CD Review: Saxon – Sacrifice

CD Review: Saxon  – Sacrifice
All Access Review: A-

Saxon - Sacrifice 2013
James Cameron’s “Titantic” had star power, amazing special effects and a budget that rivaled the gross national product of some small countries. “Made in Belfast,” Saxon’s blue-collar tribute to those who put their blood, sweat and tears into building the doomed luxury liner, was recorded for their rampaging new album Sacrifice with considerably less money and a leading man in Biff Byford who looks more like a motorcycle club president than Leonardo DiCaprio. And yet, it’s “Made in Belfast” that’s more deserving of an Oscar.

In comparison, Cameron’s interminably long film has nothing on the widescreen epic that serves as the awe-inspiring centerpiece of Sacrifice, Saxon’s third killer album in a row out now on the UDR label. As good a place to start with Sacrifice as any, “Made in Belfast” is an interesting anomaly for Saxon. Dramatic and devastatingly heavy at times, with a crushing, knee-buckling chorus as damaging as the iceberg that tore a gigantic hole into Titanic’s supposedly indestructible hull, “Made in Belfast” also sweeps across the Irish countryside on wheeling Celtic mandolin courtesy of Paul Quinn. And the aural landscape Saxon paints is breathtaking.

An experiment that works astonishingly well, against all odds, the contrast of punishing heavy-metal riffs, soaring twin-guitar helixes, and lovely folk accents is a refreshing change for Saxon, but don’t expect them to make a habit of it. Fascinated by history, just as Saxon was when they penned their own examination of the Kennedy assassination in “Dallas 1 p.m.” some thirty years ago, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal vanguards go old school and burn up the asphalt on “Warriors of the Road,” a fireball of delirious metal energy that’s a throwback to Saxon’s early ‘80s work. The bruising, hard-nosed contemplation of modern-day frustration that is “Standing in a Queue” is just as nostalgic, although it seems to pine just as much for the simple, but brutally effective, hooks of Bon Scott-era AC/DC as it does for their NWOBHM heyday.

Still hungry for new adventures, however, Saxon displays how enamored they are with the explosive, riotous sound of thrash on Sacrifice by raining down torrents of serrated guitar noise – designed by Quinn and his partner in crime Doug Scarratt – in the violent, feverish mosh pit of a title track. And they seethe with rage on the menacing “Wheels of Terror,” but Saxon hasn’t given up on melody, a crucial element of the classic Saxon sound found on “Guardians of the Tomb,” the bruising workingman anthem “Walk the Steel” and “Stand Up and Fight,” all of which feed on the raw fury and searing speed of Exodus or Testament.

The limited deluxe edition of Sacrifice is paired with a bonus disc of extras that find Saxon re-imagining a handful of their most revered classic songs – among them, a majestically orchestrated version of “Crusader,” lush acoustic takes on “Requiem” and “Frozen Rainbow,” and a frenzied “Forever Free.” Still, it’s the hot, molten core of Sacrifice and its brazen “go for the throat” attitude that ought to send old fans and new converts alike into paroxysms of rock ‘n’ roll ecstasy. Saxon's not dead yet. In fact, they seem to found metal’s fountain of youth, as Sacrifice burns with a relentless intensity – no ballads were allowed here – that belies their age.
    Peter Lindblad 

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