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Saxon has been busy re-releasing much of their back catalogue with the Solid Book Of Rock being issued a few months ago. Due to various record company changes the band’s first nine albums were missing from the set, so to honour their golden era they have released a 34 track anthology: Saxon: Decade of the Eagle. The 2 CD (4 LP) set spans from the beginnings of the NWOBHM in 1979 to 1988, a definitive time in metal music.

Opening with Stallions of the Highway from their debut album the crashing guitar sound of classic heavy metal is still pretty nascent at this stage. The track owes more to glam rock than the defiant machismo of heavy metal, but there's plenty of that ballsy attitude. Big Teaser follows and although the Saxon sound is not quite as heavy, their influence as one of the pioneering bands of the genre will reverberate across the next decade with the intro of Iron Maiden's 2 Minutes to Midnight bearing a similarity to the opening of the track. When we get to Wheels of Steel from their second album, the blues influences of the genre are still palpable but their break out track 747 (Strangers in the Night) is pure heavy metal in all its thunderous glory. The Strong Arm of the Law continues to break the NWOBHM ground with a pulsating riff and some blistering vocals from Biff, with a few lazy blues influences creeping back in. Their first album with EMI - Innocence Is No Excuse - may have divided fans' opinions due to its production and commercial leanings, but also boasted some of the band's strongest work from the era like Broken Heroes and Rock N Roll Gypsy.

What's most evident from listening to their first decade is the difference and evolution in sound. From glam and blues-inspired music to pop rock, by the end of the 80s, the band are a torrent of chomping guitars, sharp, wailing vocals and crashing drums with Red Alert and Battlecry standing out as fierce examples of the kind of sound that heavy metal would begin to follow through to its next chapter.

Overall it’s a very similar compilation to 1998’s Best of Saxon, with a few removals like Ride like the Wind and Just Let Me Rock; but there are plenty more additions to make the set worthwhile. There are some live versions too such as Motorcycle Man which show the band in all their glory. The set includes liner notes from Biff, rare photographs and a snazzy embossed cover. It’s a very smart package for the die-hard collector and it’s obvious that more thought has gone into the release than your average repackaged greatest hits.

Groupie Rating 3/5

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