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Saxon – Thunderbolt (Album Review)

One of the most resilient metal bands in the scene, Saxon is back with a new album, entitled Thunderbolt. After two excellent efforts, Sacrifice (2013) and Battering Ram (2015), expectations were high for their new record, and they surely lived up to them.

This is their third album in a row produced by Andy Sneap, who seems to be able to challenge these Brits enough to come up with fresh and relevant material, while still maintaining their identity. Influenced by Greek mythology but also addressing modern topics, this is a varied collection of songs, including straight rock and roll numbers and relentless metal riffage. The cover has yet another imaginative rendition of the band’s eagle touching a Nordic sword while a lightning strikes. It doesn’t get more metal than that!

Thunderbolt starts with a quick and ominous instrumental, which segues directly into the title track. Singer Biff Byford‘s consistent wails mark their presence once again, proving that his voice is still intact after all those years, and Nigel Glockner, one of the most underrated drummers out there, pounds the skins mercilessly.

“Thunderbolt” Album Artwork

“The Secret of Flight” comes next, with cool lyrics referring to man´s attempts to fly, while also calling back to the band´s history, mentioning “The answers riding on the wind” and “To soar just like an eagle out of sight”. “Nosferatu (The Vampires Waltz)” slows the tempo and add significant heaviness to the proceedings, with plodding chorus and riffs.

“They Played Rock and Roll” is a homage to long-time friends Motörhead. Both bands toured together extensively through the years, which makes the tribute even more fitting. Including excerpts of Lemmy saying “We are Motörhead, and we play rock and roll”, and using a riff with a similar structure as the one used in their most famous songs were a nice touch. And actually, Saxon are no stranger to writing tributes to their musical heroes, as proven in “Requiem (We Will Remember)”, from the album “Solid Ball of Rock” (1986). This new one is a bit more direct though, and carries a lot more meaning since both bands had such a close relationship.

“Predator” adds something unusual in a Saxon album: growling vocals, courtesy of Amon Amarth‘s Johan Hegg. The verses have a call-and-response structure, with both vocalists sharing the chorus. There’s quite a contrast between Biff’s and Johan’s delivery, and the end result may seem a bit out of place on the first listens, but this song is definitely a grow(l)er. “Sons of Odin” continues with the Greek mythology theme, and here we can hear Biff exploring his high register a little bit, while Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt deliver their best work in the entire album.

“Sniper” is another great track which addresses a more current issue, and gains unexpected relevance in light of the recent school shootings in North America. “A Wizard´s Tale” has some corny lyrics, but musically is one of the best songs in Saxon’s recent years, with twin guitar harmonies and tasteful solos – who says metal has to be clique anyway?

Just as the name indicates, “Speed Merchants” is a fast-paced and heavy number about racing cars, a theme that is not uncommon for Saxon fans – their second album is not called Wheels of Steel by accident. “Roadie’s Song” is a fun tune, where they pay a heartfelt homage to the hard workers who keep the band’s machine well oiled and properly functioning while on tour. “Seven nights and seven days, hauling gear, this is your way”, Biff belts out. Coincidence or not, Motörhead also has a song where they praise their team, “(We Are) The Road Crew”, from their classic Ace of Spades. Some versions of this album have a raw mix of Nosferatu, which was not necessary for the band to prove its point. They seem proud of their accomplishments and unapologetic of its past, while looking ahead unrelentingly. Released on February 02nd 2018, “Thunderbolt” is a worthy addition to their catalogue, which should warrant an exciting tour ahead. Saxon will hit the road in 2018 with Judas Priest and Black Start Riders, a bill that you should not miss!

Thunderbolt Track-list:

  1. “Olympus Rising” 1:35
  2. “Thunderbolt” 3:50
  3. “The Secret of Flight” 4:58
  4. “Nosferatu (The Vampires Waltz)” 5:01
  5. “They Played Rock and Roll” 3:31
  6. “Predator” (feat. Amon Amarth’s Johan Hegg) 3:13
  7. “Sons of Odin” 5:20
  8. “Sniper” 3:31
  9. “A Wizard’s Tale” 3:49
  10. “Speed Merchants” 3:42
  11. “Roadie’s Song” 3:27
  12. “Nosferatu (The Vampires Waltz)” (Raw Version – not included on the vinyl edition)
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