In a year that saw the NWOBHM at its strongest, Saxon certainly made a huge claim to releasing the best metal album of that year, no small feat when you consider the opposition.
Written by: Dangerzone
ALBUM: Wheels Of Steel
SERIAL: CAL 115
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: England
LINEUP: Biff Byford – vocals * Graham Oliver – guitar * Paul Quinn – guitar * Steve Dawson – bass * Pete Gill – drums
TRACK LISTING: 01 Motorcycle Man * 02 Stand Up And Be Counted * 03 747 (Strangers In The Night) * 04 Wheels Of Steel * 05 Freeway Mad * 06 See The Light Shining * 07 Street Fighting Gang * 08 Suzie Holds On * 09 Machine Gun
WEBLINKS: Site Link
Despite the slew of Saxon material represented here at Glory Daze it really is an embarrassment that it’s taken ‘Wheels Of Steel’ this long to be included. I’ll be honest, it’s been a few years since I listened to this and I’m delighted I revisited it as this truly has to be one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time.
In a year that saw the NWOBHM at its strongest, Saxon certainly made a huge claim to releasing the best metal album of that year, no small feat when you consider the opposition, the likes of Iron Maiden, Raven, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest etc all clogging record store shelves with legendary product. Something sets this apart however, its heavy beyond belief and far removed from 1979’s debut. Not even Saxon themselves would sound this heavy ever again.
In their early years Saxon had a quasi-biker image and this is reflected glaringly with surely one of the all time classic openers, ‘Motorcycle Man’. The template is set from the opening bars, speed, riffs and Biff yelling louder than Ian Gillan in his prime.
The Oliver-Quinn tandem rattles off wild solo after solo. Anthems are plundered at will, ‘Stand Up And Be Counted’ a beautifully harsh piece of metal that would have denim clad outcasts banging their heads all throughout England. The albums most remembered track is obviously ‘747 (Strangers In The Night)’ which has become dulled after decades of overplay, but is still a major part of Saxon’s history.
There is no denying the ferocity of the title tracks main riff, one of the heaviest ever and enough to blow away AC/DC in my opinion. It’s essentially six minutes of the same riff and it’s a tragedy Saxon would veer away from this direction in the years to come. There’s no letting up, ‘Freeway Mad’ a manic slice of boogie that lays waste to anything Motorhead were doing at the time.
The frantic pace is maintained by ‘See The Light Shining’, a great anthem which represents a band at the top of their game. Biff’s ode to growing tough in Barnsley is blasted out in grimy and rough fashion with ‘Street Fighting Gang’ which is metal from the street indeed. This is how metal is supposed to sound.
‘Suzie Hold On’ is a rare weak moment, perhaps slightly restrained after such a prolonged onslaught from the first seven tracks. This is fixed by what can only be described as one of the earliest thrashers put on disc, ‘Machine Gun’. I’m stunned by just how fast this is for 1980 and it makes Venom look like lightweights. The wailing feedback surely inspired future acts like Slayer and the end result is pure noise.
For some time I’ve grown wary of Saxon’s current direction and it’s obvious when exposed to this monstrous example of classic metal. When compared closely, Maiden’s debut can’t compete and Saxon were definitely ahead of the pack.
It’s a shame ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ released that same year wasn’t up to par, lacking the bite of ‘Wheels’ despite still being an easy classic (‘Taking Your Chances’ is monumental). Any newcomer to heavy metal however should listen to this immediately, it’s where a legend was born and metal was played as heavy as possible.
Entire Album (Select Tracks)