HRH XII-bound Saxon press on with their career-spanning album reissue campaign. HRH Mag‘s Simon Rushworth delivers his verdict on the band’s mid-80s fare.

 

Saxon head to HRH XII this autumn in the form of their lives and it would be remiss to ignore the latest batch of glorious vinyl reissues celebrating the enduring NWOBHM pioneers. Nevertheless, the mid 80s was an era of mixed fortunes for a band struggling to keep pace with peers Def Leppard and Iron Maiden – after a concerted push to break the US market – and desperately seeking that MTV-ready makeover.

Ironically, 1985’s Innocence Is No Excuse proved to be the band’s highest charting Billboard record – reaching 133 in the US. But Saxon’s seventh album proved to be their last with powerhouse bass player Steve Dawson ahead of a very public parting of the ways. Under new label EMI the pressure was on to remodel one of the UK’s best loved metal acts but the quest for critical acclaim and commercial success was exposing cracks at the very heart of Barnsley’s finest. Singles Back On The Streets and Rock N Roll Gypsy remain two of Saxon’s finest songs but neither had the power to propel Innocence Is No Excuse into the UK’s top 30.

Rock The Nations (1986) is notable for Biff Byford playing the bass parts and the unlikely addition of Elton John on Northern Lady and Party Til You Puke. Adding trademark piano to Saxon’s metal mix, Sir Elton’s appearance baffled many and failed to ignite a largely perfunctory release. Despite a headline appearance at the Reading Festival and a partnership with one of the world’s best known tinklers, these were tough times for a band struggling to find its identity following years of unprecedented success.

As a bold experiment in late 80s commercial rock, however, Destiny (1988) is an absolute belter of a record and three decades down the line the remastered vinyl version still stands the test of time. Pilloried by many for its pin-sharp production and super smooth mix it may not sound like the Saxon of old but it’s the sound of a band refusing to stand still in the face of an increasingly aggressive US invasion. Byford and co. were never built for hair metal but I Can’t Wait Anymore is a punchy power ballad and a rousing cover of Ride Like The Wind rips up the NWOBHM blueprint. Think you know Saxon? Think again.