Wow, where do you even start with this one? How about with the audacious statement that SAXON is one of history's greatest heavy metal bands in the truest sense. Over 30 years running and in the last decade releasing some of the best music of its career, the story of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal pack leaders is told in a captivating, almost three-hour documentary film on disc one and phenomenal live performances (new and old), interview segments, and loads of extras on Disc Two, assuming you get the six-hour special "fan" edition, which clocks in at a whopping six hours!
There is a very good reason why "Heavy Metal Thunder: The Movie" was nominated as "Film/DVD of the Year" at the UK's Marshall Classic Rock Roll Of Honour awards. It is an outstanding DVD package on multiple levels; historically relevant, musically inspiring, and supremely entertaining. Suffice it to say, everything is here and told in riveting detail. You're given the ups and downs of the hungry years leading up to the release of watershed album "Wheels of Steel"; the legendary tours with MOTÖRHEAD (1979 and 2009) with insightful commentary from Lemmy and Fast Eddie Clarke; the battle to break into the American market with varying degrees of success, including some ill-advised, record company influenced decisions to commercialize the sound beginning with "Crusader" on which REO SPEEDWAGON producer Kevin Beamish was enlisted; and the departures of wild man bassist Steve Dawson and guitarist Graham Oliver and the ensuing legal battles over rights to the SAXON name.
In fact, one of the film's most refreshing aspects is that Dawson and Oliver are not only afforded opportunities to tell their side of the story, but their commentary is also an integral part of the film. Both provide crucial pieces to the puzzle and neither one spends time slinging mud, just as towering front man Biff Byford and the current members do nothing to tarnish the legacy by lobbing verbal grenades. While the genial and charismatic Byford is deservedly given large chunks of camera time, he is by no means given a monopoly on it. Members and ex-members (sans former drummer Pete Gill) alike offer important views into the world of SAXON past and present.
It is difficult to argue with the film's emphasis on the first half of the band's career. After examining the turning point that was 1984's "Crusader", the film spends some time on subsequent releases "Innocence is No Excuse", "Rock the Nations", and "Destiny" (don't do it; don't mention "Ride like the Wind"), but aside from noting "Solid Ball of Rock" as a return to form, much of the 90s and 2000s is given limited discourse, which is not to say albums like "The Inner Sanctum" and 2009's brilliant "Into the Labyrinth" are dismissed; rather the only way to put more focus on later years' albums would be to expand an already expanded edition well past three hours, which could sap any remaining energy from the viewer.
As such, it would be nitpicking to find this as a flaw in an otherwise flawless DVD package. I'll note it as a tiny one and leave it at that. Besides, disc two contains a segment on the recording of "Into the Labyrinth", as well as interview/archival footage from the "Crusader" and "Innocence is No Excuse" recording sessions, more time spent with Lemmy and the boys on the road, and two stunning performances from a 1981 gig for German TV and the 2008 St. George's Day Concert. Those two shows tell the SAXON tale almost as well, albeit from a different angle, as the formal documentary. The telling part about "Heavy Metal Thunder: The Movie" is that with as much detail in which we've already delved, we've not event scratched the surface of the DVD's content, which also includes commentary from Doro Pesch, Danko Jones, Lars Ulrich (METALLICA), and Classic Rock journalist Geoff Barton, among others. So I'll just end it by stating that "Heavy Metal Thunder: The Movie" is a quintessential heavy metal DVD in that it does maximum justice to both the band and the genre, leaving a paucity of stones unturned in the process and giving the viewer his/her money's worth many times over and then some. Absolutely essential!