Paul Lawrence | Australia | 10/21/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"One of the greatest documents of the NWOBHM, Saxons Wheels of Steel stands head and shoulders above so many of it's peers that it's almost cruel to name names. The simple fact is that apart from the NWOBHM heroes we all know such as Def Leppard only a few of them were actually any good, regardless of how important the movement was in the history of hard rock/heavy metal.
And the fact is that on the strength of this album Saxon were one of the few. This molten slab of pub infused metal is unkempt and raucous in it's delivery, oozing passionate zeal with a band experienced enough to know what they were doing while still being young enough to have that irreplaceable, one off youthful bravado at the opening possibilities. Wheels of Steel is a collection of heads down numbers. The production is simple and traditional as one would expect of the albums vintage. The cover art is minimalist (on my pressing anyway) and the entire package is understated. Except for the music.
Some of Saxons best songs are on this album, Motorcycle Man, 747 (Strangers in the Night) and the title track itself. All are great metal songs that race along with purity of mission. And the reason this album hangs together so well is that even though the other songs all meld together. Every song sounds like it belongs here despite the fact that not all are up to the same standard. An almost AC/DC like consistency is at play here as everything gels.
I truly feel that on this album Saxon hit a groove that they rarely achieved again. It is the place to start for my mind, as opposed to the compilation album entitled Collection of Metal which for me was too middling and spent too much time on their weaker late 80's material. In fact my gut instinct is that this single album is better than that supposed best of. Buy this instead to find out what the fuss was about in regards to Saxon. They were/are a second or even third tier band overall, but here they really do fire up."
One of the key early NWOBHM releases
Tom P. the Underground Navigator | Park Forest, IL USA | 11/28/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When Saxon entered Rampart Studios in February of 1980 to record their breakthrough LP (and second overall) "Wheels of Steel," the NWOBHM was just starting to really unfold, and would arguably peak later that year, with debut records being released by the scene's top contenders, most notably Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Diamond Head, Tygers of Pan Tang and Girlschool.
With the exception of Iron Maiden, none of those groups however, not even Def Leppard, would chart that year as high as these working class boys from Barnsley. With the strength of singles from the record such as "747 (Strangers in the Night)" and the title track, "Wheels of Steel" actually at one time reached #5 in the U.K. national charts. Astonishing, especially for an independent, underground recording from a previously little known heavy metal band. (Can you imagine that happening in the U.S.?)
Listening to this CD you can hear why. This was then and now the ideal music for speeding down the freeway with this particular album blaring loud (probably on an eight track at the time). The aforementioned title track is particularly earthshaking, taking the deceptively simple but highly catchy riff patterns of bands like AC/DC before them and merging them with the reverb of early Motorhead. Side 2 of the original vinyl opens with the track that best embodies this spirit, "Freeway Mad." The record's second half actually proves to be speed metal city for the most part, on standout scorchers like "See the Light Shining" and "Machine Gun." Sure, Motorhead and Judas Priest before them had at times been fast, but Saxon were FAST. You just did not find tempos this rapid in music in 1980 without crossing over into hardcore punk, making Saxon one of speed metal's true pioneers.
These 2009 remasters are infinitely superior to any previous pressings of their early albums, both in sound quality and packaging. They boast a much fuller and more roomy sound than older editions, more like listening to the original LP, but without the expected crackles and pops of 30-year-old vinyl records. To add to that there are great and informative liner notes with input from frontman Biff Byford himself. The icing on the cake is that each CD contains a reproduction of the original LP's back cover, making them essential for collectors.
Saxon would just keep getting better and better and followed up "Wheels of Steel" with two even better LPs (one later the same year!). "Wheels of Steel" though remains a defining moment in the band's career and brings you right back to the excitement of the early NWOBHM scene. Highly recommended."