20. Innocence is No Excuse (1985)
In 1985, hair metal was in full swing, and heavier bands were being pushed towards a mainstream sound. Innocence is No Excuse is the album where Saxon‘s wheels of steel begin changing direction a bit. The band’s newer sound began to blend in with the countless AOR bands of the era, siphoning off the edge and attitude that Saxon is known for. The album marked the first under major label EMI, which may have played a role in the push towards a radio-oriented style that did not serve the band well. The record is by no means horrible, but the sonic identity crisis within the band is apparent, whether based on external or internal pressures.
19. Forever Free (1992)
Forever Free marked the second of Saxon‘s records to kick off the 90s. Released only a year after the scattered Solid Ball of Rock, this album found the band trying to re-solidify its signature style. In that regard, this album taps into the band glorious past of only a decade early. Tracks like “Cloud Nine,” “Iron Wheels,” “Nighthunter,” and the Priest-esque rocker “One Step Away,” are classic Saxon tunes and a good sign of things to come. Unfortunately, the album falters a bit with middlers like “Grind” and the Willie Dixon cover, “I Just Wanna Make Love to You.”
18. Rock the Nations (1986)
Saxon‘s eighth studio effort, Rock the Nations, was marked by the absence of former bassist Steve Dawson who had long been a songwriting contributor. This left a creative hole the band would need time to adapt to. The album has some quality tracks, but overall it sounds and feels somewhat cliche, like a ghost of their former glory. There were no true highlights that would draw the listener back repeatedly. Unfortunately, the late 80s were just not a great time for our British stalwarts. As a bit of trivia, Byford played bass on the album.
17. Dogs of War (1995)
With their 12th album, Dogs of War, Saxon finally seemed ready to shake off the struggles of the prior few albums. They were regaining their songwriting focus and re-establishing their sound. This was the last album to feature guitarist Graham Oliver. There are some great songs here like “The Great White Buffalo” and the Montrose vibe of “Burning Wheels.” Sonically, they were still a bit scattered on some tracks, but there were no real clunkers here, and the album is a solid effort overall. Every track was penned by Byford and drummer Nigel Glockler.
16. Crusader (1984)
Crusader is the band’s sixth studio effort, and the last album before the band would get swallowed in a slump caused in part by the poor decision making and later the emergence of the grunge movement which so impacted the heavy metal landscape. Crusader is a difficult album to rank, because the title track is an epic piece of classic metal and there are some wonderful songs on here, but much of it feels contrived and even an attempt to shift towards a more commercial direction. Blue-collar, bluesy metal is Saxon‘s bread and butter, and this album marked the band’s move away from their NWOBHM roots.