By Allyson Kingsley
Forever known as the legendary frontman of Saxon, Biff Byford releases his first-ever solo album School of Hard Knocks. The album is beautifully pleasing as it treads deeply into British hard rock territory with elements of prog as well as power metal. Ever endearing to this Brit are stories of the Middle Ages and medieval history as well as tales from his heart. The album’s musicians include Fredrik Åkesson (Opeth) on guitar, Christian Lundqvist (drums), and Gus Macricostas (bass). We are also treated to guest appearances by Phil Campbell (Motorhead/Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons), Alex Holzwarth (Rhapsody of Fire), Nick Barker (Voices), Dave Kemp (Wayward Sons), and Nibbs Carter (Saxon).
We start with “Welcome to the Show,” and a definite fitting beginning to an album packed with power. If your heart remains in the 80s yearning for those halcyon days of reckless abandon, then this will tick all of your rock n’ roll boxes. We then rip into the title track “School of Hard Knocks” that swaggers up and shakes you about with spicy riffs and heartfelt lyrical delivery. Further down the line, we are entranced by “Worlds Collide” that is pure in-your-face rock delivered with a passion and conviction sorely lacking in today’s would-be pioneers of rock. Special mention to the impressive rhythm section driving this opus to extraordinary heights ably accompanied by exceptional fretwork and Biff’s phenomenal vocals.
A real beauty is a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” that is sure to become legendary in its own right. The melody is intact, and Biff’s vocals caress the folk nature of the song giving it beloved justice. My personal pick is “Hearts of Steel” as it thoroughly captures the drive and spirit of NWOBHM and power metal. Biff Byford offers no compromises and no subtleties, just fist-pumping metal that is a glorious throwback to the 80s. Fascinating, insightful, and most importantly, an enjoyable album, School of Hard Knocks reminds us once more just how talented the Saxon frontman is, and his assembled musicians make this as necessary a hard Rock album as many recently released.