Circulating their first demo in 1978, Saxon have maintained a release schedule in almost every one of the subsequent 40 years. And when was the last time they put a foot wrong? They had a slight identity crisis trying to break the US in the mid-80s, and doggedly battled sneers of irrelevance in the 90s grunge era, but since 1999’s Metalhead Biff Byford’s Barnsley institution haven’t faltered, dropping a sequence of increasingly heavy, consistently satisfying albums, progressing and maturing musically without forgetting the importance of directness and simplicity to their hard-wearing MO. Continuing the big-impact theme after 2015’s Battering Ram, Thunderbolt comes across even more gleefully like a 1950s schoolboy compendium of ripping yarns, full of joyous ditties about Greek gods, Vikings, aviation pioneers, snipers, wizards, vampires and racing cars (cue revving engine sounds). Motörhead also show up on They Played Rock And Roll, a touching, pitch-perfect homage to their old pals, Nigel Glockler channelling the spirit of Philthy-viaMikkey through his resolute hammerings. A further Lemmy-ish touch is evident on the song about roadies, Roadie’s Song (duh), although this weak closer doesn’t fare so well. Amon Amarth’s Johan Hegg guest-stars on unorthodox duet Predator, the contrast between Biff’s powerful, nut-squeezing pipes and Johan’s deathly gargle making for a quirky mismatch. Saxon have developed a knack for majestic, slow-burning epics, so Nosferatu and Sons Of Odin are brooding highlights, but on riff-driven headbangers Sniper, Speed Merchants and Thunderbolt you start wondering when these pensioners will ever run out of energy. Saxon were already about 10 years older than most of their contemporaries when NWOBHM ignited, yet somehow they continue putting out righteous neck-wreckers like Thunderbolt every couple of years.
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