SAXON – Hell, Fire And Damnation (Album Review)

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Saxon‘s latest offering, “Hell, Fire and Damnation” marks the legendary band’s 24th studio album and a powerful return to their roots in British Heavy Metal. Scheduled for release on January 19th, 2024, the album is a testament to the band’s unwavering commitment to their signature sound, with a lineup change that has injected fresh energy into their music.

The band has been quite active in recent years, with the release of efforts “Thunderbolt” (2018) and “Carpe Diem” (2022), and even two cover albums: the creative “Inspirations” (2021) and the somewhat redundant “More Inspirations” (2023). There was even time for band leader Biff Byford’s debut solo album, 2020’s “School of Hard Knocks”. Known for not veering too far off from their core elements, Saxon makes a surefire bet on “Hell, Fire and Damnation”, a record that caters to their faithful fanbase.

Co-produced by Biff and the acclaimed Andy Sneap (now a member of Judas Priest), the album maintains a balance between modern elements and a nostalgic nod to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, a movement that Saxon helped forge. Diamond Head’s Brian Tatler seamlessly replaces long-time member Paul Quinn, contributing to the album’s overall freshness and vitality. It’s like the band didn’t even skip a beat!

Saxon‘s recent studio efforts with new material, “Thunderbolt” and “Carpe Diem”, had set high expectations, and “Hell, Fire and Damnation” not only meets but exceeds them. The band’s decision to stick to their uncompromising metal roots, eschewing the long-gone attempts at pandering to the American market, results in a collection of tracks that are quintessentially Saxon – fists in the air and crushing riffs. Gone are the days when they needed a reality show to “rebrand” them and to give them the attention they deserved, and they have now entered into an interesting cadence, where every new album doesn’t stray away from their previous output but presents enough changes to keep things interesting.

The album’s title track and lead single, “Hell, Fire And Damnation,” exemplifies Saxon at the height of their powers, featuring razor-sharp guitars and an ominous chorus. Biff had this to say about the title: “I’ve had that saying in my head since I was a small boy because my dad used to say it when he was upset. He used to say, ‘Hell, fire, and damnation, what’s tha’ been doing now?!’ when I was ‘messing up his cabbage patch’ or carving things into the kitchen table. It was a very ‘Yorkshire’ saying back in the day.”

Nibbs Carter’s pulsating bass announces “Madame Guillotine”, a song that harkens back to the days of “Innocence is No Excuse” and “Destiny,” showcasing the band’s ability to blend hard rock heaven with their classic sound. The twin guitars work really well here, and the soulful breakdown is the cherry on the cake of this standout track. It’s worth mentioning that the cover art of the new album, depicting an aerial battle between angels and demons, is miles better than those of “Thunderbolt” and “Carpe Diem”.

The album’s diversity is evident in the themes they chose to explore. The foreboding “There’s Something In Roswell” obviously talks about the Roswell mystery and the possible alien discovery, and brings quasi-thrash riffs and a chorus where Biff showcases his vocal prowess. “Kubla Khan And The Merchant Of Venice” is a fast-paced number delving into the role of Marco Polo in the Mongol Empire. Saxon pays homage to historical events in “1066”, addressing the Battle of Hastings with a heavy riff that is definitely fitting for one of the bloodiest battles in history. “Fire and Steel” is a Motörhead-infused number, announced by the thunderous double bass drums of Nigel Glockler.

“Hell, Fire And Damnation” Artwork

“Witches Of Salem” stands out with its heavy blues undertones and metal edge, recounting one of the tragic sides of the Inquisition times. The album concludes on a high note with “Super Charger,” a fast-paced number that leaves a lasting impression. With an environment as competitive as the music business these days, one misstep could cause a substantial financial loss, so it does make sense for a band like Saxon to not deviate too much from their standard sound. If one was challenged to define this album in one sentence, one valid response would be “more of the same with a few twists, for people who want more of the same”.

Biff Byford‘s unique vocal delivery remains a driving force, supported by the rhythmic prowess of Nigel Glockler and Nibbs Carter. How does Biff manage to sing so consistently at 72 years of age and after some potentially fatal heart issues? If you know the answer, please let me know…

Even more impressively, the dual guitars of Doug Scarratt and Brian Tatler provide a vibrant and fiery dynamic, capturing the essence of Saxon‘s timeless sound. When Paul Quinn decided to step away from the band, they were quick to say that they would go for someone who was a contemporary of the band, and not some new kid who learned what metal is about yesterday. Honestly, I could not think of a better choice than Brian for that role. Changes in the lineup can either screw the dynamic of a band or reenergize them, and Saxon’s case exemplifies the latter in spades.

Saxon will be rather busy in 2024, with a spring tour with contemporaries Judas Priest and Uriah Heep already announced, and many festival appearances booked. With 24 albums under their collective belts it becomes increasingly difficult to represent the newest efforts in their setlists, but at least half of the new album is worth being played in upcoming tours.

In summary, “Hell, Fire and Damnation” is a rock-hard British Heavy Metal album, solidifying Saxon‘s status as one of the genre’s enduring titans. The album successfully blends new elements with the signature riffs, vocals, and beats that made them famous, making it a must-listen for both longtime fans and newcomers to the genre. Saxon has once again proven that they are experts of their craft, delivering a record that stands tall in their illustrious discography.

Released By: Silver Lining Music
Release Date: January 19th, 2024
Genre: Hard Rock / Metal

Band Members:

  • Biff Byford / Vocals
  • Doug Scarratt / Guitars
  • Brian Tatler / Guitars
  • Nigel Glockler / Drums
  • Nibbs Carter / Bass

“Hell, Fire And Damnation” track listing:

1. The Prophecy
2. Hell, Fire And Damnation
3. Madame Guillotine
4. Fire And Steel
5. There’s Something In Roswell
6. Kubla Khan And The Merchant Of Venice
7. Pirates Of The Airwaves
8. 1066
9. Witches Of Salem
10. Super Charger

 

8.3 Great

Razor-sharp riffs, anthemic choruses and an uncompromising attitude permeate Saxon's 24th effort, “Hell, Fire and Damnation”. The record successfully balances modern elements with a nostalgic nod to the band’s history; and certainly will please old metalheads, while also being a fitting gateway into the band’s realm for the younger generation

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