Backstage Pass: Saxon's powerful 'Wheels Of Steel' roll on

Along with heavy hitters like Iron Maiden and Def Leppard, Saxon helped spearhead the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement that swept over Europe and the U.S. in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

The band’s 1980 sophomore effort, Wheels Of Steel, is still considered by many to be one of the greatest heavy-metal albums ever. Saxon would follow it up with a pair of aces, 1980’s Strong Arm Of The Law and 1981’s Denim And Leather, and it appeared the band was taking dead aim at mass-market appeal.

It never happened. Saxon failed to recapture the magic of its early efforts throughout the rest of the ’80s. Then, once again, at the turn of a new decade, Saxon found its footing, and it’s been an unstoppable force ever since. Starting with 1992’s Forever Free, Saxon returned to its British metal roots. The result was some of the fiercest metal in the band’s mighty catalog.

 Through three decades of churning out molten hard rock built on a bedrock of cinder-block busting rhythms and fire-breathing riffs, Saxon has persevered. On Jan. 13, the band unleashed its latest juggernaut, Into The Labyrinth, on the SPV label. The powerful anthem “Live To Rock” was the first single. Saxon frontman Biff Byford talks about where the band has been and where it’s headed.

This new album is really a beast, and with songs like “Battalions Of Steel” and “Protect Yourselves,” it seems to bring to light Saxon’s philosophy of freedom and living by your own rules. Was that important to you to do that on this record?

Biff Byford: Yeah, we don’t really go into making albums with any preconceived plan. Our basic sort of idea is we’re going to write a collection of great songs. So, that’s where we basically come from. I think “Battalions Of Steel,” the song itself, is very sort of classic rock with a modern edge to it. But we have moved back to a more ’80s style without really trying for it.

Was there something about the themes of those songs lyrically that fueled the energy of them? Because they are some of the most aggressive rockers on the album.

BB: Yeah, I wanted every song to be sort of a mini epic, lyrically. And I like telling stories, whether I’m getting stopped by the police for driving too fast or whether it’s about history. I do like telling a story in a song. We’re not big on the sort of, you know, “love you baby” type sort of cliché rock ’n’ roll stuff, which is cool. I like it, but we’re sort of into the sort of storytelling [aspect] more.

Along with “Battalions of Steel,” “Crime of Passion” is one of the most ferocious tracks on the new record. It almost has a thrash quality. Did you take some of those elements from thrash bands and kind of make them Saxon?

BB: Well, I think all those elements are around, you know. And, obviously, you know, some of the guys in the band are quite influenced by some of the thrash bands. You can’t help but be influenced by some of the big ones. No, we didn’t make a conscious effort, no. That’s just how our guitarists came along and how we put the song together. And basically, that’s one of our sort of non-historic songs. But I like the guitar riff. It’s extremely powerful.

Talk about the [current] band, which includes guitaristists Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt, bassist Nibbs Carter and drummer Nigel Glockler. How would you characterize this lineup?

BB: I think this is one of the best Saxon lineups we’ve ever had actually. It’s been together quite a long t

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