Album Review: Saxon – Sacrifice
by Nicholas Holmes
With it’s 40th anniversary only three years away Barnsley’s finest heavy metal export has unleashed its 20th album. Yes, Saxon has been at it that long. “Sacrifice” is arguably the band’s best work in years. With the mighty Andy Sneap at the helm for recording in Yorkshire, Biff Byford said it was intended to be a stripped down, no-nonsense affair. It’s as subtle as a brick, but just as solid.
A striking feature is the erratic mix of subjects and locations in the songs. We begin with what sounds like Indiana Jones in the jungle with a Hammer Horror soundtrack. This intro gives way to a pummelling thrasher the likes of Testament would be proud of. The title track confirms its locale with a tale of human…sacrifice. Then it’s off to Northern Ireland, where Byford pays tribute to the long gone ship building industry of Belfast. It’s called “Made In Belfast”. Complete with mandolin jigs and crunching riffs, it’s rather affecting in its way. “Everything was first class…the finest in the world!” insists Biff.
A different kind of transport is celebrated on Maiden-style gallop “Warriors of the Road”. Featuring speeding motor racing sounds, the riffs fly by and the Byford lungs are pushed to their limit as he demonstrates he can more than give that Dickinson bloke a run for his money. Stepping back into the time machine delivers a further fast track telling the tale of the Terracotta Army. “Guardians of the Tomb” is followed by the first of Biff’s personal rants. Possibly remembering the ill-fated Channel 4 programme where Harvey Goldstein attempted to re-brand the band a few years back, he argues for the importance of doing things your own way in the music industry. “Stand Up and Fight”? Saxon have been doing that since day one.
On AC/DC-like stomper “Walking The Steel”, those who built the skyscrapers of New York are heralded. The moody “Night of the Wolf”, with acoustic guitar licks, choral voices and high-pitched solos, is the only song that veers near fantasy-style territory. Then it’s back to cold reality on war ode “Wheels of Terror”. Cymbals crash and the guitars duel before Byford shouts “Fire!”, ending the song with a loud explosion.
No doubt Biff would like to detonate some of the subjects of the final tune. It might just be a work of mad genius. Set against an AC/DC-style riff, he channels the sound of Bon Scott uncannily while ranting and raving about…queues. Seriously. It’s absolutely hilarious as he rages in impeccable rhyme. Sample lyric, “…as I came around the corner the kiosk came in view, one thousand silent people standing in the queue!” Brilliant.
While Saxon may not have enjoyed the giddy commercial heights of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, they have doggedly persisted doing what they do for almost four decades and “Sacrifice” is at least as good as anything they have done. Sonically excellent as you’d expect from Sneap, the band sound like they are still having a ball after all these years. Meanwhile Byford displays unwavering belligerent humour of one who lived by the creed of “DILIGAF” before it was even a term.
Saxon is as Saxon does, and damn they do it well!
“Sacrifice” is out now on various formats, including some with bonus tracks. Full details here can be found on the official Saxon website: http://www.saxon747.com/
The band hit the road next month with The Quireboys supporting. Tickets available here.