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Saga: Silent Knight - Album Of The Week Club review

"Majestic!" says one reviewer, "dreadful!" says another. What's the truth about Saga's third album Silent Knight?

Saga: Silent Knight
(Image: © Polydor)
Saga - Silent Knight

(Image credit: Polydor)

Don't Be Late (Chapter 2)
What's It Gonna Be?
Time To Go
Compromise
(You've Got) Too Much To Lose (Chapter Seven)
Help Me Out
Someone Should
Careful Where You Step

As a band that had progressive elements naturally implanted into their music, the 1978 release of Saga's debut came amidst the war cries of punk. Yet they managed to survive the onslaught, often by adding a contemporary edge to their music. 

They may have been influenced by fellow Canadians Rush, but there were also hints of Helix or even Triumph that would become part of their sound, and they would go on to create some dazzling albums. 

By the time of their third album, Silent Knight, in 1980, Saga had managed to further define their sound and identity. There were elements of rock that hinted at the type of expansive pomp that Asia would later excel at recording. This was ambitious music that was still somehow restrained and avoided any long-winded superfluity.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in August 1980

  • Kaleidoscope - Siouxsie & the Banshees
  • Crimes of Passion - Pat Benatar
  • Alibi - America
  • Michael Schenker Group - Michael Schenker Group
  • Panorama - The Cars
  • Drama - Yes
  • No More Dirty Deals - Johnny Van Zant
  • Wild Cat - Tygers of Pan Tang
  • A - Jethro Tull
  • Doc at the Radar Station - Captain Beefheart
  • Neutronica - Donovan
  • One-Trick Pony - Paul Simon
  • Reach for the Sky - The Allman Brothers Band
  • Stand Up and Fight - Quartz
  • The Swing of Delight - Carlos Santana
  • Xanadu - Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra

What they said...

"Drawing inspiration from Rush, Genesis, and other '70s progressive rock artists, Saga distills their influences through fairly concise song structures that never sound too indulgent – sort of like what Asia was doing around the same time (but better). Still, there's plenty of evidence of the group's virtuosity here. Although Silent Knight sounds dated, and even a little quaint at times (due in part to the production), Saga would improve its sound and material immeasurably on the next couple of albums." (AllMusic)

"The labyrinthine song arrangements and creative instrumentation proved to be quite brilliant in their subtlety and polished execution, while Sadler’s vocal melodies etched their way into the listener’s skull, forging a permanent home in the memory banks like any of the best AOR songs of the period. This third album cemented a solid foundation for the band’s deserved success." (Prog Planet)

"Silent Knight is a sweeping testament to keyboard-based rock with clever time changes, atmospheric arrangements, neat keyboard arpeggios and solos, together with a crisp tight rhythm section. The album contains some of Saga's signature songs, such as the effortless and timeless quality of Don't Be Late together with the precision accuracy of Careful Where You Step and Too Much To Lose. Awesome songs to listen to on a high quality stereo system." (GloryDazeMusic)

What you said...

Jonathan Novajosky: Man oh man, what a cool album! That was a very basic but true to how I felt reaction when I finished Silent Knight. There's some great early 80s synths and other crazy sounds packed in here with amazing vocals and a touch of prog. Not too overbearing, but not overly simplistic to where it sounds outdated. 

This album just gave off a real serious and majestic feel to me, which I realise doesn't make much sense. From the rip roaring start of Compromise, to the beautiful piano parts in Time to Go or Careful Where You Step, I was enthralled by every song. I'm not too familiar with Asia outside of their big hits, so I can't speak to the possible comparison between them and Saga. I can, however, say that this album sounds unlike any other to me. Hopefully some of their other albums are similar to Silent Knight. 8/10

John Davidson: While I have heard of Saga in recent years, I wasn’t familiar with them in the 1980s .

Some initial observations: They are quite poppy and up-beat with a heavily keyboard driven sounds. That said there are some good guitar interludes and solos.

As a collection of songs they aren’t easily put into a genre.

There are elements of pomp rock (Magnum, Styx), early electro-pop (Sparks) and the gentle piano prog of Supertramp. It’s an odd mix but it is entertaining at times.

The vocals are the weakest aspect – the singer seems more intent on hitting the notes than imbuing the lyrics with meaning – with the result that it often sounds a bit pompous and overly articulate. He sounds like he is having most fun on the electro-pop numbers to be honest – Compromise probably being the best of them or Careful Where You Step.

As an album this is about as far from blues based heavy rock as one can imagine – to be honest it’s almost offensively chirpy and upbeat, but equally it is quite catchy at times and it isn’t a long album so it doesn’t outstay any welcomes.

