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Album Review : Saxon – ‘Hell, Fire and Damnation’

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Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM

Fast approaching their fiftieth anniversary, due in 2025, Saxon have been a mainstay of rock in this country, their unwavering devotion to flying the flag of Heavy Metal making them loved throughout the globe.

There’s little doubt that if they’d had stronger management in the early years of their career that they could have been another world conquering force alongside of peers Iron Maiden, not quite reaching the dizzying highs of Steve Harris’s outfit they still are a very big and influential name in the annals of high volume rock ‘n’ roll history and rightly so. Whilst Maiden went off into space, there’s always been a very down to earth, working man ethos about the band, their Barnsley roots keeping them anchored to their gritty, no-frills style.

Album twenty-four is a landmark release, the first not to feature Paul Quinn, his place taken by Diamond Head’s esteemed six stringer Brian Tatler. It works well, the guitarist’s chops blending perfectly with Doug Scarratt as the two stamp their mark here. Saxon albums have always been consistent, last year’s ‘Carpe Diem’ very highly lauded for the strength of its writing and performances, but ‘Hell, Fire and Damnation’ cranks things up a notch or two, the band on magnificently fiery form. How much of this is down to the freshness of this new pairing of Tatler and Scarratt is debateable but whichever way it’s looked at, this is without doubt their finest album in many years.

Imbued with the same energy and bristling rawness that made their first four albums classics, this sees the quintet team up with super producer/guitarist Andy Sneap for something that both manages to bring a thrilling vitality and a very modern and classy sonic delivery. Certainly, the layers are here, the quality of a band who’ve been around so long evident, but these have all been fine tuned by Sneap and Biff who have worked together here to produce ten tracks here that crackle with electricity. There’s power, glory, a little bombast and a whole load of titanic riffing here.

Short, opening track ‘The Prophecy’ features the booming voice of Brian “Gordon’s alive!” Blessed before tearing into the titular ‘Hell, Fire and Damnation’, a hard as nails rocker intent on crushing absolutely everything in its way. With its freight train drive, this is a huge number that will doubtless see A&E departments up and down the country crammed with denim and leather clad individuals suffering from whiplash.

Everything sounds big yet pinpoint accurate, the rapier cuts of the guitars finding and eviscerating their targets as Nibbs Carter’s bass and the drums of Nigel Glocker sound apocalyptical while Biff produces vocals that defy both age and nature. It’s an almost overwhelmingly thrilling start and the melody filled ‘Madame Guillotine’ presses the point further home, Byford dipping yet again into his love of history as the band roar, the solo scorching.

Whilst they’ve never been away, this sounds like a band reborn and hungry, the loss of old friend Quinn to the line-up making them push themselves harder than ever. With Diamond Head having shared many miles on the road down the years, Tatler has been the ideal replacement, his different style of playing giving an alternative feel to the music without entirely ripping up the rule book or that distinctive Saxon sound.

The shared heritage of both bands covers some of NWOBHM’s finest hours and in the love song to Sheffield that’s ‘Fire and Steel’, the echoes of those nascent times are loud and proud, the track burning with that burgeoning spark and passion.

Peppered throughout Saxon’s history there’s always been a great tradition of storytelling, and ‘There’s Something in Roswell’ follows in the footsteps of ‘Dallas One PM’ and ‘Princess of the Night’ in painting vivid pictures with words and music that draws the listener in, the otherworldly guitar tone adding an unusual and apt patina to the atmosphere. There’s a touch of Iron Maiden in the construction of the unwieldly titled ‘Kubla Khan and the Merchant of Venice’, the sense of  multi-part Prog Metal in its storied length as well as it’s name, the band firing on all cylinders and the breakdown section perfectly handled.

Saint Brian of Blessed makes a sneaky cameo at the start of ‘Pirates of the Airwaves’, his faint yell of “Saxon’s alive!” setting things up for this warm tribute to Radio Caroline et al that has the same shared experience ethos as ‘Denim and Leather’ some forty years before. ‘1066’ revels in a guitar interplay and structure that Scorpions have built their career on but all with that Barnsley magic sprinkled on it and ‘Witches of Salem’ is another historical romp that hits like a wrecking ball.

The album closes with the breathless rush of the aptly titles ‘Super Charger’, a raging slab of modern metal that proves they can still rock as hard and heavy as anyone else out there. An album to delight both young and old fans of the band, ‘Hell, Fire and Damnation’ shouts that Saxon have no intention in slowing down and that their roar is as loud and proud as ever. Metal album of the year? Absolutely.

Hell, Fire And Damnation
Track Listing:

  1. The Prophecy
  2. Hell, Fire And Damnation
  3. Madame Guillotine
  4. Fire And Steel
  5. There’s Something In Roswell
  6. Kubla Khan And The Merchant Of Venice
  7. Pirates Of The Airwaves
  8. 1066
  9. Witches Of Salem
  10. Super Charger

SAXON

BIFF BYFORD – Vocals
NIGEL GLOCKLER – Drums
DOUG SCARRATT – Guitar
BRIAN TATLER – Guitar
NIBBS CARTER – Bass

Follow Saxon on:

www.facebook.com/SaxonOfficial/
www.instagram.com/saxon.official
www.twitter.com/SaxonOfficial
www.youtube.com/PlanetSaxon
www.saxon747.com

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