Saxon – Thunderbolt

You have to wonder how Saxon do it. While some bands can take four or five years, or in some cases even longer, to release new music, Saxon have never taken more than three, and the quality rarely dips. They might only be simple songs with simple structures, but it’s not very often you can listen to a Saxon album and not be able to remember the choruses to at least three songs after just one or two listens.

So, now into their fifth – that’s FIFTH – decade, and Saxon are still regularly bringing the Metal with more regularity and consistency than many bands younger than themselves. Thunderbolt (Militia Guard/Silver Lining) is their twenty-second studio release, and is among their finest since the back-end of the eighties. Sticking with producer Andy Sneap is clearly paying dividends, as for the fourth time in a row, and having gained a level of almost total symbiosis now, the band remain at the top of their game, playing firmly to their strengths while he augments the finished product by putting his familiar stamp all over it with a reliably clear and powerful mix.

After the short introduction of ‘Olympus Rising’, the album is relentless. The pounding title track drives its point home with minimum fuss and maximum impact, ‘The Secret of Flight’ sounds familiar but fresh, and features some effortlessly elegant guitar work, and ‘Nosferatu (The Vampires Waltz)’ is suitably dark and dramatic. There’s no mistaking the subject matter of ‘They Played Rock and Roll’ as vocalist Biff Byford tears through a raucous but impassioned paean to friend and long-time touring partner, Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, who died just over two years ago, even sampling the departed legend’s distinctive voice midway through the song.

The chunky, mid-paced ‘Predator’ features a surprising but highly effective guest appearance from

Amon Amarth frontman Johan Hegg, while the band immediately return the favour with ‘Sons of Odin’, a song about the imposing Swedish vocalist’s favourite subject matter. That’s vikings, in case you hadn’t already guessed.

‘Sniper’ has a strong, driving riff and really doesn’t mess about, ‘A Wizard’s Tale’ is the fiercely English story of medieval magician Merlin and all things Camelot, ‘Speed Merchants’ lives up to its name, and the album closes in glorious fashion with the rousing and anthemic ‘Roadie’s Song’.

And the wheels keep rolling on” indeed.

8.5/10

GARY ALCOCK