Twenty-two albums. That’s a hell of an accomplishment for any band of any genre, and that’s what Saxon’s latest, Thunderbolt, is: number twenty-two. The band’s first album came out in 1979, so for 40 years these guys have been a model of consistency – aside from a brief misstep or two in the ’90s, like many metal bands.
Thunderbolt is the follow-up to 2015’s Battering Ram, and sees the band stick to their tried and true formula: hard-charging NWOBHM. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it: it wasn’t broken on Battering Ram, and the material here on Thunderbolt might even be a fraction stronger than that.
“Olympus Rising” is a brief instrumental intro, before the title track comes in at full throttle. Saxon are at their best on galloping, high-tempo anthems, and “Thunderbolt” is a template we hear throughout the album, including “The Secret of Flight,” “Speed Merchants”and the Lemmy tribute “They Played Rock and Roll.”
Excellent fretwork dominates these guitar-oriented tracks, with the grizzled and seasoned rhythm section anchoring the proceedings. But as has always been the case, Biff Byford is the main draw here. His singing has improved even more over time. He has to be one of the best-sounding sexagenarians on earth, exuding vitality through his throaty, weathered pipes. And as an added bonus, on “Predator” Byford is joined by Amon Amarth’s Johan Hegg, whose ominous growls lurk beneath Byford’s main vocal lines, making for a compelling mix.
The only true drawback to Thunderbolt is the production. Once again, the band has turned the mixing board over to longtime producer Andy Sneap, and while the mix is great and the vocals and guitars sound excellent, the overall sound is lacking in the lower frequencies, giving the album a bit of a thin sound. More power, in line with Sneap’s work on Battering Ram, would have been desirable.
As we’ve come to expect from Saxon albums during this late-life renaissance, there are no weak tracks to be found, but at the same time nothing earth-shattering. Saxon know what they are good at and they stay in their wheelhouse, churning out high-quality traditional metal with the consistency few others can match. Thunderbolt won’t disappoint their fans in the least.
(released February 2, 2018 on Militia Guard)
Heavy Music Headquarters Rating:
Listen To Saxon – “They Played Rock And Roll”