To write a long introduction about this Metal icon is completely unnecessary so if you’re into Hard Rock and Metal and is clueless of who Biff Byford is then shame on you. And then google him yourself. After more than 40 years in the business, most of them fronting legendary Metal band Saxon, it was time for Peter ”Biff” Byford to release a solo album. How Byford had the time to write and record one is a bit of a mystery as he’s constantly writing, recording or touring with Saxon. Personally, I was never a huge Saxon fan myself. Sure, old classics like Wheels Of Steel (1980), Denim And Leather (1982) and Power And The Glory (1983) are all hard to dismiss – brilliant stuff. But too many of their 80’s and 90’s album were underwhelming and even though they have released some really good records of lately, I have a hard time keeping my interest intact.
That being said, a solo record from Byford has created a big interest for me. How would it turn out? Will it sound like Saxon? Will he make a complete turn-over and go Pop on us? Singer song-writer? And who would he have playing on the album? Well, when the musicians were revealed I was even more intrigued especially in Guitarist Fredrik Åkesson’s case. The Opeth and ex- Arch Enemy and Talisman guitarist is a world-class guitarist and on the extremely underrated Southpaw record, he proved himself a damn good song writer as well – and on this album he’s credited on four tracks. The other members here are another Swede – drummer Christian Lundquist (The Poodles) and bassist Gus Macricostas with cameos from guys like former Motörhead guitarist Phil Campbell and Biff’s band-mate Nibs Carter. To me, this sounds even more interesting than yet another new Saxon album.
Opener and the album’s first taster ”Welcome To the Show” is a bouncy Hard Rock belter. It comes in uptempo and holds lots of hooks, big melodies, catchy riffs and an effective and striking chorus that sticks right off the bat. There are traces of Saxon within the song’s main melody but this is much more Hard Rock and less Metal – something that fits Byford’s voice brilliantly. A great song and a perfect opener. The title-track and second single tells Biff’s life-story and it is a riff-happy number that holds a big, crunchy and infectious groove. It’s an up-tempo rocker on a steady beat that again goes more into classic Hard Rock than actual Heavy Metal. With Phil Campbell kicking out a really good solo and a solid, catchy refrain – no sugar included – makes the track another clear winner.
”Inquisitor” is a spoken-word interlude that holds some classical inspired music in the background which leads us into the darker-laden, Metal-groovy rocker ”The Pit And The Pendulum”. The tune is prog-metal laden and brings on a heavy, bluesier outlook where slight references to Saxon shows up in the vocal melody. We also get a slow, laid-back and sullen acoustic guitar based passage on the ballad side before the song gets all heavy and prog-laden again. Brilliant stuff. ”Worlds Collide” is more straight-ahead, hard and rough Heavy Metal much in the vein of Biff’s day job. Fact is, it could actually have been a lost Saxon track. It’s plain and simple Metal with a whole lot of punch on a solid rhythm. Pretty good one.
Next up is a cover of an old traditional English folk ballad ”Scarborough Fair”, the latest single. I admit I was a bit dubious about him covering it beforehand but it took only one listen to surrender – Biff & co. makes a splendid version of it. It’s still a ballad, the folk-vibes are still present but it do heavies up some and the guys give it a Classic Rock ballad treatment. The title of next track ”Pedal To The Metal” gives away just how the song sounds. It’s a fast and rowdy, straight-forward Metal stomper, aggressive and kicking that brings a Biff Byford fronted Judas Priest to mind. Bang on target! I love this. The Metal continues with ”Hearts Of Steel”, a faster tracked Metal belter that’s more or less a fist in the gut. It’s an ok song but it really doesn’t grab a hold of me. Sounds like a decent lost Saxon track.
Next up is a cover of Wishbone Ash’s ”Throw Down The Sword”. It’s a slow and groovy Classic Rock number with some big melodies and a gorgeous arrangement. I’m not that familiar with Wishbone Ash but listening to this, it’s easy to hear where both Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden got their influence from. It’s a brilliant cover with some jawdropping guitar work. Maybe the most unexpected song on the album is the 80’s sounding power ballad and third single ”Me And You”, written by Biff about his wife of 25 years. It’s slightly reminiscent of Skid Row’s ”I Remember You” but fear not, this fits Biff better than I could ever have imagined. Even a saxophone shows up! I never thought I would get to hear Biff singing a song like this but he does it with all the glory. Awesome! The album closes with a mid-paced Melodic Rock based on classic Hard Rock song, ”Black And White”. It’s somewhat held-back but with a good, beefy stomp. A big chorus with shitloads of hooks brings on the catchiness and again, this is not what we’re used to hear from Biff but he damn well nails it. Very good.
I didn’t really know what to expect of Biff’s solo debut but even so, it’s better than I thought it would be. The fact that Byford is a damn good singer is undisputed but to hear him reach other levels with music that’s not his daylily bread makes him an even better singer to my ears. And I’m really glad that he took steps out of his Metal comfort zone and didn’t make a Saxon album without Saxon. Classic Hard Rock, ballads, Melodic Hard Rock and progressive twists makes this a varied record – and the fact is, those are the best songs on this album. The more traditional Metal tunes are the ones that ends up in the filler department. Even though Saxon has released some really good albums to their name lately, I actually prefer this record to those, if I have to compare. Well done, Biff and let’s hope for another solo spree sooner than later – and that it will turn out even more varied than this.
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