The Saxon Reissues : Saxon (1979) / Wheel of Steel (1980) / Strong Arm of the Law (1980)

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The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) was the time so may great bands emerged in a perfect storm. Championed on the BBC Friday Rock Show, appearing weekly on Top of the Pops and getting a huge stage at the Monsters of Rock festival – it was a significant time for bands and fans alike and brought us bands who today are world renowned, such as Iron Maiden and Def Leppard. One of the most distinctive bands of that era was Saxon, fronted by Biff Byford and with a dual guitar line up that followed in the mould of bands like Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash but with a heavier slant.

As we reported previously, Saxon first three albums are soon to be released not just in CD media books with 24 page color booklets containing lyrics, rare photos and memorabilia, but also on color splatter/swirl vinyl. These new issues of the debut album plus 1980’s Wheels of Steel and the same year’s Strong Arm of the Law will come accompanied on CD with a selection of bonus tracks including demos, live tracks, alternate mixes and BBC Radio sessions. We decided to see for ourselves what these new reissues could bring to the table, and here’s our impression.

Saxon – Saxon (CD – BMGCAT158CD / LP – BMGCAT158LP)

Their 1979 self titled debut sets out the master plan. A mere 28 minutes long, the 8 songs rock hard, even featuring hints of progressive rock in its opening tracks, “Rainbow theme/ Frozen Rainbow”. “Big Teaser” never received the hit single status it deserved, however the album did open the door to radio play and BBC sessions. The deluxe version of the album means you can trace the key tracks from demo to album to (more powerful sounding) BBC session versions and finally to live versions at the Donnington Festival of 1980 – an iconic day which would later feature in their songwriting, also including some 1978 Son Of A Bitch demos.This reissue expands the original to 22 tracks and documents the birth and development of the band, a musical collective in their infancy sowing the seeds for future success.

Saxon – Strong Arm Of The Law (CD – BMGCAT160CD / LP – BMGCAT160LP)

It was really the second album, Wheels of Steel that set the band on track. A better recording overall, it hit the UK Top 5 albums with singles “747 (Strangers in the Night)” and the title track getting radio play and ending up in the UK Top 20 singles. The whole first side of the album packs a punch with a huge improvement in recording and band dynamics. Oliver and Quinn‘s guitar interact in a way reminiscent of the classic AC/DC lineup and the songwriting draws from a variety of styles… Saxon always had an interesting contrast between songs like the military madness “Machine Gun” and the perhaps “poppier” sentiments of “Suze Hold On”. Once again this edition has a lot of live and bonus tracks which represent the band in their natural live habitat, the definitive edition of  the album that set their career running and brought the crowds to buy their records and see their shows.

Saxon – Strong Arm Of The Law (CD – BMGCAT160CD / LP – BMGCAT160LP)

It’s common for bands’ studio sounds to catch up with their live sound and that trajectory is certainly evident in the progression to Strong Arm of the Law. Viewed by many as their landmark release, featuring “And The Bands Played On” perhaps “THE” New Wave of British Heavy Metal song, that was about the NWOBHM! Unfortunately “Sixth Form Girls” feels out of step with the times but it is followed by one of the band’s great songs “Dallas 1PM”. If some of the macho/ heavy metal thunder lyrics sit uneasily these days, a song like “Dallas 1PM” has aged much better, taking the JFK Assassination as its theme. Again lots of bonus versions and live tracks are included, with an Abbey Road remix of “20,000 feet” which is a real stand out. Definitely a strong album packing classics that cemented their career and band status amongst the heavy metal royalty.

These editions packaging is noteworthy. The heavy-duty card / bookcases are magnificent, as are the booklets featuring lyrics and many rare pictures (band, live, and memorabilia). I suspect the colored vinyl LPs will sound much better than their original editions counterparts do. Overall elements of the music are of somewhat out their time, but these reissues are great representations of the albums and the band as a live unit during those years.

Saxon – Track-listing

  1. Rainbow Theme (2009 Remastered Version)
  2. Frozen Rainbow (2009 Remastered Version)
  3. Big Teaser (2009 Remastered Version)
  4. Judgement Day (2009 Remastered Version)
  5. Stallions of the Highway (2009 Remastered Version)
  6. Backs to the Wall (2009 Remastered Version)
  7. Still Fit to Boogie (2009 Remastered Version)
  8. Militia Guard (2009 Remastered Version)
  9. Big Teaser (1978 Demo)
  10. Stallions of the Highway (1978 Demo)
  11. Backs to the Wall (1978 Demo)
  12. Rainbow Theme (Demo)
  13. Frozen Rainbow (Demo)
  14. Backs to the Wall (BBC Session) [1998 Remastered Version]
  15. Stallions of the Highway (BBC Session) [1998 Remastered Version]
  16. Motorcycle Man (BBC Session;1998 Remastered Version)
  17. Still Fit to Boogie (BBC Session) [1998 Remastered Version]
  18. 747 (Strangers in the Night) [BBC Session] [1998 Remastered Version]
  19. Judgement Day (Live B-Side)
  20. Still Fit to Boogie (Live At Donington 1980)
  21. Backs to the Wall (Live at Donington 1980)
  22. Stallions of the Highway (Live at Donington 1980)

Wheels of Steel – Track-listing

  1. Motorcycle Man (2009 Remastered Version)
  2. Stand Up and Be Counted (2009 Remastered Version)
  3. 747 (Strangers in the Night) (2009 Remastered Version)
  4. Wheels of Steel (2009 Remastered Version)
  5. Freeway Mad (2009 Remastered Version)
  6. See the Light Shining (2009 Remastered Version)
  7. Street Fighting Gang (2009 Remastered Version)
  8. Suzie Hold On (2009 Remastered Version)
  9. Machine Gun (2009 Remastered Version)
  10. Suzie Hold On (1980 Demo)
  11. Wheels of Steel (1980 Demo)
  12. Stallions of the Highway (Live B-Side)
  13. Motorcycle Man (Live at Donington 1980)
  14. Freeway Mad (Live at Donington 1980)
  15. Wheels of Steel (Live at Donington 1980)
  16. 747 (Strangers in the Night) [Live at Donington 1980]
  17. Machine Gun (Live at Donington 1980)

Strong Arm of the Law – Track-listing

  1. Heavy Metal Thunder (2009 Remastered Version)
  2. To Hell and Back Again (2009 Remastered Version)
  3. Strong Arm of the Law (2009 Remastered Version)
  4. Taking Your Chances (2009 Remastered Version)
  5. 20,000 Ft (2009 Remastered Version)
  6. Hungry Years (2009 Remastered Version)
  7. Sixth Form Girls (2009 Remastered Version)
  8. Dallas 1PM (2009 Remastered Version)
  9. 20,000 Ft (BBC Session 1982) [1998 Remastered Version]
  10. Dallas 1 PM (BBC Session 1982) [1998 Remastered Version]
  11. The Eagle Has Landed (BBC Session 1982) [1998 Remastered Version]
  12. 747 (Strangers in the Night) [BBC Session 1982] [2009 Remastered Version]
  13. To Hell and Back Again (Abbey Road Mix 2008)
  14. 20,000 Ft (Abbey Road Mix 2008)
  15. Mandy (Abbey Road Mix 2008)
  16. Heavy Metal Thunder (Abbey Road Mix 2008)

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