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Call to Arms


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  • For much of the 2000s, a revitalized Saxon catered to accepting European power metal audiences with a traditionally rooted but thoroughly modern-sounding heavy metal production; but there's something different about the veteran band's first effort of the 2010s and 19th studio album overall, 2011's Call to Arms. Simply put, it appears that the members of Saxon have intentionally revised their recent recording habits and largely stripped down their sound; perhaps doing without an extra guitar track or four which would have beefed up the mix, and scaling down the remaining instrumentation accordingly, including Biff Byford's surprisingly in-your-face vocals. As a result, the songs (with an exception or two) hark to the band's seminal New Wave of British Heavy Metal years: they are refreshingly raw and direct ("Surviving Against the Odds," "Chasing the Bullet," "Ballad of the Working Man"), recklessly urgent in a proto- but not post-thrash kind of way ("Hammer of the Gods," "Afterburner"), and, yes, even a little corny at times ("Back in `79"), but all of it qualifies as compelling vintage nostalgia, nonetheless. Even the more sophisticated exceptions hinted at earlier, such as the synth-laden title track (Rainbow and Deep Purple legend Don Airey guests) and dramatic mid-paced offerings like "Mists of Avalon" and the "Kashmir"-quoting "When Doomsday Comes" stubbornly retain their `80s hallmarks, feel, and spirit, never advancing beyond 1985's divisive Innocence Is No Excuse album in Saxon's evolutionary arc. To be clear, though, overall, the album's closest aesthetic cousin would have to be 1981's Denim & Leather. And perhaps it's in a bid to drive this point home that deluxe editions of Call to Arms feature a bonus disc containing the band's 1980 performance at the Donington Monsters of Rock Festival, which leaves little doubt of Saxon's deliberate back-to-basics strategy on this release (see also the distressed cover art for evidence). As such, it's a strategy that the band's longest-serving faithful will likely embrace, though perhaps not their new millennium converts, but you can't ever please everyone now, can you? ~ Eduardo Rivadavia
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