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Heavily influenced by Judas Priest, Saxon helped found the new wave of British metal that triggered Metallica and countless other headbangers. Undoubtedly, the group's knee-slapping song titles ("Dragon's Lair," "Princess of the Night") and lineup shifts also inspired the comic minds behind This Is Spinal Tap. Debuting with a strong self-titled effort in 1979, the group alienated hardcore fans when it later attempted to join Hollywood's hair club for men. Though it quickly retreated to its former sound and denim-and-leather image, the group never fully recovered from this disastrous misstep. Having released a slew of indigestible meat-and-potatoes metal during the '90s (along with a host of ho-hum live efforts), the retooled lineup has now rerecorded a disc's worth of Saxon "classics." A band remaking its own material is a surefire indicator that someone got screwed out of publishing royalties the first time around. It's a ploy that never works -- and certainly not here. Vocalist Biff Byford's operatic voice is still a poor-man's variation of Rob Halford's inimitable wail, and the outfit's twin-guitar attack remains staunchly harmonic-lead-solo-y old school. But these fumes are not enough to sustain Saxon's blatant bid to cash in on the footnote as a weekend party-band legacy.
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Geoff Harkness

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