Proving once again that they have absolutely no intention of drifting into cosy, nostalgic obsolescence, Saxon’s 20th studio album has arrived a little over 18 months after the last one, 2011’s Call To Arms, and it sounds very much like the kind of renewed statement of intent that bands of this vintage seldom bother with.
Eschewing the back-to-basics approach that ensured Call To Arms occasionally harked back to the glory days of Denim And Leather, Sacrifice is a strident and belligerent modern metal album, with plenty of the pummelling double kick drums, serrated-edge riffs and grandiose bluster that provided Saxon with their musical core during the late 90s and early 00s.
In fact, this is easily the heaviest record the Brits have made since Metalhead in 1999, a fact that becomes more than apparent within a few seconds of the clattering title track, wherein the sheer verve and aggression on display momentarily take Saxon into thrash territory.
Warriors Of The Road is another fast-paced blaze of melodic glory, with a faint hint of The Power And The Glory lurking in its exuberant blend of old- and new-school metallurgy. Similarly, the pounding Wheels Of Terror is as brutal as anything in the band’s vast catalogue, with a menacing central riff and sudden bursts of high-velocity riffing, all topped with some truly vicious but strongly melodic soloing. Guardians Of The Tomb is another hook-packed tough cookie, with strong echoes of 2004’s Lionheart (still Saxon’s finest album) and a predictably ageless and powerful Biff Byford vocal.
This is not just an eruption of brute force, though. Made In Belfast tips its hat to the banjos and fiddles of Irish folk while Biff tells the tale of hard-working dockers constructing ‘the greatest ships the world has ever seen’, atop a thudding, rhythmic undercarriage. Meanwhile, Night Of The Wolf takes things into macabre territory, with eerie choral trimmings and elegant acoustic guitars underpinning a tale of snarling beasts lurking in icy forests and, inevitably perhaps, ‘howling at the moon’.
The only downside to Sacrifice comes with robust hard rocker Standing In A Queue that appears to be about, erm, standing in a queue. If it’s meant to be a joke, it’s not very funny. If it’s serious, then we should expect Biff Byford to make an appearance on Grumpy Old Men in the near future. In all other respects, however, Sacrifice is yet another triumph for these indestructible veterans.