Album Review: SAXON – Unplugged and Strung Up


Saxon – Unplugged and Strung Up

Label: UDR

Release Date: November 18, 2013

While there is no telling how long Saxon will continue its amazing and influential journey, there is no doubting their passion for rock and roll, or their influence on metal. Unplugged and Strung Up is a unique celebration of the band’s amazing 35 year history. Rather than rehash another hits album, founders Biff Byford (vocals) and Paul Quinn (guitar), along with long-time members; Nigel Glockler (drums), Nibbs Carter (bass), and Doug Scarratt (guitar), have chosen to cherry pick more than a dozen unlikely suspects for a sonic makeover. The results are amazing.

The album was recorded, mixed and mastered with the help of the legendary Andy Sneap (Megadeth, Accept, Amon Amarth). The record offers some acoustic renderings, new arrangements and orchestral flourishes. All of these new elements bring out nuances to these songs that fans can now fully appreciate.

Some 35 years after “Stallions of the Highway” originally appeared on Saxon’s 1979 debut self-titled album, Byford and company revisit a classic. The new version is a mammoth kick in the ass to the original. Biff’s voice is charged with whiskey soaked grit and maturity. The remix is a ballsy beast, which is rewarded by modern production techniques the original deserved.

Saxon re-imagines two other tracks from their eponymous effort; a fantastic acoustic take on “Frozen Rainbow” and a re-energized version of “Militia Guard”. Both resonate with a renewed vibrancy.

This orchestrated version of 1984’s Crusader is a reminder that Saxon were among the masters that set the table for the power metal bands that would emerge in the 90s with its dramatic, even cinematic presence. This version adds much depth the majesty of the track. From the same album, the band revamped the anthemic “Just Let Me Rock” with grand results.

The band gives a more muscular and extended take on “Battle Cry” from Rock the Nations (1986), while “The Eagle Has Landed” from 83’s Power & the Glory is finally brought to life as it should have been. The original suffered from a tinny mix. Fans can sink their teeth into this version with its added strings and hefty presence.

Strings and a moody ambiance are added to the already emotive ballad, “Broken Heroes” from 85’s Innocence Is No Excuse album. Sneap and Byford did a masterful job bringing this one to new heights.

From 91’s Solid Ball of Rock the band takes the fist-pumping anthem, “Requiem (We Will Remember)” and spins out a nice acoustic take. As lovely as it is, this is one track that remains better in its original form.

In 1992, Saxon released Forever Free, one of its best albums in several years. As powerful and gritty as it was, it suffered in places from tinny, even muddy production. On Unplugged and Strung Up, the classic title track gets a much needed re-record, while the blue-collar ballad, “Iron Wheels” is churned out in a live acoustic format.

The band tosses in the orchestral rendition of 2011’s “Call To Arms”, as well as an epic and sweeping version of 2007’s “Red Star Falling” from The Inner Sanctum album.

Saxon closes it out with a sweet, bluesy, acoustic adaptation of “Coming Home” from 2001’s Killing Ground. A perfect statement to end this 14-track record.

Saxon are among metal’s pioneering masters and they have been churning out classic records for more than three decades. Unplugged and Strung Up is a wonderful and at times inspired gift to fans. They dust off classic jewels and revisit forgotten gems from their stunning catalog of work. This is a must own for any hard rock and metal fan old or new.

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