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Saxon: Decade Of The Eagle

Recent times have seen a welcome spotlight turned on the later era of NWOBHM survivors Saxon, the band's wilderness years and resurgence providing a remarkably consistent catalogue of work. However, with Decade Of The Eagle the focus is once again turned on the band's first ten years, initially featuring the classic line-up of singer Biff Byford, guitarists Paul Quinn and Graham Oliver, bassist Steve Dawson and drummer Pete Gill. Releasing their debut in 1979 the band would go on to put out a further eight studio albums in their first ten years together and while there are copious compilation options for this era already available, it has to be said that this 2CD or 4LP set is one of the best, taking in 34 of the band's most memorable cuts. As you'd expect, a lot of the outfit's early singles are included in the track list, but thankfully things also go a little deeper, even if it is only the littlest bit. Hence, while we get tracks such as "Big Teaser" from the band's debut, the title track and "747 (Strangers In The Night)" from Wheels Of Steel, "Heavy Metal Thunder" and the title track from Strong Arm Of The Law, and "Princess Of The Night" and "Never Surrender" from Denim And Leather, we also get some (slightly) less celebrated selections. "Militia Man", live versions of "Motorcycle Man", "20,000 Feet" and "Fire In The Sky" (from 1982's The Eagle Had Landed live release presumably) and "Dallas 1pm". For some Saxon would never quite reach the same heights ever again, Byford's unusual lyrical topics taking in sci-fi, war and some slightly more abstract topics, and combining them with gargantuan riffs and machine-gun drums. The latter provided by Gill, who left the band in 1981 prior to The Eagle… live album, to be replaced by ex-Toyah man Nigel Glockler.

In the Malcolm Dome penned liner notes Byford talks about the differences the band encountered under different producers, and interestingly, it feels like they allowed whoever the guy was behind the desk to completely shape the end outcome. In those early days a succession of production names would come and go, yet, the thin sounding debut apart, the effect was always to find a band leading the NWOBHM charge. With the scene running out of steam by 1983's Power & The Glory album the tide was beginning to turn on the band, critical opinion not so lavish as the production from Jeff Glixman attempted to smooth out Saxon's more edgy nature and garnered accusations that they were becoming seduced by America. Production wise the tracks from this album still don't hold up quite as well as the older material, but there's still no denying the hard hitting nature of "This Town Rocks", "The Eagle Has Landed" and, of course, "The Power & The Glory" itself. Splitting opinions of the time further, 1984's Crusader (the band's first for EMI Records after leaving French label Carerre, who had Demon, Dokken and Rose Tattoo on their books at the time) is notable in this collection for being the first album to have less than four selections lifted for this compilation; only "Sailing To America" and "Crusader" making the cut. Which is a real shame, for while critics may have panned the album as a blatant move to change the band's attack, over the years it's gone on to become a real fan favourite and as such maybe deserves more recognition.

A year later and Innocence Is No Excuse was the first Saxon album since their debut not to crack the top 20 in the UK, suggesting the rot had begun to set in. Personally it's a long term favourite, the five tracks included here, "Devil Rides Out", "Back On The Streets", "Rockin' Again" and the incredibly atmospheric "Rock N Roll Gypsy" and "Broken Heroes" not only making this album one of the most heavily represented, but also showing how seductive the band's slightly more polished hard rock had become. The following year's Rock The Nations however felt like a compromise, the band looking to press on with the Innocence sound while also trying to recapture their NWOBHM roots and while the likes of "Rock The Nations", "Waiting For The Night" and "Northern Lady" all shine up nicely, the album itself didn't fare quite so well. It also marked the first Saxon album not to feature bassist Steve Dawson, Paul Johnson credited and pictured on the album, although it was actually Byford who played the bass parts. Glockler was gone for 1988's Destiny (although he'd return), Nigel Durham playing drums, and if Rock The Nations had split opinions, the final album from the band's first decade, Destiny, thoroughly confused their followers. Ditching the metal of old completely the album was a surprise sideways step into the world of keyboard heavy AOR and while it may have turned the band's fans away in their droves, if this lighter sound is your thing, it has to be said that Saxon did it really well. Rather meanly, only two songs from the album appear here, the Christopher Cross cover "Ride Like The Wind" and slightly heavier "Red Alert".

With the history of Saxon covered time and again over the years, Malcolm Dome takes a different tack in the liner notes of what is a nicely presented, if hardly jaw dropping by modern standards, three panel digi-pack. Lead singer Biff Byford quizzed on different aspects of the band's first decade, with sections covering producers, lyrical inspiration, festivals, covers versions and so on. It makes for a fun read, if not really adding a huge amount of value to the music itself.

Saxon have, through some serious ups and downs, been a constant of the UK rock and metal scene for the best part of 40 years now. Every era of the band has reasons to celebrate and marvel at what they've achieved, but there's no arguing that for many it is still their first decade together that is viewed as the halcyon years. Decade Of The Eagle does an excellent job of illustrating exactly why.

Track Listing
1. Stallions Of The Highway
2. Big Teaser
3. Backs To The Wall
4. Militia Guard
5. Wheels Of Steel
6. 747 (Strangers In The Night)
7. Suzie Hold On
8. Motorcycle Man (live)
9. Strong Arm Of The Law
10. Heavy Metal Thunder
11. 20,000ft (live)
12. Dallas 1PM
13. And The Bands Played On
14. Never Surrender
15. Denim And Leather
16. Fire In the Sky (live)
17. Princess Of The Night
18. Power & The Glory
19. This Town Rocks
20. The Eagle Has Landed
21. Midas Touch
22. Sailing To America
23. Crusader
24. Devil Rides Out
25. Back On The Streets
26. Rockin' Again
27. Rock N' Roll Gypsy
28. Broken Heroes
29. Waiting For The Night
30. Rock The Nations
31. Northern Lady
32. Battle Cry
33. Ride Like The Wind
34. Red Alert

Added: November 19th 2017
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Saxon online
Hits: 1649
Language: english

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