Battleaxe - Heavy Metal Sanctuary (SPV/Steamhammer)

A pleasing dose of trad metal fun...
Release Date: 
23 Feb 2014 - 11:30pm

I first saw North Eastern metallers Battleaxe in 1984, performing on the bottom of a three band bill at London’s legendary Hammersmith Odeon. Headlining that night were Saxon and Battleaxe, who put in a sterling performance of archetypal early-eighties Brit metal, did enough to suggest that they might not be third on the bill for much longer if they played their cards right.

Then, as so often, nothing. Two albums (1983’s excellent Burn this Town, followed the next year by the not-quite-as-good-but-still-pretty-serviceable Power From the Universe)…  and then silence. Undoubtedly the wave of thrash metal bands flooding over the UK from the US and continental Europe rendered Battleaxe’s more staid trad metal attack rather quaint; Never really breaking out of third gear beyond  a sort of fast d-beat gallop, they just couldn’t keep up with the likes of Anthrax and Metallica, which was a shame as their songwriting skills were never in doubt. Hu hum, as they say, and we moved on to get out kicks elsewhere.

Move the clock forward to 2010 and the band responds positively to reform to play at Wacken, and the first solidly tangible fruits of this decision are here in front of us now. Heavy Metal Sanctuary is nothing if not a nod back to the band’s ‘glory’ days, produced by fellow survivor from that halcyon period for Geordie metal Fred Purser from the Tygers of Pan Tang. Crueller people than me might label the record ‘outdated’, but one of the reasons people – especially people of my vintage – like old school metal is the sense of stability it provides, not to mention the link with metal’s traditional past as the genre continues to splinter and mutate into a thousand other forms as the 21st century progresses. The resultant noise is, frankly, very welcome but it ain’t gonna appeal to many people under the age of forty; However original vocalist Dave King has an appealingly unhinged edge to his voice that at times has him sounding like Udo Dirkschneider, and the irresistibly catchy riffage of Kingdom Come will have dandruff flying whenever it gets a run out at ‘vintage’ metal discos – it really is that good – whilst The Legions Unite does, it has to be said, carry more than a whiff of early-eighties Saxon about it.

Of course this will be meaningless to the young people, as there is not one – the odd bit of stately double kick drumming aside – concession to modern metal mores at all, and so Battleaxe are doomed – if they get to make another album, that is – to spruik their schtick to half-interested mid-afternoon festival audiences and nostalgia package show enthusiasts, which is utterly less than their talent deserves.

So, welcome back then, Battleaxe – it’s good to know you did indeed have another half-decent album in you, even if the kids won’t give it a fair go.