Saracen

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Angel Fire

The British rockscene is dead. The only releases from the UK are done by reformed NWOBHM bands, which are most of the time very standard releases. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, because the legendary band SARACEN has managed to release a very good album, which contains very strong original typical British Melodic Rock a la TEN, RAINBOW, THIN LIZZY, MAGNUM… Finally an album of an old UK Rockband which can compete with their earlier releases. The new CD ‘Vox In Excelso’ is based on the famous story on which also the DA VINCI CODE is based.

SARACEN hasn’t changed a bit musically, which is a good thing, because their mix of classic melodic rock and symphonic pomprock made them one of the better lesser-known bands. Comparisons to early MAGNUM/STYX/KANSAS are very clear, especially in the fantastic 70s Pomprocker “Exile”, a song with huge keys and fantastic vocals. SARACEN still has a fantastic singer, STEVE BETTNEY, who sounds like a mix between STEVE WALSH and BILLY GREER. Other highlights on the new CD are “The Order”, “Mary” and “Where Was Their God?”. A definite must-have for any Pompfan and probably one of the strongest releases out of the UK at the moment.

(Points: 8.6 out of 10)

Metal District

(Translated from German)

Too long away, but now the old masters of British Symphonic Hard Rock are back. No, not MAGNUM! SARACEN, who were a trace smaller, although not in musical terms, and heavier than their colleagues. Also they have yet more to give perhaps as “Vox in Excelso” is only their fourth album.

And here again the whole range of their talent is displayed. Majestic melodies stretch themselves over sharp-edged riffs, and a bright, very large voice beseeches and tears into us. Pictures before our eyes emerge…new pictures, images which do not belong into our reality. SARACEN have taken care with the legend surrounding the Holy Grail, as it was also treated in the book & film “ The Da Vinci Code”. From this philosophy a powerful concept album arises, which is bursting with individual tracks, and held together by sequential narration. This idea is not new, but with SARACEN it is recreated perfectly.

SARACEN set the mood, with pomp and strong melodies, a beautiful sound, which always contains a certain underlying dimension of strong energy. For Speed Metal fans it may not be fast enough to satisfy them, but the music of these Englishmen possesses real substance, which gradually unfolds, revealing the full splendor of its complete magical radiance.

With “Meet Me At Midnight” the first killersong arrives, although an old fan must naturally point out that this is a remake of a track from their 1984 “Change Of Heart” album. But what a remake! Whilst the song’s essential structure remains, the roots are strengthened and with this fresh version, SARACEN blow you over! God save the British Melodic Rockers! And in such a way the album precedes, constant switching between classic AOR Bombast and native British hard rock.

Similarly, “Priory Of Zion” is such a hard rock hammer, which develops rapidly and would be a ‘live’ favorite. Penetrating harmonies and floating keyboard spheres carry you on their strong shoulders into infinity.

The preceding tracks flow gradually into each other, cleverly deceiving the listener. More and more salient sequences form a feeling in your soul. Leaving you glowing with passion. Finally, you embrace the entire CD, even singing along, like you always can with SARACEN. It is new and fresh, and creativity flows throughout this great album.

Naturally the hardest rockers amongst you will not get total joy here, but lovers of the ultimate Pomp Rock, which was made popular by the likes of MAGNUM, will find in SARACEN a genuine piece of gold. The sound is naturally first-class and not overly smooth. Perfect for this monster album. One the Top Releases this year.

Melodicrock.com

Saracen has been doing their thing for some 25 years now. At this point the only original members are vocalist Steve Bettney and guitarist Rob Bendelow, but ask just about anyone and they would say the signature guitar and vocal sound are the most important ingredients to any band.

This British melodic, symphonic, hard rock band has a style of their own and a certain unique way of doing things and I must confess to not being pulled in on previous occasions.

For someone not sold on a particular band, what harder a prospect could there be than be faced with reviewing a 73 minute concept album about the history of the Knights Templar?! To my surprise, this was easier than I anticipated. That is because Vox In Excelso is a very fine record indeed and one, despite it's subject matter, that is far more accessible than you might think. The sound quality is also excellent. The album is tightly performed and well recorded, with a powerful sound and clear mix.

The lead vocals of Bettney are both authorative and graceful and help drive the melodies home. What I don't like is the female narrative every song or two, important in one sense to help convey the complex and lengthy story line, but annoying at times also.

