Saxon - Interview

When I was a wee lad, one of my first loves in the NWOBHM that I ever came across was the band Saxon, and to this very day it is still one of my favorite heavy metal bands. Saxon has remained significantly strong for the last 40-50 years of their entire existence, and in fact, they got even stronger once Brian Tatler of Diamond Head joined the band as the replacement guitarist for Paul Quinn, contributing a plethora of fresh new ideas that would fire up the engine of their upcoming 26th album "Hell, Fire And Damnation". After I listened to the new album and reviewed it with honor and dignity, I got the opportunity to do an interview with none other than Biff Byford via Zoom, which took place on January 11th, a bit more than a week before the album's official release worldwide. We had a wonderful chat for about 25 minutes, where we discussed a lot about the upcoming album, but we also mentioned other things along the way like Brian Tatler's triumphant trial by fire as the band's new guitarist, the guest appearance of Brian Blessed as the narrator on the opening track 'The Prophecy' and even the Amon Amarth song 'Saxons And Vikings' which included Biff Byford, Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt as guest musicians. Please join me on this magnificent journey of Hell, Fire and Damnation, and I truly hope that you will enjoy this wonderful conversation that I had with none other than the man himself, Biff Byford.


Welcome to the MetalBite interview, Biff. I am so glad that you're here. How are you doing?

Thank you! It's good to be there! I am good, thank you. I am travelling actually, but I am doing a bit of interviewing while I am travelling, so that's good.

So, you've got a lot of spare time to do interviews in the meanwhile?

Yeah, I am doing quite a lot of interviewing with the new album coming out.

"Hell, Fire And Damnation" is just one week away from being officially released, the excitement is just growing and the first impressions from critics are very positive. How was the band's overall journey while working on this album?

Well, yeah, people so far seem very pleased with the album. It's a monster really, at least from my standpoint we've unleashed the beast. But yeah, we are pretty pleased with it actually, we've worked quite hard, we wanted to get it ready for our touring schedule which starts in March.

Did you guys have any crucial tasks that you wanted to accomplish in the making of the album? I mean, you've said it yourself that this is a quite monstrous album that you made.

No, there was no real task really. Same with Carpe Diem, I was looking for great riffs to start the ball rolling and then Brian came along with a couple of good guitar riffs as well, it worked out pretty good. I wrote a few songs with Brian, a few songs with Douglas, and a couple of songs with Nibbs. I don't think we had any tasks; I mean our goals were to write great songs, that was the main goal of the album, to try and write the perfect song, which you never can, but at least you can try.

Yeah, of course every band has to try that with every new album that comes out. This album is a follow up to "Carpe Diem" from two years prior, one can clearly tell that this new album is much more elevated in terms of the overall songwriting and the band's performance in general. Would you say that this new album is a significant improvement over "Carpe Diem"?

I think it is, I once have thought that we couldn't have done it actually, but I think it is an improvement, definitely. I think the songs are stronger and more focused, and the sound of the album is pretty awesome actually. We recorded the drums in the big cinema halls, the guitars in our studio at home, and then the vocals. Then we went to Andy Sneap's studio and finished it all off. It was done very quickly for an album like this that sounds so great. I think we were all very motivated and very focused, but so was Andy, but I do think something special happened in the writing of this album.

What this album really does is that it feels like a big anthology of epic tales told through heavy metal music, you've got a lot going on with the biblical themes to Marie Antoinette, Kubla Khan, The Battle of Hastings and even the Salem witch trials. It's got a very strong storytelling quality to it and it's definitely one of the greatest aspects of this album. What really inspired you to use all of these themes at once and to put them all together in this one album?

Well, I was a bit worried that it might turn into a history lesson. We always made historic songs, the last album Carpe Diem ('Seize The Day') it's about Roman invasion of England, and we always had an interest in history, but I think on this album we've brought it all together and I just thought "yeah, why not do it really", let's see what people think obviously, and everybody seems to like it so we did a good thing.

Were there any kind of particular sources of inspiration that kind of got to you when you were working on these songs?

Just history in general. Whether it is something in Roswell, which is about the conspiracy theory of the UFO crash, which again is history. I mean, these things interest me, and obviously interest millions of other people as well.

Yeah, that is very awesome indeed. But, does any song from this new album stand out to you for any particular reason, be it the lyrics, riffs or something else entirely?

I like 'Madam Guillotine', I think it's very good. The riffs are fantastic, and I think the chorus is very Alice Cooper-ish, so I am very pleased how that song turned out, I quite like that.

We can't leave out one of the most crucial factors that contributed a lot to this album, and that is Brian Tatler, Diamond Head guitarist, who joined the band's lineup last year. Did Brian manage to bring anything new to the table upon joining Saxon?

Yeah, he co-wrote three songs with me, so yeah, he wrote 3 guitar riffs for the band. I basically just asked him out of the blue "Have you got any ideas that you're not using?" and he went "Yeah, I got some ideas", so he sent them to me and I wrote 'Hell, Fire And Damnation' song, which turned out pretty great.

So, if this album turns out to be a massive success, then I think Brian Tatler would deserve to get a "pay rise" in the band for doing a good job *chuckles*.

Yeah, he'll definitely get a pay rise. The fans like it because you know Paul is a legend, and Brian is a legend, and everyone knows him from the Metallica connection, definitely. I think he's such a great replacement for Paul, but I don't think that he'll ever replace Paul really, I think Brian has his own thing, he's definitely a "riff meister". I think he works well for Saxon.

How does he feel about being a part of a band such as Saxon? I mean, both Diamond Head and Saxon are considered two very big names in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, so does he feel more comfortable working with you guys than he does with Diamond Head?

