SOMETIMES compilation albums are a nightmare for fans and bands alike - the constant arguing about what merits inclusion, and there's generally two 'newly' released songs that means you end up buying the bloody thing!
Classic metallers, heavy metal legends and NWOBHM legends Saxon could have trodden that route (again!) when they gathered round a studio console with producer Andy Sneap.
But then again Saxon are one of those awkward bands - in a good sense! Where in the past they could have reprised the glory of the early and mid-80s (when the played at the now derelict Maysfield Leisure Centre in Belfast).
Forced to re-evaluate things as grunge and laughingly 'reality' shows began to dominate charts, and with line-up shuffles Saxon shrugged off the strains and pains, knuckled down and got on with things: touring, recording, touring, recording - because that's what traditional 'eavy fuckin' metal bands do!
But as they looked back over their extensive back catalogue, what appeared to be dark thoughts of orchestras, acoustic guitars, new arrangements came into their minds...
It is usually at this point that a sensible metal fan wrestles the band to the ground and beats them with a Flying V until they see sense. Yhis is an action we would usually do not condone, but would applaud the intent.
However, what Saxon have done on this new release 'Unplugged and Strung Up' is to re-imagine a set of tracks that spans from the 1979 début right up to more recent releases. When Holywood re-imagines old movies they ruin; when Saxon re-imagine their songs they produce new, and intriguing versions.
To be honest we are so beloved of the classic Saxon sound that we initially approached Unplugged ad Strung Up, gently prodding it lest it let us down with an inane smile and limpid 'new versions'.
We need not have feared. Our death meal correspondent -Z - sighed with contentment after listening to Militia Guard's new mix, our more laid back correspondents and our ancient owner and editor had lighters in the air at the acoustic version of Frozen Rainbow.
It's worth focusing on that track for a moment. Back in 1979 it was a largely derivative track on what was otherwise excellent début. With Biff and his co-conspirators working with Sneap they have turned into something where, despite the slightly daft lyrics really, really works. The acoustic solos delicate enough to balance it all out; making it in all but name a 'new' track.
Overall this release is a mish-mash of acoustic tracks, orchestral additions and re-recordings. As a unit of songs they work. From the "Orchestrated" - no we're not sure what that means either - arrangement of Crusader through to the real delicacy of the acoustic version of Requiem it holds together.
Even the acoustic slide guitar opening of Coming Home doesn't sound weird for a Sheffield rocker to be singing along to!
Stand-out tracks are the Orchestrated versions Call To Arms and Red Star Falling; tracks that have been given real gravitas in their new clothes.
Overall while we normally wouldn't recommend buying any compilation album what Saxon and Sneap have done with these 14 tracks is effectively a new album. Unplugged and Strung Up is something that may be a placeholder in the band's career for a few months, especially given the cancelled dates with Motorhead, but it is one helluva placeholder.
It is a set of tracks that any classic metal band would be proud of.
Released on November 18th in the UK, the digipack comes with a bonus disc of the 2002 re-recordings from the Heavy Metal Thunder release including all the fan favourites such as Motorcycle Man and Dallas 1PM.
The album is available in a variety of formats including on vinyl gatefold 180gm double album and digital releases.