Saxon – Carpe Diem Review

Saxon was there with Elrond 3000 years ago when Sauron fell. Saxon has more albums than some of you have years on Earth. Saxon will still be releasing albums long after you are dust crumbs. These are truisms metal fans must accept before moving on and living a happy and productive existence. Now Saxon’s 23rd fucking album is here, and it’s titled, Carpe Diem. And what can you expect to find when you follow instructions and seize the day? The same vintage NWoBHM goods Saxon has churned out like clockwork for 40-plus years. It’s anthemic 80s metal with one foot in the past and the other in the grave (yours not theirs). However, there must have been something unusual going on at Saxon HQ when they crafted this album. It’s one of the heaviest, most consistently ass-kicking efforts the band’s managed in many years and the material sounds full of piss, apple cider vinegar, and brimstone (and cloves). Song after song showcases the band’s ability to forge classic metal tuneage sure to trigger waves of nostalgia in anyone old as dirt like Finely Aged Steel. Though I’ve enjoyed the past few releases, I’m surprised and impressed by the improvement these proper geezers have managed here.

Though there are no surprises with the kind of songs you get here, the vibrant and robust energy they’re delivered with is notable. The opening title track is classic Saxon but with extra punchy riffs and a more urgent feel. Eternal frontman Biff Byford is in fine form considering he had a heart attack not long ago, and when he sings the key line, “They came, they saw, they conquered” it feels like the early days of the NWoBHM all over again. “Age of Steam” borrows the heft of Primal Fear for a kind of call back to “Princess of the Night” and it’s one of the most spry, in-your-face tunes Saxon has birthed. “The Pilgrimage” is the kind of epic metal anthem old heads like me live for, recalling the grandeur of their all-time hit “Crusader.” There’s more than a little Iron Maiden influence percolating in the guitarwork and this one is stuck in my ears and brain like asbestos COVID rabies.

Song after song hits and metal pleasure center with unrelenting forward momentum and crackling energy. “Dambusters” could have appeared on the recent Blaze Bayley opus, “Remember the Fallen” joins the pantheon of songs Saxon should play live every time, and “All For One” knowingly winks at the main riff and structure of “Power and the Glory.” Even the measured bombast of power ballad “Lady in Gray” works because the tempos are kept lively and the riffs crunchy. At a trim 45 minutes, there’s no fat to excise nor filler to drop. The album flies by with every song offering hooks and headbanging goodness. Add a stout production job by Andy Sneap with an emphasis on the heavy guitars, and you have an album that sounds like the product of a much younger band.

It’s the amped-up guitar work by Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt that drives Carpe Diem like a crazed cattle rancher. On song after song I’m reminded of how Primal Fear use fat, crunchy riffs to power their writing, and it works just as well when Saxon does it. Biff sounds like Biff and sometimes a younger version of Biff, crooning and warbling over the riffs and adding tons of seasoned stage personality to the compositions. He’s never mentioned in the conversation with the likes of Dickinson and Halford, but he’s been at this for 44 years and has one of the most distinctive voices in metal. Strong performances aside, the writing here is vastly improved and every song has strong hooks and replay value. Maybe it’s unfair, but when I compare this to the latest Maiden album, the side-by-side is not flattering for the Kings of NWoBHM. They could certainly learn a few things from Saxon about editing and self-restraint.

Saxon may be ready for assisted rocking but they sure as shit seized the day and squeezed it hard. Carpe Diem is my favorite album of theirs since 1997s Unleash the Beast, and it’s everything I want in a traditional metal platter. Saxon IS heavy metal, and they’ve forgotten more about it than most bands will ever learn. Those life lessons are written in blood all over this platter. Get to (old) school.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: NA | Format Reviewed: Stream
Label: Silver Lining
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: February 4th, 2022

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