Saxon: Eagles And Dragons

‘Connoisseurs’ collection’ focuses on the metal veterans’ 1991-2009 albums.

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It’s a cruel trick of longevity that large chunks of veteran bands’ careers will inevitably be overlooked. So it is with Saxon, who are either celebrated for their early-80s triumphs, or congratulated for still making strong albums more than three decades later.

Although fairly obviously aimed at diehard fans, Eagles And Dragons shines a deserved light on the nine studio albums the band made between 1991 and 2009 – a period that began amid metal’s post-glam and pre-grunge commercial decline and which could easily have rendered old-school bands of Saxon’s stripe redundant.

But rather than give up the denim ghost, they focused on mainland Europe and humbly went about their business, starting with Solid Ball Of Rock, a sturdy if unremarkable return to the classic Saxon sound with just enough sonic modernity to keep things fresh. Forever Free, Dogs Of War and Unleash The Beast are all similarly enjoyable, despite a lack of timeless anthems, but from 1999’s Metalhead onwards Saxon hit a rich vein of great form that has propelled them forward to this day.

A heavier, darker record than most Saxon albums that preceded it, Metalhead made a bold statement about this band’s intention to give obsolescence the finger, while showcasing a renewed sharpness in the songwriting. Killing Ground (2001) was even better. Tracks such as Deeds Of Glory and a cover of King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King pointed to a broadening of horizons, while Rock Is Our Life and Coming Home reaffirmed a commitment to straightforward hard rock excellence.

Lionheart (2004) is simply the best album Saxon have ever made. It sounds glorious on vinyl, its heroic refrains, astute metallic crunch and air of bullish bombast every bit the equal of established classics like Wheels Of Steel.

Lionheart’s subsequent success and acclaim led to the comparably cocksure The Inner Sanctum in 2007 and Into The Labyrinth two years later: a brace of stirring and consistent additions to an already monumental catalogue. The latter opens with the almost comically grandiose Battalions Of Steel, one of Saxon’s greatest ever songs. “Hail to the heroes, stand to the last…” bellows Biff. Nicely summed up, mate.

FINAL VERDICT: 810

Classic Rock 221: Reissues