Saxon – Crusader (Review)

Saxon - Crusader (1984)
Saxon – Crusader (1984)

The bold Sir Knight on the excellent cover of 1984’s Crusader looks like he’s expecting some sort of bother. And, by reviewing the album that he adorns, I’m expecting a bit of it too. This is the kind of album you could easily get into a fight about. You could scrap about metal genres and styles: epic metal or hard rock; British or American; 70s glam rock or 80s glam metal; rockers vs ballads. They’re all here. There could be pistols at dawn over notions of integrity about Saxon’s leap to major label status with EMI and their search for a big break in the States. But, as a fan of all kinds of rock and metal I could just focus on the only thing that really matters: is Crusader any good?

As bugles and horses’ hooves herald the arrival of the title-track, the answer is yes. Better than good. It’s astounding. The epic Crusader tells of 12th Century warriors riding into battle. Biff Byford is on exceptional form lyrically and vocally. The grandeur of the song harkens back to tracks like Frozen Rainbow and Militia Guard from their overlooked debut. The climatic guitar solo and impassioned final choruses are Saxon at their most spine-chilling.

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The rest of Crusader continues the polishing of Saxon’s sound that began with their previous album, the chrome-plated barnstormer Power & the Glory. Recorded in LA with REO Speedwagon producer Kevin Beamish, Crusader introduces a much more easy-going sun-kissed sound with the guitars quieter and the vocals the main focus. There are some attempts at commercial appeal. Do It All for You is Saxon’s first straight-up love ballad. Similar in mood to Journey’s Lights it’s got a nice sensuous feel and a regal intro but it’s let down by the lyrics as Saxon climb the highest mountains and search the deepest seas in search of clichés. Sailing to America is also in firm AOR territory and is an album highlight, a carefree cruiser with some expressive and colourful guitar.

The remaining tracks are predominantly straight-up rock. Just Let Me Rock, released as a single, is instantly memorable and has cool moody verses but it doesn’t dig in enough to fully engage. A Little Bit of What You Fancy and Rock City push more air but their choruses are a bit too naff for comfort. Run for Your Lives is better with its rousing football-chant coda while Bad Boys (Like to Rock N’ Roll) and the cover of Sweet’s Set Me Free are both tough enough to recall the street-fighting Brit grit of old.

The Yorkshiremen were still fighting the good fight but, with Crusader, Saxon’s standard dropped. It’s an enjoyable album overall but it needed more sonic heft (some songs fared better at the demo stage) and more consistent song-writing to match the quality and vitality of their past efforts. Only the album’s title-track truly belongs in the same rarefied air as past glories like 747 (Strangers in the Night). Crusader remains one of Saxon’s most beloved songs and the rest of the album basks in the goodwill generated by it.

In the UK Crusader turned out to be Saxon’s lowest charting album since their debut and a big US breakthrough continued to elude them. But their US sales were still improving and the album was a hit throughout mainland Europe. It eventually sold 2 million copies, making it Saxon’s bestselling album to date. But as Biff Byford said “we have had albums that have been more popular [than others]. That doesn’t necessarily mean I like them more.” And I think we should keep that in mind with Crusader. It’s a solid, successful and important album in Saxon’s career but better albums came before and after it.

HMO Rating: 3.5 out of 5

[Saxon – Sailing to America]

My copy!
My copy!
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42 thoughts on “Saxon – Crusader (Review)”

  1. SAXON! I am remiss to still not have engaged in listening to them. Alas.

    As for the dude on the cover, he doesn’t look so much like he’s expecting a bother as much as he’s just ended one, single-handedly!

    I don’t know what it’s going to take, or how many posts of yours you need to put up, before I get the message that I really need to rock these guys in my stereo. But I will! I swear! Just don’t send the dude on the horse after me just yet!

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    1. Hahah good point. I think that was just a practice scuffle though. There’ll be a bigger one shortly.

      I’ve still got about… 29 or 30 Saxon reviews to go so you’ve got plenty of time to get them in your ears yet.

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      1. Yes! I mean, with hat in hand and with all sincerity and humble hope, HELLS YES! I love box sets made by people who know their way around discographies… although, if you still have 30 more to go, I worry how many CD-Rs that would be… 😉 I will leave that up to you, though. I know it takes a lot of your time to hatch your Heavy Metal plots around the world.

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      2. Rules? WHAT RULES! Haha you are the HMO! You ARE the rules! 🙂

        If you do this, I’m gonna wanna reciprocate… I don’t know what I’d have in my collection with which to please our Heavy Metal Overlord…

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      3. Didn’t he have some sort of guidelines for doing that kind of thing? I’d say there would have to be songs from every album, yes? Some rarities thrown in? And I know you don’t like live tracks in compilations!

