Album review: Saxon transports us back to a forgotten era on the reissue of debut live album 'The Eagles Has Landed'
Earlier this February, British heavy metal mainstays Saxon proved that they're still going strong with their 22nd original studio album 'Thunderbolt', which landed many respectable spots on European charts, peaking at No. 6 on the Swiss Schweizer Hitparade.
Now, the pioneers of what is today called the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) have returned with a reissue of their debut live album 'The Eagles Has Landed'. The original live album was recorded during the European leg of Saxon's world tour supporting the 1982 hit album 'Denim and Leather' and the first 10 tracks on the new reissue are from those live performances. The final six bonus tracks were recorded live at London's famous Hammersmith Odeon in 1981-82.
The album opens to the sound of a stadium-packed audience chanting "Saxon! Saxon", followed by one single teasing guitar note that soon erupts into the outright hard rock onslaught that is 'Motorcycle Man'. The guitar solos, the relentless thumping drums and the powerful vocals of frontman Biff Byford display a band at the very top of their creative and commercial game. It's like opening a time capsule that erupts in your face and sends shockwaves through your head while transporting you to a lost fragment in time.
'The Eagle Has Landed' (named after the giant avian lighting rig that is associated with the band) also marks the first album featuring their now longtime drummer Nigel Glockler. Just before their 'Denim and Leather' tour, drummer Pete Gill injured his hand and was unable to play. At the time, Glockler was drumming for Toyah but was a hard-hitter with prog chops and a love of metal. Remarkably, in less than two days he was able to learn and perform Saxon’s entire 19-song set and kept the show on the road until Gill recovered, even performing at a show he had originally bought a ticket to see! By the time Gill was able to return, Saxon had decided to hold on to Glockler as their full-time drummer. So, as if learning 19 songs in two days wasn’t enough, Nigel would be appearing on the band’s hotly-anticipated first live album. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end! In spite of his recent addition, Glockler manages to more than hold his own, giving us a lesson in speed metal precision, exemplified best on his double bass barrage on the aptly titled album closer 'Machine Gun'.
The tracklisting of 'The Eagle Has Landed' is an interesting one. For every proto-thrash metal barrage such as the frantic ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’ we get a more boogied piece of rock ’n’ roll in say ‘Strong Arm of the Law'. Curiously missing from the setlist is the chart-topping single and title track 'Denim and Leather', which was what the 1982 tour was named after! It's even missing from the six bonus tracks from The Hammersmith Odeon - a set which thankfully includes classic hits like 'Frozen Rainbow' and 'Dallas 1pm' at least. Meanwhile, we also get to see the quirky side of the band's stage presence. At one point, Biff tells the audience that “I wanna see people dying from exhaustion!”
But there's an upside to this tracklisting, especially for longtime fans of the band. The second half of the album includes less popular tracks like '20,000 ft' and 'Never Surrender', but the live setting propels them to absolutely top-shelf stuff, with Saxon never losing the plot or the energy throughout the gig. "Hey, you're not getting tired are you?" Biff asks the audience at multiple points. The response is always a resounding "No"! An essential addition is 'And The Bands Played On', recorded live at the Odeon which gains a whole lot of momentum as the crowd joins in on the chorus.
All said and done, 'The Eagle Has Landed' is undoubtedly a cornerstone of NWOBHM and one of the best live albums of the era. Longtime fans will more than welcome the pleasant reminder of the good old days thanks to the re-issue while recent listeners exploring the history of British heavy metal will get an essential peek at a band that was at the brink of the end of an era. Soon after their 'Denim and Leather Tour' and the launch of the original live album, their fellow contemporaries Def Leppard and most notably Iron Maiden would take over to bear the torch of NWOBHM for decades to come.