CD: Saxon - Thunderbolt The veteran metallers' new one is heavy and full of heart

From The Arts Desk

One complaint often made about contemporary music is it's either too worthy or too bland. Not Saxon. The vintage rockers have been around for 40 years and their latest effort is as red-blooded and full-fat as ever. Vocals screech and guitars crunch with machine-like force. Most importantly, Biff and the boys still know how to excite your inner 14-year-old.

Like much classic metal, Thunderbolt eschews the grim tedium of everyday existence while remaining faithful to the band's working-class roots. As such, there's a strange emotional substance to the album's other-worldly lyrics. Subjects include mythological gods, vampires, wizards and a few frazzled roadies. Then there's "They Played Rock'n'Roll", a song about Motörhead's legendary frontman, Lemmy, who, in a manner of speaking, was all of the above.

The songs are a giddy and exhilarating mix. The bass and drums on the Motörhead tribute combine to capture the mood of the early Eighties. The rest remain closer to Saxon's latter-day output. There's little of the melody that characterised the band's "Denim and Leather" era. Songs like "A Wizard's Tale" have a musical aesthetic much closer to Megadeth who, of course, were inspired by Saxon to begin with. Biff Byford projects his vocals like a man being chased by a bear, Nigel Glockler pounds the drums like thunder, and guitarists Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt are as precise as they are nimble.

The curious things about all this heavy stuff is how warm and comforting it feels. Deep down, Thunderbolt is like a large Alsatian. From a distance, it might seem pretty fierce, but come a little closer and you'll encounter a loyal and friendly beast. All Biff and his band really ask of their fans is to enjoy the music and rock out. In these acrimonious and touchy times, that's something to be cherished.

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