rushronrock‘s must-read reviews section is back! And while there’s hardly a mad scramble to release new material in 2009 first out of the blocks – and not before time – are those NWOBHM legends Saxon. If you’ve been humming the single Live To Rock since late last year then Biff and the boys are serving up more of the same with a cracking return to form.

Saxon – Into The Labyrinth (Steamhammer/SPV) 

The last decade has seen Saxon battle on while those around them have often lost the will to fight against changing tastes and an even faster evolving record industry. There has been the odd low (2002’s Heavy Metal Thunder) and an occasional high (2004’s Lionheart) but nothing quite so confident and controlled as Into The Labyrinth. This is what Saxon always stood for and it’s refreshing to hear that the NWOBHM doesn’t sound as dated as we all feared.

Taster single Live To Rock set the tone and while it may well be the highlight of a cracking record it’s by no means a diamond among duds. Opening salvo Batallions Of Steel leaves the listener in no doubt about what’s to come as it thunders across the speakers without a thought for the neighbours but suddenly you’re settling down to Slow Lane Blues and enjoying the pre-planned change of pace.

And make no mistake about it, this is far from the one dimensional metal those who have ignored Saxon for far too long might expect. The diversity is what seals the deal on an album that sets the standards going into another vital year for rock. Into The Labyrinth is Saxon through and through but there’s no safety first approach with the intention of pleasing only the band’s die-hard fans. Biff Byford is canny enough to know there’s a new generation of followers out there and the recent recruits deserve the songs of their time.

They get them in the shape of The Letter and Protect Yourselves – two modern metal masterpieces which stand alongside anything from the band’s Denim & Leather era without ever leaning on the past. Saxon may have been to hell and back in the last 10 years but the future has rarely appeared brighter for Barnsley’s finest.

If you used to love this band then this will be the record that brings it all back. But if Saxon are an unknown quantity then be prepared for a New Year bonus.

rushonrock rated: 8/10 Pure Sax Appeal