Hell, Fire And Damnation
Review by Felix on December 29, 2023.
A new Saxon album – and the first good news is that we are not confronted with “Inspirations III”, but with really new tracks. If I want to listen to cover versions, I go to the local music pub and suffer while amateurs try their hand at crap like “Sweet Home Alabama” or “Take Me Home, Country Road”. Anyone who thinks that black metal has a cruel component should please check out such pieces. Anyway, here comes the second piece of good news: Hell, Fire And Damnation leaves a higher impact than Carpe Diem. Since the bullshit they did in order to hit the US American market, Saxon always stood for down-to-earth metal. Nevertheless, compared to its predecessor, Hell, Fire And Damnation sounds more crispy. So let us forget the stereotyped title and the oh-so-metal artwork (both aren’t bad, but maybe too much of a good thing). Let’s come to the music itself.
An “internationally-renowned actor” whose name I have never heard before, proclaims the title track. The song starts with some powerful blows and recalls Metalhead (another hardly generic album title, haha). It marks a solid, partly solemn beginning with a casual instrumental part after the second chorus, but Saxon are clever enough not to use their best weapon immediately. It does pay off if you've been in the business for around 150 years like Biff. By the way, the frontman is still the most important element in the sound of the institution. Even though I do not think that his voice is extremely powerful, his charismatic and passionate performance is excellent. I am sure that he has more energy than most others of his age. But I wanted to speak about Saxon’s best songs on “Hell, Fire and so on”. The temperature rises sharply with 'Fire And Steel'. Yes, it’s another badly hung title, but the composition borders on speed metal and shows that Saxon are still no toothless tiger. Thus, let us open the curtain for the absolute highlight: 'There’s Something In Roswell'. The promo sheet describes this song as “the true treasure amidst the jewels”. I agree (and ask myself why they did not write ten “true treasures"). This mid-paced track has an irresistible drive, bursts with power due to the crunchy, crystal clear guitar work and dishes up a brilliant chorus: nothing special at first glance, but look (and listen!) again… it will not stop growing on you. I don’t believe that UFOs were landing in Roswell back in 1947 (greetings to Hypocrisy), but if they do not have songs such as this one, they would be well advised to take a trip to Earth immediately.
Either way, we have no time for extraterrestrial creatures, because Saxon ignites the next firecracker immediately. 'Kubla Khan And The Merchant Of Venice' is another musical muscleman and its lyrics deal with Marco Polo. Yes, despite the almost omnipresent clichés, Biff delivers a lot of fascinating lyrics. This is definitely no run of the mill stuff. In view of the potential the band still has, it's a shame that the smartly titled 'Pirates Of The Airwaves', which is dedicated to the unforgettable NWOBHM, can't quite keep up with the aforementioned tracks despite a catchy bridge. This song stands as an example for the second row tracks of the album. None of them falls completely through the net, but they do not have the abundance of exciting ingredients like the best songs. The earthy '1066' is one of them and its historical reference is more or less obvious, right? Saxon gave the guitars a lot of room again, and the mighty riffs hit the bull’s eye. Needless to say that they profit from another great performance of Andy Sneap and Biff, who mixed and mastered the output. I could cry when I imagine the never-released Sabbat record, which combines a production from 2023 with the musical class of 1988. Of course, some modernity-hating people will once again moan about alleged sterility, but who cares about these guys who only feel good as long as they can feel bad?
Snarling, rebellious guitars herald the powerful end of the album. 'Super Charger' marks a worthy finale for a surprisingly strong output. But even if the record would be less good – anyone who has produced more than 20 studio albums and still has this integrity and musical power is nothing less than a very important cornerstone for the entire metal world. Some badasses might not understand that, but they can go to their local music pub. Maybe someone there is playing "Sweet Home Alabama". Have fun with that.
Rating: 8.1 out of 10588
Review by Vladimir on December 18, 2023.
Since my early teens, I have been into various NWOBHM bands, and I still am to this very day. One of those bands that I still love and worship is Saxon, who I have always admired for their constant inspiration and willpower. Back in 2022, they released their 25th album Carpe Diem which was quite an enjoyable listening experience, and as of 2023 they recruited the longtime Diamond Head guitarist Brian Tatler who would contribute his talents for their next album. On January 19th, 2024, Saxon is set to release their 26th full-length album Hell, Fire And Damnation via Silver Lining Music, and I think it’s the perfect time to see what the new album has prepared for the fans.
As the opening intro track 'The Prophecy' perfectly sets the demonic and hellish mood for this album, from the title track 'Hell, Fire And Damnation' it instantly starts rocking out with heavy metal extravaganza, dominated by tight mid-tempo downpicking riffs, powerful guitar riffs, banging drums, and Biff Byford’s singing vocals. Saxon continues to provide intensely powerful and catchy tunes with just a tinge of melody, although still in a highly effective manner, even with the addition of Brian Tatler on guitars it seems that they managed to climb a step higher from Carpe Diem. Some great examples that perfectly demonstrate that they are still capable of writing what everyone’s pure heavy metal heart desires are 'Madame Guillotine', 'Fire And Steel', 'Kubla Khan And The Merchant Of Venice' and 'Witches Of Salem', all of which are incredible and strong bangers that really get your adrenaline going. It is a true miracle that there are veteran heavy metal musicians like Saxon who are still inspired at songwriting, no matter how simple and standard it may sound. Although I rarely have any doubts with bands like Saxon and Judas Priest, some of their newer songs do still manage to surprise me to the point where I admire the fact that their music doesn’t show its age. All of the songs are fairly easy to follow along and will definitely give you a good time while listening to the entire album from start to finish. The riffs keep the mood going, but Biff Byford’s vocal lines and the uplifting choruses is really where the songs shine in my opinion, ranging from very good to incredibly effective. No matter how the previous album Carpe Diem did fairly alright, I think that Hell, Fire And Damnation is really one bar higher in my opinion when it comes to the overall band performance. Even the awesome album cover art by Bornhom’s vocalist Péter Sallai perfectly demonstrates the kind of energy that Saxon’s music expresses on this album, with all the heavenly might that strikes you down.
Hell, Fire And Damnation as an album is a very fun ride that really got my joy going all throughout, and I have to say that despite their age, Saxon still means business. This was the trial by fire for Saxon’s new lineup with Brian Tatler on guitar, but in the end, it proved that they made the right decision of hiring the grandmaster of the white Gibson Flying V. Even though I would still prefer listening to Saxon’s classic discography any time of the day, I still think that their new album is really worth a go, especially if you are their long-time fan who grew up with their music, alongside many other great names in NWOBHM. Do not miss out on Saxon’s new album when it is released, because you would rob yourself of this enjoyable experience that rocks out in pure banging heavy metal.
Rating: 8.6 out of 10588