Whatever possessed Saxon, in 2007, to allow Harvey Goldsmith to make them over on a reality TV show? It seems even more incongruous now that the answer to their rejuvenation, continued with this uncompromising 19th studio album, has come from within rather than from without. As the hard-bitten Biff Byford has insisted all along, Saxon are the true embodiment of British heavy metal.
As such, their popularity has drifted on the tides, as almost anything would over the course of so many years. The key to their survival remains a rugged indifference to such fates – however hard they might be on the mood and the finances. The few times in their career that they have bowed to fashion – 1988’s Destiny album and the Goldsmith fiasco – have troubled them most.
As the first riff from Hammer Of The Gods slices the air, any such nonsense is dispelled. Over the course of the next 50 minutes, Byford summons Viking hordes, the Lady of the Lake and the fires of hell, as well as beer, whiskey and bullets in that iron-throated roar.
Hammer Of The Gods, Mists Of Avalon and When Doomsday Comes are counterpointed by that other great Saxon trope, celebrations of Heavy Metal and its blue-collar roots.
Back In ’79, Surviving Against The Odds and Ballad Of The Working Man, for all of their heavy-plated riffing, are leant a genuine poignancy by Saxon’s advancing years. The title track, reprised at the end in a stirring orchestral version, combines both fantasy and fanfare to crown another strong record from a band of fine vintage.