Released: 2010, Coolhead Productions
Next month (Jan, 2011) I’m going to see Saxon for the first time, so I’m on a bit of a Saxon kick lately. Accordingly this month I have decided to review HEAVY METAL THUNDER, the Saxon movie and NEVER SURRENDER, Biff Byfords autobiography. Please feel free check to read the book review in this months reviews as well.
*Note: Be aware this DVD is region coded and may not work in some DVD players.
I wasn’t lucky enough to see HEAVY METAL THUNDER on the big screen, so I had to settle for ordering the DVD. Well one advantage of owning the DVD version is that the feature length film/documentary was expanded to a whopping three hours and naturally there is a bonus disc with another three hours of material. Apparently near the end of production someone unearthed more footage from the archives and that stuff made the extended cut of the film.
It’s a pretty nice package with a 16+ page booklet with over 40 photos, liner notes and a very nice essay by Dave Ling of England’s Classic Rock magazine. A good choice for a contributor and he speaks eloquently about the band without degenerating into gushing fan-boy-isms! The bonus disc has half a dozen bonus features. They are listed in the ‘Tracklisting’ section but I’ll touch on each here briefly.
The making of the last album in Blind Guardian’s studio is a 15 minute mini-documentary which will give people a nice insight into the inner workings of the band in the studio. There is a 22 minute mini-doc of the last tour with Motorhead which will give people a nice insight into the inner workings of the band on the road. There is an hour concert from 1981, which is a decent multi-camera shoot filmed for Radio Bremen. There is some great old footage, interviews with the band from a couple of recording sessions in the 80’s and another gig from 2008 clocking in at just under an hour. The three hours of bonus stuff should fulfill even the most die-hard Saxon’s fan for rare material.
The film itself is a standard talking head documentary. The production values are good, it looks and sounds good. At times it was hard to hear the question that the interviewer was asking, but it was easy enough to pick up the idea from the answers. At times people would appear on the screen but they were not identified as to who they were. Those are minor complaints and not really important. As a North American it is always appealing to listen to the British accents and speech patterns and sayings. The narration by Toby Jepson added a touch of class.
The stories of the old days were very interesting, interviews with members, past and present inter-spliced with old black and white photos and even some grainy hand-held home-movie footage, going back to the 70’s when the band were SOB, and later Son Of A Bitch. There are some great old stories of stealing cigarettes, shagging birds and sleeping on stinky old mattresses in the back of the van. The segment with one of their old managers was hilarious, as he compares Byford’s singing and stage presence to a …‘rocket-fuelled squid with a high-pitched voice”. There are many, many more anecdotes and fond memories that add flavour, sincerity and intimacy to the story of the band.
It’s all there, the hiring’s, the firings, the labels, the mangers, the money, the fights, the tours with Motorhead, touring with Motley Crue trying to crack America, it’s all there, warts and all. I admire the producers (and truthfully all the band members, past and present) to briefly but candidly discuss the whole Oliver/Dawson-Saxon vs. ‘True’-Saxon legal controversy in the mid-90’s and beyond.
Again, one of my long-standing complaints with many, many Metal documentaries, books, DVD’s etc…is that the later years of a bands career arc get the shaft. Unfortunately the same holds true here. HEAVY METAL THUNDER spends 2.5 hours chronicling 1980-1995 and then all of a sudden the albums, UNLEASH THE BEAST, METALHEAD, KILLING GROUND, LIONHEART and INNER SANCTUM are completely glossed over! Even the new album is barely touched on and I don't think even mentioned the remake album HEAVY METAL THUNDER. The producers literally spend about 10 minutes on 10 years of Saxon history. However, the recent live footage of Metallica doing ‘Motorcycle Man’ with Biff on vocals was pretty cool. I also would have liked a bit more explanation about the ‘reality’ show that Saxon was involved in. It is assumed that the viewer knows about the show, what it is, when it was and so on. Here in North America we only heard about the Saxon Reality Show in passing and it is barely covered and when it is it is confusing. I suppose to cover all the recent years you would have another 3 hour movie!
Saxon’s place in history is assured. The parade of metal artists who have a moment of screen time to say a few kind words about the band reads like a metallic who’s who…Rage, Gamma Ray, Hammerfall, Doro, Airbourne, Amon Amarth Metallica, and on and on. This excellent DVD will further cement their legacy as one of the greatest Heavy Metal bands of all time.