Saxon – Wheels of Steel (Review)

Saxon - Wheels of Steel (1980)
Saxon – Wheels of Steel (1980)

Despite being arguably the first album of the NWOBHM, Saxon’s 1979 debut album sounded more old-fashioned than new wave. But by the following year, revved up by a support slot on Motörhead’s Bomber tour, the band were back with Wheels Of Steel: a biker metal classic that broke the band and became one of the most iconic NWOBHM releases. Much of the album follows the direction set by the debut’s excellent Stallions Of The Highway: up-tempo, racing tunes like Motorcycle Man, Machine Gun and Freeway Mad combine wild Motör-riffing with hollering vocals, ringing chords and hot soloing. It’s headbanging heaven. Elsewhere, the album is less hectic but still brilliant: See The Light Shining has a clever shift in mood half-way through and Suzie Hold On has a yearning, streetwise quality that brings to mind UFO. But the album’s undoubted highlights are the greasy rocker Wheels Of Steel with its raunchy riff and bobbing bass and the wonderful 747 (Strangers in the Night), which tells the perilous tale of Flight 101 with unforgettable guitar hooks and Biff Byford’s enigmatic vocals. The album’s mix of pumping rock, gritty aggression and inspired songwriting shot Saxon to the pole position of the NWOBHM: scoring them hit singles, TV appearances and a spot on the first Monsters of Rock festival bill at Castle Donington. 1980 was a competitive year loaded with timeless metal classics but Wheels Of Steel proved that Saxon had what it took to stand up and be counted. Now their foot was on the throttle, there was no looking back.

59 thoughts on “Saxon – Wheels of Steel (Review)”

    1. You really should give them a go. I was skeptical for years, but these last two years I’ve been hammering the classic Saxon albums constantly… such good records. You can get em all in boxsets too for really cheap. There’s a boxset of the first 7 or one of the first 5.

      Also there’s another one of their mid-years but I haven’t heard anything later than their 7th album yet to know whether to recommend it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Totally banging album, that’s spot on!

        KCP’s right Mike, you should really give them a go. But, because I know you like your bonus tracks, both these sets are great value but they are really light on bonus tracks compared to the individual editions that I’ve got. But if you just want the albums both of the Carrere sets look great.

        As far as post 7th album goes… there was a bit of a lull for a couple of albums but some of their best albums have been their later ones and even the “bad” Saxon albums have brilliant tracks. I can’t wait to be going through the later years’ albums.

        How do you like Innocence Is No Excuse?


      2. Yes BUT…

        As Scott knows, with me it’s always “SHOW ME THE BONUS TRACKS!”

        Even if it’s a band I’m only checking out for the first time, I never buy anything without the bonus goodies. Because if I like it, I’ll just want them anyway.


  1. Great review! I can still hear Biff on The Eagle Has Landed saying Sheeeeeees Got what??? Hammmmmmmermith! Never owned this one my collection darted at Denim and Leather…..but man good to see you reviewing this stuff..brings back a ton of memories!


      1. A friend of man had all Saxon so I heard Strong Arm….that’s another great version on the Eagle album..shit I gotta rebuy it!


  2. I only have one Saxon album here, on cassette (Denim And Leather), but your write up here makes me wanna yell SAXON!!

    As for this album, you had me at “The musical indecision of their debut was gone, the proggy, glammy elements removed in favour of straight-up, raw and abrasive Metal.”


      1. Hmmm good question…I have never been a big lyrics guy ….. I like Avenged Sevenfolds music but every song Ive heard seems to be about suicide…and downers. Thats the first band that comes to mind.


  3. Great post about a grand album! I am embarrassed to say I never upgraded to CD with this Saxon classic; I do have it on cassette and that’s not the same. Now I will put it on my current ‘need’ CD list! You ROCK! \m/\m/

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have to admit that I’ve never heard any Saxon albums. Spot them on my record digs often enough so maybe I’ll snap one up sooner rather than later!


      1. I’ve only really started exploring metal a bit more. Colleague of mine has been shining some light on stuff I would never have thought to listen to. Some of it has really appealed more than others. So we’ll see how this one goes!


      2. So far I’ve been digging a lot of it. A good mix o’ stuff from Pantera, Maiden (I had briefly flirted with Maiden in the early 90s, but drifted to more ‘exciting’ alternative sounds), Danzig, Dio … and Shrinebuilder. Haven’t so much enjoyed Doom, though.


  5. Unsurprisingly, I love these albums, and I’ve been afforded the honour of singing these songs live with Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson. I can’t even describe the feeling of opening a show with ‘The Power and the Glory” – belting that out next to Graham’s mighty riffage is akin to feeling Godlike! I still maintain the Oliver /Quinn guitar attack is far superior to the later Scarratt/Quinn years, but then, I’m biased! I actually envy anyone discovering these classic metal discs for the first time, and in fact, I might get that box set anyway!


    1. I was hoping to hear from you about this Saxon stuff Kev, knowing that you have some insider knowledge ha ha! Playing with Oliver and Dawson must have been a great experience. I do prefer Oliver/Quinn too but Scarratt is a tasty player. I think the original guitar team just came up with some more memorable solos. And Dawson’s contribution has always been overlooked I think. I reckon he was a huge part of the band’s soul and songwriting. I think they must have really felt his absence for a long time.


  6. Thanks man! We’re hoping to have the follow up to ‘Axe to Grind’ out this year! It’s pretty much written anyway! \m/ Yes..Steve is a huge part of the songwriting of the early hits. I’d say that he, plus Graham’s memorable riffs, defined their early sound and success. You’re right about Scarratt though, he ‘s a great player.


    1. That’s great news! I’ll look forward to that.

      The original Saxon lineup had such a great chemistry together. You don’t get that very often. I think the modern Saxon is really strong though but the early (Gill and the first Glockler era too) lineups were unique and special.


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