Saxon - Thunderbolt

Saxon Thunderbolt cover
Militia Guard Music
Saxon – now pumping out metal for just over forty years – celebrate the release of their twenty second year and show no visible signs of slowing down or stopping anytime soon. The British dogs of war seem unstoppable and after celebrating their 40th anniversary last year in grand style, strike with another metallic bolt of thunder with their titular “Thunderbolt” opus.
Following the rather typical intro of “Olympus Rising” that has ambient mechanical noises and such – the riffs of “Thunderbolt” throw a gigantic iron fist on the ground for any pretenders to try and pick up. One of the few British bands along with Motorhead that was and still completely no nonsense, blue collar and hardworking, Saxon add another classic to their future “best of” collections with this little “solid ball or rocking goodness”, a diamond of a tune.
“The Secret of Flight” begins with a marching drum and a neat melodic riff that evolves into a sturdy mid-paced epic that probably peeps a bit and gives a wink toward fellow Brits Iron Maiden’s sound and style, without sounding derivative at all.
“Nosferatu (The Vampyre’s Waltz)” is more atmospheric, still mid-tempo, well-meant modern-day Saxon tune that’s haunting and enjoyable in equal measures.
“They Played Rock and Roll” is intentionally more metal ‘n’ roll (almost in the style of) to pay tribute to also fellow Brits and early touring partners Motorhead and it feels quite heartfelt, genuine and thoroughly enjoyable in equal measures.
“Predator” has some banging and booming drums – a typical sturdy Saxon mid-tempo – marred only by some completely unnecessary and downright ridiculous mouthwash-gargling style vocals courtesy of Johan Hegg (that silly looking dude from one of those Disney Metal bands Amon Amarth). A perfectly adequate song ruined by trying to be hip. What’s next, supporting Sabat@shit? Oops, been there done that.
“Sons of Odin” is cut of similar cloth as other Saxon mid-tempo epics and is more melodic than its predecessor, managing to somewhat erase its presence completely with its well-aimed rolling riffs. Its chorus could have been a little better and more enthusiastic, I guess, since it grinds for a while on a bridge to chorus transition, but it’s fine.
“Sniper” is somewhat letdown by a chorus that’s a bit plain, but not bad; its infectious and persistent riffing picks up any slack.
“A Wizard’s Tale” begins with some impressive guitar pyrotechnics and quickly locks into a heavy groove and medieval tales of kings, queens and sorcery – you guessed it – the Arthurian lore; it’s a little uncharacteristic of the band, a little more reminiscent of the couple of good tunes on that “Scintilla” Project, more of a soundtrack sort of track, but medieval not sci-fi. It does feature some decent melodies that redeem it from descending into infamy.
“Speed Merchants”… I felt had a bit of a Judas Priest flair about it, but obviously, Biff is no Halford, so make that adjustment in your head, but from the riffs to the soloing… it could easily translate to a pretty decent mid-80s “Priest tune”. The chorus is a bit hit n miss, but again it’s not terrible, just not a classic one if you catch me drift.
“Roadies Song” is an ultra-melodic, almost silly tune about, you guessed it “the road crew”… quite a silly subject and not nearly as cool as Motorhead’s “We are the Road Crew”, but you know tolerable and palatable enough boogy-ish sort of track, that’s OK.
“Nosferatu (Raw Version)” is what it pertains to be – a more direct take of the song – without the huge keyboard orchestration layers applied, I imagine; still pretty good and an interesting “alternative” take... that shows a song in a different, yet still “dark” light… for fear of what daybreak might have caused…
Saxon who seemed to face a little of a sedimentation post “Lionheart” that led them to a couple of decent, but rather confused albums, seem to be on a steady rise since “Call to Arms” and with “Thunderbolt” they do add another little gen to their crown jewels, flawed in a couple of places, but still containing enough British charm and metallic bravado to reduce most of their contemporaries efforts to cinders and to completely obliterate any pretenders from today’s plastic and cookie-cutter scene that might advertise themselves as “metal”.
The only thing I found as a bit of a “letdown” was the very simplistic cover. Saxon are no stranger to eagle adorned covers and there have been some pretty gorgeous such covers in recent years (Darkology’s “Fated to Burn” and most of the albums by Primal Fear), so the rather dull & blurry image of a small sized eagle clutching a “lightning/thunder-bolt” looks nothing sort of impressive. Still, unspectacular cover aside, Saxon continue to show how it’s done, year after year and album after album. British Steel of the highest order, indeed.