Category Archives: NWOBHM

Saxon – The Eagle Has Landed (Review)

Saxon - The Eagle Has Landed (1982)
Saxon – The Eagle Has Landed (1982)

The “classic trilogy” of Saxon albums that culminated with Denim and Leather had been a commercial and critical success. The band was poised for the big-time and a live album was proposed as just the thing to launch them to the level of the stupidly successful. But in order to do a live album, you need a tour and with only two days to go before the opening show of their Denim and Leather trek of the UK and Europe (with no less than Ozzy’s Blizzard supporting), their drummer Pete Gill was out of the band due to a hand injury. It was a disaster on the eve of such a critical and massive tour.

Enter Nigel Glockler: a friend of the band’s manager David Poxon. Nigel was drumming for Toyah at that point but was a hard-hitter with prog chops and a love of metal. Remarkably, in less than two days he was able to learn and perform Saxon’s entire 19-song set and kept the show on the road until Gill recovered, even performing at a show he had originally bought a ticket to see!* By the time Gill was able to return, Saxon had decided to hold on to Glockler as their full-time tub-thumper. So, as if learning 19 songs in two days wasn’t enough, Nigel would be appearing on the band’s hotly-anticipated first live album. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end.

The Saxon live show - brought to you by Tea
(L to R) Graham Oliver, Steve Dawson, Biff Byford, Nigel Glockler and Paul Quinn

19,320 teabags later the Denim and Leather tour was over and The Eagle Has Landed live album hit the shelves in May 1982. It captures the sweaty, beery atmosphere of a NWOBHM-era gig. Saxon sound enthusiastic, tireless and tight. Each member is at the top of their game. Biff sings with charismatic energy and throws in some choice banter (“I wanna see people dying from exhaustion”) and the chemistry of the Oliver/Quinn guitar duo is palpable with the choppy, jousting guitars panned to each side. The rhythm section steals the show though: Glockler’s expressive, precision drumming charges the music with a fresh dynamism and, with his forceful, driving bass playing, Steve Dawson proves to be the pumping heart and soul of the band, especially on the faster numbers like Heavy Metal Thunder.

Saxon’s surfeit of brilliant material easily justified a lavish double-LP set but, unfortunately, Saxon’s label Carrere skimped and whittled it down to a miserly single album. Classic songs like And the Bands Played On, Denim and Leather, Frozen Rainbow and Dallas 1pm are inexplicably missing.** It’s a missed opportunity but the tracks we do get are hardly filler. The first side is absolutely top-drawer, opening with three of Saxon’s transport tunes: Motorcycle Man, 747(Strangers in the Night) and the definitive version of Princess of the Night. Side 2 falters slightly with some weaker song choices in 20,000ft and Never Surrender but Wheels of Steel is a victorious joy with a chummy singalong led by the charming Byford and the album closes explosively as Fire In the Sky and Machine Gun fly by in a furious blur culminating in wild guitar pyro and double-bass drumming.

The Eagle Has Landed manages to be essential and frustrating all at once. The performances are stellar, many of them definitive and it’s a great introduction to the band (I can personally vouch for that). It continued Saxon’s commendable run of hits in Europe but the omission of vital tracks stopped it being the career-boosting milestone or the all-time classic it should have been. But, nevertheless, it’s a street-level, no-holds barred barrage of an album that atmospherically and honestly captures a gritty and exciting time in metal history. And that’s worth the price of entry alone. It also marks the end of an era for Saxon: by the time The Eagle Has Landed hit the shelves a fellow British metal band had stolen their thunder, taking the NWOBHM to a massively successful and chart-topping conclusion. Saxon were no longer the scene leaders: their number was up. The number was six hundred and sixty six.

*Nigel has never received a refund for his ticket.

**This wasted opportunity has been satisfyingly rectified with the 2006 CD Reissue which adds six recordings from the era as bonus tracks. Still no Denim and Leather though.

Saxon – Denim and Leather (Review)

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Saxon – Denim and Leather (1981)

They might have released two stone-cold classics in 1980 but Saxon weren’t about to put their feet up. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal was now in full flow and Saxon were clearly unwilling to relinquish their position as the commercial hot property of the movement. Released in 1981, hot off the back of their considerable success the year before, Saxon’s fourth album Denim and Leather was a celebration. Not just of the band’s success but of their fans and the resurgent metal scene as a whole.

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Produced by Nigel Thomas, Denim and Leather is less abrasive than the previous albums but still sonic meat and potatoes. It’s topped and tailed with two of the greatest songs Saxon would ever produce. Continuing their penchant for offbeat lyrical subjects and songs about forms of transport, opening track Princess of the Night tells the tale of a steam train delivering mail through ice and snow. (You’ll have to suspend your disbelief at a British train actually running during such inclement weather). It’s a darting, precision rocker with a riff you can’t believe no-one thought of before and a joyously bluesy guitar solo from Paul Quinn. Closing track Denim and Leather is a genuine and charming tribute to the metal fans that put Saxon on the map, highlighting the band’s down-to-earth attitude. It’s a stomping anthem with a huge and irresistible chorus and one of the most memorable opening lines in metal history: “Where were you in ’79 when the dam began to burst?”

