When I must have been either about to graduate or right out of college–so, 1991 or ’92–Charles and I wondered over a beer whether we’d be into hard rock and heavy metal, which had fueled both of our adolescences, when we were “old” with families. It’s stayed with both of us to some degree, though probably more so me than Charles.
It’s lonely being a Saxon fan in the United States. Saxon was, and is, essentially the second coming of Judas Priest–nothing more or less than big loud heavy metal, light on the deeper meaning and shooting through the top of the intensity scale. Unfortunately for them, it seemed there was only room for one British heavy metal band of that particular flavor on this side of the pond, so they remain largely unknown here and huge in Europe. (I still count seeing them with Charles and T.J. in Atlanta in 1998 on their first U.S. tour in more than 12 years as one of my favorite live music memories.)
Fortunately, even in someplace as unlikely as the southern United States, their records remain readily available. The Inner Sanctum is their latest, released either two days ago (when I received it) or on April 26 (according to Amazon.com as of this writing). I don’t know whether Amazon.com made a mistake sending it to me when they did; if so, you’ll please forgive me for not dutifully waiting for the “official” release date.
I try to be cautious with both praise and damnation when an album is new, but so far, I think The Inner Sanctum is up there with Strong Arm of the Law and Wheels of Steel. It’s scary good. It certainly sounds like the best record they’ve done in the past ten years (and I am a big fan of both 2001’s Killing Ground and 1997’s Unleash the Beast, so that means something).
As much as I’m enjoying The Inner Sanctum, the first thing I experienced listening to it was significant dissonance. “State of Grace” begins like a typical Saxon album opener: moody and brooding, with strings, chants, and gradually building drums and bass. But right when I think the guitar is going to kick in and take my head off, I’m hit with Biff’s vocal instead, produced slick as a Teflon skillet and layered like an ’80s do.
Uhhhh. WTF? I don’t know what to do with this. I turned it down when it hit me on my morning commute and pondered for a moment. OK, I’ll turn it back up and listen.
The song largely recovers, though to my ear remains one of the album’s weaker cuts. Fortunately, everything else is rock solid. You got your eerie Goth-before-it-was-called-Goth-sounding stuff like “Atila the Hun” and “Red Star Falling,” and you got your straight-ahead fist-pounders like “I’ve Got to Rock (To Stay Alive),” “Let Me Feel Your Power,” and “Going Nowhere Fast.” Despite the impression given by the opener, it’s not produced to death, and so far I’m finding it thoroughly satisfying.
I suppose I expected a little more of a coherent concept given the album name and artwork, but now that I’ve heard it, I’m not disappointed that such a concept is absent. If you like big, expertly-performed, no-frills heavy metal, adding The Inner Sanctum to your collection is a good move.
And guys, please come back! If you land within 300 miles of here, I’m there.