You can’t go wrong picking up albums that have sword-waving maniacs on the cover (especially one that looks a wee bit like Slade’s Don Powell) and that rule holds true for Saxon’s 1979 debut. Although it’s slightly too patchy and derivative to merit the full-on game-changer status of Black Sabbath, Van Halen and Venom’s (yes, Venom’s) first albums it’s still an intriguing first attempt with strong hints of the band’s promise and ability.
Yorkshire’s Saxon formed out of two bands, Coast and S.O.B. (with former Glitter Band drummer Pete Gill thrown in for good measure) and seemingly hadn’t quite reconciled the directions of the two previous bands into a seamless whole. Saxon is bookended with excellent prog-flavoured epics (the astounding, glacial Frozen Rainbow and the bugle-call of Militia Guard) but a couple of songs veer into so-so brickie glam along the lines of The Sweet. Of these Big Teaser has an enjoyably snotty vocal performance from Biff Byford but reeks disappointingly of pubs after the fantasy splendour of the opening track. Three tracks bode best for the band’s future. Judgement Day and Backs to the Wall have raging vocals from Biff and the mix of muscle and melody is starting to sound like the real Saxon. Biker classic Stallions of the Highway is the genuine album highlight. Featuring revved-up, gear-shifting guitars from the under-rated Paul Quinn/Graham Oliver axe duo and bolstered with Steve Dawson and Pete Gill’s pumping rhythm section it lays down the template for the band’s future direction.
Saxon would iron out their sound and identity along the lines of Stallions of the Highway. Their next two albums would have a huge impact, resulting in their first effort being largely overlooked. But despite falling short of being a truly classic debut, Saxon has a rich variety and innocent charm that rewards repeated listens. A genuine meeting point of 70s and 80s Metal styles. It isn’t the best or the most representative album Saxon put out but it’s one I return to a lot and a bold opening move in Saxon’s 35+ year campaign.
HMO Rating: 4 out of 5
[Saxon – Stallions of the Highway]