Monday, August 15, 2022

CD Odyssey Disc 1579: Saxon

This is my third Saxon review of 2022, which is what happens when you go crazy for a band and buy a bunch of their albums.

I even discovered some bonus Saxon content this week, when the other metal band I’m currently binging (Amon Amarth) featured them on their 2022 release with a song called “Saxons and Vikings”. As titles go, rather obvious. As songs go, rather awesome.

But let’s save that for when I review it and cast our minds back to 1985.

Disc 1579 is…. Innocence is No Excuse

Artist: Saxon

Year of Release: 1985

What’s up with the Cover?  Eve, post-decision.

How I Came To Know It: I grew up with Saxon. I used to borrow my brother’s records from time to time when he was out commercial fishing, and this was one of those.

How It Stacks Up: I have five Saxon albums. “Innocence is No Excuse” is the latest in terms of date of release, but how does it stack up? I like all my Saxon albums, and this one could be as high as #3 on a good day, or #5 on a bad one. Today it falls to #5, but I still love it.

Ratings: 3 stars

As Saxon aged into the mid-eighties their sound became a bit smoother and more polished. Make no mistake, however; “Innocence is No Excuse” may have some friendly melodic structure in here, but this is not the bro rock of Bon Jovi. This record is a classic example of eighties metal at its height, from one of the genre’s early greats.

Saxon’s favourite subject to rock out about is…rockin’ out. “Innocence…” is their seventh studio album, but they have still not tired of this topic, and while it sounds like a silly and obvious theme, few bands do it as well. If Cypress Hill is the band for songs about smokin’ dope, then Saxon is the band about rock ‘n’ roll.

The boys get the theme going early, with the opening track, “Rockin’ Again”. “Rockin’ Again” starts with some tinkling piano and you might be fooled into thinking you’re in for a romantic power ballad, but it isn’t long before Nigel Glockler’s drums come crashing down around you, followed by the bombast of the double guitar. Saxon’s sound is lean, lanky and muscular. It isn’t sludgy and dense like a lot of modern metal, but it will blow down the door all the same.

A few songs later on “Devil Rides Out”, Saxon drops a little femme fatale action on you, underscored by their two signature sounds. First, compelling rhythm guitar riffs that were built to bang your head and wake the dead. Second, the soaring vocals of Biff Byford, one of metal’s most enduring and compelling front men. Biff’s vocals are like the guitar sound – they’re anthemic and tough, without being too thick. Think that tall skinny kid from high school that no one messed with.

Later the boys mix the two themes with “Rock ‘N’ Roll Gipsy”. Here we have it all - rock and roll AND femme fatales! Glockler’s thumping drums, not one, but two killer guitar riffs, (one for the verse, a second for the chorus) and Biff singing his balls off. This song will make you want to play it louder. I did exactly this on the drive home today.

For all this, the best song on the record sees Saxon engaging in that other topic so popular among both metal bands and their fans of this era – history! Here we have an homage to all the soldiers who fall in wars for someone else’s cause. This tune has an orchestral quality, winding its tale of woe with a mid-tempo, deliberate intensity. On the chorus, where Biff and the boys sing “Where are they now?” and the guitar riff growls with defiance. The question has a tragic answer, but the guitar reassures you that the heroism of all those lost souls will not be denied.

My version of the album is a special CD re-release, and unfortunately the Soulless Record Execs have decided to once add a crapload of bonus content. On top of the tight 10-song collection we get seven more tracks, all loaded on the CD like some bloated leech trying to drain it of vitality. There are two good tracks in here, alongside five pointless demos. I could say more, but to so just encourages the Execs to do this again. Is it too much to ask that you put the Goddamned bonus material on a separate disc, people?

But I digress…

Rediscovering Saxon has been one of the most enjoyable experiences over the past year. Going into “Innocence is No Excuse” I was expecting to like “Broken Heroes” and beyond that I had low expectations. Instead I was blown away by the brilliant metallic joy of one of my oldest musical loves. I’m so emboldened by the positive experience I may even check out some later albums.

Best tracks: Rockin’ Again, Devil Rides Out, Rock ‘N’ Roll Gipsy, Broken Heroes

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