Release Date: February 2, 2018
Label: Silver Lining Music
Producer: Andy Sneap
Personnel: Bill Byford (vocals), Paul Quinn (guitars), Doug Scarratt (guitars), Nibbs Carter (bass), Nigel Glockler (drums)
Since 1977, Saxon has maintained its status as one of the first metal bands to actually be called a metal band. Around 1968, Black Sabbath played slower, heavier music that was doomier and scarier than people were accustomed to. Even Osbourne’s parents were appalled at the hard/acid rock sound on Black Sabbath, and thought that he should change his ways. Imagine the mood in that living room while the bells and Tony Iommi’s guitar permeated throughout the Osbourne residence during “Black Sabbath.” Black Sabbath had a rough go of it for a while before people started to accept this death-themed music that would later be called heavy metal. Bands like Saxon were able to enjoy a smoother start to their metal careers thanks to the trail-blazing efforts of Black Sabbath.
If I could help sum up Saxon’s sound, I would have to include Iron Maiden – a band synonymous with metal. In their earlier days of Saxon, Denim and Leather, and Wheels of Steel, the band employed some fantastical, yet beautiful guitar and vocal melodies in songs such as “Frozen Rainbow” and “Princess of the Night.” Their vocalist Bill Byford’s high, vibrato reminds me a bit of Bruce Dickenson, and goes very well with the band’s earlier, fantasy metal sound.
Over the years, like so many other bands, Saxon’s sound has evolved. With a musical career spanning over 40 years, it’s hard to imagine a band not changing at least somewhat to provide variety. Even with the track “Wheels of Steel” from 1980, there was a noticeable shift toward mainstream rock ‘n roll. On the band’s newest and 22nd studio release Thunderbolt, there seemed a definite return to traditional heavy metal. To be clear, when I say traditional heavy metal, I’m referring to bands from what was considered the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM), which does include Saxon. While a number of these bands such as Diamond Head, Venom, and Raven remained underground and out of the commercial spotlight, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, and Motörhead rose to prominence and helped redefine what was considered metal. Not only that, the aforementioned groups helped pave the way for and influenced some of my personal favorite bands: Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax, so no further persuasion was needed for me to research Saxon and review their latest studio effort.
Thematically, I found Thunderbolt to be diverse as it contained tracks about vampires, Vikings, and even wizards. Saxon has always included elements of fantasy metal in its work, and Thunderbolt is no exception. The title track, “Thunderbolt” is preceded by a building, instrumental intro, but unfortunately I found the song to be rather forgettable and certainly not the album’s strongest track. Not much changes with “The Secret Of Flight” either. These songs aren’t terrible by any stretch; they’re just a tad generic. Saxon fans may wholeheartedly disagree, but I digress.
To best relay my thoughts on Thunderbolt, I’ve decided to delve into only four of the tracks. There are in fact twelve tracks available, but I thought in order to best capture the essence of the album, I’d share with you what I deemed to be the album’s standouts. The four tracks I’ll be discussing are “Nosferatu (The Vampire’s Waltz)”, “They Played Rock and Roll”, “Sniper”, and “Roadie’s Song.”
“Nosferatu (The Vampire’s Waltz)” is about none other than Count Dracula himself, and exudes an ominous ambience throughout with the inclusion of an organ. The jilted, guitar riffing is something I’m accustomed to hearing on faster tracks, but Saxon does a nice job here marrying the riffs to a doomier, metal sound. A classic guitar solo can be found on the track, and I’d submit that it’s one of the album’s best.
Paying their respects to the late, legendary Lemmy Kilmister and his band Motörhead, Saxon delivers “They Played Rock and Roll” on the album’s sixth track. Interestingly enough, the track is riddled with 70’s sounding metal that I actually would expect to hear from a Motörhead album, and I’d wager that will make Motörhead fans happy. “They Played Rock and Roll” is a great place to start on this album if you find yourself short on time and in need of righteous rock ‘n roll.
“Sniper” is a fun song. That’s really the most effective word that I could conjure. Like he’s done for the entirety of the band’s existence, Byford impresses with his range and his vocals are prominent on the track. The song carries with it a simple message, detailing the goal of military snipers to remain silent for the kill, but unlike snipers, this song will not creep up on you.
Possibly my favorite track on the album, “Roadie’s Song” employs yet more classic metal while uplifting unsung heroes in the music industry. “Roadie’s Song” tells us of the life on the road that roadie crews go through by doing a lot of grunt work behind the scenes. I have a good measure of appreciation for Saxon for including this song on the album. Not often do roadies get any kind of limelight, and this song finally gives them some recognition.
Thunderbolt gave me ample material to review the album in a positive light, but I also felt that it contained more filler than was necessary. The total length of the album was 47 minutes which I found to be a good length, but there were a number of forgettable tracks that I felt diluted some of the album’s stronger songs. All in all, Thunderbolt was a good album produced by one of the members of the NWOBHM. Not really new anymore, Saxon is still alive and cranking out new material, so let’s enjoy it while we can.
I’m going to give Thunderbolt a 70%.