Produced by Charlie Bauerfeind
Saxon have enjoyed a lofty position over the last 10-12 years, with five excellent albums, successful touring, and headlining spots at most of the biggest metal festivals in Europe. 2007 hasn't started too well, with the cancellation of their March UK tour through illness and the frosty reception their World-record air guitar attempt received at a Sheffield Wednesday football match, so hopes are firmly pinned on new album The Inner Sanctum to save the day.
Over their last few records Saxon have always had an intro that leads into a hard-hitting opener. This time, they've failed to do that, opening with the derivative and largely boring State of Grace that, following its own intro, hits with all the power of a triple-A battery. Need For Speed doesn't improve matters at all and it actually gets worse with Let Me Feel Your Power, where a great, grooving mid-section can't quite save it from its appalling lyrics and tired riffs.
That, however, seems like a masterpiece once you reach (if you can make it that far) I've Got To Rock (To Stay Alive). It is as bad as you'd expect. I guess the very fact that this album has a single was probably an indication that it wouldn't be as gritty and heavy as the last five albums, and the grammatically incorrect If I Was You sounds exactly like all metal singles sound. Great verses let down by a cliched sing-a-long chorus obviously written specifically to be a single. This is a shame because if it weren't for the chorus this would be a strong track. It's got a nice solo, but of course most of that's been removed from the single edit, which, seeing as the full version is only 3:26 long, seems a rather unnecessary thing to bother creating. It's one saving grace is it's not as bad as Walking Through Tokyo from Dogs of War.
Track after track here have those paper-thin, treble-heavy, bass-less riffs of early '90s Saxon. We all remember early-'90s Saxon, right? When they were weaker than teenage pop-rock and produced approximately one decent song (Requiem (We Will Remember)) across two albums? Why would we want to go back to that after five outstanding albums of pure heavy metal? Are they playing weaker so returning drummer Nigel Glockler can keep up? Are they shooting for commercial success after getting a sniff of it with the last couple of releases?
Front-man Biff Byford has gone on record saying "this is the most powerful album we've ever made". Has he listened to Lionheart or Metalhead!? This is, frankly, nothing compared to either of those. There's not a single track on here that would make it onto those albums. The Inner Sanctum is the most derivative, formulaic record the band have produced since Solid Ball of Rock. Even Red Star Falling, which is easily the album's highlight, is a carbon copy of Beyond The Grave. Against the wider metal market this is an average album (hence three stars), but against recent Saxon output it is comfortably below average. At least they didn't keep the atrocious new logo they used on the If I Was You single cover.
NB: The If I Was You single is being released on CD on the same day as the album, March 5. The b-sides are, to all intents and purposes, completely pointless. The a-side is obviously the single version of the song, followed by the album version and the re-recorded version of 747 (Strangers In The Night) from Heavy Metal Thunder, which, of course, all the band's fans already have. Completists can buy it here.
“ derivative, formulaic ”
Tracklist: State of Grace / Need For Speed / Let Me Feel Your Power / Red Star Falling / I've Got To Rock (To Stay Alive) / If I Was You / Going Nowhere Fast / Ashes To Ashes / Empire Rising / Atila The Hun / If I Was You (Single Version)
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