England’s classic Heavy Metal band Saxon have a history that reaches back 40 years to the earliest days of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. From working class beginnings alongside other Metal luminaries like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Motorhead, Saxon have become a mainstay of the scene, still releasing powerful albums and playing big festivals to this day. Frontman Biff Byford has a lot to say about the new album ‘Thunderbolt,’ and the band’s four-decade history.
On what makes ‘Thunderbolt’ stand out from the rest of the band’s discography and the previous album ‘Battering Ram’ in particular, Byford defers to the experts – the fans. “It’s difficult for me to tell you, really. I mean, I was really close to both albums. It’s down to the fans, really. I mean, more people think this album is stronger than the last album. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but it’s certainly selling more than the last album, and it’s certainly picking up a lot more big reviews than the last album, so I suppose in that respect it’s better than the last album, or different to the last album. I think this album really has more of the spirit of the 80s in it.”
‘Thunderbolt’ was partly funded and distributed through the crowdfunding platform PledgeMusic, and it was a positive experience for the band. “It’s the first time we’ve ever done it. To tell you the truth, it was okay, it was a 50 / 50 thing really. Initially the album did 50% Pledge and 50% regular sales, but I think it helped the chart positions, especially in Europe because it went in the German charts at number five, and it went top 30 in England. We haven’t been top 30 in England since 1984,” he says wryly, “so I think it probably helped there. But people were excited about the album. I think ‘Battering Ram,’ the last album, was a great album, and people bought it a little bit slower maybe, and people were anticipating ‘Thunderbolt’ a bit more than they were ‘Battering Ram,’ so I think more people bought it in the initial first week to get in in the charts around the planet, so it’s pretty good. We didn’t engineer the album to be this popular,” he muses. “It’s the old English thing of expect the worst and hope for the best, you know what I mean?”
The album title was inspired by the Greek gods, and Byford adds some detail about how that came about. “They’re all over the place, the Greek gods, you know what I mean? The Roman gods were Greek, and they just changed the names, and they’re in all the films, you know Thor is all based around the Greek gods, and it’s all over the place, the Greek gods. People use it every day, it’s quite common. It’s quite a common story, you know all the films like Sinbad and all those, and The Golden Fleece, it’s all based on Greek mythology. It is out there, it’s just I suppose I noticed it and wrote a song about it, really. Even Pirates of the Caribbean has got krakens in it and Greek mythology.”
The song Predator includes a guest appearance by Amon Amarth frontman Johan Hegg, and Byford relates how they came to work together for the album. “We’re good friends with Amon Amarth and we’ve been drinking with them a few times,” he chuckles. “I sang it myself first on the demo, and I thought it’d be nice to have one of the guys that sings a bit lower than me to do a duet thing, and Johan was the first choice really. He did a great job. It surprised a few people you know, that we have the darker voice on there, but I think it works on that track. We don’t like to be predictable.”
The song They Played Rock and Roll is a tribute to Motorhead, and Byford reflects on the atmosphere that created both bands. “If you watch the video, it’s pretty much on there what it was like. It was a crazy, crazy time in England. The Margaret Thatcher thing was really strong, people were on strike, there was a lot of unrest. And out of that came the working class bands really, like Motorhead, Saxon, Iron Maiden, from that sort of period, really. There was nowhere else to go, and a lot of guys turned to music, and girls as well. It was a way out, I suppose, from the troubles in the North of England that we were having. It still resonates in the North of England, definitely, those days. A lot of the small villages and towns were decimated by the workplaces closing, the coal mines and the factories and things. That period was a strange period, and it still resonates. When major changes happen, especially to a certain workforce, it has a big impact on the people, on families and on the communities. And it still impacts in those towns, they’re not the same as they were. I don’t think they’re better, if you know what I mean.”
Nosferatu comes from a completely different place, though it still draws on Byford’s past. “It’s a great story, isn’t it?” he says of the story that originally spawned F. W. Murnau’s film Nosferatu and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. “It was written in Yorkshire in a place called Whitby. It was a small fishing village on the East coast. It was very popular – still is very popular with the Victorians,” he adds with a wry nod to the Gothic subculture, “and Bram Stoker wrote the novel there, Dracula, Nosferatu, yeah? It sort of inspired me. I used to live there. Twice a year they have a Gothic fair there, a Gothic festival, and it’s all around the Bram Stoker thing. And also a friend of mine, a film director asked me to write a song about vampires basically, and that’s the song that we wrote, Nosferatu.”
Saxon haven’t toured Australia in 10 years, due to the regrettable cancellation of an appearance at the now-defunct Soundwave Festival. “We liked Australia,” Byford says. “We cancelled one of the festivals at one time, which was a bit unavoidable, and we regretted it. But we’d really love to come again, that would be fantastic. It is on our list to do, basically, and we’ve told our new management to try and get us into Australia again. Maybe Japan, Australia, New Zealand, do it that way around. So yeah, we’d like to come, and we know we have a lot of fans there, and we have a lot of new fans as well who got into the later albums and have sort of gone backwards to the early stuff. I think maybe ‘Thunderbolt’ will open some doors for us in Australia, and we can bring the thunderbolt down there for you. I can’t remember really, I think I was ill. Something happened, I fell off a roof or something. It was something drastic that happened.”
In the meantime, Byford is excited about the upcoming US tour with Judas Priest. “It should be great. We’re big pals, big mates with Judas Priest, and we have a big history with them, way back from the 80’s. It’s a great package for the fans, really.” Judas Priest will be touring their new album ‘Firepower,’ and Byford adds, “I’ve heard some of it. It sounded pretty good. I like it. I like the Never the Heroes track.”
Saxon have been around for four decades, and Byford reflects on the changes in that time. “I think the original Saxon up to ’86, you know the chemistry of the band changed quite a lot around that time. You know, we lost one of our original members, and things went a little bit pear-shaped for a while. But since 1990 I think we’ve been back on the clock again, so that’s the big change really. You know, when you lose original members it’s quite hard to replace them, and it takes a while to get the chemistry back. I think 15 years ago we sort of got the mojo back a bit, and we went on from there, really.”
For those waiting for an Australian tour, Byford says, “Keep the faith, and whoever’s got the album, thanks for buying it. Whoever’s going to buy it, then thank you very much, and we’re going to try to get down to Australia after this touring schedule. We’d love to come, we like Australia, we have a lot of fans. Keep the faith, and hopefully we can bring the thunderbolt down there for you.”
GET YOUR HANDS ON SAXON’S ‘THUNDERBOLT’ FROM NUCLEAR BLAST HERE!