Heavy metal these days is in constant flux, trying to reinvent itself, oftentimes by going back to the roots and digging up and reusing what made traditional metal so great thirty years ago. In swoop the mighty Saxon to prove that the some of the founding fathers are still going strong and remain the bosses of this monster mamma jam. Few bands have survived as long as they, and fewer still have done so while retaining all the vigor of the eighties heydays while seemingly growing stronger, mightier and immensely more powerful with age. Thunderbolt is their 22nd album and it comes some two and a half years after the previous one, Battering Ram (2015). As always, the music is built on a simplistic foundation and catchy riffs care of Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt. Trading lead guitar duties and solo dueling the guys show no sign of slowing down, while also throwing around some venomous leads to accompany the background rhythms of bassist ‘Nibbs’ Carter and drummer Nigel Glockler.
Thunderbolt includes the song They Played Rock And Roll, a tribute to companions Motörhead and even more fitting with the recent passing of ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke. The tune hails immediately back to the old days and blends the modern Saxon sound with a distinct Motörhead vibe. The album doesn’t quite stop at there though; Johan Hegg (Amon Amarth) delivers a set of ballsy guest vocals in Predator, delivering tenacity and aggression with his eloquent growls to combat Byford’s raspy, reliable cleans. That dark, ominous, sometimes almost symphonic, melodic backdrop that was so present on some of the previous works has been scaled back and used mostly to great effect on a couple of the tracks - most notably Nosferatu (The Vampire’s Waltz), likely the strongest track on here. Musically it’s just as proficient as one would expect, but that massive feel that Battering Ram did so great seems lacking in some parts. Not that that scaled back approach is necessarily a bad thing, it works great in heavy tracks like The Secret Of Flight and They Played Rock And Roll.
After around Sniper the album takes a slight dip, especially on the two closing tracks, Speed Merchants and Roadies’ Song. While they feel distinctly Saxon and toss around some nifty guitar work, they are also the least inspired tracks on here. That’s not enough to quench the insatiable thirst Saxon seems to have for delivering album after album of incredibly strong heavy metal, that is just that; pure heavy metal. They toss in some of the darker, slightly symphonic elements in tracks like Nosferatu (The Vampire’s Waltz) while rocking it old school in They Played Rock And Roll and Sniper, always with great performances by the band. Not least mainman Biff Byford himself, whose unique voice remains as Biff as Biff ever was. Thunderbolt is a collection of songs that sound as potent and vigorous as ever. Right from the get-go with the melodic, punch packing title track there is a strong, vibrant and yet laid back and comfortable feel. While the album doesn’t quite reach the heights of Battering Ram and isn’t very boundary pushing, leave it to Saxon to do what they’ve always done and nail it straight out of the gate.
Standout tracks: Thunderbolt, Nosferatu (The Vampire’s Waltz), Predator