Saxon : Power & the Glory
(Carrere - 1983)
Category : underrated
Two Saxon albums are underrated. The first one's their debut. It always got compared to their Metal releases, while in fact it was more of a classic Hard Rock album. It was actually like comparing apples to oranges (in a similar vein, read this Judas Priest review).
The second one was their sixth album 'Power & the Glory'. The reason for its lukewarm reception was because it was a more melodic, lighter product with a higher percentage of slower and softer material. It still had some uptempo Metal tracks on it ('Warrior', 'This town rocks' and the titlesong) but none of them were as frantic or as fast as previous neckbreakers like 'Machine Gun' or '20.000 feet'. To make matters worse the band had started experimenting with some mild Progressive influences that became apparent in the songs 'Nightmare' and 'Midas Touch', but especially in 'The eagle has landed'. And last but not least, the macho topics (bikes, driving at high speeds and such), were almost entirely abandoned for a bit of science fiction, some epic fantasy, ancient mythology and a heartbreak or two. 'Redline' is the only biker track left on it.
They still knew how to write a good chorus, the performance is as spirited as ever, their playing technique hadn't degraded, the variation has never been greater, and I also can't see why metalheads would've been bothered by the shift in lyrical content, so I guess the main reason why 'Power & the Glory' was perceived as being a weaker album, must have been because it didn't deliver what the fans expected.
How many more albums à la 'Strong arm of the Law' or 'Denim and Leather' would Saxon have been able to release before people had started complaining about the lack of progress in their output? One? Two? The fact that they took matters in their own hands and decided to spread their wings before that day arrived, is commendable. The fact that they did it by releasing a strong album, even more so. In fact, there's only one uninteresting track on the entire album, and that's the simple 'This town rocks' with its plain sounding chorus. The rest varies from very good to excellent. Even something as banal as a boogie rocker is tweaked into becoming something enjoyable, as evidenced by 'Redline'.
On an album like this, it's not really possible to talk about standout tracks, but the songs on the B-side (apart from 'This town rocks') are the most rewarding by a very narrow margin, as the band has experimented more with their sound on them.
'Nightmare' is a Blues Rock song in disguise, with lots of softer passages and a very good guitar solo in the middle. It's most atypical element (for Saxon) are the rather commercial sounding backing vocals in the chorus. They're bordering on cheesy, but to fans of melodic Rock and Progressive Rock, they make the song tastier. On the downside, the lyrics are very generic, especially the chorus.
'Watching the Sky' is a rather simple uptempo Hard Rock song that's firmly rooted in the NWOBHM tradition. As is the case with the title track (on side A), it's elevated above hundreds of similar songs by good vocal melodies and a memorable chorus.
'Midas Touch' is a mid tempo Hard rock song that's kept interesting by contrasting soft vs. heavy parts. The chorus is repeated one time too many before the guitar solo arrives two thirds into the song, but that's just a minor problem.
The album closer 'The eagle has landed', probably the albums's most hated song, is in fact the album's best. It crawls along at a pace only Doom Metal bands dare rival, thus creating lots of room for beautiful, slow guitar solo's. The echo's and reversed echo's on Biff Byford's distinctive voice work remarkably well and are but one of the signs that a lot of energy was put into getting the atmosphere right. The end result is an almost mystical sounding masterpiece that really puts man's first step on the Moon in the right epic proportions.
There's only one song left, and that's the headbanger 'Warrior' (on the A-side). It's the album's heaviest track. The chorus and the middle part with the guitar solo especially are heavy, with its use of double bass drums and that simple speed metal riff. It suits the lyrics about an ancient invading force very well. This song is like Saxon's answer to Iron Maiden's 'Invaders' that was released two years earlier.
'Power and the Glory' is Saxon's best 80's album, maybe even their best ever. For a decade or so after its release, the quality of their output would be less. But the good news is that the turn of the century seems to have rejuvenated them somehow, as their recent albums are more convincing. They certainly sound a lot more powerful and are even likely to please the newer generation of Power Metal fans.