Saxon – Sacrifice – Review

Release: 26 March 2013 in the United States

There’s a part of me saying “Don’t bother, it is what it is…”, but the Saxon fan inside won’t let me pass up the chance to offer an opinion on the 20th studio album from one of ‘the’ iconic NWOBHM bands still making music. While many would argue that Iron Maiden and Judas Priest took the NWOBHM to the highest level, the last 5 or 6 album releases from Saxon have easily eclipsed anything from Maiden or Priest in the last 10-15 years, at least in my book. The previous Saxon release, 2011’s “Call To Arms” was an exceptional record and the tour that went with it was a showcase for all that is good with live heavy metal.

While Saxon are far from a stadium band in the USA, this provides an amazing opportunity to see one of the world’s greatest heavy metal bands up close and personal. Saxon may be headlining festivals like Wacken in Germany in front of 86,000 fans (2011), but in the US they were touring venues with a capacity of 500 or so – and blowing the roof of everywhere they visited, if the two dates I saw were any measure of the tour. I can only hope we see the same again in 2013.

Prior to the release of Sacrifice there were a few pre-release interviews that indicated the band was taking a ‘back to the roots’ approach, which I must admit I was a little confused over since, for me at least, Call To Arms had already done that. In thinking about writing this review I obviously went on an all out Saxon binge session for a few days, and I have to say that Call To Arms (CTA) was an extremely good record. I’m going to resist the urge to re-review that record, but I will say if you don’t have a copy, GO BUY ONE RIGHT NOW!

The exact quote from Biff (Saxon lead singer, as if you didn’t already know…) was this: “Less tricks, more power! My brief to the band was to be raw, be real and not be afraid to look back at the old classic material for inspiration.” I’m not sure I really understand why this was felt to be necessary? If there were any “tricks” on CTA, then I’m blind-sided by them and if “Back in 79”, “Chasing the Bullet” (one of my all time favorite Saxon live tracks) and the opener, “Hammer of the Gods”, aren’t back to basics then I clearly am misreading what Saxon are all about. Well, it is either that or perhaps Sacrifice didn’t quite meet Biff’s guidance.

So, what do we get with Sacrifice? Well to start the basic record lists 10 tracks, of which the opener is a 1 minute and 46 second long intro… so in reality the main disk only contains 9 tracks with a run time of 37 minutes and 45 seconds or thereabouts. In one respect this is back to the old classic material, at least in terms of run time. One bright spot – the tracks will easily fit onto an LP… The CD version I bought was the “deluxe” that included an additional 5-track ‘bonus’ disk, which carries a selection of re-recorded tracks, giving us another 22 minutes of music. I will say that the booklet format for the deluxe edition is extremely well executed and is a very nice piece of work.

Once we are past the extended intro, we are into the title track, “Sacrifice”, which is a mid-pace stomper and I’m guessing will be the opener for the live shows. This is good stuff. Solid Saxon, with a crisp and sharp modern edge to the guitar sound, while the double kick-drum work from Nigel Glockler punches through nicely. Holding everything together we have the excellent bass work of Nibbs Carter. All in all the production on the record is tight, as you would expect at the deft hands of Andy Sneap who produced the last two Accept albums, the exceptional “Dark Roots of Earth” from Testament and a long list from Megadeth, Exodus and many more. So, no complaints on that front. I should mention that the video for Sacrifice is really good and certainly gives much more than a nod in the direction of classic MTV video offerings from “back in the day”. Well worth checking out on YouTube if you haven’t already. See: http://youtu.be/8d_6BkhKPAk

Next up we have “Made in Belfast” which certainly follows in the tradition of storytelling that Biff has often used before, this time the subject is the shipyards of Belfast around the time when the Titanic was built. Pulling on the workingman background that runs so deeply through the blood in Biff’s veins, this is another mid-paced number, that is lifted by the addition of a mandolin both as the lead-in intro and mid-way through the track.

“Warriors of the Road” brings us a theme that was previously explored a little in the Nigel Glocker/Doug Scarett side-project, “Mad Men and English Dogs” with the track “Hello Murray!”, namely motor racing. This is a faster track with a neat hammer on sort of riff on the main guitar part. Nigel Glocker is a big Formula One fan and wears F1 style driving boots when he is drumming… I think he is a big fan of Felipe Masa (Ferrari), if I recall correctly.

Now it’s about just about here in the proceedings when the wind seems to slacken off. Perhaps a better way of putting it would be that the autopilot was switched on… Now, don’t get me wrong, nothing that follows the third track is a bad song and by most bands standards the remaining six tracks would be ‘good stuff’, but, while on Call To Arms we had nice change of pace, in the shape of “Mists of Avalon”, which was then followed by the poignant “Call to Arms”, here on Sacrifice we continue with a series of five roughly mid-paced tracks, none of which pops me between the eyes. I hate to even think of the term “fillers’ but for a band of the caliber of Saxon, I was expecting more.

Finally we get to the last track on the main CD, rather bizarrely titled “Standing in a Queue” (translated into American, “Standing in a Line”) – yeah, like at an amusement park or at the bank, or something. I’ve seen other reviews compare this track to something AC/DC might write, but I don’t see it. Personally I’ve got this image of Biff standing inline at the Post Office or supermarket and getting a little pissed off. It just seems so trivial. It’s such an odd way to close the album, and has the feel of a B-side for those that can remember 45’s, or something released on the websites for fan club members.

I won’t spend a lot of time here on the bonus disk, and I’m sure the true fans will suck this up for the change in perspective this gives, but again it’s not all sweetness and light. I was pretty excited to see this CD opened with new orchestral version of Crusader, since the orchestral version of “Call to Arms” was quite magnificent. Unfortunately where Call to Arms was so well executed, I’m not convinced the same was carried out with Crusader. To me the orchestral parts simply seem like a nice digital keyboard, which is a far cry from a full or even partial orchestra. It comes across as a tad tacky to my ears. I think this would be amazing with an real orchestra, but here it falls flat. I’d give it an A+ for potential, but a C for execution. The rest of the bonus disk is all perfectly good stuff.

As you can probably tell, overall I was disappointed. Where “Call to Arms” blew my socks off, here my socks are firmly attached. As I said, the overall impression isn’t bad in any identifiable way, but it certainly isn’t one of great excitement. My score overall 7.5/10.

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3 Responses to “Saxon – Sacrifice – Review”

  1. I’m amazed, I have to admit. Seldom do I encounter a blog that’s equally educative and amusing, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The issue is an issue that too few people are speaking intelligently about. Now i’m very happy I came across this in my search for
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  2. David Beck Says:

    Like me you have a passion for saxon loved these guy’s for years. So glad I came across your blog. Saxon forever. Rock ‘N’ Roll yourself to death baby.

  3. David Beck Says:

    Forgot to say that my real passion is Alice cooper. I’ve been a cooper fan since 1969. I go see him when ever he’s close enough.

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