Iron Maiden may be the best known band from the legendary New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) scene, and rightly so, but for a time Saxon was a close second. Actually, once Maiden acquired Bruce Dickinson and took on the larger world stage, it was Saxon that best embodied the sound and spirit of the NWOBHM scene. The speed, the frantic energy, the “denim and leather” attitude – Saxon had all that and then some.
Saxon’s trademark sound changed a bit in 1981 when they recorded Denim and Leather, their fourth album in just three years (I still can’t get over that). The label brought in a new producer (Nigel Thomas) and I think that cost them some of the unique feel of Wheels of Steel and Strong Arm of the Law. Still, the band was getting better with each passing year, and their songwriting skills kept improving. Denim and Leather features some of the best known Saxon tunes, including metal anthems “Play It Loud”, “Never Surrender” and of course the rousing title track. In addition to the fist-pumping metal songs, there are some surprisingly good mid-tempo numbers like “Princess of the Night” and “Midnight Rider” that appeal on a totally different level.
It’s probably not as essential as Wheels of Steel and Strong Arm of the Law, but Denim and Leather is still a totally worthwhile album that all Saxon fans should own. I’d also recommend it to just about any fan of classic heavy metal in general and British metal in particular.
Edition Notes – EMI reissued Denim and Leather (along with the rest of the early Saxon albums) in 2009. EMI has been responsible for some of the best-sounding classic hard rock reissues lately (see: Whitesnake, UFO, MSG and the Scorpions), and their Saxon reissues do not disappoint. In addition to the digitally remastered sound, the reissue of Denim and Leather features expanded liner notes by Classic Rock Magazine’s Malcolm Dome and a whopping nine bonus tracks, essentially doubling the original album’s length. The first bonus track is a remix of “20,000 Ft.” (from the Never Surrender single), and the rest are live tracks from that era. Between the remastered sound, liner notes and bonus tracks, there are plenty of reasons to replace your old version of Denim and Leather.
PS – When you line up the spines of the EMI Saxon reissues they form the Saxon logo and the Wheels of Steel cover icon. I’m a total geek for stuff like that!