Saxon - The inner sanctum 3.5/5
1. State of grace
2. Need for speed
3. Let me feel your power
4. Red star falling
5. I've got to rock (to stay alive)
6. If I was you
7. Going nowhere fast
8. Ashes to ashes
9. Empire rising
10. Atila the Hun
Saxon are the definition of a band you can count on, lately anyway. After that ill-advised mid-period spent chasing the Def Leppard gravy train, the English veterans have made something of a miracle recovery, and since 1997's 'Unleash the beast' have been on a remarkably solid run of releases that now reaches number 5 with 'The inner sanctum'. Since forsaking the pursuit of commercial appeal, the band have taken considerable influence from the German power metal scene. Blending this with their classic NWOBHM beginnings Saxon have found a new style that essentially produces 3 types of song – the old-fashioned hard rockers and atmospheric epics they have always been known for, now joined by modern-sounding power metal tracks with a newfound sense of heaviness.
This last type of song is featured most prominently at the beginning of the CD, with the 2nd and 3rd songs, "Need for speed" and "Let me feel your power" among the heaviest songs Saxon have ever done. "Need for speed", in particular, lives up to its name with its almost speed metal riffing and aggressive drumming. This last aspect is one thing you will notice right from the outset and deserves special mention – Nigel Glockler is back, and he apparently wants everyone to know it, too. Returning after an absence of almost 10 years, the veteran turns in what may be the best drumming performance on any Saxon release to date. Variety and heaviness of this sort hasn't been heard from Glockler before - particularly on the faster numbers, and not least the end section of "Need for speed", which features what could almost be considered a blast beat.
While 'The inner sanctum' offers nothing new, even for Saxon themselves, it makes up for this, firstly, and most importantly, through the enjoyable nature of the songs, but also because the CD is the band's most consistent in some time. The preceding 3 efforts, 'Metalhead', 'Killing ground' and 'Lionheart' are all highly enjoyable CDs with serious stand-out tracks, but all suffer a few undeniable weaker moments along the way. 'The inner sanctum', conversely, perhaps offers fewer outright stunning songs, but of the 9 on display here there really isn't a thing to grumble about.
The middle of the CD goes in a more traditional direction, with a few mid-paced conventional metal/hard rock numbers that vary slightly in quality before the heaviness returns for the 8-minute closing track "Atila the Hun", a dark and aggressive epic. This sits somewhat at odds with the opening track, "State of grace", which focuses more on emotional atmosphere, helped greatly by an understated vocal performance from Biff Byford and sampled Gregorian chanting (in the style of Iron Maiden's mighty "Sign of the cross"), and the 2 bookend the CD with contrasting types of 'epic'.
When at its worst, for the want of a better word, 'The inner sanctum' is merely slightly unengaging, which is high praise indeed for a band in their 30th year of existence. For the most part, this CD is a highly enjoyable listen and definitely the overall best Saxon have recorded in some time. Their glory days are definitely behind them, but this is a band that, fashionable or not, still has plenty to offer the contemporary metal scene, and their continued efforts are to be appreciated. 'The inner sanctum' in all likelihood won't be topping any year end lists, but its place in or around this reviewer's top 10 probably won't be in any danger.
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