniversary. Along with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement, whose first LP was Saxon’s eponymous debut, there’s been a lot of great music; Samson, Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Girlschool, Praying Mantis to name just a few.

But Saxon, twin guitar classic metal, this is where it’s at. No-one has epitomised British heavy metal more, few have matched their consistency, on record and on stage, for the last 40 years. And since 2000 Saxon have been riding the crest of a wave.

The current line-up of founder members Biff Byford and Paul Quinn, guitarist Doug Scarratt, bassist Nibbs Carter and drummer Nigel Glocker, has been stable and rocking the world for some time. Since their NWoBHM roots, the band have gone FM friendly, rock’n’roll, power metal, back to trad metal, then in the mid 00s albums have utilised power metal to tie in prog metal, rock’n’roll, their punk influenced roots and symphonic. Then in 2018 Saxon released Thunderbolt, their heaviest album to date and most successful in many years.

This live set has much to celebrate, and it does so immaculately. Seriously. Even before you hit ‘play’ (or place the needle in the groove), the packaging alone is something to behold. A triple CD in a digipak with booklet, lovely for a start. Or then there’s the heavyweight vinyl, 5 LPs each in a sleeve with a different band member, a playing mat and a thick 12” book full of memorabilia and old press cuttings. Well worth the expense!

Celebrating 40 years with 40 tracks, songs are taken from across the career; well, the 80s, 00s and 10s, the 90s have been criminally overlooked. No fan favourite ‘Solid Ball Of Rock’ – a sackable offence surely?

That said, much of the tracks here show why Saxon are my favourite live band (and a favourite for many) – if for no other reason that Saxon have a broad catalogue and they have confidence in it. Tracks are played from across their career.

I was at each of the London shows from which tracks were taken here (I’ve only missed one London show in over 20 years) and in each case they’ve played 5 or 6 from the then current album. Since Killing Ground, confidence in themselves has increased and who can blame them? Equally, setlists vary, a whole lot more than most.

‘State Of Grace’ is a great opener, as there’s a few atmospheric bars before you are hit in the face by a sledgehammer. And as it leads into ‘Red Star Falling’, Biff introduces the song; he’s always one to talk to the audience, never shy, you know where you stand with this band. Another song with atmospheric moments.

Tracks like’ Demon Sweeney Todd’ mix high speed guitar work with chunky riffs, Scarratt and Quinn a solid pair with a lot of chemistry.

Plenty of new tracks and confidence in them, and rightfully so, there’s too many bands live in the past. But when older tracks like ‘Machine Gun’ are introduced, there’s a roar from the crowd. The more melodic ‘Rock’n’Roll Gypsy’ also goes down well, it also sounds good amongst the heavier more recent material, some good variation. There’s some very neat guitar work going on in the middle there too.

Nice to see rarer tracks like ‘Play It Loud’ get an airing too.

‘Princess Of The Night’ is another old classic, where the audience get a chance. You can almost hear Biff patrolling the stage like a lion does the Serengeti, yet managing the audience like a lion tamer, the man has class and one of the best front men around.

A very touching moment is bringing out ‘Fast’ Eddie Clark when recently supported by Fastway, to play ‘The Ace Of Spades’, raising a glass to Lemmy. I was lucky to meet Eddie after the show, that was an evening to remember. Motorhead and Saxon have history, about which Saxon recorded ‘They Played Rock’N’Rol’l, also featured here.

40 live Saxon tracks, new and old, recorded since 2007, what’s not to love? And the selection also means there’ll be tracks you may not have heard live before, rather than the usual setlist regurgitation (something Saxon never do). There will always be debate over set lists; I may be alone in wishing they’d drop Wheels Of Steel, but with such a strong catalogue you can’t bear grudges. Just please take note of the frown about ‘Solid Ball Of Rock’, ‘Dogs Of War’ or ‘Unleash The Beast’.

Live album of the year, and the forthcoming 40th Anniversary tour is going to be something to look forward to.

Saxon and their current label never fail to impress. *****

Review by Joe Geesin


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