Saxon's 'Sacrifice' a thrash-metal throwback

Front man Biff Byford talks new album, U.S. release date pushed back

By Peter Lindblad

Like a general marshaling his troops for another saber-rattling, bloody charge into battle, Saxons Biff Byford had an inspirational message for the band on the eve of preparing to go to work on Sacrifice.

Saxon - Sacrifice 2013
Due out now in late March, the 26th to be exact, in the U.S., having been delayed because of manufacturing problems, Sacrifice is rough-and-tumble, old-school New Wave of British Heavy Metal mixed with fire-bombing thrash, influenced by the same bands, including Metallica, that once worshiped at Saxon’s altar.

As Byford says in the press materials related to Sacrifice, “My brief to the band was not to be afraid, to be raw, be real and not be afraid to look back at the old classic material for inspiration.”

Between 1980 and 1983, Saxon toured relentlessly and churned out album after album of rugged, hard-working metal machinery that celebrated the blue-collar lifestyle, the commitment to spreading the gospel of metal and the pure enjoyment of engines and driving heavy-duty motorcycles. Studio albums such as Wheels of Steel, Strong Arm of the Law, Denim and Leather and Power & the Glory are considered stone-cold NWOBHM classics, and Sacrifice – coming hot on the heels of such critically acclaimed works as 2009’s Into the Labyrinth and 2011’s Call to Arms – is a throwback to the good old days of Saxon. 

“Yeah, I think we’re in that sort of period again that we used to be in, in the ‘80s,” says Byford, in a recent interview with Backstage Auctions. “We’re knocking them out really good. So, yeah, we feel pretty good about this album. I produced it myself. I was more in control of, you know, the actual songs and the sounds, so I’m quite happy about that.”

The decision to captain the ship this time around came from a desire to make a classic Saxon album, especially in light of the fact that Sacrifice is the band’s 20th album.

“I just really wanted to make an album that I liked and not be beholden to the people who are not doing it,” explains Byford. “The fans are quite happy with that, so that was good. Yeah, I just wanted to reflect them on this album. There are no ballads, just good rock music, just good metal music. That’s what I wanted to do.”

For homework, the boys in Saxon – Byford, guitarists Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt, drummer Nigel Glockler, and bassist Nibbs Carter – were assigned the task of sitting with those landmark recordings and trying to channel the spirit and attitude of Saxon’s glorious past.

“I mean, we went back to the ‘80s a little bit for two or three of the songs, just to figure out what made us great,” says Byford. “I think ‘Warriors of the Road’ and ‘Stand Up and Fight’ are sort of thrash-metal-y like the ‘80s were, and yeah, I just wanted to play with Marshalls and Gibsons really, and just play and not rely too much on too many digital tricks and just play like it is really.”

Forget Pro-Tools and all that foolishness. Sacrifice was made in England, the old-fashioned way. And though it certainly contains elements of classic Saxon, Sacrifice did allow the band to stretch out creatively.
“Some of the stuff is quite modern, like ‘Made in Belfast’ is a really heavy song, with the Celtic sort of style (mandolins being part of the equation),” says Byford. “We were experimenting as well, but yeah, I wanted the songs to have that kind of push like it was recorded yesterday, but still have that one foot in the past.”

Sacrifice was originally slated for release Feb. 26 in America. It’ll come out in a variety of packages, including a standard jewel-case CD, a limited-edition deluxe digibook, a vinyl picture disc, a direct-to-consumer fan package (available exclusively for online order from online retailers), and a digital download that includes one bonus song, “Luck of the Draw.” It’s an iTunes exclusive. A complete version of our interview with Biff will be available as the release date for Sacrifice approaches.

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