As my Top 10 Albums of the Year proved, “death metal in space” was a big thing in 2016. So let’s travel back in time to 1990 and the album that started it all: Nocturnus’ The Key and this excellent blast of sci-fi horror. Some sort of evil cyborg has invented a time machine and set a course for the date 0 B.C. He has only one goal: kill the baby Jesus!
“Blasting away Father, Mother, and Child/laughing hysterically all of the while” the cyborg proves to be devastatingly successful in his mission. And Destroying the Manger proves devastatingly successful too: a wild shred-fest of riffs and solos that gets down to serious moshing business at 4:10. And check out the prominent keyboards too… Nocturnus going where no death metal band had gone before.
Greatest Hits Live! captures Saxon on the upswing following the doldrums of their disappointing Destiny album and tour. Frontman Biff Byford had taken over their management, securing a well-received support slot with Manowar that galvanised the group. Saxon then launched a European headlining tour in 1990 to celebrate 10 Years of Denim & Leather* and the UK leg was such a success that the band added another run of UK gigs later in the year. They played more than 40 shows in the UK alone, winning much-needed acclaim and credibility in their homeland. The Nottingham show was recorded and released as Saxon’s third live album.
Unlike its two predecessors, The Eagle Has Landed and Rock N’ Roll Gypsies, Greatest Hits Live! offers a full** Saxon live set, living up to its title. It’s bulging with classics (Wheels of Steel, (747) Strangers in the Night, Princess of the Night, And the Bands Played On), hard-hitting metal bangers from the early days (Motorcycle Man, 20,000ft and Heavy Metal Thunder) and well-chosen newer material (a bouncy Rock N’ Roll Gypsy and a tougher take on Ride Like the Wind). There are some mid-set surprises too with a captivating Frozen Rainbow and an absolutely phenomenal version of See the Light Shining. And just to put the icing on the cake: the classic tracks Denim and Leather and Crusader finally make their live album debuts.
Greatest Hits Live! is an honest and energetic live album that drives home the quality of Saxon’s material and the celebratory vibe of the tour. On the evidence here, it’s no surprise that they won over audiences up and down the country. However, through all their ups-and-downs, Saxon’s live prowess was never in doubt. If they were going to have a future they’d have to produce new material that lived up to the glorious past celebrated here. Buoyed by the enthusiastic reception from their UK fans, Saxon rushed back into the studio. The comeback was on.
*Biff announces “we’ve been together for 10 years” but their debut album was released in 1979 so in 1990 they were a year out. Instead, the liner notes proclaim that the 10 years refer to the anniversary of their 1980 breakthrough with Wheels of Steel. But then they called it “10 Years of Denim & Leather” after an album that was nine years old.
**One song is missing. The show was also released on VHS and the set included Strong Arm of the Law. I’ll let them off though.