Terrible PR stunts be damned, you can't kill SAXON. Words like "venerable" and "stalwart" get used a lot when talking about these U.K. rockers, who've been bashing it out to uneven returns for three decades now. When they're not embarrassing themselves with ill-conceived promotional ideas far beneath their stature (what was with that air-guitar contest thing? And a reality TV show? What the fuck?), they're responsible for a rock-solid (heh) body of work that shows scant sign of the band's advancing age.
Frontman Biff Byford is at his likable, phlegmatic best here, delivering these everyman rockers in his energetic but genial style. He holds his own on catchy raveups like the full-throttle "Let Me Feel Your Power", and shows a slighty darker and more sinister edge on single "If I Was You". If he's delivering some fairly hoary arena-rock clichés, well, you'd be pretty delusional to expect anything else from SAXON at this stage in the game.
There seems to be a conscious move toward a slightly dirtier, more rock and roll sound on "The Inner Sanctum", as opposed to the somewhat stately pomp-metal of "Lionheart" or the somewhat deliberately heavy "Metalhead". This move gives SAXON back a little of their AOR/hard rock bent (see "Going Nowhere Fast", especially) and is a welcome return to the sound, a style the band does well and seems comfortable in. "Going Nowhere Fast" fits well next to a soaring anthem like "Red Star Falling" and faster numbers like "Need For Speed" because SAXON, perhaps the ultimate pub-rock band made good, know what sounds good and what their fans want, and here they deliver their most diverse and crowd-pleasing batch of songs in quite a while. (Fear not, "Lionheart" fans, majestic closer "Attila the Hun" will satisfy your need for an epic along the lines of that album).
At the end of the day, it's a SAXON album, which means it's gonna be up to a certain standard of quality, delivering workingman's heavy metal in an ear-friendly style with plenty of classic metal grit and power. It also means that, like the other umpteen albums before it, it's not gonna get a fraction of the attention it deserves from the world at large – but it'll be a cause for celebration in a fervent few heavy metal households around the globe, this one included. This kind of metal lives or dies on heart alone, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a band with more of it than SAXON. Cheers, lads, and thanks for another ten classics.