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Saxon Heavy Metal Thunder

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Saturday, November 16, 2002 @ 9:45 AM

SPV Records

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I spent the majority of my life searching for a girl who knew who the hell Biff Byford was.

The only problem was that when I eventually found this goddess a couple of years ago, she came in the Earthly form of a meth addled three-time divorcee who was missing her left front tooth due to what I found out later was a domestic altercation with her second husband. The result was that as we sat there discussing a wide range of metal related topics, she kept referring to him as “Bith Bithord”. I guess it didn’t matter though because I knew that regardless of her pronunciation she was still very well acquainted with the fact that Byford is the lead singer of Saxon—one of the most important metal bands to come out of Britain during the eighties. Along with other groups like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Motorhead, Saxon played a brand of metal that—when at its best—was distinctly different than what was being produced in Los Angeles at the time. Heavy Metal Thunder is the type of retrospective Saxon collection that should reinforce or reintroduce the singular power of this group to any self-respecting metalhead old enough to know that bands like White Lion and Mr. Big were never really metal at all.

The biggest difference between British and American metal has always seemed to center around the lyrical content of the songs. Generalizations aside, most popular metal created in this country has seemed to concentrate on tits and ass whereas bands like Maiden and Saxon wrote from a different perspective about topics that weren’t as dominated by relationships and the female form. Disc one of this offering contains remakes of such classics as “Power and the Glory”, “Princess of the Night” and “Wheels of Steel”. Saxon’s remembrance of JFK, “Dallas 1PM” sounds just as profound and timely today as it did when it was released—it’s impact is only accentuated when placed along side such classic metal celebrations as “Denim and Leather” and “Never Surrender”. Although it’s true that these newer renditions may have better production than their predecessors, there are sure to be some die hard Saxon fans out there who believe that the original emotion and sound shouldn’t have been altered and released in any form. That being the case, the majority of metal fans will still find these re-recordings to be clear versions of old favorites with a live ‘in the studio’ feel to them that causes the tempo on some of the songs to be slightly faster, but even at that, the alteration in speed never detracts from the total listening experience. The thirteen songs selected for inclusion on the first disc aren’t exactly surprises, and that’s fine--what they add up to is a pretty fair representation of the band’s better material which is what you’d expect from a release of this nature.

Five of the six tracks on disc number two emanate from an “official” bootleg recorded during a show in San Antonio in 2002. The festivities begin with “Broken Heroes” which Biff dedicates to those who lost their lives in 9/11. The biggest problem with this song is that it’s probably one of their harder ones to pull off live because of the harmony in the vocals. It’s not that this is a bad rendition of the tune—it’s just that the band would have been better served to have placed this song on the first disc replacing this second disc slot with one of their live staples instead. In any case, the rest of the bootleg consists of “Dragon’s Lair”, “The Eagle Has Landed”, “20,000 FT.” and “Crusader”. The quality of the sound on this disc isn’t exactly top notch but the question then becomes whether or not the band and label are absolved from utilizing all the technological advances at their disposal because this offering is labeled a “bootleg”. That isn’t to say that this set sounds like the recorder was shoved up somebody’s ass or anything, but these five songs would definitely have been improved with a little more polishing. I know, I know, live albums that sound like they are total studio creations have a tendency to sound sterile and contrived, but in this case enhancing the audio and improving the clarity would have just made for a better recording. The flaws that exist on this disc are somewhat redeemed though by the sixth track “Killing Ground” which is an impressive performance captured on cd-rom and taken from their Wacken set in 2001.

Whether you know it or not, there are currently two versions of Saxon that exist. There is this one, led by Byford, and another one spearheaded by Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson which is called Oliver/Dawson Saxon. Are you fucking kidding me? Two Saxons? Nope. Well, now that we’ve got that out of the way, you’ve got to understand that Biff Byford really is Saxon. Period. There should be no controversy here. Granted, there are some people who are critical of this release and say that it is a blatant attempt to mark territory and lay claim to a catalogue of songs that metal fans all over the world hold dear. In truth, there could definitely be a case made for this school of thought since the Oliver/Dawson faction has already put out a live album featuring much of this same material, but even at that, I can’t picture any true Saxon fan ever being able to replace Byford in their hearts and ears. People can also talk all they want about inaccuracies in the liner notes and claim that they were rushed in an attempt to make this collection available by Christmas, but the saddest part about the controversy surrounding this release and the lineup changes is that yet another band’s legacy is in danger of being tarnished because of various squabbles among the musicians involved. I mean, I know better than anyone that things between people sometimes turn to shit---just as the Saxon we have grown to know and love have parted ways, I too eventually had to leave my fraggle toothed metal maven because I couldn’t handle the saliva tinged lisping anymore and the way that gap in her teeth felt on my dick when….uh, nevermind. What it comes down to is that Heavy Metal Thunder is a more than respectable set of Saxon classics that is a must for the casual fan who doesn’t own any of their previous material on disc---and even though this collection has it’s flaws, committed fans of the band should also find enough quality within to be able to justify the purchase.

Now, if you’ll excuse me---I’m on my way to locate a fan of Biff’s who still has all of her teeth….hmm, and big tits wouldn’t hurt either.

*** 1/2

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