SAXON Hell, Fire & Damnation – Silver Lining Records
British legends Saxon return with their 24th studio album and it opens a new chapter in the band’s long and distinguished career. Diamond Head guitarist Brian Tatler, originally introduced as a live replacement for founder Paul Quinn who has retired from touring, now appears as a member of the band on this new outing. With him are founder vocalist Biff Byford, and long serving members Nibbs Carter (bass), Doug Scarratt (guitar) and Nigel Glockler (drums).
Never a bad album, but the band have been on a purple patch since 1991’s Solid Ball Of Rock. Although that album was a bit more rock’n’roll, they soon moved in a heavier power metal direction; Biff once told me that they’d influenced all these power metal bands and wanted to show them how it was done. Since 2000 they’ve dipped into their NWOBHM roots, prog metal and even symphonic metal, before returning to the heaviest of heavy power metal. Previous album Carpe Diem a case point, and producer Andy Sneap returns for this set.
The album opens with The Prophecy, narrated by Brian Blessed who sets the tone perfectly. Solid, menacing, and although he doesn’t go Prince Vultan, you can’t help feel an element of tongue in cheek. A perfect start. The excellent title track is a classic Saxon blast, Tatler adding his own touches (I can’t quite pinpoint it, a little drier perhaps?). The guitar work does stand out, and the variations of pace work well. Then a fine bass intro to Madame Guillotine, a song about Marie Antoinette. A mid paced more melodic number, a little bit of a departure.
Sheffield steel making is the subject of Fire And Steel, an uptempo number. Like several tracks, lyrically interesting and historic story telling to be applauded, but at times a touch of musical, certainly rhythmical monotony.
The effects in the intro to There’s Something At Rosewell reminiscent of Judas Priest’s Invader. A much covered topic, does what it says on the tin.
More interesting (musically) and immediately grabbing is Kubla Khan And The Merchant OF Venice, this one I’d love to see played live, some great work from both Doug and Brian here.
Pirates Of The Air one of a couple of tracks that starts well but doesn’t do enough to keep me, it’s rare that a Saxon song passes me by but it does happen (sadly).
Then 1066 with it’s obvious historic story, is a lovely song with a wonderful solo (that guitar part could have gone on for longer, make an 8 minute prog metal classic out of it, please) and mid-song change. Witches Of Salem again does what it says on the tin, and the motorcycle anthem Super Charger that closes the album, a wonderful listen but not tracks I’d return to as quickly as the title track.
Having spoken with Paul Quinn many times, how much missing him sill skew a fan’s view I don’t know, and it would be interesting to know how much of the album was written (or oven prepared) before Brian was confirmed as a studio replacement as well as live.
Lyrically on form (it sounds like it’s all Biff there), performance on form, some wonderful trad and classic British metal for the 2020s, given a fine, clean and heavy touch by the production, but some tracks come together a lot better than others. So a four out of five from me.
Joe Geesin | Now Spinning Magazine