Saxon, it would seem, have been on a hell of a roll lately, pushing out albums every few years and not letting a measly little global pandemic stop their heavy metal thunder. Last years’ cover album Inspirations (2021) was of course a complete snooze fest for everyone not living and breathing Saxon, but every new album since roundabouts Lionheart (2004) has had some fresh take on contemporary metal blended with the classic Saxon accessibility. This all seemed to culminate on thick and atmospheric Battering Ram (2015) before scaling things back for subsequent Thunderbolt (2018) and now Carpe Diem which feels very much old Saxon, but little else. That’s of course not necessarily a bad thing though. Old Saxon proved how heavy metal could be commercially accessible and still rock pretty dang hard.
The title track sets things in motion, telling the story of the Roman conquest of Britain, as always with Saxon’s rollicking riffing setting the stage and the backdrop with gravity and pomp. Enter frontman Biff Byford (who still sounds exactly as powerful now at 71, as he did when they dropped Crusader (1984)) to shake things up with some powerful shouts and a great performance. A laid back, rolling heavy metal number with some cheesy Saxon-isms but packed with their trademark charisma and the musicianship to back it up, the title track gets things moving right away. It is however about as good as it gets. There are several solid numbers, but none quite as hard hitting as the opener. Mostly it’s a very comfortable album for the gentlemen to put out; one that should satisfy the core fans greatly while fringe fans will find a tune or two to jam to. Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt, that underrated little gem of a guitar duo, mostly pull the riffs by the numbers according to the Saxon handbook, but there are some standout moments and solos. Remember the Fallen sees a few potent solos tossed in throughout the runtime, adding that bit of character to make the tune stand out.
The riffing seems kinda the same throughout the songs however; take Black is the Night and Living on the Limit for example. Both songs seem almost indistinguishable based on their opening riffs. And the latter of the two is a half assed attempt at old school gravitas that doesn’t work and closes the album on a sub par note. Then you have low points like The Pilgrimage, an attempt at epic balladry that in no way earns its cheesiness and just meanders blandly for almost seven minutes. I guess when you’re a band as old as time that helped lay the foundations for British heavy metal you don’t have to fire on exactly every single cylinder when you put out your hundredth album (actually their 23rd, which is pretty impressive). What I’m saying is the album has moments of greatness, but as a whole it doesn’t really reach the heights of either the Saxon of old, or the modern day Saxon. Don’t get me wrong. It’s still Saxon, every bit, through and through, from the riffing to Nigel Glockler’s precision work to Byford’s shouts and encompassing presence. It’s just not the mighty Saxon.
Standout tracks: Carpe Diem (Sieze the Day), Remember the Fallen, Super Nova