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.
If Saxon is the quintessential NWOBHM band, their second album – 1980’s Wheels of Steel – is their quintessential album. Others may argue that Strong Arm of the Law or Denim and Leather are better albums, but Wheels of Steel was my first exposure to the band and it’s still my favorite Saxon album by far. It was a big jump forward in terms of songwriting and musical ability from the self-titled debut, has some of the band’s best known songs, and just captures the spirit of the NWOBHM scene completely. Listening to songs like “Motorcycle Man” and “Wheels of Steel” always make me wish I could have seen Saxon live in those early club days (alas, I was only 6).
I could go on and on about this album, but I’ll leave it at this: If you’re a fan of British heavy metal, particularly the NWOBHM, Wheels of Steel is an absolute must-have album. I’d even go so far as to recommend it to just about every fan of heavy metal…period. Not only is it an important milestone in the genre, it’s also a completely rockin’ classic metal album that’s still a blast to listen to.
Edition Notes – EMI reissued Wheels of Steel (along with most of the early Saxon albums) in 2009. EMI has been responsible for some of the absolute best-sounding classic hard rock reissues lately (see: Whitesnake, UFO, MSG and the Scorpions), so I had high hopes for these Saxon reissues. Fortunately they live up to expectations (and then some).
The digitally remastered sound is a gift from the metal gods, and is far superior to the old CD version of Wheels of Steel. If that weren’t enough, there are expanded liner notes and a whopping 8 bonus tracks. The bonus tracks include demo versions of “Suzie Hold On” and “Wheels of Steel”, the live b-side “Stallions of the Highway”, and live versions of “Motorcycle Man”, “Freeway Mad”, “Wheels of Steel”, “747 (Strangers in the Night)” and “Machine Gun” recorded at the very first Monsters of Rock festival at Donnington in 1980. Any of these features – the remastering, liner notes, bonus tracks – would make replacing your old version of Wheels of Steel worthwhile; the combination of the three makes in mandatory.