Looking like the great Gandalf the Grey in a long and flowing black-leather coat, Biff Byford presides like a wizard over The Saxon Chronicles, the first-ever DVD from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal veterans. And, indeed, much of this is a magical viewing experience. Spanning two DVDs and 23 years, The Saxon Chronicles opens with the band's jaw-dropping performance at Germany's Wacken Open Air 2001. Who cares if Byford and guitarist Paul Quinn are the only original members left from a band that once called itself Son of a Bitch? This five-man version of Saxon smokes on a stage that's as big as some shopping centers, ripping through 15 songs in 97 minutes with the intensity of Iron Maiden and the precision of Metallica.
The Wacken gig marks the return of the band's famous stage prop, the phoenix-like eagle with outstretched arms, which descends all aglow a few times during the the Wacken set. Some of the video's most intriguing footage is shot from the vantage point of drummer Fritz Randow, who is playing behind the illuminated eagle. A voracious crowd enhances the viewing pleasure.
Other major highlights of The Saxon Chronicles are segments on the second disc featuring eight Saxon videos covering the Eighties on through 2001's "Killing Ground," which was recorded at Wacken but not included on Disc One. The other videos range from the truly cheesy ("Suzie Hold On," "Back on the Streets Again") to the moderately annoying ("Unleash the Beast"). That said, a 10-minute clip featuring the making of that video, complete with the plinking sound of unamped bass and guitar solos, is rather intriguing to watch – if only once. A 16-minute section gathering Saxon's TV interviews and performances through the years, including a segment during which a British interviewer asks Byford to explain what heavy metal is and why it has to be so loud, also offers up some nostalgia.
Unfortunately, other parts of this DVD do little except provide requisite filler: A 13-minute interview with Byford, during which each question appears in print on the screen before his answer, offers little insight beyond generalities; a 36-minute video tour diary shows the usual shenanigans and is worthwhile only for raw and rare live footage from a Chicago club and three songs performed at Denmark's Esbjerg Festival in 1995; a section of press clippings features reproductions that are too small to read; and a vintage photo archive contains not only photos of Saxon members past and present but also of roadies, techs, bus drivers and fan club presidents.
Yet, The Saxon Chronicles offers a solid retrospective look at a band that – at least a few years ago – appeared to still have a lot of life left in it ...