Saxon – Into The Labyrinth (2009, SPV)
- Battalions Of Steel
- Live To Rock
- Demon Sweeney Todd
- The Letter
- Valley Of The Kings
- Slow Lane Blues
- Crimes Of Passion
- Premonition In D Minor
- Protect Yourselves
- Come Rock Of Ages (The Circle Is Complete)
- Coming Home (Bottleneck version)
Biff Byford – Vocals
Paul Quinn – Guitars
Doug Scarratt – Guitars
Nibbs Carter – Bass
Nigel Glockler – Drums
Producers: Charlie Bauerfeind & Biff Byford
Total Time = 50:15
Country: United Kingdom
Saxon has been one of the most consistent bands in Heavy Metal in the last decade or so. They have reliably released new studio albums every couple of years since 1997 and they have also released 3 DVD sets and a live album to much critical acclaim. Not bad for a band that hasn’t had the commercial success that their peers from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (Iron Maiden & Def Leppard) have enjoyed since the early ’80s. As 2009 begins, Saxon has released their 18th studio album titled INTO THE LABYRINTH.
The new album is a combination of styles that Saxon has employed with much success since the late ’90s: Traditional/Power Metal and their trademark classic NWOBHM sound. Sometimes the band takes the Traditional Metal and adds in a slight Progressive touch, especially on some the longer mid-tempo songs. ‘Battalions Of Steel’ kicks the album off in impressive fashion with a massive Power Metal drive that reminds me of the fast and furious METALHEAD album from 1999 and ‘Live To Rock’ (haven’t they used this title before?) is classic NWOBHM Saxon that brings everything right back to the bands roots. Right off the bat you get the idea, Saxon is using everything in their arsenal to keep everything sounding updated without dismissing where they started. These two songs are my favorites on this album, especially ‘Live To Rock’ because it sounds like the Saxon from my youth.
‘Demon Sweeney Todd’ is another big Power Metal song with intense vocals and an intense twin axe attack full of solid riffs and blistering solos. ‘The Letter’ is a 42 second acoustic spoken word intro to the heavy ‘Valley Of The Kings’, a song that really drives until the chorus where the song slows to a mid-tempo pace with a big choral arrangement. This is a big mix of sound with a slight Progressive element that reminds me of the band’s cover of ‘The Court Of The Crimson King’ from KILLING GROUND (2001). The band leans back into their old bag of tricks for the bluesy Rock ‘n’ Roll of ‘Slow Lane Blues’ that takes the listener right back to the early ’80s and ‘Crime Of Passion’ continues combination of Traditional Metal and NWOBHM for an updated sound. Another 40 second intro, ‘Premontion In D Minor’, precedes ‘Voice’ and it’s really an unnecessary. I would rather extend ‘The Letter’ to a full song than get a quick instrumental but that’s just me. ‘Voice’ is a dark heavy mid-tempo song that you could consider as a ballad. It’s slow and heavy with a good vocal from Biff, who’s own voice seems to get stronger every year. The guitars really have some bite to them even of the pace is slowed down.
‘Protect Yourselves’ sounds like something from the Tim Owens era of Judas Priest but better. The song is mid-tempo but very heavy and sludgy with some good solos. It actually sounds out of place with the rest of the record, not one of my favorites. All is forgiven with the speedy ‘Hellcat’, another solid Power/NWOBHM song that has the best guitar solo of the whole album. Monster riffs, thumping bass and solid drums and big gang vocals on the chorus…..there’s just no escaping the hook. Same goes for ‘Come Rock Of Ages’, it has that solid power guitar sound but retains the classic Saxon sound from the early days. It’s another song that has that hook that gets the fist pumping and head banging. ‘Coming Home (Bottleneck Version)’ is a re-worked version of the original found on KILLING GROUND (2001). This version has a blues/country feel complete with steel guitar, tambourine, and a rootsy vocal. Not sure I really like the idea of revisiting and redoing a previously released song, to me it’s just a cover song even if it’s a Saxon song.
I think it’s safe to say that Saxon have done it again and released another solid album, I don’t think they’ve released a bad album since the overtly commercial DESTINY (1988). Since 1997, the band has created some really great albums by updating their classic sound with the resurgence of Tradional/Power Metal. INTO THE LABYRINTH is similar to the band’s last record, THE INNER SANCTUM (2006), but it comes off a little more melodic in some parts that really get you into the songs. There are also plenty of the fast stuff too that could easily fit into the METALHEAD era. The album is really good and I like every song even though I could do without the quick instrumental and the self cover at the end. The album comes in a regular jewel case edition and a limited edition with a bonus 75 minute DVD that features a making of the album, ‘Live To Rock’ video and a bunch of visual extras. Nothing is better when one of your favorite bands releases a new album and I can see myself definitely playing this album deep into 2009, it’s already one of my favorites of the year.
Favorite Songs: ‘Battalions Of Steel’, ‘Live To Rock’, ‘Valley Of The Kings’, ‘Hellcat’, ‘Voice’