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Into The Labyrinth Mark Eglinton , February 4th, 2009 15:53

I took my late father to a metal gig back in 1987. While it might have been deeply un-cool to take Eglinton Sr. along, it was for good reason - I needed transport to see Magnum on their Vigilante tour. I did, however, manage to get my father to agree to certain clear provisos. One, no looking out any leather items you may still own. Two, don't even think about moving your head, or worse still, extending your devil–horned hand into the air at any time. The concept of rock music and old men didn't sit well with me back then and nothing has changed. I don't want to take cheap shots at elder statesmen of classic British rock, but I need to draw the line somewhere - hell, my dad was younger then than Saxon's Peter 'Biff' Byford is now.

While almost old enough to be aware of the NWOBM as it was, I didn't really 'get' Saxon at the time when they were really meant to be 'got'. It was all too clichéd, just too damn denimy and leathery. Only Iron Maiden really enjoyed anything other than a cult, nostalgic following, largely because they plumbed-in a decent set of pipes and set about conquering all of rockdom in the late 80s and early 90s with a more progressive sound. Other bands like Diamond Head have been given recognition but only really as an influence, and weren't truly successful in their own right. Saxon fit somewhere in between these two points, and in many ways, therein lies the problem.

Recorded in Germany with power-metal twiddler Charlie Bauerfeind, Into the Labyrinth is Saxon's nineteenth studio album and largely it is pure, unadulterated agony. 'Battalions of Steel' (an unsurprising favourite alloy) starts things off with the toll of a bell and a choral backdrop. It's reasonably epic and has all the hallmarks of what some people thought was good about Saxon, but in modern terms it's Neanderthal. 'Voice' however, is an awful attempt at a power ballad and 'Hellcat' is the kind of mindless, generic rock song that which I thought went out with... er... Saxon. Oh dear. Not content with all the usual hackneyed rock retreads they throw in a curious "Bottleneck Version" of 'Coming Home' , first heard in its more traditional format on 2001's Killing Ground. Awful.

Biff's voice in his prime was at best workmanlike but to subject us to a blues dirge like this really is inexcusable, and fills me with dread given an 'unplugged' set is apparently threatened. Elsewhere 'Live To Rock' and 'Come Rock of Ages' (same title as a superior Def Leppard song with additional "Come") are absolutely standard , throwaway attempts at grandeur. Unlikely to attract a new generation of listener, and merely serve to illustrate just how out of touch Saxon have become. Saxon have always been keen on a history lesson, with much of their oeuvre influenced by tales of 'lore. It's time for the end of this particular chapter of the annals of rock... yet I can't help but think that, despite it all, my dad would have loved this.