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Saxon The Inner Sanctum

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Tuesday, April 24, 2007 @ 10:19 AM


On SPV

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Since emerging at the forefront of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal a quarter-century ago, Saxon have proven themselves a remarkably consistent, dependable act. With a few exceptions — notably 1985’s tepid Innocence Is No Excuse or 1988’s Destiny with its friggin’ Christopher Cross cover. Oy!— the quintet have delivered the metal goods time and again despite a host of line-up changes, legal battles with former members over the band’s name, the forever fickle market for metal and setbacks that included frontman Biff Byford’s house burning down.

And every so often — as with 1980’s landmark Wheels of Steel or the more recent Metalhead — everything really seems to click for the band and they produce a genuine classic. Saxon’s latest, The Inner Sanctum, their 17th overall, is one such album.

With drummer Nigel Glocker back in the fold, again, three-fifths of Saxon’s mid-80s heyday line-up — with Byford and guitarist Paul Quinn — is together again and the band is rocking as hard as they did back in the day. That’s not to say The Inner Sanctum is a mere throwback album, it just has the energy and spark that made Saxon such a force from, say, 1980-84.

The Inner Sanctum is loose, lively and ballsy as hell, powered by Glocker’s stampeding backbeats and Quinn and Doug Scarratt’s ample, beefy hooks. It opens with the rousing “State of Grace,” then accelerates, fittingly, with “Need for Speed” and “Let Me Feel Your Power” that border on speed metal as Glocker works double-time on the kick drums.

After a politically tinged ballad, “Red Star Falling,” provides a bit of a breather, Saxon kicks things up again with a series of crunching anthems that will certainly have a familiar ring to them, but still seem fresh in part thanks to Charlie (Hammerfall, Blind Guardian) Bauerfiend’s crisp, contemporary production and Byford’s booming, passionate vocals. “I’ve got to rock, to stay alive” would sound pretty trite coming from just about anyone else, but for white-maned, 50+ year-old Byford, it seems pretty genuine. “I’ve Got To Rock” and the surging “If I Was You” will no doubt be popular sing-alongs on this summer’s festival circuit in Europe, where the band are a fixture.

Saxon are one of the few bands that, for better or worse, have been “keeping it real” long after most of their NWOBH scene-mates have either disappeared or re-emerged years later as shadows of their former selves (take Diamond Head, for instance). And like Iron Maiden and Motorhead, Saxon sound like they still have plenty left in the tank, if The Inner Sanctum is any indication.

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