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Both albums are straight-forward, head-banging, heavy metal classics. Punk was the new aggressive sound, soon to be replace by new wave in the 80's. England seemed to be the epicenter for this new metal movement with many new heavy metal bands garining momentum. Their 1979 eponymous was a bit underwhelming but with their next two releases "Wheels of Steel" and "Strong Arm of the Law" the band had not only found their sound, but they helped define the new wave of heavy metal. Others like "Redline" and the title track more than make up for it however. I never could understand the hatred for "Crusader". These three albums seem to be lost between the band's beloved early classic NWOBHM catalog and their later, heavier releases like "Unleash the Beast", "Metalhead" and "Killing Ground".

On the positive side, the title track, "Running Hot", "Empty Promises" and the double bass driven "Battle Cry" are good songs that will likely sound far better in a live setting than they do here in this studio recording. The bonus tracks are all B-sides from various 12" singles that were previously unavailable on CD. I do confess that I didn't care for "Solid Ball of Rock" on it's initial release. Perhaps it was just a reaction to some of the more recent, more commercial albums Saxon had recorded. "One Step Away" is an up-tempo, ferocious heavy metal romp! Lucky for me I have friends in high places that save me from paying $30 for these discs.

It probably would have better served as a b-side track. As with their "Innocence is No Excuse" reissue, the disc comes wrapped in a slipcase. "Bavarian Beaver" is an oddly titled instrumental bass solo that acts as an into into "Crash Drive", a prime Saxon heavy metal romp. Biff's gives a fantastic vocal performance on this song. Fortunately Saxon figured that out and put out these two high charged heavy metal discs. Unfortunately "Dogs of War" and "Forever Free" are only available as an expensive imports.

"Heavy Metal Thunder" was more than just an anthem, it was a speed metal statement about the second wave of heavy metal. Well, I am of the opinion that this is a classic, although not to the same level as say Judas Priest's "Unleased in the East" or Thin Lizzy's "Live & Dangerous." My copy is a German import version.1.

Anthems such as "Motorcycle Man," "747 "Strangers in the Night)", "Wheels of Steel", "20,000 Feet" and "Dallas 1PM" became signature songs for the band being played in concert for decades to come. "Machine Gun" ()Saxon live isn't much different than Saxon studio, save for the crowd interaction on "Wheels of Steel." That is probably why this album failed to break Saxon into the US market like they were hoping it would.

However, for whatever reason, many fans at the time of it's release considered "Crusader" to be a disappointment, some calling it a sell-out. "Forever Free" is closed out by "Cloud Nine", a number with a bit of a groove and once again is more reminiscent of Saxon's glorious NWOBHM past.

They had the catchy songs and the big record label. The song declares, "don't let the bastards grind you down". Perhaps this song was one of the band's last attempts at commercial success.

Biff Byford retains the name Saxon and continues to tour and put out new music into the new millenium.

However, ex-guitarist Graham Oliver and bassist Steve Dawson were also touring under the name Saxon until lawsuits forced them to change the name to Oliver/Dawson Saxon.

With their self-titled debt the band hadn't yet found their sound and were still echoing their 1970's influences.

Still, there are some good songs included here and some glimpses into the band's future, such as "Frozen Rainbow" and "Stallions of the Highway".

Most of these songs are considered classics by most fans, with the possible exception of "Frozen Rainbow". I've read that the vinyl version of "Rock the Nations" actually sounds better than the CD version and has a warmer sound with more bottom end. Either way "Solid Ball of Rock" actually is a solid album, as the title so cleverly alludes to. It's probably not as memorable as similar anthems from the past, but it does stand as a declaration of a band that has been churning out their own brand of rock and roll for decades.

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