Artist: Saxon 
   Title: Into The Labyrinth
   Label: SPV Records

Thirty years after their debut, Yorkshire’s finest are still going strong. This, Saxon’s 19th  studio album is a mixture of everything we’ve come to love Biff and co. for – the NWOBHM style of their early years, the stadium-sized choruses and riffs of the less celebrated, spandex-laden mid-80’s and the heavier, more power-metal style of their most recent offerings. And if anyone is still a bit confused as to Saxon’s heavier direction in recent years then they should bear in mind that the band have spent the best part of the last decade plying their trade primarily in Germany, playing Wacken on a bi-yearly basis and have once again used Blind Guardian’s recording studio in Krefeld to record the album. Given these facts, it’s hardly surprising and even less so when you consider just how many of the current crop of power-metal bands that Saxon have influenced – Blind Guardian, Iced Earth and Hammerfall to name just a few – so it’s only fitting that the veterans occasionally remind the youngsters that there’s life in the old dogs (of war) yet.

The album starts off with the epic opener ‘Battalions Of Steel’, a true riff-monster of a song with an epic backing track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Blind Guardian or Nightwish album. The mixture of history lessons and power-metal that Saxon do so well is continued in the first half of the album with the songs ‘Demon Sweeney Todd’ and ‘Valley Of The Kings’, but it’s the radio-friendly crowd-pleaser ‘Live To Rock’, the album’s single, that really stands out. This is probably the finest rock single that Saxon have written in over 25 years and while the fact that the band no longer wear spandex (thankfully) maybe the only 80’s cliché missing from the song, this is certainly no bad thing and it’s sure to get the crowds jumping on the band’s upcoming European tour in the spring.

The album takes a bit of a dip during the second half as the songs are somewhat slower and tracks like ‘Voice’ and ‘Protect Yourselves’ are little more than throwaway fillers but it’s the brace of ‘Slow Lane Blues’ and ‘Crime Of Passion’ that prove to be the album’s low points.

Saxon are a fine metal band, one of the best, but they are not a blues-rock band, neither are they Motley Crue and they have a stab at both here. Imagine a mixture of Jeremy Clarkson on one of his ill-fated speed-limit rants and Whitesnake and you’d have a pretty accurate image of ‘Slow Lane Blues’. They have another attempt at the blues with a bit more success on the album’s closer ‘Coming Home (Bottleneck Version)’ which is a re-working of a track from their ‘Killing Ground’ album – it’s certainly interesting if nothing else. But on ‘Crime of Passion’, Saxon definitely fire a blank, so to speak. With clichéd lyrics like “you light my fire, you’ve got what I desire” and “you load my gun, I’m gonna shoot on sight”, the whole thing is somewhat cringe worthy and while Vince Neil may still be able to get away with it in 2009, Biff really can’t.

Overall though, this a good album and well worth a place in the collection of even the most casual of Saxon fans and while some bands that have been around for five minutes bleat on about defending metal, it’s bands like Saxon that deserve praise for never straying from what they believe in a 30 year career that shows no signs of coming to an end any time soon.

Best Tracks – ‘Battalions Of Steel’, ‘Live To Rock’.

Review by: Adam G

Tracklisting:

1. Battallions Of Steel
2. Live To Rock
3. Demon Sweeney Todd
4. The Letter
5. Valley Of The Kings 
6. Slow Lane Blues 
7. Crime Of Passion 
8. Premonition In D Minor
9. Voice
10. Protect Yourselves
11. Hellcat
12. Come Rock Of Ages (the Circle Is Complete)
13. Coming Home (Bottleneck Version) 
                  

 

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