Bands die out. It’s a natural thing, whether it’s through murder, treachery or heartbreak. Some bands collapse before their time, leaving the world with mere fragments of what could have been. Some bands rise from the grave to tour the festival circuit for the promise of nostalgia-bucks and a shot to relive there glory days. Others continue trudging through the filth-clogged mire of the industry long after their time has come to an end, resembling withered husks of the musicians they used to be, once upon a time.
Few bands endure like SAXON. After nearly four decades of metallic fury, the dogs of war still bark louder and bite harder onstage than 95% of whatever cat-vomit passes for “Rock-and-Roll” these days. Some people might find that fact sad. Maybe it is. Just be glad that these grizzled gods are still around, slingin’ real riffs and drivin’ kick drums up your puckered butthole year after year after f*ckin’ year for your entertainment.
So here’s the skinny: Saxon are doing a lot of stuff this year. Not only are they releasing another 2DVD/CD combo entitled “Warriors of the Road – The Saxon Chronicles Part II,” they are also re-releasing the first installment, as well as the “Heavy Metal Thunder” compilation, which features 60 minutes of classic, re-recorded cuts from Saxon’s illustrious catalog (and 30 minutes of live material). Now, I know that the term “re-recorded” is about as sexy as saying “I like to drown puppies” but if anyone can get away with it, it’s the Motorcycle Men themselves. Biff Byford’s voice in 2002 was better than it ever had been, and it’s still nigh-untouchable to this day. Golden years? Saxon are kicking more ass than bands a third their age.
Move on. Fire up “SAXON Chronicles.” Watch the band light up as the chants of over one hundred thousand people wash over the stage. The blue lights, the fog, the way Commander Byford strides to the monitors, in charge before he says a single word. It’s cheeky how nonchalant the band is, eschewing the pageantry of props and production as Doug Scarratt cranks his tremolo bar into a vortex of harmonics before “Motorcycle Man” kicks into high-gear. Fire rages. Byford howls. Fritz Randow smacks his skins like they burned the tuna casserole. Paul Quinn rips a solo, tassels a-dangle. Nibbs Carter doing a bit of Steve Harris, headbanging until you’re pretty sure his face is about to fly off. Rest of the DVD continues much in the same way, the band criss-crossing decades of material, re-affirming the essence of existence for so many thousands of German citizens, who can only raise their fists in awe as the eagle lands in a shower of lights, power, glory.
Make no mistake, Saxon doesn’t phone it in. They do not “go through the motions.” This is a band that needs its audience just as much as its audience needs them. Saxon can’t not do what they do, and Saxon fans can’t not return that fire and energy. It’s beautiful, the symbiotic relationship of the performance. For every inch the crowd gives during “Crusader,” Saxon returns it tenfold. Quinn is a masterclass in biker-rockmanship all on his own; his strut during the solo of “Princess of the Night” is the gait of guitar-based machismo itself. I know it’s from 2001, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. If you’re ready for some chuckles and a marathon down memory lane, the second disk will be right up your dark alley. Riddled with goofy tour antics, goofier Yorkshire accents, ancient interviews, music videos and assorted festival footage, not to mention liberal amounts of field marshall Byford barking instructions on how to rock into your ear-holes.
A great little Saxon scrapbook for the diehards, and anyone else who’s ready to take off the training wheels. The fact that it comes to an end is the only downside.