Some times when bands release discs like this,its because they have run out of ideas,not so Saxon,they're last couple of albums have been excellent,they're still doing the business live,so its either a contractual disc or something Biff and the boys have been thinking about for a while,i'll go for the latter
The first thing you realise,is that its not overrun by the classics and hit singles,several tracks are exceptional album tracks such as 'Eagle has Landed'/'Crusader''Red Star Falling' and 'Broken Hereos'
Rerecorded versions of the likes of 'Stallions of the Highway/Militia Guard & Forever Free are excellent while the standout track is a superb version(acoustic) of long lost track 'Frozen Rainbow'.
Its something different and its great,sounds excellent,production big and beautiful,ballsy when required,lush and melodic when it needs to be,. Well done boys.
Ps .. if you never bought the excellent 'Heavy Metal Thunder' album from 2002,then get the ltd edition release, as its included.
on 20 May 2015
I bought this after hearing snippets of the excellent orchestral version of 'The Eagle Has Landed' on the 'Warriors of the Road' DVD. With the full package on offer here this is definitely the highlight track as the orchestral flourishes added grandeur and depth to the original piece and work well with the theme of the song. Working through the rest of this there are some other nice surprises but there are also some disappointments.
So on the positive side, 'Crusader' fares well, as the grand style of orchestration and the minor variations adds to the flavour of the song, but the normally laconic and heartfelt 'Broken Heroes' wallows somewhat uncomfortably in the pomp of violins and cellos and therefore detracts from the underlying sadness of the themes (note - the best version of this is the sublime 'live' version on the hard to get hold of 'Rock N Roll Gypsies' live CD, which I believe has recently been reissued as a bonus disc). Adding floral orchestral flourishes to events that happened hundreds of years ago on, say, 'Crusader' works, but overlaying them on lyrics about conflicts closer to home doesn't feel quite right in my opinion (more of this in a moment). Still, it's not unlistenable - sort of more World War One horror a la Tim Rice than Wilfred Owen.
Conflict/war is definitely the subject that appears the most in this package, possibly as it lends itself more to the weight of orchestral in-fills than, say, the banal nadirs of 'Party til You Puke' or 'Everybody Up' from Saxon's extensive catalogue.... The high watermark song 'Battle Cry' from 'Rock The Nations' is reworked to good effect, being a homage to the Celts v the English red coats conflicts of yore (but seems to go on forever with the refrain "Let me hear, Let me hear, Let me hear"), as is 'Metal Militia' and 'Call to Arms' (another WW1 tune) which possibly is the most poignant song in this package.
Interestingly, CD opener 'Stallions of The Highway', from Saxon's patchy debut, sounds surprisingly fresh with a bit of modern Saxon crunch and the live acoustic version of 'Iron Wheels', which is about Biffs father's life as a miner, farmer and fisherman (he was multitalented), comes across with sincerity and a lightness of touch. Also, and somewhat surprisingly, 'Frozen Rainbow's' acoustic makeover works really well as a wistful ballad. However, 'Just Let Me Rock', which is a surprising choice from the quaint Crusader cd, is actually awful - a grungy, slow and turgid rework that should have been left well alone. I quite liked the original, but this is bad.
My main issue, though, is that the CD is made up of 4 quite different things: Orchestral reworks, studio reworks, live acoustic and studio acoustic. This can be seen as a positive if you like the variety, it gives gives a bit of lack of cohesion to the whole and leaves you wondering if it would have been better to stick to one theme and go for broke i.e. all acoustic or all orchestral. This lack of cohesion is accentuated a bit by the wide choice of material - putting aside the obvious war themes, the inclusion of the obscure 'Just Let Me Rock', a tagged on blues number, 'Battle Cry' from the awful 'Rock the Nations' CD and a (lyrically) naïve Stallions of the Highway from the debut album does seem to jump the CD about a bit.
My other issue is that Saxon have not really excelled in covering deep and contemporary topics. So they can sing in their inimitable 'Boys Own' style about Richard the Lion Heart, steam trains, landing on the moon, airplanes in distress and standing in a queue to get a Cornish pasty, but they would never cover a grizzly topic like, say, the war in Afghanistan/Iraq/Syria/911 or a modern issue such as immigrants coming on boats from Africa. This approach to lyrics is fine (and certainly not a criticism in any way), but when Saxon veer towards real sincerity on acoustic or blues numbers on this CD it doesn't quite hit the mark as it seems a bit out of character (except 'Call to Arms', which is quite poignant). This charge could be levelled at most metal bands - I can't imagine Iron Maiden putting out a song about Mogadishu but then they wouldn't attempt to breathe sincerity into an acoustic version of Charlotte the Harlot....(I'd like to see them try though....).
So an interesting CD on some fronts - personally the Eagle has Landed, Call to Arms and Frozen Rainbow do it for me - so I am happy to have bought it. Just feel it could have been magnificent with a more cohesive orchestral approach on a set list with a more common thread (say WW1).
on 2 December 2013
This is great. Well worth a tenner. For me it's worth it just for getting the new version of Stallions of the Highway alone, particularly when it takes off from 1min2sec onwards.
To point out even if you think you have the 'orchestrated versions' (because they were some on the Sacrifice double CD) I've compared the two over and over and some of these sound slightly different newer 'orchestrated versions' to me. The Orchestrated version of Crusader in particular sounds quite alot better than the orchestrated version that came with the Sacrifice album.
The Orchestrated version of The Eagle has Landed works particularly well, makes it something different to the original.
Militia Guard appears to be a complete re-recording (although it doesn't make that clear on the listing on the rear) and is fabulously done, so you're getting abit more than it may seem at first glance.
Inevitably some versions work better than others, Just let me Rock was pretty bad originally and doesn't get any better no matter how it's re-recorded!, but others may have their own likes and dislikes.
The only real dissapointment is the artwork which is shockingly awful, you would have thought they'd been around long enough to come up with something better than a leaking barn roof!
on 16 December 2013
Bought this on vinyl so obviously that's what my review relates to. I've been a fan of Saxon since I saw them live on tour supporting the first album opening for motorhead if memory serves. I'm not a completest but own several albums by saxon so have a reasonable grasp of their music.
Firstly the album art work. What a let down. Even the Vinyl size sleeve doesn't help. In some cases artwork looks so much better when enlarged. In this case the subject matter does nothing in my opinion to persuade a purchase to part with their cash. Even the inner sleeves are rank offering next to no information.
Now the important part, the music. As the title suggests there are both acoustic and orchestrated versions present. To my ears the sound quality is excellent, well engineered and produced. Biffs voice has matured nicely over the years and the playing is top draw. The stand out tracks for me are the orchestrated Crusader, Call To Arms, and Broken Heroes and acoustic Frozen Rainbow, and Militia Guard originally on the first album.
The track selection wouldn't have been my first choice but they work well together. I would be interested to hear this on cd to see if it grabs my attention in the same way, I think it would.
The only down side is the cover, hence the lose of a star, otherwise I recommend this to those of an open mind that love rock music.