South Yorkshire’s Saxon have been in the game a long, long time. Now in their 41st year as an active band and releasing 21 prior albums, these true legends of heavy metal bring us their 22nd album in Thunderbolt.
Inspired by the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology, Thunderbolt is nearly everything you’d expect from the one of the progenitors of heavy metal and, boy, should you have your wine glasses ready. Cheesy riffs, cheesy lyrics, cheesy melodies don’t just dot the landscape of Thunderbolt—they compose it entirely.
If you’ve ever listened to a Saxon album before, you more or less know what you’re in for—solid riffing throughout the album, soaring vocals with catchy choruses, thick drums and bass, and some of the beefiest solos you can think of rooted in that classic heavy metal style your dad loves. If you’re looking for something complex that’s going to blow you away with technical knowhow, Thunderbolt (and Saxon as a whole) is not for you. From day one, Saxon has always been about creating straightforward heavy metal with but one intention—to get your head banging. Thunderbolt has it in spades, which is to be expected from a band that hasn’t merely just been in the game as long as Saxon, but helped shape the very terrain other bands tread.
The most disappointing thing about Thunderbolt is that its ideation of using Greek mythology as an overarching concept composes roughly half of the album, while the other tracks are aptly dedicated to rock’n’roll. Admittedly, Saxon are at their best when their focuses are rocking and rolling instead of half-heartedly investing in concepts with the fervency of a last minute high school book report.
Tracks like “Speed Merchant” and “Roadies’ Song” readily outclass the ones that preceded them in overall energy and composition. Songs like “Thunderbolt” and “Nosferatu” seem overall indifferent to their negotiated themes, capitalizing on well-known aspects of the mythology without delving into the intricacies of these almighty gods who reign supreme in their respective domains. In fact, the further away Saxon stray from the core concept of Thunderbolt, the better the songs are. The aforementioned “Thunderbolt” and “Nosferatu” feel like dead weight compared to the more entertaining “The Secret of Flight” which skirts the Greek mythology concept without focusing on the gods themselves, instead writing around Icarus’ damning flight.
“They Played Rock and Roll” alongside “Speed Merchant” and “Roadies’ Song” perfectly encapsulate the true spirit of Saxon, really showing off the band’s enthusiasm for rock and roll as less of a subject matter and more as a way of life. “They Played Rock and Roll” was even written as a tribute to Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister, who passed away at the end of 2015 due to several health complications. This was one of the first songs written for Thunderbolt, according to frontman Biff Byford, which seems to set up the idea that the focus on Greek mythos was more of an afterthought instead of allowing the album to coalesce around the theme. The band even depart into other mythos with a song about Odin and Valhalla, which seems hilarious, as that is another ecosystem of mythology all together.
Despite harping on its erratic subject matter, Thunderbolt is a solid album with nearly no duds. You’d think that a band with over 40 years of experience and half that in albums would find themselves tired, but Saxon keep moving forward as one of the fathers of heavy metal. This is definitely something your rock’n’roll dad would like and you just might, too.