Saxon / HammerFall

Koko, London on Tue 20th Dec 2011

Saxon's final night of the tour is in London, the Koko to be precise. Opening the night is established Swedish heavy metallers HammerFall, touring on the back of their zombie-tinted 'Infected' album. From the moment the opening notes are played, it is clear that HammerFall are no strangers to the live environment and the at-ease atmosphere that emanates from them alone shows the extent of their lifespan in the metal scene.

When frontman Joacim Cans asks how many of the audience members have not seen HammerFall before, the response is thick and loud. Nonetheless, Cans is successful in getting these unenlightened punters to sing along to the easy choruses of new number 'Bang Your Head' and fan favourite 'Blood Bound'. A small spectacle segue ways into 'Let the Hammer Fall', which sees Cans refusing to start the track until the fast majority of the crowd yell "Fall!" after he leads them in with "Let the hammer." Although on CD, these Swedes music fails to break any new ground, live it comes across as fun heavy metal with muscular choruses. Cans vocals are a particular highlight of the show, smooth and clean yet thunderously strong. When final song 'Hearts on Fire' is served up, the fans joyfully sing out, nearly drowning Cans in doing so. A sweet compliment to Saxon.

Saxon's show opens with the shiny new 'Hammer of the Gods' from the 'Call to Arms' release. Although the crowd are subdued, probably due to unfamiliarity, Biff Byford and friends are not short of a sonic stage presence rarely seen in bands of their age. The second song, the beloved 'Heavy Metal Thunder' attains a violently stronger audience response. While this tour is in promotion of the new studio effort, 2011 also marks the thirtieth anniversary of the classic Saxon album 'Denim and Leather' and Byford announces that the quintet will play the album in its entirety over the course of the night, alongside new anthems, immovable staples and rarities.

The heavy metal titans showcase new songs including 'Chasing the Bullet', 'When Doomsday Comes (Hybrid Theory)' and 'Back in '79', the songs on 'Denim and Leather' that are rarely seen live, including 'Fire in the Sky', 'Midnight Rider' and 'Rough and Ready' alongside other rare numbers, such as the usually-panned but underrated 'Solid Ball of Rock'. 'Rock the Nations' is bisected by a drum solo from Nigel Glocker but it drags on for a little too long and the audience's attention visibly wanes.

After the new 'Mists of Avalon', Byford decides to let the audience have some influence over the setlist. He gives them the chance to choose between two songs: 'The Eagle Has Landed' or 'Broken Heroes'. Even though the former receives the wilder ovation, the band plough into 'Broken Heroes' bizarrely. Maybe the crowd did not really have any sway over the night. But Saxon usually know best, being one of the few bands with a lengthy legacy that always shake up their setlists and put on a show worth every penny. The one downside to tonight is that the guitars are far too low in the mix.

'Denim and Leather' enjoys the fans uniting as a solid unit, singing along, a sight seen at every Saxon show. This is followed by the opening notes of 'Princess of the Night', which the audience instantly recognise and cheer for. The performance is flawless and the band immediately leaves the stage without a word, while hungry chants of "SAXON!" echo around the Koko. The audience are satiated when Saxon return for an encore with the mid-paced and dramatic 'Crusader', the punters vocally unified during the chorus again.

A guitar solo from Doug Scarratt feeds the audience until the rest of Saxon return for the excellent 'Power and the Glory'. By this stage, there are nothing but smiles on the faces of the audience and the show is not yet over. What is arguably Saxon's most known track follows – '747 (Strangers in the Night)' after Byford states he recently flew out of Scandinavia on the same aircraft. After yet another solid performance, Saxon vacate the stage again. But the audience know there is still more to come and the second encore is spearheaded by a bass solo from Nibbs Carter. The remainder of the band return for 'Strong Arm of the Law', with a tide of fists pumping the air during the chorus. Of course, the curtain call number is 'Wheels of Steel', elongated for audience participation, the crowd leaping up and down. Once again, Saxon have provided the attendees with a fantastic night of legendary British heavy metal, all in time for Christmas. What a fantastic present.

article by: Elena Francis

published: 22/12/2011 17:48

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