Friday, 11 December 2015

Saxon's 'Battering Ram' - Album Review

Over the last few years, NWOBMH pioneers Saxon have been on fire. Since 2004's Lionheart, the band have released five more excellent albums of no-nonsense, solid heavy metal; the latest of which, Battering Ram, was released recently. The band's last album, 2013's Sacrifice (which I reviewed here), and 2011's Call to Arms were easily Saxon's best efforts since their early 1980s heyday, and have really helped to put the band back on the map. They have been on the road almost constantly ever since, and continue to maintain a large global fanbase. While Saxon will always be most well-known for the pair of albums they released in 1980, Wheels of Steel and Strong Arm of the Law, but the band's latest efforts have brought them into the modern era successfully, as they experiment with new production techniques and take influence from some newer bands. Like the band's other recent work, Battering Ram sounds enormous. The production, courtesy of Andy Sneap, is just fantastic. Sneap's style is loud and in-your-face, and this works really well for a balls-to-the-wall heavy metal band like Saxon. The guitars have a thick, meaty tone to them which works well throughout; and the drums are clear and clean, with plenty of punch on the kick drums. Although Saxon's current line-up is not their original, I feel that this current incarnation is easily the best in the band's history. Original members frontman Biff Byford and guitarist Paul Quinn lead the charge; while guitarist Doug Scarratt, bassist Nibbs Carter, and drummer Nigel Glockler round out the band; creating a unit which is one of the tightest and heaviest out there still playing traditional heavy metal. Battering Ram is probably a little more experimental than the majority of the band's more recent work. The pace is more varied here with some slower numbers, one of which could be described as a ballad, to sit alongside the fast metal anthems. There are also a couple of sections of spoken word throughout, performed by actor and musician David Bower (Hell), and some songs contain dense keyboard arrangements. At it's heart though, Battering Ram is another good classic-style Saxon album in a line of pretty stellar releases. While I do not think it is as strong as the previous two, there is still plenty to enjoy here. Fans of the band will probably already have bought it, but anyone who loves good traditional metal should also head out and buy a copy. Anyone who never liked Saxon in the past probably will not be swayed by this release.

The album gets going in great style with the blistering title track that has all the hallmarks of the band's recent output. After a slightly Iron Maiden-esque intro, a powerful riff takes over the verse steams on with Byford's instantly recognisable vocal talents. I think he is one of the few metal singers who actually sounds better with age. The lower voice he has now has far more power than in the band's early days, and I think this is one of the reasons Saxon have remained as good as they have throughout the years. A crunching chorus and an instrumental section that sees both guitarists take a turn to solo make this a very well rounded song, and as good as anything the band have put out of late. The Devil's Footprint opens with a rather melodramatic spoken word intro that sounds like something from a 1950s Hammer Horror film, but it works well to set the tone for the song, which is another pacy metal anthem. The opening riff is one of the album's best I think, and the groove that it creates with Glockler's slower drum beat give it real power. The song's pre-chorus is enhanced with haunting keyboards which gives the song an epic feel and backs up that horror film theme from the spoken intro. The thrashy bridge gives way to a blistering guitar solo from Scarratt that is backed up by some very fast Glockler drumming. This is one of the album's moments from probably my favourite song here. Queen of Hearts is a slower tune, but has some real grit with a ballsy riff and some doomy synths. The trademark Sneap meaty guitar tones really enhance the mood of the song, and the stop-start riffing leads to some great headbanging moments. It is not all heavy though, as an acoustic-led bridge gives the listener a break from the big riffs, but Carter's big bassline is still there to keep us in the mood. After that moody diversion, Destroyer comes back to kick the album back into action. It is quite an old-school style Saxon song with a very catchy riff, and big ringing power chords to compliment Byford's howling vocals. There is plenty of great guitar work throughout the song, with some dual riffing in places, a few great solos including a dual on near the end. This is a no-nonsense song, and it is very enjoyable. Hard and Fast, as the title suggests, is another fast metal tune similar to Destroyer. It is definitely the slightly poor relation however, as it is nowhere near as memorable of the former song. I am not saying the song is bad - it is still enjoyable in a simple headbanging way - it just lacks the real punch and killer melodies of the previous numbers here. There is another good guitar solo section though, where Quinn steals the limelight with some precision playing.

After some rather generic weather sound effects, the second half of the album gets going with Eye of the Storm which is a decent mid-paced rocker with some simple riffing that impresses throughout. The song's chorus is slightly clunky though, and lacks the power that you would expect from a Saxon chorus. This does bring the song down a few pegs, but the riffing still makes it enjoyable. The quality improves again significantly with the fast Stand Your Ground. This song sounds like it could have easily sat on Sacrifice, and fans of that album will love this song. Some great double bass drumming from Glockler gives the song real urgency as the two guitars lock in together to create a huge sound. A synthy mid-section comes in unexpectedly, and the song slows down with some droning keyboards and big power chords. I am not quite sure what the point of it is, but it works well and helps to keep the song sounding fresh - which is always good for a band that have been active for over four decades. The Iron Maiden-esque sound from earlier on returns somewhat during Top of the World. Some subtle dual guitar leads form the basis of the song, and a sharp verse riff brings to mind early Helloween. The Iron Maiden-style guitars also contain echoes of Thin Lizzy, and the song's chorus reminds me of this band somewhat. Those dual leads that sit comfortably in the background behind Byford's vocals could have come from one of their songs. Scarratt's guitar solo midway through is also impressive and full of melody. To the End is another more mid-paced number, with a riff that could have been on a late Sabbath album, which soon gives way to a 1980s style melodic verse with big guitar arpeggios that could have come from 1988's AOR-influenced Destiny. It is certainly a throw-back to the 1980s anyway, and is a far cry from the full-on metal that fills the majority of the rest of the album. It works well though, and helps to add a little diversity. Quinn adds a flowing, melodic solo towards the end that is also a departure from the speed-fests that are usually in Saxon songs. The album's final song, Kingdom of the Cross, is very different from the rest of the album. It is a true ballad, with spoken word verses from Bower and sung choruses from Byford. The combination works well, and the subject matter (World War I) is very poignant. Byford's slightly cracked, vulnerable vocals work well for the choruses. This is something very different for Saxon, and is comparable to Motörhead's 1916 in a way. It closes out the album well, despite some versions containing the uptempo and enjoyable bonus track Three Sheets to the Wind (The Drinking Song) as a bonus track. Overall, Battering Ram is another very solid album from Saxon that will please long-term fans, and anyone who likes good traditional metal. If you go in to this expecting Saxon, then I am sure you will enjoy!

The album was released on 16th October 2015 via UDR GmbH. Below is the band's promotional video for Battering Ram.

No comments:

Post a Comment