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After the superb opening the first side is a mixed-bag. Never Surrender is vintage Saxon and follows Princess of the Night in bruising style but the quality starts to trail off. Rough and Ready is a stodgily unconvincing hard-man boast and Play it Loud is a flat stab at a party anthem. Side 2 immediately gets the album back on track with And the Bands Played On, another of the album’s outstanding victories. Despite its musical similarity to 747 (Strangers in the Night) it has its own unique identity and appeal: a feel-good ode to the inaugural Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington. As with the title track, Saxon’s everyman charm works wonders: rather than singing about how amazing their own performance was, they celebrate the festival itself, the attending horde and name-check other bands on the bill. It’s got simple, memorable guitar riffs and Biff Byford’s breathless delivery is a joy “Will it rain, will it snow, will it shine? We don’t know” and it’s one of those classics you never tire of hearing. Midnight Rider continues the musical lap of honour, recounting the band’s early tours of the States with the rolling tempo and gear-changing chords perfectly capturing the excitement of the road trip. The album’s most ripping number, the apocalyptic Fire in the Sky, and the triumphant title-track finish the album on a high.

Along with Wheels of Steel and Strong Arm of the Law, Denim and Leather is often thought of as the third in Saxon’s “classic trilogy”. As is often the case with trilogies, the final part is the weakest of the three but it’s still a must-hear with some of the band’s most accomplished songwriting and the guitar duo of Graham Oliver/Paul Quinn at a lively peak. The highlights are magnificent metal classics and far outweighs any filler to elevate the album to star status. It was their second highest charting album in the UK so Saxon’s position at the head of the NWOBHM pack remained secure and just two years on from their debut release they already had a discography and a following worthy of celebration. The dam was well and truly burst.

Saxon – Strong Arm of the Law (Review)

Saxon - Strong Arm of the Law (1980)
Saxon – Strong Arm of the Law (1980)

Heavy metal was a big deal in 1980 and so were Saxon. Keen to capitalise on the success of Wheels Of Steel and its accompanying singles, the band were strong-armed into the studio to write and record the follow-up. It could have been a rush-job disaster but the haste gave Saxon a no-frills, street-level edge. It was just four months from the release of Wheels Of Steel and Saxon already had another all-time classic album on the shelves with 1980’s Strong Arm Of The Law.

This album does not hang about as Saxon motör through one banger after another. Heavy Metal Thunder is a blazing ode to everyone’s favourite music, To Hell And Back Again alternates melodic verses with a charging chorus and the high-flying 20,000ft is a relentless live mainstay. The excellent Hungry Years adds a bit of variety with its heavy blues shuffle, the bouncy Sixth Form Girls is a working-class vignette with more intelligent lyrics than the title would suggest and the title-track is pure classic rock with a cool sliding riff and swaggering vocals. But the album’s most classic track is saved for last as Dallas 1pm tells the tale of the JFK assassination with its tense Faith Healer-esque intro, ringing AC/DC chords and a haunting closing section that climaxes with a scorching Graham Oliver guitar solo. It’s a breath-taking conclusion to a blast of an album.

Releasing two albums this wonderful in the space of a year was an incredible feat and its hard to separate them. Wheels Of Steel has the slight edge in strength of tuneage but Strong Arm Of The Law is more pedal-to-the-metal. The label opted to name the album after its lead single but its intended title was originally “Heavy Metal Thunder”. They should have stuck with that cause that’s exactly what you get on this superb album. Fill your heads.

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.

Saxon – Saxon (Review)

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Sword-waving maniac (pictured)

It would cool to be able to say Saxon’s 1979 debut album rages like the sword-waving maniac that adorns Saxon’s album sleeve, but I’d be exaggerating. Even on their first album, the Yorkshire rockers already sounded like old guys. There’s a long-in-the-tooth quality to many of Saxon’s songs which is both a good and bad thing. The album is bookended by the excellent prog-flavoured epics Frozen Rainbow and Militia Guard but is also padded out with stodgy brickie boogie like Big Teaser. But there are three tracks where the band sounds more like the marauder on the sleeve. Judgement Day and Backs To The Wall have a mix of muscle, melody and raging vocals from Biff Byford that sounds more like the real Saxon we all know and love. And biker classic Stallions Of The Highway is phenomenal: the revved-up guitars and a driving rhythm section laying down the template for the band’s future direction and the raw metal attack that would typify the soon-to-be-named New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Saxon would deliver on the promise of this mighty tune and their next albums would have a huge impact. By comparison, the debut is more old-fashioned than New Wave but it’s still a varied and exciting listen that captures a talented band at the point the dam began to burst.

