Saxon - Call to arms 4/5

Reviewed: 11-1-11


1. Hammer of the gods
2. Back in '79
3. Surviving against the odds
4. Mists of avalon
5. Call to arms
6. Chasing the bullet
7. Afterburner
8. When doomsday comes (Hybrid theory)
9. No rest for the wicked
10. Ballad of the working man
11. Call to arms (orchestral version)

With nothing disappointing or surprising at the least, Saxon’s latest CD is another great, strong example of pure, anthemic heavy metal.

For fully 32 years now, England’s Saxon has been producing pure, slightly-NWOBHM flavored heavy metal, with some of the most memorable anthems from the 80s. By my math (forgive me, this is a lot of counting), this is their 19th full-length CD. It feels like they have been on a resurgent run of late, which I conceptualize as starting with 'Unleash the beast', where they added just that much more metallic intensity and power to their lush melodies. Which happens to be when Doug Scarratt joined the band as the 2nd guitarist. But that 2nd wind alone is now 14 years old, and I was rather surprised to study their discography and realize that no more than 3 years have passed between any of their CDs. The band never quite achieved that level of fame and success as their country mates Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, but true metal fans hold them high in their hearts. Their lyrics have focused on rock music, history, and the horrors of war, and often at least 2 of those are combined. (“Mates, should we write about the Boxer rebellion, or that awesome concert we did in Donnington in '97?”)

Call to arms, unsurprisingly, is a great and solid work throughout, with everything you’d expect or want from the band. Biff Byford’s eternally lush and unique vocals are as good as ever after all these years, conveying tremendous emotion and power. Paul Quinn, who’s performed on almost all the band’s CDs, together with Scarratt dole out the classic palm muted heavy metal riffs and dazzling leads and solos. Nibbs Carter provides the driving basswork, and Nigel Glockler is the pulse of the band on drums. Both of them have put out at least 10 CDs with the band, so that is an unprecedented amount of longevity and consistency.

How else can I describe the CD other than pure heavy metal. Not power, not progressive, not thrash, but the place where melody and songwriting is as important as histrionic leads or paint-peeling vocals. The band opens with the viking war track “Hammer of the gods”, one of the most powerful on the CD, while “Back in ‘79", what else, traces the band’s musical history and the glory of hard rock. “Mists of Avalon” is beautifully uptempo examination of Arthurian legend, while the title track (with 2 different versions) is a searingly slow and emotional threnody for war, with a decidedly WWI emphasis. All in all, it’s the nicely contrasting styles of fast and slow you expect from this type of music.

Those who love the band and don’t mind more of the same, as long as it’s fantastically done, won’t want to miss this. Those who haven’t heard the band should give it a try, because it’s an easy CD to love.




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