Album Review: Saxon - Carpe Diem
Reviewed by Paul Hutchings
I’ve nailed my colours to the Saxon mast since I was 12 years old. I’ve seen them so many times I’ve lost count, I’ve reviewed several of their albums as well as many of their shows in the past decade. In my view, there’s little they can do wrong. They follow a traditional blueprint, the only variation the flickering between hard classic rock and straight down the line British heavy metal. They are at their best when writing tracks which contain riffs galore, fast and explosive.
In recent years, Saxon have been on a golden streak. For over a decade, their output has been of consistently high quality, from 2011’s ‘Call to Arms’ through to 2018’s mightily impressive ‘Thunderbolt’. I’ll move quickly past last year’s ‘Inspirations’ which was to me a filler due to the pandemic and focus attention on album 23 in the shape of ‘Carpe Diem’. Once again Andy Sneap has weaved his production magic, mastering, and mixing with Biff Byford at Backstage Studios in Derbyshire. The sound, even on the stream that I had to review the album is crisp and loud, just as you’d want from Saxon.
Given all that he’s been through in the past couple of years, Biff sounds on magnificent form. At 71 years of age, there is little here to suggest he’s going to pack up anytime soon. The opening scream on the title track which inevitably starts this record is up there with anything on the early classics like ‘Wheels of Steel’ and ‘Strong Arm of the Law’ and as we saw at Bloodstock last year, the man can still bring it live as well.
Saxon is all about the riff. Let’s hear from the man himself. "It all starts with the riff. If the riff speaks to me, then we’re on our way. It’s a very intense album, and that’s all down to the fact that the essence of a great metal song is the riff that starts it, and this album has loads of them." You can’t argue with that. ‘Carpe Diem’ has a riff that will linger in your ears for months, and a hook on the chorus that you’ll be unconsciously humming as you wander about your business. Underneath all that, the rock-solid drumming of Nigel Glockler is as reliable as ever, knocking it out of the park on every track and locking tightly with hyperactive bassist Nibs Carter who as always, provides some of the backing vocals. Of course, Saxon have always been about that classic dual guitar sound, alongside peers Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and here, Doug Scarratt and Paul Quinn are in excellent form, with duel melodic lines complimenting the songs alongside their ferociously sharp guitars solos.
Subject wise, Biff and the boys have always scanned the horizon for a range of topics to sing about. In the past, we’ve had the crusades, presidential assassinations, steam trains and even standing in a queue. ‘Carpe Diem’ is no different, with ‘Age of Steam’ touching on the industrial revolution, ‘Dambusters’ harping back to the Mosquito raids under Operation Chastise in WWII, ‘Lady in Grey’ a song about the much-referenced ghost and second single ‘Remember the Fallen’ reflecting on the impact of the past two years. It’s my least favourite song on this album, not because of the riff but mainly due to the rather lazy and inaccurate lyrics. Biff has always written from the heart, so I’ll let it slide this time. How gracious I hear you cry!
The tempo is generally fast. ‘The Pilgrimage’ and ‘Lady in Grey’ being the main exceptions. Elsewhere, Saxon tub thump with anthemic reliability, verse, chorus, solo, verse, chorus, solo, chorus. Few bands can do this routine with such energy and reliability. It’s a formula that their fan base (and I) love. Don’t ever change.
As has been the case in recent albums, the title track is the opening song, a traditional format that the band has used for many years. Both ‘Carpe Diem’ and ‘Age of Steam’ are punchy, fast songs that are ideally placed to open the next round of live gigs. Pacing is something that Saxon do particularly well, and the two calmer songs are both well placed in the running order to provide a bit of a breather amidst the faster, heavier tracks.
‘Carpe Diem’ is, like many Saxon albums, pretty instant. The songs are memorable, the melodies delicious and the heaviness balanced superbly. You can sing along by spin two and by the third play you’ll be air guitaring in all the right spots. It’s another solid slab of heavy metal from one of the most consistent bands the UK has ever seen. If you like Saxon, ‘Carpe Diem’ will inevitably be welcomed with open arms. There remains plenty of life in the old dogs yet.