Saxon – Inspirations
Label: Silver Lining Music/Militia Guard
Release Date: March 19, 2021
More than 40 years after the birth of U.K. metal legends Saxon, the band is back with a celebration of the music that inspired its own inspirational career. While the pandemic has created a concert void for bands and fans alike it has gifted musicians with extra time for creation and that has led to a wealth of new metal. It is somewhat unusual that Saxon has influenced so many other bands, yet unlike their counterparts, no one has covered their breadth of recorded material. That could well be due to the difficulty in replicating the unique and impressive vocals of frontman, Biff Byford, who sounds as incredible today as he did four decades ago. Byford is Saxon’s secret weapon, and on Inspirations he gets to stretch out and challenge himself as he Saxonize’s these classic anthems.
I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, I used to metal up pop songs in my head. Because let’s face it, almost every song can be made better with some crunchy riffage. Listening to Saxon’s Inspirations takes me back to that time, right from the opening kick of the Rolling Stones classic, “Paint it Black” which opens the record. The band, which also features drummer Nigel Glockler, bassist Nibbs Carter, and the twin guitar assault of Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt, keep pretty true to the original renditions of each song. “Paint it Black” still grooves with that serpentine ethos of the original, but here it’s punchier, heavier, and somehow more menacing.
Likewise, Saxon’s spin on Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” is beefier and imminently more powerful. Despite the muscular approach to each song, that doesn’t toss out the melody which is clearly evident on the toe-tapping pop vibe of The Beatles “Paperback Writer.” All the sing along accessibility of the original remains, but it’s like the 98 lb. weakling has spent his summer at the gym pumping iron.
As the band twisted into Crow’s “Evil Woman,” made famous by Black Sabbath on its 1970 self-titled debut, I had to double check to make sure Ozzy Osbourne had not made a cameo on the track (it’s all Biff). All the swing of the vintage Sabbath version is at play here, delivering one of the best cuts on an incredible record. The band then doubles down on the free-spirted bluesy swagger of Jimi Hendrix’ “Stone Free,” while adding some raucous energy to the original.
By the time Saxon celebrates comrades-in-arms, Motorhead for a thrilling spin on “Bomber,” the head-banging party is in full swing. Byford lets one of his famous whistles fly as they charge full-steam into this balls-to-the-walls romp. The juggernaut continues with a propulsive and loaded performance of Deep Purple’s “Speed King, followed by a sinewy turn at Thin Lizzy’s “The Rocker,” The latter pulled from Lizzy’s 1973 album, Vagabonds of the Western World, back when the band was still a trio. Saxon’s version gives fans an idea of what this might have sounded like had Lizzy been the dual guitar icons they became only a year later.
Probably the oddity of the Inspirations record, is the band’s cover of Toto’s 1978 hit single “Hold the Line.” It seems oddly out of character for Saxon, but they make it work. It also proves that even a renowned pop guitarist like Steve Lukather knew how to craft a raw metal riff.
AC/DC gets its due with bombastic and crushing rendition of the Bon Scott era anthem, “Problem Child,” before the tempo and tone slow down for the album closer, “See My Friends.” Saxon’s version of The Kink’s psychedelic hit is a weightier and more emotive affair than the 1965 original.
To record Inspirations, Saxon went old school and organic, locking down to record at Brockfield House outside York, with Biff producing the record alongside Jacky Lehmann (Accept, Kreator, Amon Amarth) mixing and recording. Real drums, Marshall amps, just the way rock and roll was meant to be.
All 11 tracks on Inspirations are fueled by a respect for the music that touched Byford and Saxon as they began their own career. Also, not lost over the course of these classic remakes is the band’s sense of entertainment, fun, and enjoyment in breathing fresh life into these ear nuggets that have been a part of all our lives for decades. If the last year served as a crucible for people across the globe, Saxon reminds us of the medicinal and healing power of rock and roll. We are all united by a love of music. It provides us emotional and physical release, and of course, inspiration.
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