I think you'll have to ask him that, but he's very happy to be in Saxon and play bigger shows, and obviously he's really excited being involved in writing the album because we didn't ask him to write the album, we only asked him to go on tour with us, but he had some good ideas so I used them, so it's really exciting going on tour and play some songs that you had a hand in writing.

What I also wanted to talk about the new album that really struck me is the cover art, which was done by the Hungarian artist and Bornholm vocalist Péter Sallai. I think his artistic skills truly managed to convey the album's musical quality and atmosphere through the artwork. How did you guys come down to the decision to hire him to visually represent the essence of your new album?

I sent out some ideas that I had with the title of the artwork. I wanted it to signify the battle of good and evil, it's very sort of "Bible, religion and the prophecy", so I just wanted something a bit like the William Blake type stuff like "Paradise Lost". So, we sent out a sort of brief to all the artists that we wanted to use, and he came back with that one within four days, and we were like "yeah, that's brilliant, I like that one". So yeah, the artwork is great.

That's awesome to hear. I guess he's also a longtime Saxon fan considering the fact that he understands the source material and also the importance of working with a band such as you guys.

Yeah, and he has also done all the artwork for us, but we didn't use it. We haven't worked with him before, but yeah, he did a fantastic job. His visualization of what I wanted was great actually.

Can we expect to get some sort of special box set of "Hell, Fire And Damnation" with a booklet that contains all those unused artworks in the future?

Yeah, that would be great. There are box sets of the album, but that would be a good idea.

Ironically, when I listened to your album for the first time, I didn't immediately notice that you guys had the guest appearance of the famed English actor Brian Blessed as the narrator on the opening track 'The Prophecy', which was quite a marvellous move you pulled there. How was it working with such a fantastic actor that is Brian Blessed?

Well, it was great, we've known him for quite a while actually, he's friends with the band. He comes to see us sometimes, when we play at festivals in England. I just sent him a message saying "I got some words and some music, would you like to do the prologue to 'The Prophecy'for us?", so he said "yeah". I think doing that was very 1980-ish with the "spoken word", so I wanted to bring a bit of that 1980's flavour back, and it worked pretty well actually. Like I said, everything fell into place, very special for this album.

As you said he's a longtime friend of the band, did he ever say what album does he like the most out of the entire Saxon discography?

Well, probably Wheels Of Steel I would think.

That's awesome, that's a very classic album. I didn't even expect that Brian Blessed would like such music, I mean he's a very classy actor and he's over 80 years old, which is fantastic.

A lot of actors are into rock 'n roll though, it's the old thing that "all singers want to be actors and all actors want to be singers". So, we've got quite a lot of actors in show business, people that are into the band, it's a very peculiar thing.

Since I already mentioned the 'Battle Of Hastings/1066', you also did a song with Amon Amarth 'Saxons And Vikings' from two years back and even the music video was released 4 weeks ago. What is the story behind you working with Amon Amarth on that song and how was the overall experience?

Well, we've known Amon Amarth for quite a long time, I think we met them when they played their very first festival. Johan did a song with me called 'Predator' for the album Thunderbolt. They wrote a song called 'Saxons And Vikings', and who are you gonna ask? *chuckles* You're not gonna ask anybody else, are you? Because, we are Saxons, and they are Vikings, it's a no brainer really. I don't think it would have worked if you asked the singer of Sabaton, because they are called Sabaton, not Saxon. It's a good idea he had. And it was good fun up into the coast somewhere in the eastern part of Europe, we shot the music video for two days, it was good fun actually. I think while co-writing that song with them, it inspired me to write the '1066' song, because it's the next big piece of history after that one.

Yeah, basically since you made a song for yourselves like they did, not only did you make history in terms of what you did musically, but you also repeated history in terms of what happened back then in 1066.

Yeah, the thing with 'Saxons And Vikings' I think it's probably set in a year 900, and the Saxons beat the Vikings then. A bit later on, the Normans beat the Saxons, so it's a bit of a backwards and forwards thing going on.

Okay, so the last question I'd like to ask you is how do you personally feel about this album? I mean, how would you rank this album with some of Saxon's classic discography from the 80's? Do you think it's on par with some of the beloved albums of that era?

Yeah, I think this album is up there, definitely. We got it all packaged, the artwork, the songs, the sounds, I think it's up there in our Top 5/Top 6 albums definitely, but that's just my opinion.

That's great, I am very glad to hear it. It does really have a lot of quality to it. The one thing that I really admire about you guys is that you are veterans and a lot of bands around your age are not so inspired to write new stuff, they always feel under pressure. What kind of goal do you have when you work on music, how do you keep yourself inspired and what advice would you give to other bands?

Well, a lot of it comes from my motivation to write great lyrics and write great melodies. I think you just have to be motivated, because we always start with a great guitar riff, I think it's one of the keys to Saxon's longevity for the last 10 albums. I always like to start writing with a great guitar riff. Sometimes, we'll start with a chorus that I sing, but most of the time, it's a great guitar riff, and then you write the melody and the verse, or maybe the chorus. We're bringing the songs from a very firm basis, if you know what I mean.

Okay, thank you so much for doing this interview, Biff. I am really looking forward to catch Saxon live on tour someday and experience "Hell, Fire And Damnation" in its full glory. Are there any final words you'd like to say before we wrap this up?

I hope everybody likes the album, it's out on January 19th. Give it a listen, and keep faith! I hope that I'll see you people on tour somewhere!

Entered: 1/17/2024 6:28:49 PM

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