Be Forewarned: This will be a heavy-metal geek-out entry.
“Where were you in ’79 when the dam began to burst?”
And the Bands Played On and Denim and Leather are both phenomenal songs about the emergence of heavy metal in the popular consciousness. Play it Loud is about playing it loud and is also amazing.
My Overall Rating of the Tracks Separately:
REQUIRED LISTENING (4/4 stars). Seriously, if you like any type of remotely heavy music and you haven’t heard this LP, you are really missing out.
The LP’s lyrics make references to several bands, including Deep Purple, Rainbow and UFO. And those influences are apparent all over “Denim and Leather.” It has Ritchie Blackmore guitar sensibilities and shares UFO’s acumen for crafting radio-friendly heavy music. And that blending is what set Saxon and their contemporaries apart and got the world’s attention.
I have mentioned before that fellow NWOBHM band Iron Maiden is a great starting point for a journey into heavy metal. Saxon also works well in this capacity for the same reasons. First, their songs are full of great hooks; you can’t go wrong with great hooks. Secondly, they are readily accessible the first time you hear them. That’s a big deal and it’s something that none of their metal predecessors (like Sabbath) were ever able to boast. Also, they teeter right on the precipice between hard rock and heavy metal, making them an easier pill for many to swallow, as opposed to a group like Venom that was much heavier and a precursor thrash and death metal.
Let me clarify that last statement. I have very specific criteria for what I myself consider to be heavy metal music as opposed to hard rock. I love both genres, but I do think there’s a clear distinction. Led Zeppelin is not heavy metal. Deep Purple (or any other Blackmore project) is not heavy metal. Kiss and AC/DC are not heavy metal. Those are all hard rock. Which is great, I love hard rock too. But for me, metal crosses into something that is continually thicker and darker; metal lurks in the fringes and shadows. It’s not even about the sound, it’s about the attitude. All of the bands I just listed made songs with that attitude, but it was never a consistent (or even regular) thing for any of them.
Saxon has both feet firmly on the metal side, but the band is clearly still looking back across the chasm. And it makes for some great music.
So, is it an album? Yes. It flat out rocks from stem to stern.
Up next, we finally get back into the R&B world with the second album by The Four Tops, creatively titled “Second Album.”