Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Album Review: Saxon - Thunderbolt

With Lemmy no longer with us, I suppose the mantle of British band that consistently cranks out albums capturing a signature sound and nothing else now falls to Saxon. Over the course of decades, Saxon has become one of those bands that may not always amaze, but seldom disappoints. Their meat-and-potatoes heavy metal is rooted in their past, and continues to this day to be music for the everyman. Like quite a lot of bands, they had a late-career renaissance not too long ago (has anyone figured out how so many older bands pulled that off?), and are still riding that wave. Myself, I didn't ride that along with everyone else. While I know the main gist of Saxon lore, I am a neophyte when it comes to taking on their albums.

Saxon's music is all about a rhyme; the riff and Biff. Their songs are built on thick riffing and Biff Byford's classic vocals. Both of those are on ample display throughout "Thunderbolt". Just on the title track, we get some heavy descending riffs that are pure heavy metal, and Biff's voice has barely aged from the glory days. He is one of the lucky ones who sound great even as they get older, and its his enthusiasm that allows Saxon to keep on keeping on the way they have. Other bands, who will remain nameless, have not been so lucky. When the vocalist ages, especially in metal, the music dies along with the singer's vibrancy.

For the most part, the band stays in their comfort zone, delivering songs that hit on the basics, without deviating much from the formula. That's for the best, because there's no reason to go searching for something new when you already have something good going. There's strength in knowing what you're good at, and sticking with it through this and thin.

We do get a few slight twists though. "Nosferatu (The Vampire's Waltz)" slows things down, and tries to be a more dramatic and epic take on Saxon's sound, while "Predator" layers some harsh vocals in with Biff's voice. While the former is a welcome attempt, there really was no need for the latter. Covering up one of your better attributes isn't the smartest of moves.

The one thing I haven't gotten to yet is the songwriting. I wasn't trying to avoid the subject, since it's of paramount importance, but there isn't much to say. While the band is playing well, and Biff is singing well, there aren't enough melodies throughout the album to keep me fully engaged. The style Saxon came up playing wasn't built on that, and it's why I sometimes struggle with traditional heavy metal. We get "The Secret Of Flight" and "Sons Of Odin" that have solid melodic choruses, but they are the minority. The majority of the record is in the shouted anthem style, which will work for most fans, but leaves me a bit cold.

Overall, "Thunderbolt" is a fine Saxon album. It does the things Saxon are expected to do, and it will satisfy traditional heavy metal fans, no doubt. I was hoping for something a bit more melodic, so I'm going to enjoy this less than many. Still, I can see what others will, and in that respect "Thunderbolt" is another worthy Saxon album.

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