Saxon - Hell, Fire and Damnation (2024)Release ID: 49646

Saxon - Hell, Fire and Damnation (2024) Cover
Sonny Sonny / February 03, 2024 / Comments 0 / 0

Well, this is a real trip down memory lane, I must admit. I feel a bit unfair, reducing Saxon's latest offering to a mere nostalgia trip, but for me, that is definitely what it is - and in more ways than one. I can scarce believe that it is almost 45 years since I first encountered Saxon, supporting Motörhead on their 1979 Bomber tour, when both they and me were far more fresh-faced and less battle-scarred than now with entire futures ahead of us. Well, on the evidence of Hell, Fire and Damnation, the years have been kinder to the Yorkshiremen than to me and they are still seemingly able to call upon that youthful energy with some cracking classic heavy metal riffs, shred-like guitar solos and Biff shrugging off the years, his ability to belt-out the lyrics with siren-like power seemingly undiminished by time.

I was heavily into the NWOBHM scene at the time and Saxon were a huge part of that, but as the scene waned and those young bloods from the Bay Area revolutionised the metal sound, bands like Saxon suddenly seemed old hat and unable to compete with the heightened aggression and excitement that thrash metal brought to the table. So they, like many of their contemporaries, faded from my life, the gulf between us only being made wider by my discovery of even more extreme forms of metal in later years and Saxon faded into nothing but a distant memory. At least, that is until my attention was drawn to the band's 2018 album Thunderbolt which was a shot in the arm of modern-sounding, old-school heavy metal and opened my eyes to the fact that Biff and co still had what it takes to deliver a high-powered, vibrant and, above all, relevant heavy metal album. Admittedly I haven't kept up with Saxon's releases in the meantime, so six years and one pandemic on from Thunderbolt what have we got? Well, this is a step or two down from that top-level beauty and it does have a couple of clunkers on it, Madame Guillotine being the most egregious example, it just feels flat and a bit contrived, ending up somewhat less than thrilling to my ears, but a track like There's Something in Roswell is guilty of excessive clunkiness too. The opening Brian Blessed-voiced intro didn't help either. I like Brian well enough, but he is very difficult to listen to with a straight face and it is exacerbated by the fact that he is the voice of floor cleaner ads on TV here in the UK!

That said, the title track, which is the first proper track, is a glorious slice of triumphant, fist-pumping metal that takes all the pomp and circumstance of power metal and pares it down to what is important and leaves a shimmering core that rivals the band's heyday. Elsewhere Fire and Steel and closer Supercharger fair rattle along, reminiscent of the proto speed metal of Judas Priest's Exciter or multiple tracks on Painkiller. Kubla Khan and the Merchant of Venice, 1066 and Witches of Salem mine the historical themes so beloved of Steve Harris and have a similat grandiose feel to some of the tracks Harris penned for Maiden's last album, Senjutsu.

I mentioned earlier that this is nostalgic for more than one reason and the lyrics to Fire and Steel are an example of it, being a paeon to the hulking , smoke- and fire-spewing steelworks of England's disappeared industrial landscape. I myself live only a handful of miles from the site where one such industrial behemoth was once sited (now the headquarters of an online gambling company) where it was such a dominating presence over the city I inhabit. Elsewhere, on Pirates of the Airwaves the rose-tinted spectacles of nostalgia are used to examine the days of pirate radio when we used to try nightly to tune our radios to the unpredictable broadcasts of Radio Luxembourg in the hope of catching some decent rock music, which was unheard of on the legal radio stations and Supercharger brings back memories of a string of high-powered motorcycles and cars I spent all my cash on in my late teens and early twenties.

So, for me, this is a solid enough slab of trad metal with some tasty riffs, cool lead work, a frontman with a distinctive and undiminished vocal delivery but it is most notable for it's ability to propel me back forty-plus years and leave me with a wide, if somewhat wistful, smile on my face.


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Hell, Fire and Damnation
The Guardians
Heavy Metal

Heavy Metal (conventional)

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