Now entering their fifth decade of recording, the band formerly known as Son of a Bitch show no sign of slowing down or entering old age gracefully. Much like their sometime touring partners Motörhead, Saxon have spent the last twenty years making a string of quality albums that may not have seen them scaling the dizzy commercial heights of the early 80′s, but have certainly had their moments of creative greatness. Nineteenth studio album Call to Arms sees the NWOBHM stalwarts treading the same path that has seen them through the good times and the bad, albeit with a renewed sense of vitality.
Opening track ‘Hammer of the Gods’ kicks straight in and all thoughts of middle-aged men trying to relive former glories are instantly dismissed, as power metal riffing and Biff Byford’s leather-lunged howl dominate the track. This level of power is held up throughout the album as tracks like the piledriving ‘Afterburner’ (which bears an uncanny resemblance to Judas Priest‘s ‘Freewheel Burning’), ‘Surviving Against the Odds’ and ‘When Doomsday Comes’ (featuring current Deep Purple keyboard maestro Don Airey) all maintain the necessary level of heavy metal thunder that separates the merely good from the legendary. Elsewhere, the epic title track slows the pace down a bit but grabs you with a chorus hook strong enough to land a shark.
There are a few nods to former glories, mainly in the self-explanatory ‘Back in ’79′ which, although is a thinly veiled re-write of ‘Denim & Leather’, never really seems to go anywhere, while ‘Mists of Avalon’ (what is it with NWOBHM bands writing about Avalon recently?) suffers the same fate by merely plodding along without ever getting out of its mid-tempo rut.
Overall, Call to Arms does exactly what you would expect it to do. The slick production is as tight as Biff Byford’s spandex trousers and the band’s performance is top notch. The consistency of the songwriting isn’t quite up there with Unleash the Beast or The Inner Sanctum but a couple of duff tracks on an otherwise decent album is hardly a tragedy, and the amount of power and confidence evident here more than makes up for it.