Saxon — Hell, Fire And Damnation (Silver Lining Music)
It’s a title that screams titanium-plated trad metal in all of its riff-fuelled glory.
Then there’s the foreboding Brian Blessed voiceover pacing brooding opening track The Prophecy.
When Biff Byford — 73 years young earlier this week — adds his trademark tone to the mix on the molten title track, it’s job done.
We’re only in January and Saxon have already set the 2024 bar when it comes to head-banging, fist pumping, no-holds-barred heavy metal.
That the Barnsley band have introduced Diamond Head’s NWOBHM trailblazer Brian Tatler to the mix only adds to the overriding sense of triumph.
Hell, Fire And Damnation has it all.
A devilish deep dive into the annals of the past mixes brutal reality with broad strokes of mystery.
And Byford races through an occasionally zany 10-track set with all the zeal of a wide-eyed student ready to rewrite history.
Tatler and Doug Scarratt trade terrific sweeps of frenzied fretwork rooted in the late 70s but suitably refreshed for this golden era of peak Saxon.
And then there’s the redoubtable, reliable and still riotous rhythm section of Nigel Glockler and Nibbs Carter.
In 2023, ‘new boy’ Nibbs celebrated 35 years as the band’s bullish bass player: Hell, Fire And Damnation represents some of his very best work.
March’s UK arena run with Judas Priest and Uriah Heep kicks off another energy-sapping run of live dates for the band that never sleeps.
And who isn’t holding out for a Blessed guest appearance some time, somewhere this year?
Either a whole lot of thought went into planning the order of Hell, Fire And Damnation’s tracklist.
Or Biff and the boys simply threw 10 titles into a hat and hoped for the best.
The only downside (or it might be a positive, depending upon how your mind works) to this dizzying heavy metal rollercoaster is the random nature of Saxon’s era-spanning history lesson.
It’s like Bill And Ted on steroids.
And for those who seek some chronological order in their lives, Hell, Fire And Damnation can be a rather disconcerting experience.
For some, the cut and thrust of Madame Guillotine will jar alongside alien encounter There’s Something In Roswell.
Pirates Of The Airwaves is a peculiarly positioned ode to childhood memories that feels like an awkward fit sandwiched in between Kubla Khan And The Merchant Of Venice and 1066.
Imagine Doctor Who on magic mushrooms.
Or Marty McFly constantly battling between drive and reverse.
Saxon are past masters when it comes to documenting the past against a backdrop of blitzing metal.
But rarely have Biff and co. ridden roughshod over the natural order of things with such mischievous abandon.
The music, of course, is reassuringly consistent and there’ll be no mistaking what era this band belongs to when the final word on heavy music is written in centuries to come.
“In 1066 the Saxons were slain,” wails Byford three tracks from the end.
In 2024 it seems nobody can come close to ending Saxon’s reign as the undisputed kings of trad metal.
Main image by Ned Wakeman