Released: 2009, SPV Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
The first decade of the new millennium has certainly belonged to NWOBHM veterans, Saxon, whose last three studio outings have ushered the band into a new generation of metalheads’ playlists. Beginning with 2001’s KILLING GROUND and continuing a trend of bluesy, classic heavy metal on 2004’s LIONHEART and 2007’s THE INNER SANCTUM, Saxon returns with INTO THE LABYRINTH and this latest platter is another jewel in the band’s crown. Considering 2009 is the thirtieth anniversary of the release of band’s self-titled debut, that is quite a feat. The album sounds fantastic—Charlie Bauerfeind returns for his third outing as co-producer with vocalist Biff Byford—and the Yorkshire brummies have delivered another slab of instant heavy metal anthems and dark, bluesy songs that will certainly please its dedicated fanbase.
The great thing about Saxon is that they are versatile enough to play a speedy brand of European power metal, delve into grand epics or lock into a basic, hard-rocking groove, each just as convincing as the other. Proof of this resides in the majestic lead-in of “Battalions of Steel,” which soon paves the way for a keyboard-rich chorus that is ripe for the live setting. “Valley of The Kings” is just as grandiose with multi-layered vocals and Byford’s lyrics taking the listener on a far-off journey. Riding along on heavy metal thunder, songs like “Demon Sweeney Todd” and “Hellcat” place the guitars of Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt right at the forefront, the pair running away with their parts and logging some biting riffs and driving solos. “Live To Rock” follows the path of “I’ve Got To Rock (To Stay Alive)” from THE INNER SANCTUM—a meat-and-potatoes rocker guaranteed to be a fist-pumping anthem suited for the band’s live set for years to come. As the band slows to a mid-tempo pace on “Crime of Passion,” “Come Rock of Ages (The Circle Is Complete)” and “Protect Yourselves,” the end result is no less enjoyable with slow-burning leads and the sturdy backbeat of Nibbs Carter and Nigel Glocker. Inching along, “Slow Lane Blues” is a fun track with Byford echoing the bane of lead-footed drivers everywhere behind a lumbering groove and killer main riff. Even the re-working of KILLING GROUND’s “Coming Home” that closes the album is a smoky blues jam that adds an interesting twist to the original version.
The fact Saxon has failed to penetrate the North American market after nearly twenty studio albums is a crime, especially given the band’s faithful following in Europe and the rest of the world. Saxon’s style of metal is timeless and gimmick-free which, of course, goes against North America’s continuously maddening focus on the vapid, trendy and market-friendly metal scene. Expect INTO THE LABYRINTH to follow suit and be all but forgotten on this side of the pond but those of us who have been following this great British band over the years (my own first exposure was way back in ’86 for ROCK THE NATIONS) can help preach to the deaf what they are missing in yet another fantastic release from Saxon.
KILLER KUTS: “Battalions of Steel,” “Live To Rock,” “Demon Sweeney Todd,” “Valley of The Kings,” “Crime of Passion,” “Slow Lane Blues,” “Hellcat”