Saxon - Lionheart 2004 SPV Records - reviewed by: EC
Track Listing01. Witchfinder General 02. Man and Machine 03. The Return 04. Lionheart 05. Beyond the Grave 06. Justice 07. To Live by the Sword 08. Jack Tars 09. English Man 'O War 10. Searching for Atlantis 11. Flying on the Edge
Sometimes you can just look at an album's artwork and just know, just absolutely know in your heart, that the record will just smoke. Saxon's newest record, "Lionheart", courtesy of SPV Records, is a brilliant, non-stop metallic vision that refuses to fall into the same downward spiral as other "seasoned" veterans like Dio and Maiden. Clad in the glorious artwork of Paul Raymond Gregory, who also crafted the group's classic "Crusader"cover, "Lionheart" is a different type of Saxon record, one that sees the group emerging from a seven year drought that seemed to tarnish the English legends ("Unleash The Beast", "Metalhead", "Killing Ground"), while at the same time made many belive the band's direction and focus had been lost along with the nasty departure of two it's mainstay members, Steve Dawson and Graham Oliver.
With this new release, Biff and company decided to do a number of things differently. For the first time in fifteen years the band decided to record their new album in their homeland of England. How appropriate considering Saxon is one of the founding fathers of British heavy metal. Along with the change of scenery comes a different producer for the band, one Charlie Bauerfeind, known predominantly for his stellar work with Germans Rage and Blind Guardian, along with producing notable British acts like Halford and Motorhead. With the departure of drummer Fritz Randow, Saxon summons one of the best "behind the kit men" of the modern age, legendary stickman Joerg Michael. Famous for his performances in bands like Stratovarius, Grave Digger, and Rage, Joerg Michael brings a certain "Teutonic" feel to the band's sound, a prescious element that helps these blue-collar blokes break away from the restraints holding the band back year after year. Instead of relying on that same 'ole same 'ole sound, Saxon can now take advantage of the German landscape, mainly getting influences from both Bauerfeind and Michael, taking the lineup into the realms of power metal fury that they haven't visited in ages.
This type of album is very rare to find. Folks, there is no filler here whatsoever, just riff after riff of big-boy metal, not to be confused with symphonic, opera rock that Europe seems to be molding into radio friendly tunes fit for America. Indeed "Lionheart" is the perfect moniker for this slab of beef, the band proving they are armed to the teeth for this battle in the lion's den. With eleven iron-clad tracks that spell out C-L-A-S-S-I-C, Saxon have on their hands what I like to call "Album Gold". "Lionheart" will be my pick for album of the year, in fact I would have to say right now, on record, that this is the BEST metal album I've heard this millenium. Yeah, I said it. Give me one album out there this damn good! Biff explains this is the most powerful album the band has ever recorded, and I agree wholeheartedly. The album is just phenomenal, with roaring cuts like opener "Witchfinder General", the tight and speedy "Man And Machine", and power anthem "Lionheart". Biff is back to basics here, rough and ready at the helm, belting out metal thunder while being flanked on both sides by the powerful strings of Quinn and Scarratt.
Tracks like "Justice" and "Flying On The Edge" are total powerhouse numbers, delivering a fat mammoth hook while Michael plays "piece" keeper, staying within the lines and holding the songs together with his tight patterns and fast double bass. "Beyond The Grave" is a spooky little number, asking the age old question, what lies beyond? I love the band's pen work, with cuts like "Lionheart" and "English Man 'o' War" showcasing the English soldier's battle cries through history. The murky waters are unveiled with mid-pacer "Searching For Atlantis", while "To Live By The Sword" flies by night, keeping the armor shiny and gleaming even under the fastest conditions.
This is an instant classic and in my opinion the record that puts Saxon back on top. There just isn't anyone out there today that can make this record. "Lionheart" is pure Saxon through and through, recalling the "Power And The Glory" of years past. It is truly a blessing that these guys are back in shape, and back at the forefront of British heavy metal. This album is a masterpiece and one that will be treasured by this headbanger for years to come. Highly Recommended!!
About this Writer: Eric Compton // Eric Compton lives in the most haunted city in the world, St. Augustine, Florida with his family and two yorkies. He has served as senior editor for MaximumMetal.com for nearly 10 years and is the author of the heavy metal book series--Denim & Letters. His reviews, interviews and social commentary has been featured on websites like Brave Words, Blabbermouth, Metal Temple, Metal Rules, Ultimate Metal, Metal Maniacs and Wikipedia.
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