Credit to Saxon.
“Carpe Diem” is their 23rd studio album, and unlike a lot of their contemporaries in the NWOBHM movement (and please, we need to find a better name for it, crikey! Its 40 years old) they are still as “metal” as ever.
And by “metal” I mean a simple sound, the quintessential sound in my book, the one where there’s no growling (that’s crucial) and just about every song has some kind of gallop, or at the very least a bit where you could stick your fists up in the air and let it rip.
Biff Byford – the man of that voice, along with Bruce Dickinson and Rob Halford that defines the sound – explains it thus: “the essence of a great metal song is the riff that starts it, and this album has loads of them.”
He’s bang right too. The (near) title cut (it just adds “seize the day in brackets) builds up to it, but my goodness, when it does, you’d best feel the explosion deep in your soul.
Paul Quinn and Nigel Glocker know how to kick out the leads, and with Byford doing what he does, over lyrics only he could do, this is a timeless record.
“Age Of Steam” is kind of a case in point, not many bands would try one about the industrial revolution, but we are not dealing with your usual band and this fair old thunders, and even if their songs have been a lot more historical than most for years, then on this one it seems to have been dialled up even more, as if Byford spent is lockdown poring over books to find inspiration.
Whatever, it worked.
“The Pilgrimage” – a slow burning epic which passes for a ballad here – changes tone, but the “engine room” of the album, as it were is the brilliant “Dambusters” – all razor sharp riffing and pinpoint lead guitar – and the almost thrash “Remember The Fallen”, its not quite there, but listen to the chug here, it could (if Saxon fans were so inclined) start a moshpit at a moment’s notice.
That, in actuality, is the pattern for this record. In common with their material since the mid-2000s, “…Diem” is heavier than you might imagine it being, which at this stage of their careers takes some doing. “Super Nova” is a blinding flash that takes no prisoners (there’s more than a touch of Priest here, for certain) while “Lady In Gray” adds a layer of grandiosity that you can’t mistake.
“All For One” (and this one is a real return to the 80s!) tells the tale of the Three Musketeers over a tune that no one has attempted for about 30 years. “Black Is The Night” comes in with a bit of a darker hue, but it is striking how modern this all sounds, given the fact that a lot of bands sound dated playing this form of metal, a fact that the last one “Living On The Limit” underlines. Yes, in other hands it could be throwaway, here, though, it pushes the needle into the red just because it can – and its in and out in less than three minutes, too.
Maybe that’s the point. In other hands this would have been nowhere near this good, but on the flip side that’s why Saxon have been at the top for so long: they are masters of the craft. “Carpe Diem” is absolutely one of the best albums of their career.