The music here is dominated by guitar and those strong vocals, but there is also a boat load of swirling keyboards and a lot of additional texturing, such as haunting backing vocals, dark and moody acoustic effects and an instrumental or two. The album has been very well put together and as concept albums should, flows easily from start to finish. Symphonic rock fans get their bit (Where Was Their God, Priory Of Zion), hard rock fans get plenty to chew on (Meet Me At Midnight, The Order) and fans of epics get the 9 minute Mary to dissect.

The first 1000 albums will be available in special edition booklet format, rather than the conventional jewel case presentation, which will make for a nice complete package to deliver the story in.

The Bottom Line

Saracen fans will be beside themselves with this fine effort. Fans of symphonic rock and British hard rock and also fans of concept pieces would do well to check this album out. It may not appeal to all, but it is an album of very fine quality which might just draw in a few new fans because of that.

Pandaimonix

(Translated from German)

The sound of the British band Saracen is described as ‘symphonic rock music’ in their publicity information, but equally could be called ‘symphonic & bombastic hard rock’. This would be better infact, since the guitars are a dominant feature alongside the beautiful keyboard ‘carpets’. In addition, there is also the marvellously sensitive singing of Steve Bettney, who along with guitarist Rob Bendelow is the last remaining original member of Saracen. They are celebrating their 25th anniversary and probably never imagined reaching this point with their music-making.

‘Vox in Excelso’ is a concept album based upon the history of the medieval Knights Templar. The story is skilfully relayed by narration sequences between the individual songs, making the album appear almost as a film soundtrack, seizing the listener and propelling them along from scene to scene.

Musically, ‘Vox in Excelso’ depicts perfectly the epic story, with songs like ‘The Order’’ sending shivers down the spine. In addition, pure instrumental pieces, like ‘Militum Christi’, are able to grab the listener and drag them along. The whole album, not least because of the keyboards, partly reminds me of Rick Wakeman´s ‘Return to the Centre of the Earth’.

This is a very strong album, which surprised me completely, since I have heard nothing of this style for some considerable time. It has been in my personal CD player for quite a few days now.

Conclusion: an unrestricted recommendation for melodic rock / hard rock fans.

A well-earned 9/10.

Lords of Metal

(Translated from Dutch)

Sjak: It has been quite a long time ago that I had heard something about the English band Saracen. To be honest, I more or less completely lost sight of them after their debut album 'Heroes, Saints & Fools' from 1981. With 'Vox In Excelso' they're up to their fourth release and they decided to make it a concept album. The storyline is about the so called "Knights Templar", a group of warrior monks who grew to become one of the most powerful organizations in Europe and that were guardians of an "Ancient Knowledge". Nice to have such a concept album of course but for me the music is still the most important and with that I have some mixed feelings.

First of all, the continuity of the album is disrupted by spoken parts that are to be found between the songs. They fit nicely into the concept of the album of course, but after a while they start to irritate me. Furthermore, I'm not too keen on the symphonic influences that are to be found in the music. A positive aspect of this record is the musical performance of the whole band, with a special mention for old-timers Steve Bettney (vocals) and Rob Bendelow (guitar).

Besides this there are some pretty decent songs to be found, like for instance 'Meet Me At Midnight', 'Mary' and especially the great 'Where Was Their God?'. Weighing the positive and less positive aspects I must conclude that Saracen has delivered an okay record, but nothing more than that.

Rating: 71/100

Get Ready to Rock

Saracen are back with a new album (their first since 2003's comeback album 'Red Sky') and this time it's a concept album based on the Knights Templar, very topical given the interest in all things 'The Da Vinci Code' at the moment. The mainstays of vocalist Steve Bettney and guitarist Rob Bendelow are still present with a notable addition in former Helloween drummer Mark Cross.

It is classic Saracen - symphonic keys and arrangements, the layered harmony vocals (very similar to the Heep 'choir' at times) coupled with epic guitar solos and strong lyrical ideas. Pick of the album has to be either 'Meet Me At Midnight', a concise rocker Magnum would be proud of, and the epic 'Mary', where the band stretch their wings musically. Some good instrumentals fit nicely into the overall flow of the album, although the only bugbear I have is the female narration. It is useful for giving the background to the story but it may have been better to tag it at the start/end of the album as you keep having to fast forward through it after an initial listen.

Existing fans will be delighted at this album as it keeps all the band's trademark sounds and adds another layer particularly in the vocal and guitar arrangements. If you haven't tried this band before this is the album to start with especially if you like classic Uriah Heep and Magnum.

