It's hard to believe that Hell, Fire and Damnation is Saxon's Twenty-Fourth(!) studio record. But here we are. While Saxon gets a lot of notoriety for their wealth of singles in the 1980s like "Denim and Leather," "Strong Arm of the Law," and "Wheels of Steel" – all New Wave of British Heavy Metal classics – we shouldn't forget that this band has been putting out some stellar music in the more recent, latter part of their career as well. This newest record, co-produced, mixed and masterful by the brilliant Andy Sneap (Judas Priest, Exodus) might be one of the band's most complete and well put together LPs to date.
If you're a Saxon fan you probably already know what to expect. There are no surprises here on Hell, Fire and Damnation. It's unmistakably Saxon and those who have been following these stalwarts of the UK scene since the late 1970's are going to be able to recognize the familiar twin guitar attack right from the get-go.
The lead, self-titled single off the record is just perfectly dazzling. It's an updated sound that still has that Saxon signature to it. Unless you've seen the band live recently, this is likely your first taste of Brian Tatler on guitar. Yes – THAT Brian Tatler from fellow NWOBHM band Diamond Head. You can catch Tatler in the absolutely slamming video for the track here:
While original member Paul Quinn has apparently retired from the band, in addition to Tatler, the quintet still features long-time guitarist Doug Scarratt, who has been with Saxon since 1995 and has played on all studio releases from The Eagle has Landed – Part II onward. Band veterans Nigel Glockler (who was also in 80's prog band Asia) and Nibbs Carter round out the lineup.
Songs like "Kubla Khan and the Merchant of Venice" and "Super Charger" have this unmistakable energy to them. They're just luminous fist-pumping, foot-stomping rockers. Cuts like "There's Something in Roswell" also showcase the fact that Saxon's decades-old formula still works. In this respect, the band still features the power and sonics of their more recent records like the massive Thunderbolt (2018) which was an absolute banger of a record in its own right.
"Pirates of the Airwaves" is a song very much in the vein of classic 80's metal. While "Fire and Steel" will bring you back a bit further, to the late 70's. While Saxon won't score any originality points for these two, they're both well written songs that those of us pushing 50… or maybe even 60 or 70… can easily relate to. Not mention Biff Byford's lead vocals on tracks like these seem to have barely aged at all. He sings better in his 70s than many do in their 20s. To be frank, I absolutely adore Biff's vocal performance here. There's so much passion and drive in his voice.
While Hell, Fire and Damnation will satisfy even the most ardent Saxon an NWOBHM fans, this is most certainly a record that younger fans who have come to love bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest should also check out.