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Biff Byford – School of Hard Knocks Award winner

Biff Byford
School of Hard Knocks
by Rachel Montgomery at 14 April 2020, 9:31 AM

BIFF BYFORD is best known for his work with metal juggernaut SAXON. With his illustrious career as their front man, he hardly needs an introduction. Releasing his first solo album “School of Hard Knocks,” his aim was to capture the essence of his home region, Northern England, and to capture the spirit of traditional heavy metal. After giving the new album a listen, I would say he has created an awesome throwback to traditional metal, with clear production and a unified, but varied track offering.

The production on the opening track feels like the beginning of a concert. From the inaugural title, “Welcome To The Show,” to the lead up of the main melody featuring a roaring crowd and crescendo drums, the song felt like a warmup to a concert. “School of Hard Knocks,” the title track, keeps the traditional feeling of the songs: 80s hard rock with no letup, relentless, vintage metal. Then, “Inquisitor” changed everything. From this early interlude, the tone of the album shifted from rocking metal to the sword and sorcery vice of proto-power metal, with an ominous narrative. Following the third-track interlude, we’re treated to a longer, more progressive song that is reminiscent of earlier metal while retaining the main traditional style of the band. “The Pit and the Pendulum,” the first of these long songs, features an epic ballad, galloping guitars, and key and melody changes that keep the melody moving. Continuing from this song, the next track is also an epic anthem, conjuring images of wizard duels and riding dragons in the cosmos of space. While the middle of the album is more folk, including a cover of the ballad “Scarborough Faire” the end brings it back full circle with “Black and White.” The opening riff reminds me more of a 90s grunge song. The overall message of the song is about freedom and consequences, solidifying the themes of the first two tracks and bringing it from the fantasy escapism of the middle tracks, back to a gritty, musical reality.

I personally enjoyed that setup. Thematically, it captures the escapism of an album, from leaving reality behind at a concert to coming back and facing the day. From the opening song to the final notes, I felt like I was listening to a vintage album. Likewise, the album avoided the pitfalls that I find all too common in this style of music. Mainly, the problems I see with this subgenre are sounding too much like one famous band or another or trying to match the production to 30-year-old technology that makes the music echo or distorts the vocals. In this album, the production is clear, each instrument has its own distinction so you can hear the harmonies, and while the vocals are stylized, they have the distinct character that BIFF BYFORD brings to his work. Overall, it’s an awesome album with a throwback style sure to please fans and newcomers alike.

Songwriting: 10
Production: 10
Musicianship: 10
Memorability: 9

5 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Welcome To The Show
2. School of Hard Knocks
3. Inquisitor
4. The Pit And The Pendulum
5. Worlds Collide
6. Scarborough Fair
7. Pedal To The Metal
8. Hearts of Steel
9.Throw Down The Sword
10. Me and You
11. Black And White
Lineup:
Biff Byford - Vocals
Fredrik Åkesson - Guitars
Gus Macricostas - Bass
Christian Lundqvist – Drums
Phil Campbell (Motörhead/Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons)
Alex Holzwarth (Rhapsody Of Fire and Turilli/Lione Rhapsody)
Nick Barker (Vocals)
Dave Kemp (Wayward Sons)
Nibbs Carter (Saxon) – Guest Artists
Record Label: Silver Lining Music!
     


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Edited 15 July 2020
 

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