**** Review by Jason Ritchie

Metal Page

(Translated from German)

Great melodic Metal/Hard Rock. Incredible voice, fantastic songs! What else can I say? Here we have the album of the year! Their first two LPs were a must for every collection. This one demands a place alongside them and you cannot reach any other conclusion (even after hearing it some hundred times!!!) I am sure many people hoped for a quite good album, but expected something only average, as that’s what they are used to from many "old bands". What you get, however, is a masterpiece!! It is incredible that SARACEN did yet again such an outstanding job!!! "Vox In Excelso" is an absolute must-have for every fan of timeless good music! This is the Melodic Rock highlight of 2006!!!

Stefan Riermaier

Metal Page

Whatever you believe, the conspiracy theory that Dan Brown brought to a worldwide audience with his book The Da Vinci Code has it's legends steeped in the history of Grail lore and the Knights Templar. I myself took it all with a pinch of salt, until I saw the painting of the Last Supper and really looked at it; if that's not a woman next to Christ I’m, as they say, a Dutchman (I have also gone on to read many books about the Knights which are all very interesting indeed). I mention all this because as you may know this new album from Saracen is a concept album based around the secrets and legends of the Templars, and is easily one of the best album's I’ve heard this year.

It’s an album full of sophisticated British pomp rock, that has twelve superb tracks and narration that moves the music along, plus some of the most pomptastic keyboards this side of a classic Styx record. Each of the songs is a mini-story, starting with the crucifixion of Christ (where he didn't die) and his subsequent escape and exile with his wife Mary Magdalene into France, followed by the founding of the Knights Templar, through their rise to power and their role as keepers of the secret of the bloodline of Jesus & Mary. The story then moves on to the persecution of The Order, their capture & torture, and in the end destruction at the hands of a jealous King and a weak Pope. Finally, the album focuses on the founding of the secret order The Priory Of Zion and it's continuing mission to protect and keep safe the lineage of the bloodline of Christ.

As I said, it doesn't really matter what you believe because as a piece of music this is wonderful. It has it all - superb vocals / guitars / bass and the already mentioned killer keyboards. It also has the songs, the production and that little bit of magic that all great albums need. This is a must-have and an album that Messer’s Steve Bettney, Rob Bendelow, Paul Bradder, Richard Bendelow and guest drummer Mark Cross should be justly proud of. A wonderful CD - ‘nuff said.

Ian Johnson 

Melodic.net

British pomprockers Saracen are back with a brand new studio album.

It all began in the late 70s and early 80s, which saw the release of their debut album "Heroes, Saints & Fools" in 1981, that was re-released earlier this year in a special boxed-set together with the 2003 release "Red Sky", plus bonus tracks and new artwork & mastering.

Now Escape Music release their brand new album "Vox In Excelso" that is a concept album about Dan Brown's best seller The Da Vinci Code.

This is a great album where Saracen will for sure please those that are into Pomp. They have managed to create a pompish sound like a mixture of early 80s pomp with a new edge in it. Imagine early Magnum-meets-Ten with some touches of 70s Kansas here and there. I was really taken by surprise how damn good these guys sound - I don't think their earlier albums sounded this good. This is so well-produced with an epic and huge sound of brilliant arrangements. If you miss those good old days when they released pure pomp albums in the late 70s and early 80s with class, then you have to check out Saracen. I won't say that this is as good as it was back then, but these guys are doin' it really well. The album has no weak moments and the singer Steve Bettney is fantastic with a powerful and strong voice. A female voice makes an introduction before the songs on the album.

As I told you earlier, there is not a single weak moment on the album that starts with the great "Meet Me At Midnight", a great pomp-rocker, and ends with another rocker called "Priory Of Zion" with fantastic keyboards and riffs. In between there are other highlights such as "Mary", "Chain Reaction", "Vox In Excelso" and the sentimental ballad "Where Was Their God?".

Escape Music has a strong release ahead of them and this is a must for all that are into pompish music with a rockier touch. A mighty strong release not to be missed

Rockreport.be

‘Vox In Excelso’ follows hot on the heels (six months) of ‘Red Sky’ & “Heroes, Saints & Fools’, another one of Escape Music’s famous quality digipacks, which was released at the beginning of this year. Escape Music’s main focus of signing this British symphonic rock band was their eagerly awaited new album, based around the same story that underpins Dan Brown’s bestseller ‘The Da Vinci Code’.

