Maybe it's just that those that were around during the NWOBHM explosion just like to bitch about "kids these days" or maybe it is in fact a crime that SAXON still doesn't get the accolades it deserves. Then again, we're talking primarily about stateside fickle fans that too often overlook the merits of a band that is arguably as strong as they've ever been with a recent winning streak of albums that include "Lionheart" and "The Inner Sanctum". That new album "Into the Labyrinth" continues that streak and deserves placement in SAXON's upper tier of releases will probably mean little to those that couldn't understand what all the fuss was about with '80s releases like "Crusader", "The Power and the Glory", or "Strong Arm of the Law" either. Hey, it's your loss. The rest of us will be glad to revel in another first rate SAXON release.
Many will debate where "Into the Labyrinth" falls in comparison to the last few solid SAXON releases, but most will agree that it is a superb representation of classic heavy metal power and hard rock fire. And for the most part, it also contains a SAXON writing style that will be very familiar to longtime fans. Yet it in keeping with the band's quality controlled output, it doesn't sound staid or recycled. Biff Byford's voice has gotten better with age, while the production is robust, particularly the bite that is put into the guitars of Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt.
Examining the track list, one will not only hear staples of the SAXON sound, but also an album that balances variety with start-to-finish flow. "Battalions of Steel" and "Valley of the Kings" are the epic-sounding pieces with choral effects and triumphant choruses, both of which may be considered highlights, while the fast-paced "Demon Sweeney Todd" is, hands down the album's definitive heavy metal scorcher. "Hellcat" follows close behind. Melodically speaking, "Come Rock of Ages (The Circle is Complete)", with its infectious refrain, and the passionate performance of "Voice" are also traditional SAXON numbers. "Live to Rock" follows a long line of AC/DC-styled anthems that speak to SAXON's love of the big ball of rock. The formula is simple and the lyrics anything but deep and the quintet still nails it.
But it is on the tunes that mix blues and hard rock where the group excels at taking a time-tested formula and putting its own stamp on it. "Slow Lane Blues" is the standout of a quartet of songs that come with all sorts of blues-drenched, hard-rockin' swagger. The sleazy "Crime of Passion" and the slithering sizzle of "Protect Yourselves" are the other two electric numbers, while a surprisingly good acoustic slide version of "Coming Home (Bottleneck Version)" — originally appearing on "Killing Ground" — rounds out the foursome.
As most fans will readily admit, it is not so much about progression as it is about consistency in releasing damn good albums. Nostalgia for the classic early albums will often derail any objective analysis of modern releases from a band like SAXON. But as a complete album "Into the Labyrinth" is right up there with some of the band's best works.