30 Years Ago: Saxon Release ‘Crusader’
Although the connection was probably lost on most American hard rock and metal fans, who always lagged behind the rest of the world on all things Saxon, when this hallowed British band unleashed its sixth studio album on April 16, 1984, they’d already been “crusading” in the name of heavy metal for nearly a decade.
Why, only four years earlier, Saxon were the virtually undisputed leaders of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (although Iron Maiden and Def Leppard were nipping at their heels), thanks to seminal releases like ‘Wheels of Steel’ and ‘Strong Arm of the Law.’ In fact, to give you some idea of Saxon's popularity, 1980 had seen them headlining sheds across Europe with support from an opening band named … the Blizzard of Ozz!
And while Saxon's subsequent studio LPs such as ‘Denim and Leather’ and ‘Power and the Glory’ had failed to notch quite as many critical kudos, the group's global popularity hardly faltered, thanks, in part, to an entire generation of rising thrash metal bands, led by Metallica, that never tired of championing their British heroes as a major influence.
Nevertheless, during that same period, both Maiden and Leppard had managed to leapfrog Saxon with breakthrough albums, so now the pressure was on for the latter to catch up — ideally with the nine songs (ten, if you count the cinematic 'Crusader Prelude') recorded in Los Angeles for the ‘Crusader’ LP with the help of REO Speedwagon producer Kevin Beamish.
These songs found Saxon stretching their sound like never before, and the bombastic title track’s historical theme and epic presentation — though an evident nod to Iron Maiden, and reprised, soon after on, on ’Sailing to America’ — was really just the tip of the iceberg. Next to these tunes, hard-charging numbers like ‘A Little Bit of What You Fancy,’ ‘Bad Boys (Like to Rock ’n’ Roll)’ and ‘Rock City’ kept things devastatingly direct, while the anthemic ‘Just Let Me Rock,’ camouflaged soccer stadium chant 'Run for Your Lives,' and mandatory power ballad, ‘Do it All for You,’ provided welcome changes of pace. Heck, even a frantic but catchy cover of Sweet’s ‘Set Me Free’ was thrown in for good measure.
All in all, ‘Crusader’ clearly possessed every ingredient required of a classic heavy metal album, and while it sadly fell short once again of finally breaking Saxon in America, worldwide it was a bona fide success, eventually shifting some two million copies into the eager hands of discerning heavy metal fans.
Any one of these supporters will tell you, as if it were needed, that ’80’s heavy metal would simply not have been the same without Saxon’s crucial work at the top of the decade, never mind their continuing devotion to the cause for years and years to come. In fact, those contributions are now stretching into an amazing fifth decade, and the group has two dozen albums under their bullet belts.