‘Vox In Excelso’ is indeed a concept album, based on the mysterious and controversial history of the Knights Templar, a medieval body of warrior monks who grew to become one of the most powerful military and financial organisations in Europe.

The best way to listen to this epic rock opus is through headphones whilst following the lyrics in the booklet. What makes it of extra interest is the superb narration of Meg Fairlie Maunder, who links all the tracks. Responsible for writing the material is founder-member Rob Bendelow (guitar) and it has to be said: he did a good job. Nowadays he’s joined by founder-member Steve Bettney (vocals) and newcomers Paul Bradder (keyboards) and Richard Bendelow (bass & vocals). Appearing as a special guest is none other than former Helloween drummer Mark Cross. All of them perform well and the same can be said of the production (courtesy of Martin Kronlund).

Conclusion: Saracen’s ‘Vox In Excelso’ may be not as good as Magnum’s ‘Chase The Dragon’, but it’s still a damn fine record in its own right. 

Rockunited.com

I believe I gave Saracen a rather harsh treatment and review last time around (and I still stand by my words). Thus why I never saw this coming and hardly thought this to be anything special or out of their ordinary gaga. You don't really expect a U.K. Pomp/Symphonic act out of the early 80's to all of a sudden record their best album ever in the year of 2006. Really? What are the odds??? Nonetheless, "Vox In Excelso" is a concept album that will surprise many and most fans of late 70's early 80's symphonic rock.

The concept story is based on the mysterious and controversial history of the Knights Templar. The medieval body of warrior monks who grew to become one of the most powerful military & financial organisations in Europe. Well, at least until the church thought it to be too powerful and decided to ban and close down the organisation. You get the whole she-bang with crusades to Jerusalem (the holy city) with all its power and glory. It's also the same story that underpins Dan Brown's best seller The Da Vinci Code and we all know by now that they had a secret to keep. Jesus + Mary = true?

The band is still a classic five-piece line-up of drums, bass, guitar, keyboards and vocals. From the original five, the two most important members are still present at the heart of Saracen (namely vocalist Steve Bettney and guitarist/songwriter Rob Bendelow). The concept story flows throughout the CD and I don't even mind the female narrator at the beginning of each track (Meg Fairlie Maunder). There's no real highlight nor downer to be found, the band keep a rather high concept standard overall. I'm not entirely sure that all of you out there have heard about Saracen in the past. However, this comes highly recommended to anyone who's into the early 80's work of Magnum (mostly), Demon (secondly), with a slight hint of both 70's Styx and Kansas. Very symphonic, very classy!!

Fireworks Mag

This is the grandiose conceptual album that Rob Bendelow simply had to get out of his system – and yet a serious illness threatened its completion. The album’s central theme, narrated for a change by a female narrator – Meg Fairlie Maunder (and I feel that she makes a very good job of it, too!) – is based upon “the mysterious and controversial history of the Knights Templar – a medieval body of warrior monks, that grew to become the most powerful military and financial organisation in Europe” and who were also guardians of an ancient knowledge. Their present day equivalent is the Priory of Zion. I am sure there will be some of you who will find the narration intrusive - as it does occur at the end of nearly every song. However, for me it is a unifying feature within a long (73 minute) album and personally I feel it works very well in conveying the story line.

The central story is a very heavy affair covering the past two thousand years, and while this story has a religious theme, ‘Vox In Excelso’ is not per sé a religious album. The playing across the twelve tracks is on the whole quite phenomenal with fantastic arrangements that has soaring, symphonic keyboard-led melodies one minute and exquisite virtuoso lead guitar passages the next. Hauntingly atmospheric backing and multi-track vocals and all manner of additional instrumentation contribute to the wide variety of sounds here – far more than on any previous Saracen album. There is only one song – the plodding ‘Chain Reaction’ that (after a promising start) fails to reach the standard set by the rest of the album and I feel very nearly causes the album to run out of steam twenty minutes early. However, apart from this hiccup the album is a hugely successful concept album that I am sure delivers all that Rob Bendelow had in mind when his ideas were originally formulated, and should interest those of you who enjoy epic songs, bombastic symphonic arrangements and MHR in its various manifestations.

