Saxon

Into the Labyrinth

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It's safe to assume that when Saxon's original lineup was formed in Barnsley, England back in 1977, the last thing that singer Biff Byford and guitarist Paul Quinn were thinking about was a 31st anniversary. Metal bands come and go, and it is hard enough to keep a band together for two or three years -- let alone 31. But 2008, the year in which Saxon recorded their early 2009 release, Into the Labyrinth, did, in fact, mark the band's 31st anniversary -- and the good news is that this 50-minute CD is quite faithful to the spirit of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Those who have been closely following Saxon all these years know that their work has been wildly inconsistent at times; they showed tremendous promise in the beginning but didn't fare nearly as well when they tried to sound like a glossy Sunset Strip hair band in the mid- to late '80s. But the Nirvana/Pearl Jam/grunge upheaval of 1991-1993 booted hair bands off of MTV, and instead of either continuing with hair metal or attempting to go alternative, Saxon returned to their NWOBHM roots. The result: a lot of mid- to late-'90s and 2000s recordings that weren't groundbreaking but definitely found Saxon sounding revitalized. Into the Labyrinth fits that description; this disc doesn't pretend to point the veteran headbangers in any new directions, but Saxon's 2008 lineup (Byford on lead vocals, Quinn and Doug Scarratt on guitar, Nibbs Carter on bass, and Nigel Glockler on drums) sound like they are having considerable fun whether they are providing anthemic power metal of the Judas Priest/Iron Maiden variety ("Valley of the Kings," "Battalions of Steel") or going for more of an AC/DC-ish crunch ("Live to Rock," "Slow Lane Blues"). This album falls short of essential, but even so, fans of NWOBHM -- era favorites like Strong Arm of the Law (1980) and Denim and Leather (1981) will appreciate the NWOBHM leanings of the enjoyably consistent Into the Labyrinth.

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