"School of Hard Knocks"

By Colonel Angus

I have been a Saxon fan since first hearing "Wheels of Steel" back in 1980.  I was very aware of the NWOBHM through Kerrang Magazine and purchased many imported records from a local record store (how I miss those days).  Although Saxon never made a huge impact in the US like Iron Maiden, they are just as important to that genre and have been churning out quality albums since their debut in 1979.  Being a Saxon fan is like being part of a special club and when you wear their colors, other metal fans will always give you that nod of approval.  When I read that Biff Byford was going to release a solo album, I was a bit surprised because I thought he was one of the main song writers in Saxon.  You would think that he would be able to express all of his creativity in that band but after some reflection, it made sense to me.  He may have ideas that don’t quite fit the parameters of the Saxon sound.

Upon first listen to the disk, there are some tracks that I felt would have fit onto a Saxon record.  In fact, I feel “The Pit and the Pendulum” would have easily fit onto Saxon’s "Power and the Glory" disk and if you listen closely, it has a bit of “Nightmare” in its overall sound.  “Throw Down the Sword” has a "Crusader" feel to it and the title cut has Saxon written all over it.  Part of that could be that Biff is the voice that we have come to know and love so whenever we hear it, making a comparison is inevitable.  That being said, I can see where many of there songs would not have fit on a Saxon record.  Album opener “Welcome To the Show” has more of pop-metal sound that would definitely not fit on latter day Saxon releases.  Mellower tunes like “Me and You” and the cover of “Scarborough Fair” would also feel out of place and lend themselves more to a solos record.  They’re good songs but they should not fall under the Saxon banner.  On a side note, is it me or does Biff channel Priest’s “Victim of Changes” on the beginning of “Heart of Steel”?  Either way, it’s a great tune.

"School of Hard Knocks" is a very enjoyable record and I would rate it high in Byford’s cannon of work but if you are looking for a Saxon album, you will be only partially satisfied.  Let’s face it, if it sounded like Saxon completely, why have a solo release.  For that main reason, I give the album extra marks because Biff takes some chances and puts out something that is different than his day job.