In the early years of the NWOBHM, it seems as though you either fell into the Saxon or Iron Maiden camp as your favourite band. Both were making huge inroads, and their high visibility led the way for many hoping to follow in their footsteps. Maiden brilliantly had the curious mix of punk energy and proto-prog leanings that just worked so well, but Saxon had the jackhammer, heads down power and glory.
Saxon – Carpe Diem (Silver Lining Music)
Release Date: 4 February 2022
Words: Paul Monkhouse
It was certainly a thrilling time with both bands releasing some truly classic material. While the Londoners went on to dominate stadiums worldwide, the Barnsley bruisers cut their own distinct path, winning hearts with sheer force.
Here we are, forty-three years and twenty-three albums after their eponymous debut, and they’ve released something that’s one of their best in years and can arguably stand shoulder to shoulder with that early run of classics. Whilst cover album Inspirations was felt to have missed the mark in places, Carpe Diem nails it every time, the band firing on all cylinders and sounding as hungry as ever.
Whilst the performances tap into all we know and love about Saxon, it’s the production by Andy Sneap that has really upped the ante here, and the sound is often akin to the clean, muscular Metal of the producer’s occasional job with Judas Priest. With the atmospheric beginning of the opening title track giving way to the rocket-fueled rush of Nigel Glockler’s drums and a monster riff, it’s business as usual but with an edge that’s even more ferocious.
Messrs. Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt certainly have an uncanny knack of peeling out killer guitar lines, but it’s the songwriting that’s always been such a huge part of the band’s success with their knack of mixing epic and evocative themes with a razor-wire blitzkrieg of sound.
For those old enough to have been around when the band exploded onto the early ’80s scene, Age Of Steam perfectly evokes that adrenaline rush of hearing Saxon for the first time, the irresistible melodies and punch intertwined. Whilst the album is rammed full of such visceral fare, Dambusters and Super Nova being particularly brutal and thrilling, they also show their more contemplative side with the massive The Pilgrimage and the haunting Lady In Gray scoring heavily.
With the latter adding keys to give further layers to the sound, the underpinning of Glockler’s drums alongside the bass of Nibbs Carter provide the engine that drives the beast and, with the snarling guitars of Quinn and Scarratt, it’s all the perfect vehicle for Biff to show he’s the master of nuance, not just bluster.
It’s no small thing to say that Byford’s vocals on the album are outstanding, the power of them such that they’d be the envy of all who followed in their wake and truly remarkable for a man who’s been at the front of the band for so long. Co-producing the album with Sneap, the Yorkshireman proves yet again to be the beating heart at the centre of the storm.
With a riff that echoes the rush of Princess Of The Night, All For One tears off down the track, the first of a hat trick of the closing rush that continues with Living On The Limit and finishes with the truly mighty Black Is The Night, balancing a dark, Metallica-like heaviness with some exquisite melodies and tasteful fretwork.
Carpe Diem shows that Saxon are at the top of their game and have no intention of ever surrendering even after all these years.
Heavy Metal Thunder at its finest.