First Impressions: Saxon — The Complete Albums

Saxon, you say? Hoary old NWOBHM stalwarts from the early 80s? They're not still going, surely? Well, yeah. Of course they are. They released their 20th studio album, Sacrifice, in 2013. It was really good, thanks for asking.

So since this is The Complete Albums, I can expect the box set to include at least 20 albums and weigh roughly the same as a small Toyota.

Not as such. This is the complete albums as released by EMI, covering the band’s first decade as hard rock saviours, Top Of The Pops regulars and a kind of earthy, unpretentious alternative to Iron Maiden and Def Leppard. Everything from the band’s self-titled debut through to 1980’s somewhat controversial Destiny, plus 1982’s rightly revered live album The Eagle Has Landed, so that’s ten discs in all. Several of these albums are stone cold classics, as any righteous metalhead will tell you.

Does that mean that some of the albums are rubbish, then?

Not exactly. The debut is a little patchy, certainly. But then Saxon really hit their stride and released both Wheels Of Steel and Strong Arm Of The Law in the same year (1980). Both albums bulge with platinum-plated anthems: Wheels Of Steel, Motorcycle Man, 747 (Strangers In The Night), Heavy Metal Thunder, Strong Arm Of The Law, and Dallas 1PM. You can’t really argue with the quality and subsequent longevity of songs like that, can you?

Not really, no.

And then there’s Denim And Leather from 1981: another triumph for meat’n’potatoes magnificence that kicks off with Princess Of The Night and ends with the mighty Denim And Leather itself. Combined, those three albums are a treasure trove of ageless brilliance, as Biff Byford would doubtless be happy to tell you himself. The Eagle Has Landed captures that whole era wonderfully, too, not least due to the arrival of Nigel Glocker; most fans’ choice as /the/ Saxon drummer.

Okay, that’s enough frothing hyperbole. Call me a cynic but I’m getting the impression that the quality of this box set doesn’t hold up so well after The Eagle Has Landed.

Well, both The Power And The Glory and Crusader are fine albums, even if they didn’t spawn quite so many set list staples for the indestructible Saxon boys. There has never been and will never be any need for anyone to listen to 1985’s Innocence Is No Excuse, however. An ill-fated attempt to gatecrash the US market, it would have been passable had Saxon not tried to replace their disarming grittiness with lashings of radio-friendly production gloss and gallons of hairspray. 1986’s Rock The Nations was a vast improvement, not least due to a guest appearance by Elton John on the cheery Party ‘Til You Puke, and while Destiny seemed to superficially echo the mistakes made on Innocence Is No Excuse, it did have better songs and a less embarrassing album cover.

That’s comforting. So did Saxon ever return to the greatness of their earlier albums?

They certainly fucking did, sunshine. Check out Lionheart from 2004 or last year’s Sacrifice for evidence that Saxon are as thunderously enjoyable as they’ve ever been. But if you’re a complete newbie, The Complete Albums is an exemplary place to begin your Biff-centric journey. Enjoy.[](

Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.