NWOBHM WEDNESDAY: SAXON
Few NWOBHM acts can boast the legacy of England's Saxon. Formed in 1976 in Barnsley, Yorkshire Saxon would begin life as Son Of A Bitch. Originally conceived by the pair of Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson (guitar and bass respectively) the band Saxon could be called the father of English heavy metal. When Biff Byford (vocals), Paul Quinn (guitar) and Pete Gill (drums) joined up, the classic lineup was set and the history of heavy metal would never be the same. Signed to the label Carrerre the group would release their self-titled debut in 1979. While that album is good in it's own right the next four studio albums are truly considered to be outright classics. The albums Wheels of Steel (1980), Strong Arm of the Law (1980), Denim and Leather (1981) and Power & The Glory (1983) are all some of the best this genre has to offer. Those albums stand the test of time making Saxon one of the best bands to emerge from the era. Over time though tensions developed in the band and around 1996-1997 a legal battle ensued between the current lineup (led by original members Byford and Quinn) and the former members Oliver and Dawson. To make a long story short there ended up being two different versions of the band playing out at the same time both of them wanting to use the name Saxon. While Oliver and Dawson started out again under the old name (Son Of A Bitch under which they released Victim You in 1996) they decided after some time that they wanted the old Saxon name for themselves. Their logic was that the Saxon name had been tarnished over the years by sub-par albums and that they should be able to take back the name and right the ship so to speak. After many years of ugly legal battles the courts finally awarded the rights to the name to Biff's version of the band in October of 2003. While the other band was allowed to continue on as Oliver Dawson Saxon it doesn't appear they were anything more than a live touring act. Saxon themselves has carried on with Biff Byford and Paul Quinn fully in charge. Despite Saxon losing their classic sound over the years 2009's Into The Labyrinth saw a return to NWOBHM inspired hard rock/heavy metal. While I haven't heard all of Call To Arms (their new 2011 album) early reviews have been positive. Along with Iron Maiden few bands of the era have been as consistent as Saxon. Their blue-collar approach to heavy metal has kept them in the hearts of heavy metal fans. While they might not have had the same amount of impact here in the U.S. that other NWOBHM bands have had (including Iron Maiden and Def Leppard) they at least remain popular in their homeland. English heroes, Saxon remain one of their top draws and are a band that carry the NWOBHM flag proudly.
Metal Mark says-
I remember around 1984/85 when American metal mags would talk about NWOBHM bands and normally the top bands mentioned were Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Saxon and in that order. There were a ton of NWOBHM bands, but very few achieved much success here in the states. Cleary Iron Maiden and Def Leppard did so to a high level and stayed in the limelight for quite some time. Saxon appeared on the brink of metal stardom in the early 80's, but that popularity soon faded as they got away from a heavier sound in the mid to late 80's. "Wheels of steel" was the first album I heard by Saxon and I took to it right away. The solid riffs, the pounding beats and fist pumpin' type anthems had me sold right away. So I began to explore their other early efforts as well. I agree with Andy that it's those four albums done between 1981 and 1983 that I enjoy most. Saxon had it all together than and every on song on those albums is a winner in my books. The lyrics could be cheesey, but they made up for it with solid music and vocals. "Crusader" in 1984 was the first album where I think the cracks started to show and some filler tracks made their way into the album. The next few albums after that were even more mundane as they seemed to be shooting for a more radio friendly sound. Unfortunately that was a mistake as thrash and heavier genres became more popular many of the older style bands like Saxon were being pushed under the surface. Fortunately they have stuck with it and some of their more recent albums have beeen not just good, but outstanding. Certainly a metal band to note both in the early days and today.