What is there to be said about SAXON that hasn't been said ad infinitum? These living legends have no need to carve new niches. They have theirs firmly entrenched and the glistening steel talons of the silver eagle remain as polished as ever. SAXON has been on a roll as far back as 1995's "Dogs of War", albeit the turn in the tide of their return to favor is undeniably marked by 2004's "Lionheart".
Since then, SAXON has remained ol' reliables, never wavering in their simplistic yet effective creed to honor the roots they helped plant. On their two-disc 20th album "Sacrifice", expect nothing less. Really, the only notables to "Sacrifice" is that SAXON made a slightly bit more of a concentrated effort to hail their early Eighties tones with a contemporary gleam. Then you have a few audile extracurriculars such as the cinematic jungle intro of "Procession", which pits you straight at the fore of a mad Mayan death march setting up the bopping and banging title track.
Forget this album turning concept, however. Immediately "Sacrifice" changes gears with a brisk metal jig, "Made in Belfast", complete with some nifty mandolin that keeps a rapid sub-rhythm to the song's giddy swing. Right afterwards, SAXON steps on the gas with the quasi-thrash groove of "Warriors of the Road", and then some Japanese koto greets the mid-tempo throb of "Guardians of the Tomb".
The remainder of "Sacrifice" operates, as if set in stone, in a mid-tempo crush mode. "Night of the Wolf", and "Stand Up and Fight" ring true as slower-working, trad mini-metal epics. "Wheels of Terror" slithers instead of speeds before moving into third gear, which allows Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt to peel off lavish and tasteful solos within two varying elements. Rounding out the main album is an unapologetic straight rocker "Standing in a Queue", as SAXON throws themselves a little denim and leather party their followers are obligated to attend, not merely invited.
"Sacrifice"'s bonus disc is a five track grab bag of mostly disposable nuggets that really aren't the selling point. An orchestrated version of "Crusader" isn't going to win over naysaying pundits against that album, nor will a subpar re-recording of "Just Let Me Rock". The redux of "Forever Free" is game enough, but not really needed. At least the acoustic version of "Frozen Rainbow" presents delightful escapism. If you purchase the digital version of "Sacrifice", you'll be entitled to an iTunes-only track, "Luck of the Draw".
Irksome marketing gimmicks aside, the endpoint to "Sacrifice" is that its only real detraction (and it's not much of one) is the in-your-face momentum established in the first half of the album settles down in the second. Still heavier than your grandma's boulder holder, SAXON continue to soar as old guard titans. Less progressive and exploratory than "The Inner Sanctum" or "Into the Labyrinth", there are still a good bit of decorative nuances to what is otherwise a straight-up, old-school bangfest as only SAXON can deliver without shame. "Sacrifice"'s operative appeal is hearing Biff Byford continuing to dominate his position as the authority he's been for three decades-plus. Never mind he has as stout a band behind his back as ever.
- Ray Van Horn, Jr.