School of Hard Knocks, the first-ever solo album by mighty Saxon frontman Biff Byford, was released February 21, 2020, on Silver Lining Music. After a legendary career in the music business which has lasted 45 years plus, you have to ask yourself what does Biff have in store for us. A little bit of everything in my opinion. School of Hard Knocks has songs that could be on the next Saxon album, but it also has some things that are just nothing like anything he has done in the past including three ballads. What I do think the album does is explain who Biff is as an artist.
Biff‘s solo band is comprised of Fredrik Akesson on guitar from Opeth, Christian Lundquist on drums, and Gus Macricostas on bass. He also has guest appearances from Phil Campbell, Alex Holzwarth, Mick Barker, Dave Kemp, and even bandmate Nibbs Carter.
BIFF BYFORD – School of Hard Knocks (Album Review)
The album opens with “Welcome to the Show”. This is a catchy, up-tempo tune that has a much lighter guitar sound than anything else Biff has done. The same goes for “School of Hard Knocks”, which is the next song up. This is an autobiographical song about Biff‘s life growing up in West Yorkshire. Again catchy with a lighter guitar sound. Both these tracks are great, with a melody you cannot get out of your head. The third track is a spoken-word piece called “The Inquisitor” which leads into the next song “The Pit and the Pendulum”. This is based on the Edgar Allan Poe short story of the same name. With this song, we get a taste of the heavy guitar sound Biff is known for. I would classify this as an epic song with a terrific guitar solo.
Next up is what might be the heaviest song on the album, “Worlds Collide”. This is a good heavy metal song plain and simple. “Scarborough Fair” is a cover of a traditional English ballad and one of three videos made for this album. This song to me above all others really showcases how great of a singer Biff really is. What seems to me to be a difficult melody line, he handles flawlessly. Next up is the obligatory song about speed, “Pedal to the Metal”. This is just the fast-paced heavy metal adventure you would expect from Biff Byford. “Hearts of Steel” is another great heavy tune with another killer guitar solo.
“Throw Down the Sword” is a cover of Wishbone Ash. Again this song really showcases Biff‘s voice, which is really strong. To me, this song may have influenced Biff the artist and is why it is included instead of a self-written track. At any rate, it is a fantastic rendition. The ballad, and video “Me and You” is next. This is a heartfelt ode to his wife of 25 years and I have to say really touched me. This song is a big step away from Saxon but is really well done. The album closes with the song “Black and White”. This is a mid-tempo rocker with ethereal sounding guitar throughout. Not a super heavy song, but closes the album out in an upbeat fashion.
My thoughts on this album are, I love it and it is exactly what I wanted in a solo effort from Biff Byford. There is a little bit of what I expected from his career already, but he also explores new territory as well which I found exceptionally interesting. After really listening to the songs and researching them I feel like I have a better idea of Biff the artist as well. All the songs are good and I strongly recommend this album to metalheads everywhere, but also to those who are fans of hard rock
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Andy “Maddog” Lafon