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Saxon: Eagles And Dragons (9 vinyl album box set)

When you consider that Eagles And Demons is a limited edition, nine vinyl album box set, it's understandable that reviewers have been a sent a six CD equivalent from which to review it. However while that leaves it possible to relive nine album's worth of fantastic heavy metal, it does make it impossible to comment on either the vinyl itself, or the (seemingly) wonderful box, with specially commissioned artwork from Saxon's artist-in-residence, Paul Gregory. So with that in mind, lets turn our attention to the albums this set contains, which Saxon originally released between 1991 and 2009; Solid Ball Of Rock, Forever Free, Dogs Of War, Unleash The Beast, Metalhead, Killing Ground, Lionheart, The Inner Sanctum and Into The Labyrinth.

Eighteen years is a long time in the history of any band and yet after some initial turmoil, it has proved an amazingly stable and productive time for Saxon. From the line-up that recorded Solid Ball Of Rock in '91, four – singer Biff Byford, guitarist Paul Quinn, bassist Nibbs Carter and drummer Nigel Glockler – still remain to this day. Although Glockler did depart the band (for a second time) in 1999 with Fritz Randow in place for Metalhead and Killing Ground and Jörg Michael for Lionheart, before Glockler returned once more. However it was the split with guitarist Graham Oliver after the third album in this set, 1995s Dogs Of War that created uproar. The guitarist leaving on bad terms, before, along with another ex-Saxon man Steven Dawson, starting a long running legal wrangle over the band name, which the pair eventually lost. Doug Scarratt taking Oliver's place in 1996 and doing a superb job of making the spot his own ever since.

However, the elephant in the room here is that to the casual observer, this set covers a time long after Saxon's 1979 to 1984 heyday. Which is actually the beauty of Eagles And Demons, the nine albums presented here proving that while commercial (and for a time, critical) success waned during the late 80s and all of the 90s for the band, creatively, it has found them at the peak of their powers. Throughout, utterly indispensable traditional (and I use that word as a compliment) Metal is played out in amazing fashion. From the underrated Solid Ball Of Rock, the pulsating title track and heartfelt "Requiem (We Will Remember)" standing proud as classic Saxon, while "Baptism Of Fire" and "I Can't Get Enough" are excellent examples of the slightly more commercial Metal the band had been favouring prior. Forever Free also contains a stunning title-cut and yet of the nine albums it's the one that lacks a really memorable punch, "Iron Wheels" and "Can't Stop Rockin'" the other standouts, while the cover of "Just Wanna Make Love To You" still doesn't cut the mustard. Graham Oliver's swan-song with the band, Dogs Of War, proved a real return to form, the opening title track shocking through its heavy, direct approach; it's only when Byford's unmistakable vocals kick in during the chorus that you can really tell who the band in question on this stunning track actually are. While the slower "The Great White Buffalo" and the surprisingly (and joyously) Pop-Rocking "Walking Through Tokyo" are as good as it gets. However backed up by the insistent "Don't Worry" and anthemic "Hold On" and its classic Saxon guitar line, it's easy to suggest DOW is one of the undiscovered gems in the band's catalogue. A title that can also be bestowed on Scarratt's debut, Unleash The Beast, a real nod to the early sound that saw the Saxon name worn with pride on denims and leathers right across Europe. Again there's strength and depth here, "Terminal Velocity" roaring by just as its name suggests, "The Thin Red Line" another in a long list of Byford's war inspired classics, while everything from "Ministry Of Fools", "The Preacher" and "All Hell Breaking Loose" hit the heights. Metalhead on the other hand is possibly the weakest offering of the nine. All the Saxon traits are in place, with thunderous drums darting lead lines and soaring vocals and yet for all that every box is ticked, only "All Guns Blazing" and "Conquistador" really have you coming back for more.