Having persevered through a couple of listens it kind of reminds me of the New Romantic pop of early Duran Duran or Spandau Ballet, and those aren’t words I ever expected to write on a Classic Rock review.

Steve Torrens: I love this album, and it was my ‘in’ to the work of Saga.

We were lucky enough to live in Holland during 80-83, and I went to school in West Germany (as it was then). I’d just got into hard rock music a year before, and Saga were/are absolutely huge in Germany, which was lucky for me.

I remember seeing them do a live show on Rockpalast, and Don’t Be Late was the song that got me.

Saga are unique, and massively underrated.

Lance Ratcliffe: Sorry guys, but I found this album totally boring. Nothing caught me. Theatrical vocals I don't like, and musically it seemed a bit mish-mash. Dreadful. I am actually considering a big fat zero.

Carl Black: Completely new to me, both band and album. Very surprised with the sound. Very 80s pop both in vocal style and keyboards. I really struggled to hear any rock in there. A bit of guitar here and there but nothing solid. For me it had no guts and lacked in every department. 

I'd expect to see this in a long forgotten repeat of Top Of The Pops from the early 80s. Possibly with Legs & Co. dancing instead of a video. The only marks I'll be awarding is for the cover. It's a great piece of art that really got my imagination going. Hoping the songs would reflect cover. No chance of that.

Mike Knoop: My junior high school friends and I would refer to Saga as our third favourite Canadian prog rock band, after Rush and Triumph. Never mind that we didn't know if there were any other contenders or that all we knew by Saga were the MTV videos for On The Loose and Wind Him Up.

Silent Knight strikes me as more pomp pop than heavy prog, and I'm good with that. There is a strong current of theatricality in the music, especially in Michael Sadler's vocal delivery, which reminds me of both Queen's Freddie Mercury and Styx's Dennis DeYoung. The lyrics kinda wash over me at this point, but I'm entranced by the way Sadler sings them. And, of course, I'm always a sucker for stacked harmony vocals.

It's all effortlessly likeable. The quality musicianship really shines, particularly the interplay between guitarist Ian Crichton and keyboardist Jim Gilmour. This club is making it increasingly difficult for me to take a hard line on keyboards. I really like what Jim Gilmour is doing here. I guess I need to say goodbye to the anti-keyboard bias of my youth - although I reserve the right to flip flop if another Bon-Jovi or Europe album pops up.

Iain Macaulay: Wow. I can’t believe what I’m about to write. I really hated this, I’m afraid to say.

While the first track was promising, and set a good tone with the music and the groove and the feel, and great production... the voice came in and... oh wow.

So, I went through the rest of the tracks and... oh dear, oh dear! Lunchtime soft jazz with lots of finger pointing and insistent smiles. Really sorry to the people who do like it but this is not for me.

Chris Downie: There are few musical clichés both overused and derided in equal measures, than the term "cult band", but few bands epitomise this more than Canadian veterans Saga. Like their countrymen Triumph, they have often been unfavourably (unfairly so) compared with Rush, for no reason other than sharing a love of prog-rock and occasional penchant for the theatrical. In truth, all three forged their own paths and carved their own legacies, for which the music world is all the better.

That Saga have remained a cult band, despite career album sales around the 10 million mark, is perhaps a case of unfortunate timing, in that they were too young to have rode the original wave of progressive hard rock epitomised by Rush, Uriah Heep et al, yet by the time the 80's prog revival (spearheaded by Marillion, Pendragon, IQ and others) gathered momentum, they were already considered veterans.

There are several key distinguishing features in the music of Saga, not least the vocal delivery of Welsh-born Michael Sadler (equal parts Freddie Mercury and Peter Gabriel) which lends a theatrical narrative to their compositions. The interplay between the guitar and keys of Ian Crichton and Scottish-born Jimmy Gilmour is also a hugely effective partnership, which always retained a knack for melodic flair, all of which is underpinned by a flawless rhythm section.

Their third album Silent Knight is a watershed release, in that it bridges the gap between their promising early efforts and the platinum-selling successors World's Apart, Heads Or Tales and Behaviour

Opening with one of their finest ever recorded statements, the brilliant Don't Be Late (one of the 16 chapters in their multi-album Einstein-themed saga – the second side opens with Chapter 7) the album is bookended by another live favourite Careful Where You Step, but is a consistent effort throughout what is, at a mere 37 minutes, a very compact recording, with not a note wasted.

While they would go on to scale greater heights, both creatively and commercially (not least the aforementioned platinum classics, as well as later gems such as the conceptual Generation 13 and latter-day effort 20/20) Silent Knight is an early highlight from a career which has spanned over 40 years and thrives to this day, thanks to their dedicated cult following. 8/10.

