Saxon

Killing Ground

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The new millennium started in promising fashion for British heavy metal institution Saxon. After bottoming out creatively in the late '80s, the band had spent most of the '90s slowly rebuilding their following with a string of increasingly confident, quality albums, culminating in a return to U.S. shores for their first tours in over a decade. 2001's Killing Ground seemed poised to keep building upon this momentum, but distribution problems (their label SPV's U.S. distributor went belly-up just weeks before the album's release) forced fans to shell out for pricey import copies instead. Which is too bad, since while it ranks slightly lower than its predecessor, the impressive Metalhead, in terms of overall songwriting consistency, Killing Ground offers its fair share of bright moments. The excellent title track, along with its atmospheric intro, elicits fond memories of 1984's Crusader, and leads right into a fine version of King Crimson's "Court of the Crimson King," which sounds so obviously tailored for Saxon's sound, it's a wonder they didn't think of covering it sooner. The remaining material also stays true to the band's metallic tradition, but rarely leaves a serious lasting impact. Despite its title, single "Coming Home" is not a re-tread of Dogs of War's "Big Twin Rolling (Coming Home)" (unfortunately), and the epic "Shadows on the Wall" (normally a style Saxon pulls off quite well) veers off track due to some misguided nu-metal-style de-tuned riffing. "Hell Freezes Over" and "Running for the Border" are plodding, head-banging affairs (as you'd expect), and semi-thrash-outs like "Dragon's Lair" and "Deeds of Glory" are somewhat better for their intensity (as you'd expect), but hardly contestants for Song of the Year. Still, closer "Rock Is Life" is a lot better than its cheesy title might suggest -- blame it on Germany, home to some of the world's corniest power metal, and the studio used to record this album. The term "workmanlike" comes to mind, and while it might as well apply to Saxon's entire career, it's especially fitting for Killing Ground.

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