Saxon are truly one of the great heavy metal bands of all time – and arguably the best traditional metal act operating in Britain today – but when it comes to these heavy-hitters of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, wading through their massive back catalogue can be daunting.
So, here’s our pick of the 5 essential Saxon albums….
Wheels Of Steel (1980)
A year after their self titled debut, Saxon released their sophomore album, Wheels Of Steel, and while their debut hinted at the bands potential, this all-time classic saw that potential fully realised.
As with Strong Arm Of The Law, the production from Peter Hinton was sparse and raw and, along with the uptempo nature of the tracks, this gave the album a vibrant sound that only really eased up (momentarily) with the power-pop of “Suzie Hold On”.
From the full-tilt riffing of “Motorcycle Man”, to the anthemic title track, you needn’t be a big fan of Saxon to appreciate their impact on the burgeoning New Wave Of British Heavy Metal scene. Not forgetting, Wheels Of Steel is also home to one of the all time great metal songs in shape of the focused and refined “747 (Strangers in the Night)”.
While there isn’t a bad song to be found on Wheels Of Steel, it’s not actually home to as many great tracks as the two albums that followed it. However, it remains a startling statement of intent from a young band who, at this stage, had the world at their feet.
You can say many things about Saxon but you cannot question their work ethic and with this, their second album in just four months(!), the band released another certifiable classic of British heavy metal.
There is a real sense of urgency with this recording. The band had by now nailed down their sound and were ready to build on the momentum kickstarted by Wheels of Steel. You can hear their ravenous desire to make their mark on the metal world in each and every track and this is what makes Strong Arm Of The Law the definitive Saxon album.
Take your pick from “Dallas 1pm”, “Strong Arm of the Law”, “Too Hell and Back Again” and the statement of intent that is “Heavy Metal Thunder”. All hit you in the gut with a power unrivalled by the majority of their peers; nevermind a top class production, the sheer quality of the songs alone qualify’s this as Saxon‘s best album…. and as one of the great British metal albums of all time!
That Saxon are one of the great heavy metal bands there can be no doubt, although they rarely receive the credit they’re so obviously due. Granted, they seemed to lose their way for a period of time but they rectified their problems, injected some new blood into the ranks and have defiantly improved with age; something that cannot be said for most bands of a similar vintage.
Long may the mighty Saxon reign!
Denim and Leather (1981)
1981 saw the release of what is commonly thought to be the final third of Saxon’s classic trilogy. Even after all these years, it’s still hard to believe that they managed to release three classic albums in under 18 months. Especially considering most bands struggle to have that many classics in their entire career!
Denim and Leather expanded on the template laid down on Saxon’s previous two albums, however this time the production from Nigel Thomas reigned in some of the rawness and gifted the album a fuller sound. Of course, all this would be meaningless without the songs to back it up and Denim and Leather is home to more than a few rip snorters! Album opener “Princess of the Night” is a stormer, home to a colossal rolling riff and ingeniously catchy chorus and is quickly followed up by the call to arms that is “Never Surrender”. Incidentally, when you also find the time to record two all time classic metal anthems – “And the Bands Played On” and “Denim and Leather” – you know you’re on to a winner.
At this stage, Saxon could seemingly do no wrong.
After dallying with a more melodic rock style on Call To Arms, Saxon decided to get back to what they do best….which is heavy fucking metal! And nowhere are they heavier or faster than on 2013’s Sacrifice.
This is the sound of a band completely reinvigorated and on absolute fire. Doug Scarratt and Paul Quinn unleash riff after punishing riff throughout the duration of the album while the rhythm section of Nibbs Carter and Nigel Glockler hold down a rock steady beat. Biff Byford spits out his lyrics with a bug eyed intensity virtually unheard of for a frontman of his vintage and, all in all, their performance shames bands half their age.
The title track is a snarling beast, positively dripping with vim and vigour, while “Made In Belfast” is a mid paced stomper and a ripping ode to the working man who toiled in their thousands in the Belfast ship yards; Saxon’s blue-collar roots standing proud as always. The riffs on Sacrifice are crisper and faster than ever before and while this still sounds like the Saxon we know and love, the thrashing moments of riffathon “Night Of The Wolf indicate a band unafraid to up the ante when it comes to skull-crushing riffs.
Albums like this demand you throw the horns and headbang like an absolute lunatic. That Saxon saw fit to get heavier as the years passed is testament to their inability to become passé, their passion still stoking the flames of modern metal and keeping the new breed on their toes
Battering Ram (2015)
Saxon’s 21st(!) studio album ably continued the incendiary run of form that Saxon had been on for the past fifteen years.
A modern day classic, (we’re certain of this status already), Battering Ram may reign in some of the thrashier moments displayed on Sacrifice but fear not, this album is still full of the kind of pure, punchy and powerful heavy metal that Saxon have always delivered so well!
The main problem facing the band with the release of this album was picking which tracks they were going to place in future set-lists. All were of the highest standard, a rare feat nowadays, although special mention must go to “Kingdom of the Cross”, a beautiful tribute to the young men who died in their thousands on the fields of Flanders.
Battering Ram found Saxon sticking strongly to their roots and delivering another no nonsense slab of classic metal which appeared to pay off handsomely; Battering Ram achieved the bands highest UK chart position since 1988!
Saxon (1979) / Wheels Of Steel (1980) / Strong Arm Of The Law (1980) / Denim and Leather (1981) / Power and the Glory (1983) / Crusader (1984) / Innocence Is No Excuse (1985) / Rock The Nations (1986) / Destiny (1988) / Solid Ball Of Rock (1990) / Forever Free (1992) / Dogs Of War (1995) / Unleash The Beast (1997) / Metalhead (1999) / Killing Ground (2001) / Heavy Metal Thunder (2002) / Lionheart (2004) / The Inner Sanctum (2007) / Into The Labyrinth (2009) / Call To Arms (2011) / Sacrifice (2013) / Battering Ram (2015) / Thunderbolt (2018) / Inspirations (2021) / Carpe Diem (2022)
These lists are always contentious, so if we’ve left out your favourite Saxon album, pop it (or them) in the comments below….