SAXON – Wheels Of Steel

Released in November 1979, Saxon’s self titled debut LP was not the commercial success everyone had hoped for. Perhaps part of the blame could be levelled at Carrere Records – primarily a French disco label – not having the greatest experience of promoting a rock band. Maybe the problem lay with the album itself: while a hugely entertaining listen – especially from an historical viewpoint – it’s somewhat mixed in style. Tracks like ‘Stallions of the Highway’ and ‘Backs To The Wall’ point the way towards the brand of no nonsense metal Saxon would make their trademark, but others like ‘Frozen Rainbow’ have a footing much closer to a1970s almost past, a place where atmosphere and pomp outweighed sheer bluster.

In those days, of course, bands weren’t dumped on the scrap heap by their record labels after a flop, and in Saxon’s case – and ultimately Carrere’s too, since the likes of Ottawan weren’t going to be around forever – it’s a good job. Decamping to Wales, the band set about writing their second album; the record that would change their fortunes and the face of 80s metal forever… ‘Wheels of Steel’.

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STORMTROOPER – Pride Before A Fall: The Lost Album

stormtrooper lpFor British hard rock and metal fans over a certain age, the late 70s and early 80s will always come with a certain rose-tinted viewpoint. Between 1979-82, as part of a scene dubbed as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, there were a whole slew of superb bands that made their breakthrough. Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Saxon and Diamond Head are unquestionably the most successful from that time, but other bands like Angelwitch, Praying Mantis and Gaskin scored some well deserved success.

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DELUXE EDITION DREAMLAND: Iron Maiden – Killers

In 1995 the Iron Maiden catalogue was made available as special edition CDs.  These briefly available “special editions” didn’t really live up to expectations – each had a bonus disc containing a handful of b-sides that almost every Maiden fan already owned.  They were nice to have, especially for those missing a few items in their collections, but hardly special by any stretch.  In 2002, the albums were reissued as “definitive remasters”, this time without bonus discs and with an extra track inserted into the running order of the first three releases.  Hardly definitive – and to add insult to injury, the sound on these reissues (presumably okayed by Steve “Bomber” Harris) appeared compressed and not always sounding as good as any of the previous issues.

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Diamond Head to cross the Atlantic in April

The current line-up of Diamond Head are to play a run of dates in the US/Canada in April.  The NWOBHM stalwarts are scheduled to appear at the following venues:

April 10 – Baltimore, MD – Ottobar
April 11 – Wilmington, DE – Mojo 13
April 12 – Brooklyn, NY – Saint Vitus Bar
April 13 – Amityville, NY – Ollie’s Point Place
April 14 – Seymour, CT – Dewy’s
April 15 – Montreal, QC – Foufounes Électrique
April 16 – Quebec City, QC – Coop l’Agité
April 17 – Clarence, NY – Club Infinity
April 18 – Pittsburgh, PA – Dead Horse Cantina and Music Hall
April 19 – Toronto, ON – Hard Luck
April 20 – Lansing, MI – Uli’s House of Rock
April 21 – Chicago, IL – Reggies
April 22 – Cleveland, OH – Peabody’s
April 25 – Long Branch, NJ – Brighton Bar
April 26 – Allentown, PA – Jimmy’s Place

SAXON – Rock The Nations

The release of Saxon’s live LP ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ in 1982 effectively closed the door on the first part of their career.It was the first year in which the band hadn’t been extremely busy: they’d already released four studio albums in three years, backed by constant touring.The release of the live album afforded them some breathing space.

By the release of 1983’s ‘Power and the Glory’, changes were in evidence.Nigel Glockler was settled in the drum stool, having replaced Pete Gill for the ‘Denim and Leather’ tour; the band’s sound began to move away from its NWOBHM roots, becoming slightly Americanized (partly due to being recorded in Atlanta with producer Jeff Glixman, possibly). This slightly more commercial approach was evident again on 1984’s ‘Crusader’, but was less effective due to a lot of weak material.1985’s ‘Innocence Is No Excuse’ showed a most dramatic shift, presenting Saxon in the mould of an American sounding radio-friendly hard rock outfit.One of the album’s singles, ‘Back On The Streets’, should be regarded as a classic piece of British AOR.It certainly would be, had it been recorded by a band with stronger connections to melodic rock.

Although harder in places, 1986’s ‘Rock The Nations’ embraces the commercial side Saxon explored on ‘Innocence…’The opening number – and title track – has an anthemic quality (as you’d expect) driven by Glockler’s drumming and a solid guitar riff courtesy of Graham Oliver and Paul Quinn.One of the album’s more ‘classic rock’ efforts, this could sit happily alongside the band’s pre-’83 works.‘Battle Cry’ takes the power and pushes it up a notch, offering another of the album’s more traditionally Saxon sounding numbers.

The lead single ‘Waiting For The Night’ revisits the pop-metal style of the previous album’s ‘Back on the Streets’. It’s obvious, looking back, Saxon fancied sharing a bit of the MTV limelight with Whitesnake.Although musically this is pure mid 80s, it’s lost none of its sparkle.It’s likely that if they’d sold the song on to a more “traditional” big-hair band, it would have been a big hit.[Saxon would get their time in the MTV spotlight a couple of years later with an unlikely cover of Christopher Cross’s ‘Ride Like The Wind’.]

‘We Came Here To Rock’ recalls the anthemic style of the opening number, this time around, with an American hard rock style similar to Keel. Another mid-paced rocker ‘You Ain’t No Angel’ represents a similar styled stomp to Motley Crue’s slower, heavier numbers from ‘Theater of Pain’.Musically, it’s okay, but a female voice-over midway lowers the tone and is slightly cringeworthy.

Even when there are songs on offer which are top notch, Saxon were always prone to delivering an absolute clunker.On ‘Rock The Nations’, it’s a mystery how a band capable of turning in something as classy as ‘Waiting For The Night’ or as enjoyably clichéd as ‘We Came Here To Rock’ would consider ‘Party Til You Puke’ worthy of inclusion.Not even Elton John guesting on rinky-dinky pub-rock piano saves this track from embarrassment.

The album closes with the softer ‘Northern Lady’ (again featuring Elton at the piano).Biff is in slightly better voice than usual here and the band is more generally more restrained.I’d be hard pushed to call it a ballad, since Glockler’s drum sound is so loud – possibly the loudest studio drum sound I’ve heard since the Reggie Knighton Band LP.Gary Lyons’s production work throughout this album is superb, but on this track, the sound he was aiming to achieve is obvious…and it sounds brilliant.

‘Rock The Nations’ was reissued in January 2010 with eight bonus tracks, all of which have been previously available elsewhere:The 7” edits of ‘Waiting For The Night’ and ‘Northern Lady’ are easily obtainable on the ‘Very Best of: 1979-88’ 3CD anthology, as is the instrumental b-side ‘Chase The Fade’ and the live performance ‘Everybody Up’.The three tracks culled from the band’s Reading ’86 performance were originally issued as part of the ‘BBC Sessions’ CD.The storming live performance of ‘Dallas 1 PM’ (originally on the b-side of the ‘Northern Lady’ 12” single) was previously the hardest to find of the bonus tracks – it’s great to have that on CD. Although the bonus tracks aren’t essential and we’ve not been treated to any unreleased nuggets, you may want to upgrade your CD anyway as the remaster sounds great.

Like ‘Innocence Is No Excuse’ previously, ‘Rock The Nations’ represents an album with an undeniably eighties approach. It’s still very enjoyable, despite its faults.

February 2010