English heavy metal legends Saxon are back with their 21st studio album Battering Ram. The band recorded the album January through March 2015 with producer Andy Sneap and released it on 16 October 2015 through UDR Music.
The 10-track album (11 tracks, if you get the deluxe edition) kicks off with the title-track, Battering Ram, a characteristic uptempo heavy metal song appealing to any old-school metalhead like myself.
The intro to The Devil’s Footprint brings a touch of Iron Maiden’s The Number Of The Beast to the album with a spoken-word intro. The song’s reverse drum beat and cut-time grooves give a heavier and darker note the feel of the music compared to the album’s opener. I especially enjoy how the chorus open’s up melodically. A great detail is the devilish shout by vocalist Biff Byford towards the end of the song when he shout’s The Devil’s Footprint.
Queen Of Hearts stays true to the album’s darker musical touch and underlines it with a slower, thus heavier, groove that invites the listener to nod along – or headband, if I were at a live gig of Saxon. Excellent stop-and-go riff.
Destroyer picks up the pace. Bassist Nibbs Carter drives the straight 8th-note groove with drummer Nigel Glockler, which subtle switches from straight-forward to a cut-time reverse beat to add heaviness to the track. The rhythm section provides the perfect carpet for Paul Quinn’s and Doug Scarratt’s guitar riffs.
Hard and Fast gives the listener exactly what he’d expect: Hard riffs and a fast groove. No change in mood and feel – which is a very good thing. I especially enjoyed the instrumental interlude that includes cut-time arrangements and guitar melodies embellished with harmonies.
Eye Of The Storm is characterised by its 6/8th-shuffle groove. There’s just something very heavy about this kind of groove when it’s played with double-bass that makes my metal heart pop. The arrangements of the song seem even more elaborate than the previous songs on the album – also, the guitar lines. Up to this point, my favourite song on the record. Well done!
Stand Your Ground is again a Saxon-characteristic song, hard and fast. The guitar harmonies at the end of the guitar riff in the verse are especially enjoyable to me, and so is the very melodic guitar solo at around 2:00. Must check out.
Top Of The World is the most melodic song up to this point. The uptempo song starts with a very melodic guitar line, which lays the rather dramatic but more colourful mood and feel. The dreamy guitar sounds through the verse give the song air to breath and build up for a strongly melodic chorus. Another favourite song o’ mine on this album.
To The End brings down the pace, and the laid-back intro riff provides fertile ground for a Black Sabbath-ish mood. However, the verse turns out to be more melodic than the listener might expect. Nevertheless, the band smoothly brings back the heavier feel in the chorus with smart arrangements.
The closing song of the album, Kingdom Of The Cross, opens with a straight mid-tempo beat that supports a one-note 8th-bass line and a narration about the ‘generation of the lost’. A melodramatic and dark mood and feel is created until Biff’s vocals enter, underlined with acoustic guitars, which turn the song into a beautiful ballad.
I didn’t know anything about Saxon before writing this review, other than they are a legendary English heavy metal band that has been around since the mid-1970s. Therefore, I was able to approach this album, Battering Ram, without any prejudice and expectation. While listening to it I kept asking myself, ‘How come have I never picked up an album of them? And how come none of my friends, who listen to metal, have every pointed me towards their music? Because, I love their music!’ Or, at least I love this album. I can honestly say, that I was able to listen to Battering Ram in one sitting, writing this review and enjoying every single second of it. Sometimes I even had to go back and listen to the song a second time, as with Eye Of The Storm and Top Of The World.
I can’t compare this album to any other Saxon album for the above-mentioned reason, but I can tell you this: Saxon’s Battering Ram combines heavy riffs, strong melodies, and the most authentic down-to-earth metal attitude. This album will be playing on replay on my portable music device. And now I’m off to find some older Saxon records.