However as a new millennium dawned, so Saxon hit a purple patch that shows no sign of ending and while it doesn't agree with popular opinion, from 2001's Killing Ground right through to last year's Battering Ram the band have offered up a succession of albums that easily rival, if not in some places, better their much celebrated early years. Again the title cut from Killing Ground lays things out early through a mid paced stomp that quickly evolves into a fist punching, foot on the monitor rocker that never lets up. "Running For The Border" however stays in mid tempo ground to grind out a memorable blast of atmospheric muscle, while "Hell Freezes Over" harks back to the band's early sound with real panache. The surprise in this album's pack however arrives in the shape of a faithful, if Saxonised, cover of King Crimson's "Court Of The Crimson King". In theory the idea of taking a Prog masterpiece and infusing it with a slice of NWOBHM/Power Metal bombast, sounds ridiculous; in execution – and through some masterful arrangements – it's a genuine triumph. Three years later and Lionheart continued the run of form that started to see the band gain chart placings across Europe for the first time in over a decade, "Wytchfynder General", "Lionheart" and "Searching For Atlantis" finding the band in rude health. Something "Need For Speed", "I've Got To Rock To Stay Alive", "Let Me Feel Your Power" and "If I Was You" confirm once more on 2007's The Inner Sanctum. Into The Labyrinth from two years later closes this excellent set out and again it's hard to spot any chinks in the Saxon armour, "Battalions Of Steel", "Live To Rock", "Demon Sweeney Todd" and "Valley Of The Kings" amongst the best tracks on any of the albums in this set.

I may not be able to pass comment on the Eagles And Dragons vinyl box set itself. However in terms of music it's hard to better the razor sharp Metal Saxon have served up across the nine albums and eighteen years presented here. The only question you're left with, is has any Metal act been better over the same period of time?

Track Listing

1. Solid Ball Of Rock 2. Altar Of The Gods 3. Requiem (We Will Remember) 4. Lights In the Sky 5. I Just Can't Get Enough 6. Baptism Of Fire 7. Ain't Gonna Take It 8. I'm On Fire 9. Overture In B-Minor / Refugee 10. Bavarian Beaver 11. Crash Dive


1. Forever Free 2. Hole In The Sky 3. Just Wanna Make Love To You 4. Get Down And Dirty 5. Iron Wheels 6. One Step Away 7. Can't Stop Rockin' 8. Nighthunter 9. Grind 10. Cloud Nine


1. Dogs Of War 2. Burning Wheels 3. Don't Worry 4. Big Twin Rolling (Coming Home) 5. Hold On 6. The Great White Buffalo 7. Demolition Alley 8. Walking Through Tokyo 9. Give It All Away 10. Yesterday's Gone


1. Gothic Dreams 2. Unleash The Beast 3. Terminal Velocity 4. Circle Of Light 5. The Thin Red Line 6. Ministry Of Fools 7. The Preacher 8. Bloodletter 9. Cut Out The Disease 10. Absent Friends 11. All Hell Breaking Loose


1. Intro 2. Metalhead 3. Are We Travellers In Time 4. Conquistador 5. What Goes Around 6. Song Of Evil 7. All Guns Blazing 8. Prisoner 9. Piss Off 10. Watching You 11. Sea Of Life


1.Intro 2. Killing Ground 3. Court Of The Crimson King 4. Coming Home 5. Until Hell Freezes Over 6. Dragon's Lair 7. You Don't Know What You've Got 8. Deeds Of Glory 9. Running For The Border 10. Shadows On The Wall 11. Rock Is Our Life


1. Witchfinder General 2. Man And Machine 3. The Return 4. Lionheart 5. Beyond The Grave 6. Justice 7. To Live By The Sword 8. Jack Tars 9. English Man O'War 10. Searching For Atlantis 11. Flying On The Edge


1. State Of Grace 2. Need For Speed 3. Let Me Feel Your Power 4. Red Star Falling 5. I've Got To Rock (To Stay Alive) 6. If I Was You 7. Going Nowhere Fast 8. Ashes To Ashes 9. Empire Rising 10. Attila The Hun


1. Battalions Of Steel 2. Live To Rock 3. Demon Sweeney Todd 4. The Letter 5. Valley Of The Kings 6. Slow Lane Blues 7. Crime Of Passion 8. Premonition In D Minor 9. Voice 10. Protect Yourselves 11. Hellcat 12. Come Rock Of Ages (The Circle Is Complete) 13. Coming Home [bottleneck version]

Added: March 2nd 2016
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Saxon online
Hits: 2384
Language: english

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