Thursday, March 01, 2007

History of Hard Rock/Heavy Metal: Saxon

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 worldwide success. Then a strange thing happened. A series of unfocused, lackluster albums (Power and 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.

Despite never being able to break in America, Saxon remains a solid act in Europe and Japan.

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