Almost exactly two years after their last album, British metal legends Saxon are back with a landmark release. Hell, Fire And Damnation declares its ambition to be a special album in Saxon’s discography with not only title, but also the fantastic, aggressive artwork, which is in total contrast with the pastoral peysage of Carpe Diem. But a much more important change comes with the fact it is the first Saxon album without Paul Quinn’s guitar. Mr. Quinn, who has served in the band lineup for the last 45 years (!) has announced he would no longer be active with Saxon and now, Biff Byford is the only founding member left. So, what do you do when a band founder and a legendary guitarist and composer leaves? Well – you get another legend from a band who was equally responsible for the establishment of the NWOBHM wave. Enter Brian Tatler of Diamond Head. Yes, that’s right, boys and girls! Tatler is fitting like a glove in Saxon and the biggest proof is this hammer of a new album I’ve been spinning constantly for the last three days.
After a short spoken intro, the title track is classic mid-tempo Saxon, which hits in the face with an impeccable Andy Sneap production. Sneap is a master of his job and his greatest strength is in the guitars production, which is evident from the razor sharp and super fat sound of both Tatler and Doug Scarratt. Madame Guillotine is a fantastic melodic metal hymn, with beautiful storytelling by Byford, the whole song led by a heavy, old school riff. The following track Fire And Steel (an ode to Sheffield) and the closer Super Charger are typical speedy rockers with a thunderous rhythm section, possessing the power and conviction of classic Motörhead. There’s Something In Roswell is a very atmospheric mid-tempo track, once again showing the talent and conviction in Byford’s lyrics. The driving riff is monstrously heavy, as is also the riff in 1066 – another epic song with a clever structure and a super catchy chorus. One more album highlight is Kubla Khan And The Merchant Of Venice – easily one of the best songs in Saxon’s entire catalogue: you have the speed, the thunderous rhythm section, the fantastic pre-chorus and a masterpiece of a chorus. When they are in their “zone”, very few bands do metal as good as Saxon. Goosebumps-inducing stuff.
Pirates Of The Airwaves is a blueprint Saxon song praising the radio stations which promoted heavy metal when the genre was nascent at the end of the Seventies and Witches Of Salem is really heavy, boosted by the masterful performance of Nigel Glockler on drums. Saxon have very rarely disappointed with their new music (misstep Destiny forgotten), because they’ve been true to themselves and to the style they’ve forged and perfected so long ago. However, I have to admit I don’t revisit their post-nineties albums often and prefer to put on either Strong Arm Of The Law or Innocence Is No Excuse or Unleash The Beast (that one very often actually). Hell, Fire And Damnation, however, bristles with energy and sounds so inspired and convincing that it will surely occupy my player for a long time. I can swear this is Saxon’s best album for the last 25 years and you don’t have to believe me – the proof will be before you in a few days. Oh, and did I mention Saxon are touring Europe next spring with Priest and Uriah Heep? That’s metal heaven, my friends!
Hell, Fire And Damnation is out on January 19th via Silver Lining Music and you can order it from HERE