There’s an expression that Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor Ian hates: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Seriously, write it and he’ll cry. It is, however, one that can be applied to Saxon, as they rear their hairy heads once more. Still making a ruddy great noise after the best part of 40 years, the metal veterans have just released their 21st studio album. It draws from faithful fire n’ brimstone that’s served them well since the dawn of NWOBHM – and works all the better for it. The press release calls it a “hand-crafted, not-safe-for-children” album. Fairer words were n’er spoken.
Indeed, Battering Ram is broadly harder and nastier than previous LP *Sacrifice *(2013), as if to reaffirm their long-serving heavy metal goliath status. Yes some of the spark and bite circa *Wheels Of Steel *is gone, probably for good, but this is no half-arsed old-geezers-doggedly-carrying-on affair either. Quite the contrary, with tracks like The Devil’s Footprint (complete with stomach-punching riffery, and wonderfully ‘eeeeevil!’ spoken word intro) and* Queen Of Hearts *coming at you one after another, they have more skull-bashing oomph than a lot of bands half their age. Whilst still sounding like wizened NWOBHM statesmen.
Perhaps most appealingly, there’s a humoured twinkle in their eye – a galloping spring in their axe-shredding step. Similarly to fellow Brit metal stalwarts Iron Maiden and Venom, among others, Saxon are no ‘joke band’ but they’re never too chin-stroking either. Heavy metal is, surely, meant to be fun after all. Taken seriously, but fun too. So you get spoken word passages, Biff Byford howling like a man possessed, and songs like* Hard And Fast. *And, indeed, an album title like Battering Ram – it comes at you just like one.
Not that it’s a mindless meat fest, though. Considered, melodic solos intersperse the riffy power-chord beef, the likes of To The End provide pensive tone changes, and penultimate number *Kingdom Of The Cross *offers a poignant WWI tribute. All wrapped up with cries for “more wine!” and “more beer!” in Three Sheets To The Wind. Yeah, stick that in your sandwich and eat it. Nice.