Perhaps more than any other British band of their generation, Saxon embody the guts and determination it takes to survive in the dog-eat-dog world of the music biz. While Def Leppard sold out to America and Iron Maiden – through no small measure of grit and graft – had the momentum to carry them through the toughest of times, Saxon’s story has been the most touching tale of triumph and tragedy. From the far-off days of the NWOBHM to the brave, new and uncertain world of the 21st century, Yorkshire’s finest have soared, crashed, burned and risen again.
Their 20th studio album sees them on top form: lean, mean and continuing the stellar run that currently finds them more popular than ever. If anything, they yet again somehow sound re-invigorated. Inspired by a desire to be “raw, real and not be afraid to look back at the old classic material for inspiration”, Sacrifice is Saxon on steroids: all guns blazing, pedal to the metal, wheels on fire.
Powered by some punchy, power-laden production courtesy of frontman Biff Byford and the mixing skills of sound supremo Andy Sneap, it’s a fat-free, in-your-face affirmation of what great British metal is all about. With its scything riffs and metallic sheen, the title track makes for a hard-hitting introduction, a typically catchy tale of the God-appeasing excesses of Mesoamerican priesthoods. The weighty grind of Made In Belfast continues the historical theme while reigniting Biff’s endearing passion for iconic engineering feats of yesteryear, in this case the Titanic.
The band’s longstanding love of trains, planes and automobiles – and bikes, obviously – continues with the need-for-speed blast of Warriors Of The Road, a high-octane outing in the mould of Stallions Of The Highway and Motorcycle Man. There’s more mythistory and yet another catchy chorus in the taut yet tuneful Guardians Of The Tomb, there’s an ode to overcoming adversity in the spirited Stand Up And Fight, and even some post 9⁄11 musings in Walking The Steel, born of Biff’s ongoing fascination with a country that never truly took Saxon to its heart.
The razor-sharp Night Of The Wolf and chugging Wheels Of Terror – the spiritual successor to wartime vignettes such as Machine Gun and Fire In The Sky – keep the banner raised as the album’s second half draws to a close. The final track, Standing In A Queue, could only ever have been written by Saxon. Who else could transform a song about that most English of non-activities into the brand of fist-pumping, ‘coming home’ anthem that’s been a rock touchstone since, well, forever? Who else could make the mundane sound so damn metal?
Graced with outstanding guitar work, one of the best rhythm sections in the business and a vocalist who’s simply never sounded better, Sacrifice sees Saxon’s past, present and future smashed together in a blazing, blistering rollercoaster ride. Still eating lightning and shitting thunder, Saxon are heavy, Saxon are metal and Saxon are back again.