Venom – Welcome to Hell (Review)

Venom - Welcome to Hell
Venom – Welcome to Hell

Extreme Metal pioneers Venom waged war from the very depths of Hell, raging against the early-80s New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands they considered tame and the heroes that they felt had pulled their punches.

They combined the filth and fury of Punk and Motörhead with the larger-than-life images of KISS and Priest and the kind of Devilish allegiance that would have Sabbath crying “Please God help me!” Conrad, Tony and Jeff became the far more demonic-sounding Cronos, Abaddon and Mantas and their classic album cover set out their allegiance to Beelzebub in black and gold. And they had the sound to match their demonic image.

Another trip to the beach ruined
Another trip to the beach ruined

The band used demo sessions for the final album, signalling their primitive purity and honesty. Welcome to Hell sounded under-produced and unholy. The Motörhead influences are obvious, especially in the opening tracks Sons of Satan and Welcome to Hell, but the brio with which they mangle these rockers is thrillingly rudimentary. Cronos’ appropriately named “Bulldozer” bass piles over everything, Mantas peels off some fun wild solos and Abaddon’s caveman drumming tries to keep up. The sense of limits being pushed gives the performance a chaotic edge, especially during the lurching changes of pace. The debauchery of tracks like Poison and Red Light Fever is often criticized but really it all just adds to the shock factor and what’s the point of being one of the Great Horned One’s Legion if you can’t indulge in a bit of hellraising hedonism?

On Side 2 the band enter more original and scarier territory. Witching Hour is seminal proto-Thrash, Angel Dust is face-ripping and In League with Satan is addictively catchy while still sounding ominous and threatening. The band tightens their Metal grip as the album progresses and the most influential musical moments come from the record’s second half. Welcome to Hell has many elements of the Heavy music that preceded it and its fast pace, growled vocals and evil vibe can be heard in so much Metal that came after. But it remains unique and divisive. In fact, it’s a hellish maelstrom of just about everything I love about Heavy Metal while also embodying everything the genre is criticised for.

Venom’s raw, no-holds barred approach would prove to be massively influential on Thrash, Death and particularly Black Metal. Although Venom hadn’t gotten around to christening it yet, many key components of BM began here: particularly the occult, evil atmosphere and rotten production values but also the iconography, aliases and instrument descriptions (Bulldozer Bass, Chainsaw Guitars and Nuclear Warheads!)

But most importantly, Venom’s greatest legacy was their harder/faster/scarier mind-set which became the ethos of much of the Metal that followed. With Welcome to Hell Metal became Extreme and for that we should all praise Satan.

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Metallica – Creeping Death (12″ Single – Review)

Oh look! There's a wee skull in it. Metal.
Oh look! There’s a wee skull in it. Metal.

(Single taken from The Good, the Bad & the Live: (6½ Year Anniversary EP Collection) that I bought back in January 2013)

Metallica’s second European single was released after its parent album Ride the Lightning to promote the band’s European tour. The A-Side song Creeping Death is a stone-cold Metalliclassic, a nuclear biblical epic. The B-Side Garage Days Revisited consists of two faithful covers of NWOBHM tracks (Diamond Head’s Am I Evil? and Blitzkreig’s Blitzkreig). Everyone would have already been familiar with the title-track when this was released but, especially outside the UK, fewer listeners would have known the B-Sides.

It seems that the classic Metal bands of the 70s weren’t doing many covers and the few exceptions were songs lifted from outside the genre and given “heavy” treatment. But in the 80s bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden seemed keen to indulge in a bit of “Record Collection Rock”: recording many covers and, crucially, covers of other heavy and hard rocking bands. Both Maiden and Metallica proved vital in my musical education, pointing me towards other great artists (as well as some great films, books and TV shows).

I miss the orange demon dude.
I miss the orange demon dude.

Were Metallica simply self-serving in making these powerful, but largely unheard, songs their own? Or were they benevolently offering a helping hand (and some welcome royalties) to some great bands that hadn’t found an audience, for the greater good of Metal? I’d say there were elements of both but I would also credit Metallica for having the confidence to put an astounding song like Am I Evil? alongside their own, especially when Metallica’s sound and style was so clearly indebted to Diamond Head. But Metallica’s own compositions had more than enough firepower of their own and enough credit was given to their beloved NWOBHM heroes in interviews and on their T-Shirts to avoid accusations of exploitation.

A Metal Classic
A Metal Classic

While Metallica’s cover versions of Am I Evil? and Blitzkrieg might not quite have the charm or impact of the originals, Metallica admirably put their own crunchy, barky stamp on both tunes. The realisation that there were older bands capable of penning tunes that could hold their own against a classic Thrasher like Creeping Death had many a fan, myself included, scurrying off to their nearest record store. The Metal genre, and my music collection, are much better off thanks to Metallica, one of the greatest gateway bands of all-time.

Further reading:

Metallica – Jump In The Fire (12″ Single)

The Box Set from whence this came!
The Box Set from whence this came!