Saxon In-depth Biography
Saxon was one of the early leaders of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, along with Iron Maiden and Def Leppard. The band was formed in Barnsley in 1977 by vocalist Biff Byford, guitarists Graham Oliver and Paul Quinn, bassist Steve Dawson, and drummer Pete Gill. Originally calling themselves Son of a Bitch, they soon decided to find a more subtle name, settling on Saxon. Like many young metal bands of the day, Saxon found it difficult to land a record deal in post-punk England, but eventually signed with French-based Carrere Records. Though Saxon's 1979 self-titled debut album was marred by a lightweight production job, the band built a strong following touring Britain as support group to Motörhead and Nazareth. The band capitalized on this exposure with their sophomore effort the following year. Wheels of Steel featured a much heavier, metallic sound which finally did their songs justice. The album was immediately heralded as a NWOBHM classic by fans and critics alike and the band was apparently on their way.
They released two more fine albums, Strong Arm of the Law and Denim and Leather, over the next year while touring relentlessly across Britain, Europe, and the U.S. Even the loss of founding drummer Pete Gill to Motörhead (replaced by Nigel Glockler) didn't slow their momentum, and a live album, The Eagle Has Landed, capped their hot streak in 1982. Though they'd barely dented America, Saxon's early success was only rivaled by Iron Maiden, and the band seemed poised on the brink of world-wide success. Then a strange thing happened. A series of unfocused, lackluster albums (Power & the Glory and Crusader) stopped the band cold in its tracks. And when they attempted to follow the trend set by other British bands like Whitesnake (who cracked the U.S. with a peroxide-fueled fashion makeover), the band's career went into an irreversible slide.
1985's Innocence Is No Excuse featured great songs, but old fans balked at the slick production and new fans failed to take notice, prompting bassist and principal songwriter Steve Dawson to quit the band. He was replaced by Paul Johnson and Saxon limped through the rest of the decade recording weak pop-metal albums in a desperate, but futile, attempt to connect with American fans while slowly corroding their European fan base. By the time they released their tenth studio album, Solid Ball of Rock in 1990, Saxon had been reduced to Spinal Tap-like dinosaur status.
Having reached the lowest low, the members of Saxon finally gave up their dreams of ever making any headway in America, dropped their pretenses, and returned to their British metal roots. This resulted in their strongest material in years: 1992's Forever Free; 1995's excellent Dogs of War (after which guitarist Graham Oliver departed to re-form Son of a Bitch with Pete Gill and Steve Dawson); 1997's Unleash the Beast; 1999's Metalhead; and 2001's Killing Ground. The band even managed to land a new U.S. record deal with CMC International for the latter two discs, which also led to their first American tour in almost a decade. Byford and Quinn returned in 2004 with Lionheart, a pure metal blast that echoed earlier classics like Denim & Leather and Power & the Glory, followed by the similarly themed Inner Sanctum and Into the Labyrinth in 2007 and 2009, respectively. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia, Rovi