In the years since their abandonment of shitty AC/DC derivative commercial stadium Rock, SAXON have done a solid job of becoming all things an elder staple in Rock and Metal might choose to be: a monster of bluesy, grooving Rock riffs; a progressively inclined modern Power Metal outfit; an '80s as ever Speed Metal beast. The decade past followed the above average "Killing Ground" with "Lionheart," "The Inner Sanctum" and "Into The Labyrinth": three records that increasingly proved this old northern squadron's ability to breathe life into the most leathery moments of the '80s while bludgeoning all in their path to dominating the skies of the new millennium.
As has been standard, there are a variety of different types of songs leaving little room for fillers. "Hammer Of The Gods" is a bouncier, chirpier installment in the series of uptempo songs that open SAXON albums these days, all squeaky guitar riffs and steadily stomping Rock beats. "Back In '79," a lumbering Rock and Roller celebrating SAXON's love for their fans, is a solid addition to a number of similiar songs, but slightly disappointing in that the recorded presence of said fans in a backing choir is nowhere near as noticeable as you'd hope. The album also features some of the grisliest, sweatiest cookers since 2004's "Man And Machine," except that "Surviving Against The Odds," "'Chasing The Bullet," and the awesomely awesome NWOBHM slice "Afterburner" would be more at home on "Strong Arm Of The Law" or "Wheels Of Steel" than on "Lionheart." On that note, the long-time SAXON fan might shed a salty tear of nostalgia into their Black Sheep ale at the opening of "Ballad Of The Working Man," which feels like it is lifted from their eponymous debut.
Some small commitment to a curve of progression is shown, with SAXON expanding slightly on newly introduced sounds as well as smashing the listener with revitalized classic styles. "Mists Of Avalon" takes its cue from "Battalions Of Steel" and "Valley Of The Kings" for a progressively-flecked bit of Melodic Metal, ablaze with triumphant vocal lines from Biff and romantic lyrics. This epic bent is continued with the powerful symphonic march of the morosely patriotic title track, and then the less interesting "When Doomsday Comes." There is an 'orchestral' version of the title track included as well, which doesn't seem too different from the original.
Biff sounds exactly as awesome as he has done the past fourteen years since "Unleash The Beast" was let loose, barely a pinch of age constricting his voice nor restraining his range. Even the slower songs see him exerting the untroubled authority of a Yorkshire pub local, keening and wailing commandingly over guitar riffs both uptempo and purposefully slow paced. Paul Quinn and now veteran member Doug Scarratt are present and correct with a set of reliably catchy (if not blindingly original) riffs and leads, throwing out the occasional flashy solo while never hogging Biff's centre-stage position.
While the previous three records might be more urgent purchases than this'n, "Call To Arms" bulldozes anything the band recorded in the late '80s or early to mid '90s. It's yet more proof of how powerfully these northern gents rebounded from their quest for MTV play, firing off album after album of some of their strongest material ever. This is a fine addition to their artillery, progressing the band's sound while keeping their roots alive, absolutely worthy of the band's name in general, basically, it belongs in your collection.
(Online September 20, 2011)