Unleash The Beast


CMC International Records, 1997


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Somewhere in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, someone forgot to tell Biff Byford and Saxon that it was over.

One of the better bands (and, surprisingly, most ignored) of the musical wave that brought heavy metal back into popular favor in the '80s, Saxon has been slugging it out on their own terms, all the time led by Byford's throat of steel. The last I had heard of them, they had released Solid Ball Of Rock, a wonderful album which was a commercial flop.

Now, Saxon is back with Unleash The Beast, an album which is not demonic as its name and cover art would suggest, and features the band banging out some of their best tunes as if it were still 1983.

Well, maybe not all is the same. Often it sounds like Saxon has toned down the volume a little bit in the hopes of winning over a pop fan or two. It also occasionally seems like Byford and crew are writing songs in the hope of landing a single on the radio.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Is this a bad move? Not in my book; "Terminal Velocity" and "Ministry Of Fools" (despite the latter using the forbidden-on-the-radio f-word) are killer examples of how good Saxon can be. Of course, as evidenced by the title track, the band hasn't forgotten how to grab your head and slam it into the wall. (The opening montage "Gothic Dreams" is an interesting way to open the album - kind of reminds me of the opening to Stryper's To Hell With The Devil.)

The two-guitar attack of Paul Quinn and Doug Scarrat is a one-two punch that knows when it's time to let loose without reaching the point of showing off. Bassist Nibbs Carter provides a hidden but strong backbone, and Nigel Glockler works his drum kit quite well. But leave no question that Byford is the leader of this band; his unique vocal style is one you could immediately recognize if you were a follower of the heavy metal genre.

Not all on Unleash The Beast, however, is happy;"Absent Friends" is a personal tribute to a friend of the band's (or maybe it was a former member; the bio isn't very helpful in this case - and once again, neither is The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia Of Rock & Roll) who died. Byford is wise in keeping the volume of this song subdued, and it serves as a lovely tribute to John J.J. Jones.

But for the most part, Unleash The Beast is a powerful rocker that is meant to get your pulse rate up. Cuts like "The Thin Red Line," "Bloodletter" and "Cut Out The Disease" all show why this band should have been as big a name as others like Def Leppard and Iron Maiden. It's sad that Saxon is still trying to earn their time in the spotlight - especially when heavy metal is treated like a leper in the market today.

Unleash The Beast is more than worthy of your entertainment dollar - if not just your attention - and shows that not everyone who helped breakheavy metal into the mainstream got the attention they deserved. Fortunately, it's not too late for us to pay that homage to Saxon.

Rating: A-

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© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of CMC International Records, and is used for informational purposes only.