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Denim & Leather

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★★★★½
(4 Reviews)

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  • During my formative years, an older, more experienced “seen-it-all” metal veteran friend of mine played a song and band I had never heard up to that point — it was Saxon’s “Denim and Leather.” In hearing it, I was instantly addicted to the awesome, reverby power chords in the song and the timeless lyrics of metal brotherhood and the D.I.Y. spirit that anyone who wants to can get up and start a band if they so desire. This song embodied the very essence of the NWOBHM scene that spawned Saxon, one in which bands released some of the most exciting hard rock/heavy metal music the world had ever known, largely through independent and self-financed recordings made outside the bounds of major labels and record executives. I luckily found the LP used at the time at a local mom-and-pop record store (remember those?). (This was back in the early to mid-’90s, when both Saxon’s and most NWOBHM releases in general were only available on CD in the form of outrageously expensive Japanese imports, that I by default couldn’t afford.)

    Years later though I did get my hands on the 1996 Holland import CD pressing on Disky of the vinyl record I’d long cherished, “Denim and Leather.” Let me tell you that I’ve never been more disappointed in my life! Not only was the packaging terrible and almost nonexistent, but the sound quality was noticeably “cleaned up” and sterile, all but stripping this masterpiece of its original rawness and power.

    You can imagine then how much I rejoice now in 2009, when Saxon’s early releases FINALLY get CD releases that for the first time do these essential recordings justice.

    Never has this been more apparent than on the group’s strongest outing to date, “Denim and Leather,” originally released in September 1981. Finally, that awesome reverb and big roomy sound of the original vinyl is back and forever frozen in time on CD, and without the expected crackles and pops characteristic to old records. Unlike previous pressings, this sounds just like the vinyl.

    “Denim and Leather” contains some of Saxon’s all-time classic songs and ones still played live by the band to this very day. Aside from the aforementioned title track, the album features the single “Never Surrender,” a fast and true heavy metal anthem for the ages about soldiering on and never giving up, even when people and other forces of opposition stand against you. If Saxon’s music doesn’t embody this spirit, I don’t know what does. “Play It Loud” is an earthshaking number about cranking this music up loud and proud, even when people try to silence it, and this particular record was tailor made for doing just that. My all-time favorite though has to be the speed metal scorcher on the LP’s B-side, “Fire in the Sky.” I’ve always loved it. If the frantic tempos and awesome reverb of this track don’t blow the roof off the place in no time flat, nothing will.

    If that weren’t enough, each reissue contains liner notes with input from frontman Biff Byford himself and even a reproduction of the LP’s original back cover, making them essential for collectors, so much so that I’ve officially retired my worn old Carrere vinyl pressing of this album. (It goes without saying that I also have sold my copies of the previous, inferior CD pressings and upgraded to these.)

    In short, this is one of the greatest heavy metal records of all time and finally in a reissue that gives the recording a new lease on life. Highly recommended.

    Posted on December 14, 2009