Like most ancient monuments, it’s the statistics that cause gasps of ‘wow’. Saxon, the band that put Barnsley on the map an incredible thirty-two years ago have just released their twenty-fourth album, their nineteenth studio effort.
Most bands would be happy with that but forget any thoughts of Biff Byford hanging up his denim and leather because Saxon just power on and on.
The ancient monument simile is a good one. Generation after generation gaze in wonder at structures that seem timeless and invincible. As a new wave of the new wave of British heavy metal reaches another renaissance, Saxon just keep on going.
This was never a band to just go through the motions and their commitment to the cause of heavy metal thunder is legendary. On the strength of Into The Labyrinth, they still have plenty more to hammer out.
Biff’s long standing fascination with history has resulted in some of the best ever heavy metal tracks. Like a long dead warrior from some medieval battle, he has brought us tracks such as “Crusader”, “Lionheart”, “Killing Ground”, “Attila The Hun”, “Warrior”, and many many more. Even relatively modern history doesn’t escape the Saxon treatment with the best example probably being “Dallas 1 p.m.”.
On Into The Labyrinth he gives us more images of bloodcurdling gore on “Battalions Of Steel”, some Victorian gothic horror with “Demon Sweeney Todd”, and goes way back to ancient Egypt on “Valley Of The Kings”. Visually imagery has always been the band's strength — that, and an undying lust for straight forward heavy metal thunder.
The power and glory of the band is present from the off. “Battalions of Steel” is a purely epic addition to the Saxon hall of fame. Next up, they get straight into the type of anthemic heavy metal that writes itself. “Live To Rock” is right up there with say, “Strong Arm Of The Law” or “Wheels Of Steel”.
‘I could have been a soldier, I could have been a teacher, could you see me as a preacher?” he sings showing that his voice has lost nothing over the years. In a weird way, yes, I could see Biff in his long black coat as some kind of preacher. Instead, he is a legend of heavy metal.
“Demon Sweeney Todd” almost has the paint peeling from the walls with gothic images of a London town of long ago, and an awesome power riff from the band. The line-up has stayed unchanged for many a crusade now, there’s Biff of course, the huge twin guitar attack of Paul Quinn, and Doug Scarratt, the irrepressible bass of Nibbs Carter, and Nigel Glockler’s power possessed drumming.
Those opening three tracks will quell any doubts that Saxon might be slowing down. “The Letter”, very briefly does just that, but suddenly those guitars kick in and we are off on another Saxon epic, “Valley Of The Kings”.
It is a magnificently overblown, grandiose, heavy metal track. Saxon at their finest. This is the subject matter that really inspires them, historic, epic, the stuff of legends, and it comes complete with a curse of a long dead Pharoah. I’ve just got to see this played live. It’s utterly stupendous.
There we have it, my need to see Saxon yet again is as strong as ever. Like the band, I will never grow out of it. A nicely grinding “Slow Lane Blues” has Biff falling victim to the Strong Arm Of The Law’s speed camera. “Crime Of Passion”, a frantic “Hellcat, and “Protect Yourselves”, maintain that driving energy.
“Premonition In D Minor” leads smoothly into the album’s highly effective power ballad, "Voice". “Come Rock Of Ages (The Circle Is Complete)” returns to straight forward metal territory with another Wacken Festival Anthem.
I guess after all those stats of earlier we can forgive a band a little diversion and certainly the bottle neck version of “Coming Home”, which originally appeared on the album Killing Ground back in 2001, provides it. Then again why not? It works.
Into The Labyrinth (SPV) answers anyone who insists on searching for a Saxon sell by date. Forget it, their Heavy Metal Thunder just won’t lie down and die. Thank God for that.
Visit Saxon's official website for news and information.