Heavy Metal Thunder (SPV Records)
By: Vinnie Apicella
The opening salvo of the title track blasts you right back to the beginning, the time where originators who brought the idea of hard rock to a new level of power and excellence. And on the wings of this "new" Metal movement, there rode in the Saxon, British invaders saddled on a winged beast intent on the unleashing of a fire and fury few could've conceived and that legions would be quick to follow. And yet for all their integrity, Saxon may only now be fully appreciated for the groundbreakers they were. They weren't about change, they weren't about reinvention-- they weren't like Zeppelin, nor were they even in the league of era peers Iron Maiden to many. But for all of the reasons Black Sabbath remains the living legends they are, the reasons Manowar is still hailed as Metal kings, it is the cause, above all else, and those committed to carrying out the fight, that proves again the timeless nature of an underground phenomena that outlasts atmospheric pressure. AC/DC is the truest testament to all; their detractors say they haven't changed; their millions of fans will tell you the same thing. Saxon's certainly among the many Metal acts picking up steam in recent years, having released new records at an alarming one a year rate, resting not on a single laurel but pushing onward, their relevance, taking for naught not even the trace of insecurity brought on by the late '80s/early '90s dry up. "Heavy Metal Thunder" is thus vintage Saxon, yesterday and today. The band, stronger than at any point before, storms through the gates of their past on this two disc set revisiting their early years beginning with their self-titled debut and finishing on '84s "Crusader" and in no particular chronologically set course. "Heavy Metal Thunder" is the perfect introduction for the new listener or bearded veteran seeking a new twist on the ol' standby. And after hearing this...many will recall another traditionally secure band, Running Wild, having done the same thing ten years back, redefining their catalog in similarly splendid fashion...one wonders why more bands don't take the approach. Toss aside the atypical "Best Of" space fillers and unwanted "extra" track, log the studio time, crank it up and prove your worth in the hereafter. And the results here are inarguable...no one gripes about another "Greatest Hits" dozer, and everyone gets something out of the deal. And most who'd originally got their wings in the early '80s when most of these were first tracked, can appreciate the upgrade in sound quality, not to mention the potency of Saxon's latest line up, though it only features two of the "originals" in Biff and Quinn. Of course depending on who you ask, Oliver/Dawson immediately spring to mind, a debatable point of contention, but the integrity presented here is without peer; a life affirming handout to serve an absolute necessity for a claustrophobic period of sound production that really didn't hit the ground running till the mid '80s...a year after Saxon's last "Crusader" record, covered here. Proud owners of "Power And The Glory" on cassette can attest to this fact without hesitation! Disc one goes thirteen long visiting all of the band's expected haunts from the day besides the opening title track, and including, "Strong Arm Of The Law," "Power & The Glory," "Crusader," (sans opening) a revved up version of the "Princess Of The Night" classic, the exemplary "Motorcycle Man" from the sleeper "Wheels Of Steel" Carrere era release-- and nuff said about that. "Denim & Leather" and "Backs To The Wall" finish up the studio tracking, all brilliantly played and demonstrative of a band's second coming, or "Eagle's" if you will, really giving a fresh coat of paint to a catalog of classics too long left in the dust. Disc two is a nice throw in of six live tracks but nothing to really go chasing frozen rainbows over. After listening to "Broken Heroes" I think I must've adjusted the volume level, treble, and mix buttons on my receiver ten or seventy times before the six minute stifle session ground to a close. Cool to hear two new up and comers "Dragon's Lair" and the title track of the last "Killing Ground" release done to raised response, but overall, Saxon's resurfacing the rust of their steel wheeled prime to modern day significance results in full gleaming alloys...from strong content to top flight cover art. Cut out '85 -- '95, chalk it up to musical misappropriation, hard lessons learned, and suddenly the idea of "Metal Gods" in the same sentence with the many currently held in such high esteem doesn't seem so unsettling--
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