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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Album Review: Saxon - Call to Arms

Saxon - Call to Arms
2011 Militia Guard Music/UDR/EMI
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

God bless Saxon. For a band once calling themselves Son of a Bitch, the dukes of decibel demolition are striking the lands with their 19th album. Likely nobody ever gave them that much of a chance back in the late seventies before Son of a Bitch switched to their time-honored moniker, Saxon. Still, here we are in 2011 and Saxon continues to survive with a couple of original members, Paul Quinn and the always stout Biff Byford. Call to Arms, Saxon's latest round of aural wreckage, shows a courageous wherewithal to stay true and thus becomes a mandatory grab if you're a power metal fiend.

Whether you've been paying attention or not, Saxon has been on quite a roll through the metal revival, officially starting with 2004's Lionheart, though most fans would give Saxon a mighty fist of approval for 1999's Metalhead. Still, Lionheart seemed to be the necessary oil to moving the re-affirmed juggernaut at full speed. Successive albums The Inner Sanctum and Into the Labyrinth showed the metal world Saxon still has the guts and the glory, while Call to Arms may yet become their proudest moment of the 2000s.

Some folks have been whispering Wheels of Steel and Crusader under their breaths whilst describing Call to Arms, and sure, there's cases to be made on the speedier selections such as "Hammer of the Gods" and "Afterburner." There's more to it than that. though. While Saxon turns a few knobs back to reduce some of the previous albums' beef, Call to Arms finds its groove on a charted throwback course while still maintaining a modern polish.

Saxon are sonic warriors on "Hammer of the Gods," "Chasing the Bullet" and "Call to Arms," making them nearly untouchable lords of loud. Yet they take a humble nod towards Thin Lizzy on "Ballad of the Working Man" on its verses and choruses before rocking the number with some wicked soloing. Thin Lizzy was always a working class rock 'n roll band, while Saxon might be the working class' metallic answer. Either way, "Ballad of the Working Man" is just as heroic for its stomping whiskey in the jar empathy as much Saxon's own will to prosper on "Surviving Against the Odds" and "Back in '79."

Maybe "Back in '79" and the two "Call to Arms" selections (the second appearing with orchestral supplementation) may be corny for modern audiences, yet metal has always had its teeth gnashed against a cob. Better the chewing come from the likes of the steel-jawed Saxon, who sells it better than most out there. When Biff Byford plies for you to show him your hands, you're not likely to argue with him. As one of the NWOBHM's eternal figureheads, Biff and Saxon take their roles seriously. "Back in '79" is a mean mutha autobiography of a band we should relish more than we do as a collective metal body.

Tempered by more recent ballads hailing little to no muckity muck such as "Mists of Avalon" on this album, we have long forgiven Saxon for the syrupy and limp noodled Rock the Nations and Destiny from 1986 and 1988 respectively. Saxon today has the system down pat and we're more than happy to oblige an occasional swerve into the slow, particularly when we get to rock out to "Chasing the Bullet," "No Rest for the Wicked," "Afterburner" and "Hammer of the Gods."

No reinventing the wheel of steel here, Saxon keeps the machine calibrated and moving past 3000 rpms. Call to Arms is a rocker and that's as apt a compliment as we can pay them.

Rating: ****


Seance said...

Saxon still going strong!

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Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Hails, Seance!