Into the Labyrinth by Saxon
Release date : January 2009
Reviewed by Mark Fisher
In late September 2008, Into the Labyrinth was revealed to be the title of Saxon's eighteenth studio album. Additionally, the full length's track listing was unveiled. Material was written in England, and at vocalist Biff Byford's French home. Under the direction of Charlie Bauerfeind, songs were laid down at Krefeld, Germany's Twilight Hall, the studio of German Power Metal act Blind Guardian.
From October 17th, “Live to Rock” was made available as an internet download. During mid November, audio samples lifted from the whole album were available for listening via SPV Records' official website. From November 3rd to the 22nd, Saxon toured the United Kingdom alongside Motörhead and Danko Jones. Beginning at Wolverhampton's Civic Hall, the tour came to a conclusion at London's Hammersmith Apollo. To direct “Live to Rock”'s music video, meanwhile, Aestheticom's Bill Schacht (who's worked with such acts as Dio, King Diamond, Amon Amarth, Fatal Smile, Liberty X / Rev Run, Zakk Wylde, and Sister Sin amongst others) was hired. On November 28th, the video underwent its global premiere. To coincide with this, Saxon launched the Riff King competition. Where the track's solo usually arrives was faded out, and guitarists were encouraged to perform their own solo, and submit that solo to Youtube. Saxon, and Saxon fanatics, selected what they felt was the greatest solo, and chose the winner.
Of those groups whose origins lie in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (commonly abbreviated as NWOBHM), Saxon is one of the most overlooked. Within Heavy Metal's sphere, the outfit have eternally been a red-headed stepchild somewhat, and have puzzled diehard fanatics and critics alike over the course of three road-tested, album producing decades. Fortunately, Saxon's material speaks for itself, and the act's final three noughties studio albums (namely 2004's Lionheart, 2007's The Inner Sanctum, and 2009's Into the Labyrinth) rival, and perhaps even surpass, the greatness prevalent within their inaugural three studio albums (namely 1979's Saxon, as well as Wheels of Steel and Strong Arm of the Law, both issued during 1980). Into the Labyrinth continues Saxon's winning streak, something which can be deemed a comeback, despite the fact that Saxon never actually departed.
Immediately, Into the Labyrinth announces the fact that Saxon happens to be one of Metal's most enduring acts. As soon as the traditional intro section fades, and “Battalions of Steel” overwhelms the speaker, the genre's flawless delivery and promptly distinct sound burst forth. “Live to Rock” continues guitar driven, balls out Metal's tradition, and subsequently, “Demon Sweeney Todd” raises the ante by quite a margin. This specific trio of compositions firmly remind the listener that more groups than Iron Maiden and Judas Priest proudly continue to implement a sound lifted from one of Metal's greatest eras. “Demon Sweeney Todd” is the album's prime cut, however; if you haven't formed a staunch as regards Into the Labyrinth, then that specific number will wholeheartedly win your affection.
Admittedly, Into the Labyrinth heightens towards a climax early into its tenure. In the album's defence, however, it never ventures downhill per se. Having said that, Into the Labyrinth does reach a plateau. “Protect Yourself”, “Valley of the Kings”, and “Hellcat” capably display Saxon's traditional demeanour, though never rise towards the album's initial heights. “Come Rock of Ages (The Circle Is Complete)” provides a late surprise however, and is almost sonically as epic as Into the Labyrinth's initial tracks, yet additionally employs a bluesy sound similar to contemporaries Whitesnake. The tune's certain companion, “Slow Lane Blues”' weak lyrical content, as well as its slower pace, actually serve as a detraction, as opposed to furthering the album. “Come Rock of Ages (The Circle Is Complete)” could actually be deemed an upgraded interpretation of “Slow Lane Blues”; both utilize the same influences, though the former applies those influences in a much more spectacular fashion.
Critiqued against numerous contemporaries, Saxon has generally received fewer accolades, and less financial recognition. In penning Into the Labyrinth however, yet again Saxon has proven they're a group which commands respect. Its faux pas (“Slow Lane Blues”) aside, the full length is a great example of what lies amongst Saxon's arsenal - in fact, one of the greatest even. When investigating Saxon's material, new fanatics should initially purchase Into the Labyrinth. Old fanatics, meanwhile, will be delighted to hear their heroes in prime form nearly thirty years after their 1979 eponymous debut.