With the exception of bands like Iron Maiden and Motorhead, there are precious few acts spawned from the late ’70s/early ’80s New Wave of British Heavy Metal as influential on today’s heavies as Saxon. Saxon’s 1980-81 output in particular, which includes the bare-bones metal gems “Strong Arm Of The Law” and “Denim and Leather,” are cited for their significance by now-legends like Metallica and Megadeth, and even contemporary hard rock outlaws like Danko Jones.
Saxon’s “Unplugged and Strung Up” is more than just another re-recorded “best of” package. The band, which has proved to be one of metal’s most prolific purveyors of new original material, releasing a studio album consistently every two to three years since 1979, uses this obstinate sense of creative fire to stoke the new release’s interpretations of 14 somewhat anomalous choices from the nearly 35-year Saxon canon. Tracks like 1984’s “Crusader” are given a less pretentious orchestral kiss than the original’s deadpan cheese, driven by a more spacious, melodic feel; the passion is much more discernible this time around. Other cuts like 1992’s “Forever Free” are infused with hell-riding Harley-Davidson, critical-mass abandon,This is a band that has lost none of its metal edge to the encroachment of time.
A contemplative acoustic take on “Frozen Rainbow” from Saxon’s 1979 self-titled debut lends itself to the song’s conscientious lyrical journey of “searching through the ages to find the hidden truth,” vocalist Biff Byford’s pipes pushing the emotional envelope with his still-intact signature vibrato. Similarly, the acoustic reading of “Requiem” is a melancholy standout and tribute to the legacy of fallen musical heroes – this take on the song completely stripped clean of the original 1991 pop-metal trappings. Perhaps most interestingly, closing the disc is a full-blown Delta blues revival of “Coming Home,” complete with foot-stomping slide guitar and tambourine – the ultimate antithesis of Saxon’s stereotypical Yorkshire-bred, leather-jacket-and-a-pint-of-ale image.
A delicately nuanced and powerful addition to an already masterful catalog, this album shows Saxon generating enough inspired electricity to power several more years of its still-vital metal machine.
- Mark Uricheck, Weekender Correspondent