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      4. He’s right, there are some basic rules! Always fade live songs is one. Have a strong disc opener and closer is another. He doesn’t have to include my own personal rules like “always include a rarity” or “one track from every album.” But the basic rules of live fades MUST apply!

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Oohh I used to always hate having live songs on mix-tapes because of the crowd noise just abruptly coming in and stopping. You’d use Audacity to fade that then?

        Cool rules, I’ll keep them in mind if I end up doing this. Although I think the live track fading won’t matter cause I wouldn’t include any (for Aaron’s sake, I know he doesn’t like those.)

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Yeah true. I would avoid them on his CD, that would be my advice!

        Yes I use Audacity to fade them. I USED to fade it in Nero, which was very flaky and unreliable. Audacity is my go-to tool.

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      7. I’m getting a reputation about live tracks! Yeah, it’s true that I’m not a fan of them mixed into studio tracks on Hits sets. I purposely didn’t buy the Slipknot Hits set for that very reason. Etc.

        Now, if the studio tracks were on one disc, and then there was a disc of live tracks that was separate, that’s how bands/labels should release these. Keep the live stuff separate. It drives me nuts when you want a classic/big hit and the Hits set has replaced the studio track you want with a live version of it.

        Just a personal preference. I know that beggars can’t be choosers, though, so it’ll likely keep happening because bands/labels continually forget to ask ME!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. At last, another Saxon review! I was worried they’re making LPs faster than you’re reviewing them. I’ve never heard anything off this one .. yet.

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  3. Another great Saxon review! I am digging this album…you’re right, I can hear that this album is more polished as you mentioned but there is still some of that early 80s rawness that I really like in these guys!

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  4. CRUSADER CRUSADER PLEASE TAKE ME WITH YOU …..
    Ah yes you know when I bought this album I loved it! Cover sold me on it(real cool) and the songs but at the time I didn’t realize IT they were trying too hard to crack North America…but than again who wasn’t right?? Still pretty good album I like it but than again I’m North American..Hahahaha….and I could see how they could alienate there fan base in your neck of the woods with song titles like Sailing To America(trying a wee too little hard) ….but for a while Saxon had a spot in my record collection!
    Good job bringing this one back HMO!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s their best cover easily! I didn’t want to get into the cracking America stuff but… It’s hard not to isn’t it? It’s pretty obvious but, like you say, who wasn’t? And why is it such a big deal anyway? Ah well. Def Leppard got hit with that in the UK too. It’s a very “build them up and knock them down” media here.

      It is a good album. Just not as good as any of the previous ones though. But still good! I wish the whole album lived up to the cover but then I suppose I have Manowar for that!

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      1. Yeah I would read that stuff in Circus magazine or Hit Parader about the British backlash especially on Def Leppard …..I don’t think it bothered them too much when they were rolling in the $$$$$… Still I guess the flack can get to Ya!

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    1. Thank you so much! I love your description of it, that’s absolutely how I feel about it too. Sometimes I put it on and find it so disappointing and limp but the other listens I’ll think its great and can’t figure out why I didn’t like it the previous time. So I’m really pleased you think the review is balanced. I didn’t want to praise it too much but I didn’t want to slate it either.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Fuck man, I love that cover! Great pics as always. HEY! I found the grid lines on my camera phone! So now given the patience I can produce images like you!

    I don’t have much else to say, except I wrote this song.

    Saxon Saxon Saxon
    Mike needs some Saxon
    Saxon Saxon Saxon
    I don’t know my Saxon

    Saxon Saxon Saxon
    It’s fun to say Saxon
    Saxon Saxon Saxon
    Scott loves Saxon

    etc. etc.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Just chiming in to say I am enjoying the hell out of Saxon series as you post them. As I’ve noted before, I have the “trilogy” and want more but find the catalogue overwhelming — of course I come close to simply deciding to “buy it all” every once in a while, which then puts me off for a bit due to the financial outlay it would require to follow through on the idea. Knowing you are going to go through the whole shebang eventually both gives me something to look forward to, and allows me to put off purchase decisions as I wait to gather all your insights before moving forward. We won’t tell Saxon that you are providing me a continued excuse to procrastinate, but no worries Sir Overlord Crusader…

    “The future (purchases) will honour your deeds.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha this is such an awesome comment Mr. Victim! I’m really glad you’re enjoying the series so far. Lots of reviews to go yet so plenty of time for you to save for more Saxon. Have you got Power & the Glory? Definitely pick that up if not.

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