For 40 years now, Saxon have been one of the most reliable bands in the British hard rock and classic metal scene. Writing, recording, and touring since the early days of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) movement, time may not always have been kind to the group, but Saxon have carried on regardless. They may not be as popular or fashionable as they once were, but the men are still unleashing quality heavy metal upon the world, most recently on a US tour with Judas Priest.
As you’d hope for from an act that has been active for so long, Saxon has some absolute classics in their discography, and this latest round of reissues gives three of their early ‘80s albums – Denim & Leather, Power & The Glory, and Crusader – the deluxe treatment, with the albums issued as special edition 2CD sets, and on coloured splatter and swirl vinyl. Without exception, all three vinyl (the versions reviewed here) look and sound fabulous, and if you’re like many fans and have been wanting to replace your old, well-worn copies, then these are absolutely the versions to pick up.
Saxon’s Denim & Leather was originally released on October 5, 1981, via EMI.
Denim & Leather, originally released in 1981, is perhaps the classic Saxon album, and their best-known recording. Singles such as opener “Princess of the Night”, “And The Bands Played On”, and “Never Surrender” are staples of feel-good metal, combining a rock ‘n’ roll swagger with early metal heroics. This is an album full of highlights, whether it be the streetwise and brash “Never Surrender” or “Rough and Ready”; rocking love songs such as “Out of Control” and “Princess of the Night” (the latter is the best love song to a train you’ll ever hear), or the more subtly crafted – but no less immediate and catchy - “And the Bands Played On”.
Though the second side is a little more uneven than the first – “Midnight Rider” is maybe a bit too long in its mid-tempo rocking, and the apocalyptic themes of “Fire in the Sky” feel out of place – it’s still an album that is all but impossible not to enjoy, with the closing title track being a real anthem. Its lyrics may seem slightly dated now – with references to reading “the music paper”, hanging out at record stores, and listening to the radio to hear your favourite bands – but as a love letter to the unifying power of rock, it’s hard to do better.
Watch the band’s video for “Denim and Leather” here.
Follow-up Power & The Glory, from 1983, isn’t quite the album that Denim & Leather is, but it’still a solid offering on the whole. Given that this was Saxon’s fifth release in five years, it’s perhaps no surprise that there’s a bit less energy to the record; the album packs less of a punch overall than their previous efforts. It’s more mid-tempo rock than metal; though there’s still plenty of heavy power chords and soaring vocals, the songs stick pretty strictly to their mid-tempos and standard structures, though there are a few sections when the band stray off the beaten path a touch. “Midas Touch” exemplifies this, with its slower, dramatic sections that provide a great sense of contrast.
The closing track, “The Eagle Has Landed”, is a classic part of Saxon’s back catalogue – lending its name to three different live albums, no less – and opens with a progressively-minded section that is like an early metal take on Pink Floyd, with the track growing in power until it becomes an utter behemoth of hard rock. This, along with the opening title track, are the highlights of the album, and make it worthy of a place in your collection. The rest of Power & The Glory isn’t bad either – not quite the beast that Denim & Leather is, but for a soundtrack to a sunny afternoon, relaxing with some hard rock and drinking your preferred cold beverage, it’s a solid choice.
Saxon’s Power & the Glory was originally released on March 21, 1983, via EMI.
The third of the new reissues, Crusader, is more of a mixed bag. The album opens in superlative, and unusual, style. Opener “The Crusader Prelude” - a minute-long mood-setter, featuring sounds of battle – gives way to the title track, which is one of the most epic in Saxon’s back-catalogue. Slow, weighty, steeped in an atmosphere of epic dread and violence, it is nothing like you would probably expect from Saxon. It is also an inarguably brilliant song, and starts the disc off in style.
Sadly, the rest of Crusader doesn’t live up to these standards, or those of previous albums. Saxon’s well-established mix of rock ‘n’ roll and early metal is instead replaced by something more influenced by the glam and hair metal that was commercially successful at the time. That’s not an inherently bad thing – bands should be allowed to grow and experiment – but, aside from the title track, most of the songs on Crusader don’t have enough passion or novelty to stand out. The first half of the album just about succeeds due to its energy and feel-good vibes, but the second half is more likely to appeal to fans of groups like Twisted Sister or Mötley Crüe than it is Saxon’s previous (and more modern) records; and even then, it doesn’t stand up well when compared to staples like Dr Feelgood or Stay Hungry.
Check out Saxon’s “The Eagle Has Landed” lyric video.
Crusader marked the direction Saxon would take for a considerable time, moving in a more overtly commercial direction and away from their early sound. It would take almost twenty years for the band to regain their credibility, and they deserve credit for sticking around even when they weren’t fashionable. Though Crusader may not be their best output, and is one for die-hard Saxon fans or fans of glam and hair metal, Power & The Glory is an undeniably solid slice of rock and early metal, whilst Denim & Leather is an album that should be heard by every fan of classic rock and metal, if they haven’t already.
Denim & Leather Track Listing:
01. Princess of the Night
02. Never Surrender
03. Out of Control
04. Rough and Ready
05. Play it Loud
06. And the Bands Played On
07. Midnight Rider
08. Fire in the Sky
09. Denim & Leather
Saxon’s Crusader was originally released on April 16, 1984, via Carrere Records.
Power & The Glory Track Listing:
01. Power & The Glory
05. This Town Rocks
06. Watching the Sky
07. Midas Touch
08. The Eagle has Landed
Crusader Track Listing:
01. The Crusader Prelude
03. A Little Bit of What You Fancy
04. Sailing to America
05. Set me Free (Sweet cover)
06. Just Let me Rock
07. Bad Boys (Like to Rock 'n' Roll)
08. Do it All For You
09. Rock City
10. Run For Your Lives
Run Time: 37:43 / 36:33 / 39:20
Release Date: May 25, 2018
“Just Let Me Rock” exclaim Saxon with this live performance video.