Holy heavy metal thunder! The new Saxon record absolutely kicks ass! Period. I mean no disrespect to Iron Maiden or their fantastic album; The Book of Souls, but this new record by Saxon gets my vote for metal record of the year thus far in 2015! Battering Ram is everything that a classic, heavy metal album should be. It’s heavy, it’s got outstanding vocals and drums, and it makes the listener involuntarily bang their head. If you can accomplish those three things as a metal group, you’ve got a solid record. When you add in the excellent songwriting on top of all of that, you’ve got an instant classic.
I’m new-ish to Saxon. I’m an Iron Maiden freak, though, so I’ve heard many, many interviews where Saxon is credited with being an early influence and so on. Of course I’m familiar with their anthems from the first six albums, but they were a band that had always eluded me when it came to seeing them live. That’s always the deciding factor for me in if I am really going to dig a band. They have to be able to replicate it or even exceed it live. That tells me if they’re authentic or not. Well, finally, the stars aligned and I was able to see these New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM in the metal world) pioneers in my home market this past spring. Saxon played the United States’ largest rock festival, Rock on the Range, while on tour with Judas Priest and they absolutely delivered in the live setting; prompting me directly to the merch tent to pick up some music and make myself even more familiar with the band’s newer material. I was so impressed by the music that when I heard about the pending release of Battering Ram that I needed to review it!
One thing that cannot be denied is Saxon’s loyalty to heavy metal. Denim and Leather isn’t just a song to them, it’s a way of life. The new record is their 21st studio album. All of this with little to no radio airplay in the pop obsessed United States. The band is currently made up of original vocalist Biff Byford and original guitarist Paul Quinn. Drummer Nigel Glockler first joined in 1981, bassist Nibbs Carter in 1988, and Doug Scarratt is the “newbie” in the group but he’s been playing guitar for them since 1996. It shows, too. The band is tight on this record. Byford’s voice is as strong as ever and in a metal band you expect flawless guitars and heavy riffs; which you get on this album, by the way. The drumming, though, is out of this world. Some metal drummers tend to just give you as much double-bass as they can and see who can do it the fastest. Glockler’s playing on this album, though, is superb and complete with fills that hold these tracks together.
The album’s title track kicks off the record in classic Saxon fashion. It showcases their classic sound, but it isn’t dated. It sounds fresh and relevant. Byford’s vocals are Dio-esque and he may just be the most underrated vocalist in the history of heavy metal.
The next song, The Devil’s Footprint, begins with a spooky, spoken intro. It almost has a Number of the Beast vibe, before tearing into a straight ahead metal gem. The guitar solos are genuinely NWOBHM to the core, keeping the listener’s attention solely on the task at hand. The haunting Queen of Hearts follows and is aided with choral elements to enhance it’s melancholy mood. The song could actually pass as a metal song from the 80’s, but once again it doesn’t sound dated. It’s highlighted by Byford’s screams that will make even the most devout Rob Halford enthusiast take note.
The next three tracks on the record are completely unapologetic in their heavy metal credentials. Starting with Destroyer, I found myself in one of those fits of uncontrollable headbanging that only a metal head can appreciate. If you listen to this kind of music, you know what I’m talking about. There are certain songs that just make you bang your head, and if you were looking for a slow down afterwards, you won’t get it. Hard and Fast comes at you like a legit battering ram. Saxon dabbles in thrash metal on the song’s verses and slows down slightly to deliver a purely metal chorus. Eye of the Storm follows with crashing thunder and provides more aggressive riffage and drums, but not the kind that mandates regular old head banging. Oh no, this song had my head and neck revolving in good old fashioned circular head banging. Again, if you don’t listen to heavy music, you probably think I’m crazy; but to those of you who do listen to metal, you’ll appreciate this song.
The rest of the record has some cool stuff going on too. Starting with Stand Your Ground and it’s straight ahead, punchy riff. The song flies by at a punk type tempo but it’s metal chops are never in question. There is a short time change that sounds like RUSH on steroids and really gives the track another layer of substance before leading back into the main riff. That’s followed up by Top of the World and that sees the band give off a power metal vibe that highlights their versatility and shows why they’ve influenced so many other bands in the metal community. Speaking of the metal community, the next track is one of those ones that every band with staying power writes. To The End is like a modern day, Denim and Leather and beckons to their loyal fans. It’s a shout out to the fans that have been there since the beginning and the ones they’ve gained along the way and beckons them to be with them forever.
One of my favorite tracks is the least “metal” one on the record. Kingdom of the Cross is actually very much a ballad. It has many spoken pieces in between verses that are quite poetic. The song remembers the very real sacrifice of the First World War, particularly the battlefields in the Flanders region of Belgium. The battles were especially devastating for Canadian forces who were the victims of the first chemical weapons attack at the hands of the German army. This was the motivation for the famous poem “In Flanders Fields” and was undoubtedly inspirational in the writing of this song.
The album’s “weakest” track is the bonus track: Three Sheets to the Wind. The album is pretty much flawless and this song isn’t bad. However, when it’s stacked up to the rest of the record, it sticks out as a bonus cut. The song is heavy and is about the group’s drinking escapades. It’s a metal song but with the type of blues influence that you’d expect from a band that you could sit down and have a cold one with. There ain’t no shame in that!
Support heavy metal! Buy this record now!