Jeff Love I must admit until right here right now I had never heard of Saga much less this album. But my god, just hearing previews this music blew me away. To me it sounded very much like Styx and man I love me some Styx. I would defiantly not only buy that album but I would make my friends and loved ones listen to it again and again.

Nigel Lancashire" What exactly was it about Saga that didn’t catch the imagination? The musicianship is great, Michael Sadler’s vocals are soaring, the songs catch you quite quickly, but... I dunno, maybe it was their timing.

Silent Knight was their third album, in 1980, and it has all the sonic hallmarks that saw pomp rock bands like Queen and Styx reach worldwide success, the musical flourishes of Rush and Yes are there, the song sensibilities of a Supertramp are there too, but widespread success? Not so much. Saga were, I suspect, behind the times for their sound, pipped to the post constantly, and at a time when rock was getting tougher, not sweeter.

This is my first encounter with Silent Knight. I bought the follow-up album Worlds Apart on the strength of a review (and a healthy shop discount) at the time and loved it, with its great songs and fabulous production from Rupert Hine (a very recent loss, RIP) but then promptly forgot all about Saga again for years. And maybe that’s it too. 

Perhaps Saga just don’t inspire enough passion for the casual listener to become a fan. That’s a shame, because I really enjoyed Silent Knight. It’s a bright, uplifting listen (why was I unaware of Don't Be Late (Chapter Two) until now? What a great song!), musically as tight as a duck’s proverbial and well paced as a whole record.

I get why their guitar-light sound will turn many off, with the Jims’ (Crichton and Gilmour) playing so tightly meshed that keyboard and guitar are almost inseparable, but if so, that’s a shame, it’s fast, fluid playing on both their parts. It’s the same effect as Rush seemingly turning their backs on guitar rock after Moving Pictures, it was sort of a deal-breaker for many rockers, me included.

So. After living with Silent Knight this week, I’m buying a copy – and maybe, this time, I’ll delve deeper into Saga’s back catalogue. If I remember, that is.

Gary Claydon: Saga were always a band that I really shouldn't have liked. Their mix of pomp, prog-lite & AOR, often leaning to the poppier end of the scale, wouldn't usually be much to my taste. The vocalist sounds like he's auditioning for Phantom Of The Opera rather than fronting a rock band, the keyboards often swamp the guitar and the songwriting just feels a little too polite. And yet... there was just a bit of something about them that would grab my attention.

Silent Knight kinda summed them up for me at the time - a whole bunch of banality bookended by brilliance. Now, it's probably been well over 20 years since I sat and listened to this album and I was really looking forward to it. The excellent keyboard intro to Don't Be Late upped my anticipation but then a strange thing happened. 

Nothing happened. I'd always thought of this as one of their better tracks and I'd always enjoyed it but now... meh. Here was Michael Crawford, sorry, Sadler with his theatrical vocals and the layered keyboards swamping the guitar, which highlighted a problem I've always had with Saga. I've got nothing against keyboards or keyboard driven music but Ian Crichton is a very good guitarist and I've always thought his work should have been a bit more front & centre. Before I knew it the album was nearly done. 

The tracks came and went and I'd sorta lost interest. Actually, I was finding it pretty boring. And yet... along comes Careful Where You Step, the best thing Saga have ever done and still quite brilliant. Even that didn't quite redeem Silent Knight for me on this listening though. 

I must admit, I only played it through once (plus a run through of Images At Twilight) then tucked it back in it's sleeve, because it was like meeting an old acquaintance who you used to be friendly with but now realise that, although it was nice bumping into them again after such a long time, you don't actually have much in common any more.

Roland Bearne: Saga were really big in Europe, growing up in Luxembourg I was introduced to a Canadian band by German mates! They knew I was a total Rush fan and suggested I check them out. I got the Live album In Transit, still one of my favourite live records. 

At first they might seem an odd fit for a record collection which in teenage years was your typical Maiden, Motorhead, Def Leppard, ZZ Top and Motley rack but something about these guys just grabbed me. There's a purity about them. 

Sensational keyboards (Jim Gilmour playing two keyboards and pedals at the same time grabbed me as did Michael Sadler playing a drum kit hidden in a briefcase!) and really tasteful, judicious guitar. As an actor who has performed musical theatre, Michael Sadler's voice always felt very easy to listen to for me and in retrospect maybe there was a bridge between the theatrical and the Rock worlds in his delivery. 

I was absolutely on board until Heads Or Tales then sort of drifted off. Hearing this again after many years reminded me of just how brilliant that first run of albums was. A sumptuous, unique band whose albums never fail to soothe the spirit with their lush melodic pomp.

Final Score: 6.27⁄10 (83 votes cast, with a total score of 521)

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