Saxon — “Thunderbolt”

On the heels of two successful U.S. co-headlining tours with UFO, British heavy metal legends Saxon managed to find the time to enter the studio and record their 22nd studio album, “Thunderbolt.”

And what a flash of brilliance it is.

With “Thunderbolt,” the band manages to stay firmly entrenched between its New Wave of British Heavy Metal roots of the late 1970s and its brand of metal from recent decades, which is still as potent as ever. Though the band remains somewhat of a cult classic 40 years in, their legion of fans know they can still count on Saxon to deliver the goods. And that’s exactly what they do in spades on “Thuderbolt,” showing the world their metal prowess is as strong as ever in soaring tracks like “”The Secret of Flight” and “Nosferatu (The Vampire’s Waltz”).

The centerpiece of the album is “They Played Rock N Roll,” an homage to the band’s late friend, Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead. Both bands flourished during the NWOBHM, then managed to survive and persevere for decades amidst fickly music industry trends. When Byford sings “When the bomber flew/It was ’79/Make no mistake/It was their time,” and “They took no sleep/The tour rolled on/To Hammersmith/Their battle song,” it’s immediately obvious that there is no better band to pay tribute to Motorhead. None. The track is one of the best the band has delivered in decades and should (hopefully) become a nightly staple on the bands’ upcoming tour with Judas Priest this spring.

Speaking of the ageless wonder that is Byford, the 67-year-old continues to astound with his unique vocal delivery that is as much Saxon as the band’s thunderous, epic riffs. Byford should be commended for maintaining such a high level of vocal excellence for so many years, something that most frontmen his age can only dream of. That’s not to say Saxon is all Byford, however. On “Thunderbolt,” long-time drummer Nigel Glockler proves he is still a tremendous timekeeper who works seamlessly with his rhythm section mate and “eternal headbanger,” bassist Nibbs Carter, to give Saxon a rock solid foundation on which to work.

A combination of melodic verse passages and growling vocals accompany the aptly-titled “Predator.” Punters may raise an eyebrow when they hear this one, but make no mistake, this is Saxon through and through. Mid-tempo tracks such as “Sons of Odin” and “Sniper” provide just enough variety to keep the listener engaged, while another headbanger’s delight, “A Wizard’s Tale,” features some great guitar work by Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt. “Speed Merchants,” an up-tempo composition about the virtues of getting out on the open road and “putting the petal to the metal,” isn’t blazingly fast as its title might imply, but it doesn’t need to be. In the world of Saxon, power trumps speed any day of the week.

Closing track “Roadies Song” is a love letter to the road crew, not unlike the legendary Motorhead track “We Are The Road Crew” — at least in sentiment.

With “Thundrebolt,” Saxon once again proves they are a viable cog in the heavy metal machine. Amongst the clutter of a society bent overloading itself with unfocused and irrelevant information, it’s good to get some love from Biff and the boys every couple of years to clear the palate and remind us of the good that still remains. But that’s nothing new. That’s Saxon — forever staying the course and flying the flag of the heavy metal crusade.

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