sexta-feira, 28 de julho de 2017

SAXON (UK) - Wheels of Steel (LP, Carrere, 1980)

RATING: *****

And there it is. Although not a flawless record by any means, "Wheels of Steel" is one of a handful of absolutely essential albums for anyone who wants to have a clear vision of what NWOBHM was all about and to understand how it came to influence almost everything done in heavy metal music ever since. So, I totally think it deserves the maximum 5-star rating: I mean, if you're reading this, you have at least a passing interest in NWOBHM, and if you do, you just have to listen to this album, no excuses.

Learning from the problems faced while recording their first LP, Saxon found a good producer (Pete Hinton, a man whose role in forging the NWOBHM archetypal sound is never properly acknowledged, IMO) and captured in the studio the sheer intensity that was so evident in their live performances. Conjuring the biker spirit that lived in rock music since Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild", mixing it with the obligatory influences of '70s metal (most of all Judas Priest) and adding loads of youthful energy, Saxon forged its own interpretation of what heavy metal should be to survive the '80s and created something that now is almost synonymous with heavy metal, period.

"Motorcycle Man" is almost an epiphany, a near-revelation of what early '80s heavy music should strive to achieve. The simple-but-strong riffs, the intense pace, the unique vocals of Biff's exactly what the potentially huge fanbase of long-haired metalheads wanted to hear - unashamedly upbeat heavy music played with unbridled enthusiasm. And it was so groundbreaking that I'm sure nobody even knew at first that this was the new metal they were looking for. Listening to it 35 years into the future, the crudeness of the whole thing is too loud to be ignored, and I'm sure dozens of bands have done it even better in subsequent years. But it sure gets easier when the vocabulary is already at hand, and that's what Saxon did with this single tune: they created a landmark, an example to be followed. That's quite something, if you ask me.

As above stated, "Motorcycle Man" was an instant classic, but some other songs deserve the same accolades such as "Freeway Mad", "See the Light Shining" (with a not-really-complex but extremely effective tempo change that grabs you by the neck and just won't let go), the nice semi-ballad "Suzie Hold On", and the slightly less upbeat (but equally intense) title track, among others. Personally speaking though, I consider "747 (Strangers in the Night)" to be not only the best song on here, but perhaps the finest song Saxon ever recorded. It unites a dramatic feeling (the suspense building of the lyrics about two airplanes with difficulties to land is near perfect) with a main riff that is pure genius, an opening solo to die for, and a driving rhythm that will make you bang your head without even noticing. What a classic metal tune, my friends.

I don't think that "Street Fighting Gang" is in the same league that the other songs are in here, and "Stand Up and Be Counted" is perhaps slightly inferior to the others, too. But make no mistake, "Wheels of Steel" is an album you just have to add to your collection in case you still don't have a copy. This record resumes Saxon and also a fair bit of what NWOBHM was, is, and forever shall be. No less. And oh yeah, it also rocks like a monster, so you won't be disappointed with that, either. Believe the hype and go get it straight away.

Biff Byford (V), Paul Quinn (G), Graham Oliver (G), Steve Dawson (B), Pete Gill (D).

01. Motorcycle Man
02. Stand Up and Be Counted
03. 747 (Strangers in the Night)
04. Wheels of Steel
05. Freeway Mad
06. See the Light Shining
07. Street Fighting Gang
08. Suzie Hold On
09. Machine Gun

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me at and let me know!

terça-feira, 25 de julho de 2017

SAXON (UK) - Saxon (LP, Carrere, 1979)


It was a whole different world out there when Saxon released their first LP, way back in 1979 (yeah, "when the dam began to burst" and whatever). Many things we now take for granted simply weren't there yet, such as internet, global warming, cellphones, digital music and NWOBHM, to name a few. That said, it's just natural that Biff Byford (V), Paul Quinn (G), Graham Oliver (G), Steve Dawson (B), and Pete Gill (D) still didn't know exactly what to do with their music and it should come as no surprise to learn that it shows on Saxon's eponymous debut album, though was far from ruining it, fortunately.

It all begins with "Rainbow Theme / Frozen Rainbow", an epic heavy ballad slightly in a Uriah Heep vein and with more than a hint of prog rock in it. A good start, but not very representative if we're to be strict here. Then the band delivers "Big Teaser", a tune with a glam rock feel which strongly reminds me of Marc Bolan. And then side one comes to an ending with "Judgement Day", a competent (but kinda confused) attempt to write a convoluted song about the end of the world (c'mon, all metal bands have been there and done that). That means the whole A side of Saxon's debut LP presents no hints of their signature hard-hitting-metal-with-biker-themes attack, and that is to say something about how unsure of themselves the band seemed to be at this point.

Fortunately, side two comes to the rescue with the excellent "Stallions of the Highway" making a clear statement that an exciting new era in metal was just around the corner (or at the flip of an LP if you want to stretch the metaphor further). "Backs to the Wall" is also great in the same no-frills-heavy-metal fashion of the preceding tune, and I think that "Militia Guard" is a nice way to close proceedings, a creative number with a semi-acoustic epic feel and some nice twists and turns here and there. "Still Fit to Boogie" is, ahem, a boogie number without many redeeming factors, but it's reasonably funny and there's nothing fundamentally wrong about being funny, right?

The production is not good at all (most of all, it lacks punch and energy), but I guess the lackluster results of this studio visit paved the way for the heaviness to come, so it kinda was a good thing in the end. BTW, I guess the same can be said about the LP as a whole; it shows not only a band in search of its own musical personality, but also portrays a whole metal generation trying to take the '70s heritage one step further, but not yet sure how it should be done. Musically speaking, this is one for Saxon's (and NWOBHM's) hardcore fans, but those who fit the description will find a fair amount of songs to enjoy here. And if you're interested in the development of heavy metal through the years, then I'll also suggest you to give this one a spin or two.

Biff Byford (V), Paul Quinn (G), Graham Oliver (G), Steve Dawson (B), Pete Gill (D).

01. Rainbow Theme
02. Frozen Rainbow
03. Big Teaser
04. Judgement Day
05. Stallions of the Highway
06. Backs to the Wall
07. Still Fit to Boogie
08. Militia Guard

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me at and let me know!