Of all the old school metal bands to remain on a hot streak in the new millennium, it’s Saxon. For the third consecutive album beginning with 2004’s Lionheart, Biff Byford and Paul Quinn keep the sails whipping through the Union Jack in a stoic effort from one of the acknowledged masters of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
Though some have been arguing that having only Byford and Quinn from the original lineup (though drummer Nigel Glockler has been hanging about the Saxon camp for many years) doesn’t constitute a proper Saxon, you can’t argue with the results of what is. Lionheart, The Inner Sanctum and now Into the Labyrinth have been consistently heavy, consistently on the dime and consistently entertaining as hell.
Into the Labyrinth may be the most enjoyable of them all because Saxon, as they did on the previous two efforts—in particular Lionheart—seems hell-bent to erase the memory of the band’s squelched late-eighties pop rock albums Rock the Nations and Destiny. Honestly, guys, you’re forgiven, already, sheesh! If you’re going to give us a soaring power blast out the gate with the gallant “Battalions of Steel,” some trad anthem rawk with “Live to Rock” and then a near-thrashy ode to the recently-popularized barber from hell, “Demon Sweeney Todd,” then consider Nations and Destiny water under the bridge…
What’s particularly inspiring about Into the Labyrinth is the obvious fun Saxon is having together. Does it have to be Denim and Leather, Wheels of Steel or Crusader? Let’s hope not, lest those albums lose the specialness of their time and forevermore. Let’s simply be thankful Into the Labyrinth takes itself seriously enough to honor Saxon and heavy metal’s past on the majestic “Valley of the Kings” and “Voice” while stepping into the newer timeframe on the more contemporary “Protect Yourselves.” For the honor of the old ways, Saxon steps up with the brisk-tempo “Hellcat” and then turns towards some Leadbelly-esque swamprat blues on an acoustic resurrection of “Coming Home,” which originally appeared in electric form on 2001’s Killing Ground.
Paul Quinn sounds as interested in his business as ever, while Doug Scarratt and Nibbs Carter provide ample assistance to Saxon’s densely-realized rhythm section. Would Saxon be as heavy as this without them? Maybe or maybe not, but you know what they say about having newer blood in the fold from time-to-time. As for Biff Byford, you just have to admire his testicular fortitude; 1983 or 2008, the man lights his mike on fire, period.
The result for a band reaching its 31st year as of Into the Labyrinth is a rock solid addition to the legacy of one of the entire metal world’s greatest units. Re-sew those vintage back patches to the faded denim and wrap those arthritic wrists in sparkling studs to show the fashionably trendy youth of today how to wear them properly. Up the Saxon and be proud of your damned selves…
Into the Labyrinth
Review by Ray Van Horn, Jr.