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'The Saxon Chronicles' (2DVD + CD) and 'Heavy Metal Thunder' (2CD)
Release Date: 13th February 2015

Joe Geesin

joe geesin


On the eve of the rearranged UK tour dates (due to drummer Nigel Glockler's illness), and my extensive interview and discography in Record Collector magazine, UDR reissue two Saxon classics that both bolsters and complicates the already extensive catalogue.

Those bastions of British Heavy Metal have been riding the crest of a wave both on record and on stage since the turn of the century. Thirty six years on from their debut album, at the start of the New Wave Of Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) the band are still going strong. Tracks like 'Wheels Of Steel', '747 (Strangers In The Night') and 'Princess Of The Night' soon became anthems that are played at every show.

Formed in the late 70s as Son Of A Bitch, Saxon released their eponymous debut album in 1979 on the disco label Carerra and with its punk energy in the Metal it is widely considered to be the genre's first album. Featuring singer Biff Byford, guitarists Graham Oliver and Paul Quinn, bassist Steve Dawson and drummer Pete Gill, the album featured many a classic.

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The following three studio albums, 'Wheels Of Steel', 'Strong Arm Of The Law' and 'Denim And Leather' (the latter featuring former Toyah drummer Nigel Glockler) all featured classics and are essential Metal listening.

As the sound became a little more polished ('Crusader', 'Innocence Is No Excuse') the band got more airplay too, but soon Dawson moved on. The late 80s saw a line-up change or two, and while the music was still excellent, they were pushed in a US direction and popularity in the UK waned.

1991, featuring new (and now current) bassist Nibbs Carter, saw a return to form (in a rock n' roll fashion) and popularity increased (along with a new found Metal heaviness), in Europe at least, throughout the 90s.

At the turn of the 00s, with a returning Glockler, and now with guitarist Doug Scarratt replacing Graham Oliver, a series of strong albums, including 'The Inner Sanctum', 'Into The Labyrinth', 'Call To Arms' and 'Sacrifice', have mixed power Metal with their NWOBHM roots and a touch of prog or blues at times too. With shows regularly running to two hours or over and with a varying setlist taken from across their career, Saxon are now considered one of the best live Metal bands on the circuit.

These two reissues show just how good a live band Saxon are, the defining twin guitar and Biff's distinctive vocals rocking all the way.


Kicking off with 'Heavy Metal Thunder', this is a reissue of the 2002 set (not to be confused with the multi formatted live album of a few years later). The thirteen tracks feature eight old classics re-recorded (originally released on the limited edition of the previous year's 'Killing Ground'). The sound, performance and production on those is fantastic and sit nicely next to the five other original versions.

The eponymous track 'Heavy Metal Thunder' opens blisteringly and the set really runs like a best of. 'Strong Arm Of The Law', 'Wheels Of Steel', 'Denim And Leather' and 'Motorcycle Man' are all here, with the title track to 'Power And The Glory' the only track I wouldn't give 5* to.

Now this is where the catalogue becomes confused, as the album has already been reissued as a double disc. That said, the second disc here is, basically, essential listening and worth buying the set for. That Bloodstock 2014 set is new and, although a shortened set at twelve tracks, conclusive proof that Saxon are still top of their came.

The newer track 'Sacrifice' opens the set and, like 'Battalions Of Steel', fits the zeitgeist of the festival perfectly around a setlist that then runs much akin to the aforementioned original disc. 'Crusader' is one of the standout tracks, and 'Wheels Of Steel' always has the crowd singing along. 'Princess Of The Night' and 'Denim And Leather' close the set nicely. The band go down a storm as always.


The previously released (and long out of print) 'Saxon Chronicles' DVD is well worth checking out if you don't have it already. The first disc features the band at Wacken 2001 and shows just how good, solid and tight (as well as energetic) the band were/are on stage.

The classic 'Motorcycle Man' opens, and the darker, heavier yet catchy 'Dogs Of War' follows (a track I wish they'd play more often). 'Heavy Metal Thunder' is always a pleasure while 'Cut Out The Disease' makes a rare appearance and personal fave 'Solid Ball Of Rock' (with its Alex Harvey-esque intro) gets the crowd jumping and stomping. 'Conquistador' is another (at the time) newer track that sits perfectly alongside the early 80s material. Biff takes great control and the two guitarists work well together. Bassist Nibbs Carter is quite dynamic onstage too.

Both visually and audio-ly well wonderfully recorded, great stuff on every level.

Disc 1 adds a Biff interview and a discography as bonuses.

Disc 2 opens with some home VHS footage, both backstage (tour bus included) and live footage from a couple of shows – a great piece of history. Then there's a selection of promo videos, including 'Suzie Hold On', 'Back On The Streets' (good to see Biff and Dobby getting on here), 'Requiem' and 'Unleash The Beast'. Fantastic archive footage.

The final five track segment is TV material featuring vintage music and interviews – the band looking particularly young and nervous compared to now.

All great stuff.

The bonus audio CD is the previously released 'Rock n' Roll Gypsies' live album from 1989, which itself has been previously reissued. That said, it's a great piece and a good opportunity to pick it up if you don't have either of these releases.

Recorded in Hungary in 1988, the band were between major deals (the EMI deal had finished, they would sign to Virgin Germany a year later), and this was a one-off release on Roadrunner. It also sees new bassist Nibbs Carter settling in well before his studio album debut. 'Power And The Glory' is not the best opener but 'And The Bands Played On' and 'Rock The Nation' soon remedy the situation and the three tracks from 'Innocence Is No Excuse' all fit in well.


Both releases contain a lot that fans will already have; 'Heavy Metal Thunder' is worth it for the bonus live disc, while the 'Chronicles' DVD is really worth getting if you don't already have it.

That said, the music is consistent, solid, and as classic as British Heavy Metal gets.

The Saxon catalogue is a minefield to be carefully trodden, but is really well worth intimately exploring.

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