Saxon – Carpe Diem (Album Review)

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Four years shy of reaching their fiftieth anniversary, the South Yorkshire metal institution Saxon is about to release their new album – the first of original material since 2018’s “Thunderbolt,” on February 04th. Entitled “Carpe Diem,” this release is a perfect representation of their brand of metal, and brings a few new ideas here and there, whilst maintaining the quality of their output of late.

If you’re a metal fan, you’re probably familiar with their story, and Saxon has surely been through a lot of ups and downs in their career. From the rapid rise of the late 70’s with seminal albums like “Wheels of Steel” and “Strong Arm of the Law”, to attempts at commercial success with “Innocence is no Excuse”, a split in two bands of similar name (“Saxon” and “Oliver/Dawson Saxon”) and a resurgence in the late 2000’s, these Brits have definitely many tales to tell. For better or worse, all their scars and victories are apparent on “Carpe Diem”.

Saxon are no strangers to alluding to their other releases, either in musical form or in their visual identity. As such, the cover of the new album brings a vibe reminiscent of one of their best efforts, the seminal “Crusader”. Speaking of the title, singer Biff Byford adds: ““In Latin it means ‘seize the day’ and I think it’s a great thing to say. It’s what the Romans used to say to each other on a regular basis, apparently, never having met one, I wouldn’t know! But we’re gonna do the Seize the Day world tour, the album’s Carpe Diem, this song’s called “Carpe Diem (Seize the Day)” and it’s such a powerful thing to say.” Considering the fact that he had a heart attack in 2019 and then humanity was hit with Covid a few months after that, the idea of making the most out of your time on Earth fits perfectly with the current state of the band, on many levels.

The title track marks the beginning of the album, with a cinematic intro that alludes to armies lining up for battle, followed by a thunderous drum fill and a scream from Biff. The razor-sharp guitars and captivating chorus immediately bring you the feeling that yes, they still got it, and that’s exactly what you came looking for when you pressed play. Follower “Age of Steam” continues that pattern, with Nigel Glockler’s drums driving the tune forward, inspired guitar solos, and lyrics that talk about the industrial revolution.

The band hit the brakes on “The Pilgrimage” and deliver a mid-paced slow burn number, with a solemn and cadenced riff on a minor scale, reminiscing of Judas Priest’s “Never the Heroes” and AC/DC’s “Back In Black.” There’s definitely an 80’s vibe here, and the break before the guitar solo implies the feeling of loneliness of desolation experienced in a long lasting pilgrimage.

“Dambusters” picks up the pace with a quasi-thrash riff, a bridge that perfectly represents the whole NWOBHM era and a pedal-to-the-metal approach. If you were to listen to this song not knowing anything about the band, you would never guess these dudes are in their seventies. Clearly a highlight of this release, hopefully this will become a staple of their setlists moving forward.

“Carpe Diem” Album Artwork

Remember the Fallen” is next on the tracklist, and was the fist tune to be revealed. The video of the song can be seen below, and leaves nothing to interpretation: It’s a homage to the victims of Covid. If my memory serves me correctly, it’s the first time a band of this stature brings this as a subject, and good for them to pay this heartfelt and sincere homage to those who perished from the pandemic. At this point, it’s worth bringing up something you will read and hear in every review of this album: at 71 years old, Biff’s singing abilities remain as impressive as they ever were, and he sounds as crispy and clear as he did on their self titled debut in 1979. Not a single sign of wear and tear is perceived on his voice, and his stage presence is absolutely unmatched.

Super Nova” comes in with yet another fast riff, and shows the band aggressively parading the pure metal flag and exhorting fans old and new to gather and celebrate the very best of both Saxon and the genre itself. The same guys that so masterfully captured the zeitgeist of metal in the early 80’s with “Denim and Leather” simply do not disappoint, bringing tales of space travels and distant stars here.

Much like “The Pilgrimage”, “Lady in Gray” falls under the “heavy ballad” category, telling the story of a mysterious and supernatural lady, with the help of ominous keyboards. Produced by Andy Sneap (Judas Priest, Exodus, Accept and Priest guitarist) at Backstage Recording Studios in Derbyshire with Byford and Sneap mixing and mastering, all instruments are crispy and clear, and the guitars cut through the speakers like knives, while the solid backbone of drums and bass hold the bottom end.

The last three tracks of the album have mixed results: “All for One” has a riff that has been used on many songs of the genre since its inception in the late 70’s, “Living On the Limit” is pure thrash and amps up the game, while “Black is the Night” is a mid-tempo rocker with Sabbath-esque guitars. Overall, “Carpe Diem” does not lack in pace or bite, and further solidifies the presence of Saxon in the pantheon of metal masters. If you enjoy their output of late, there’s plenty to like here.

If you made it this far in the review and are a fan of the band, let me reassure you once again: you will not be disappointed with this release. For better or worse, it has all the elements that made Saxon who they are. Some might say they’re playing it too safe here and there, while others might think they’re sticking to their guns. The definitive answer might not come before multiple listens. Twenty-three albums is a lot of material to draw from, and yet many songs on “Carpe Diem” have the potential to become mainstays in their setlist moving forward. Give them the stage, turn on the lights, fire up the sound, and let them rock the nations!

Released By: Silver Lining Music
Release Date: February 4th, 2022
Genre: Heavy Metal

Band Members:

  • Paul Quinn / Guitars
  • Biff Byford / Vocals
  • Nigel Glockler / Drums
  • Nibbs Carter / Bass
  • Doug Scarratt / Guitars

 “Carpe Diem” tracklist:

  1. Carpe Diem (Seize The Day)
  2. Age Of Steam
  3. The Pilgrimage
  4. Dambusters
  5. Remember The Fallen
  6. Super Nova
  7. Lady In Gray
  8. All For One
  9. Black Is The Night
  10. Living On The Limit

 

7.8 Very Good

Saxon threads familiar territory on “Carpe Diem”, and cater to the long time fans on this new effort. At times drawing too much inspiration from their past, but never short of impressive, the band clearly know their strengths, and refuse to rely on past glories, making a point of releasing new material whenever possible. Bring on the tour lads, my denim jacket and white sneakers are ready!

  • Songwriting 7
  • Musicianship 8
  • Originality 7
  • Production 9
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