Whatever the genre of music and however talented the musicians, without strong tunes and hummable melodies no band is going to make much of an impact on me. And that goes as much for my heavy metal as anything else. It’s one of the reasons that attracted me to Saxon in the first place, thirty-odd years ago.
And while there’s not necessarily the next Wheels of Steel or 747 (Strangers in the Night) on this album, there are certainly some strong and memorable songs here. Title track Battering Ram is a classic slice of Saxon and a strong opener.. Biff Byford’s voice is as powerful as ever and the album rocks hard as you would expect. But there is light and shade here, too. Proggy, choral backing vocals on tracks like Queen of Hearts add texture and atmosphere to the hard, driving guitar riffs.
Kingdon of the Cross, Byford’s poignant reflection on the slaughter of the First World War is another stand-out track on the album. “Comrades of their different coats, Came to fight and die, From all sides they stood and fought, And fell beneath the sky”. Apart from the choruses this track is delivered entirely in spoken word. That may sound strange for a Saxon track, but it works. In fact, Byford has such a wonderfully characterful speaking voice you could almost imagine him doing the voiceover for a BBC4 documentary.
Any some-time fan of Saxon who feared this is a band who had lost their way years ago should get this album and have those fears immediately dispelled. And don’t just take my word for it. “This is cool. What’s this music?” asked a friend’s 15 year old daughter when her and her mum popped round just as I was playing the album for the first time. Biff would be pleased, I’m sure.
Released: October 2015