Mr Byford is nothing short of a legend in the metal genre. Saxon has been going strong without any hiatus, or even any severe drop in quality, for over 40 years. Seems like Biff is content with his role, after all it took him decades to decide on making a solo record. Was it worth the wait? The answer is… Well… Maybe.
The album isn’t really an entity, but more a selection of different styles that Biff has wanted to explore or pay homage to. Sometimes it’s rather close to Saxon, sometimes not. The majority of tracks are rather saxonish, but with more of a rock’n’roll nerve to them. In “The Pit and the Pendulum” there’s clear traces of prog rock and the track has a somewhat 2000’s Iron Maiden thing about it. The following number, “Worlds Collide”, could’ve been on any of the last three solo albums by Bruce Dickinson. “Pedal to the Metal” and “Hearts of Steel” sound like Halford, complete with lyrics fitting the Metal God himself. This type of heavier and more straight forward songs fits Biff’s voice very well – gentle nodding could easily turn to headbanging and raised fists in the air at this point.
Among the songs there’s also two cover tracks. One of Simon & Garfunkel’s version of the medieval ballad “Scarborough Fair” and one of Wishbone Ash’s “Throw Down the Sword”. The first one is really heartfelt and rather beautiful in it’s own right. The arrangements are very well executed and the result is great. Regarding the latter there has to be said that any attempt to cast light upon one of the rock genres most underrated bands should be encouraged, but Biff is unfortunately not really adding anything relevant to this absolute gem of a song.
The album is finished off with first a half ballad named “Me and You”, which is almost westcoast-like. It even has a saxophone solo! Second, and last out, is “Black and White”, which is a reasonably good mid-tempo rocker but with a somewhat anonymous aura to it.
Worth mentioning is the overall great musicianship of the album, the band consists of Swedes Fredrik Åkesson (Opeth), Christian Lundqvist (The Poodles) and Greek Gus Macricostas (Battleroar). There’s also guest appearences from Phil Campbell (Motörhead), Alex Holzwarth (Rhapsody of Fire) and Nick Barker among others.
Overall this is a good bunch of songs with a few nuggets of gold thrown in, but as a whole the album is a bit too disparate and all over the place to feel like the tracks belong together. If you like Biff’s voice you might be pleasently surprised. Give it a listen and decide for yourself.
Artist: Biff Byford
Title: School of Hard Knocks
Label: Silver Lining Music
Date of release: 2020-02-21
Playing time: 51.01
Stand out track(s): “Scarborough Fair” and “Hearts of Steel”