Rob Bendelow is again joined by long-time associate and vocalist Steve Bettney (and a wonderful job he has done in bringing this collection of songs to life) plus new members Paul Bradder on keyboards and son Richard Bendelow on bass and vocals, whilst former Helloween drummer Mark Cross guests in that role. This is a great record and one that may well emerge amongst my top five albums of the year. It does, perhaps, work best when heard in its entirety, although with repeated listens I found myself singling out tracks, and found that they do work well in isolation from one another once they become familiar. Anyway, I am really glad that Rob Bendelow was able to fulfil his vision. If you wish to sample before buying, I must recommend the trio of songs at the heart of the album: the epic and majestic ‘Mary’, the eerie and choralian ‘Vive Dieu…Saint Amour’ and no-nonsense hard rock of ‘The Power And The Glory’. These songs encapsulate the power and splendour of ‘Vox In Excelso’ and I would be flabbergasted if nine cats out of ten didn’t agree! Paul Jerome Smith

Rock It Mag

Wow! I remember well – during my teens I searched several car boot sales to find a particular vinyl - the title, the band; “Heroes, Saints & Fools” by SARACEN.

Why did I look for it? A rarity in Hard Rock. I have to admit that I didn’t know anything about the band (and how could I?) and really only thought that the cover was cool. Unfortunately I never found the vinyl (and never listened to it either). You can get it on CD now anyway - no points for nostalgia. SARACEN are back again. New album, new label (Escape), new concept (close to Dan Brown/the Da Vinci mystery and the whole shebang)It is the old measurement – the only thing that counts is the output from the back (or from the side, or…). I am talking about the speakers! And it Rocks!!!!! “Meet Me At Midnight” could easily be on any PHENOMENA album. With reference to quality: the production is positively bureaucratic and the songs maintain a good level at all times. “Meet Me At Midnight” however is predominant. This is where ‘chorus’ earns its name. It is sugar to the ears – you can whistle to it after the first run. – Excellent! ‘Exile’ is more progressive – a ballade with beautiful keyboarding. Everybody should be able to pick their own favourite out of more then one hour of music. The choice of songs is definitively right.

A convincing return from a true legend of English rock music.

Bright Eyes.de

When I saw the Cover to ‘Vox in Excelso’ I imagined it to be a Heavy or Speed Metal album. As I listened, however, to the opening tones of ‘Lament' - a gentle intro - and then ‘Meet Me At Midnight', it was clear - here we have timeless, traditional hard rock of the old school, with it’s roots firmly planted in the rock world of 25 years ago.

‘Vox in Excelso’ is a concept album, inspired by the Dan Brown best-seller ‘The Da Vinci Code’. In musical terms, as already mentioned, it is a very traditional work but also with epic moments, as can be heard with ‘Exile', for example. The keyboards of Paul Bradder are just as equally important here as the guitars of Rob Bendelow. This is particularly noticeable on ‘The Order', where both instruments duel inspiringly with each other.

SARACEN’s sound is completely their own: definitely rocking but at the same time symphonic, with a variety of volumes & styles and not just one constant trend. SARACEN do not follow fashion, but trust in their ample abilities, which after 25 years is still producing fresh, convincing rock music! Best proof of this is the epic rocker ‘Mary'; listen and enjoy! Also the very calm ‘Vive Dieu… Saint Amour' brings a pleasant mood change and rings in the steam-roller & headbanger ‘The Power & The Glory'. A more varied yet homogeneous album it would be hard to imagine! ‘Chain Reaction' then sounds almost like a Black Sabbath classic, while the title track is a ballad par excellence with wicked piano playing, showing the gentler side of SARACEN.

Summary: a timeless classic rock album which easily belongs in every CD cabinet! Take time to look at www.escape-music.com.

Glory Daze

Background
Just as the Da Vinci Code peters out at the Box Office, British band Saracen come along and continue the story of Mary Magdalene, segueing into the history of the Knights Templar. It's a theme that is well read with the band, and if you've investigated their past works you'll know about their pre-occupation and fascination with all things to do with the Knights Templar. In 2003, Glory Daze did a bit of investigative work with their (then) studio album 'Red Sky', which was much lauded by the way, plus an interview with main-man Rob Bendelow. Well we can report that things are as good as ever with Saracen. Signed to Escape Music now, the addition of special guest drummer Mark Cross, but also now sadly without the talents of longtime keyboardist Richard Lowe who has since retired. Nothing lost though - new keys recruit Paul Bradder does a great job, providing a very Magnum like sheen over the top of some very melodic sounding Black Sabbath guitars supplied by Rob Bendelow. And if Steve Bettney was ever asked to take over the vocals from Rob Halford in Judas Priest, then he is undoubtedly the man. A near carbon-copy!

The story on 'Vox In Excelso' follows the timeline of the Knights Templar from the time of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, right through to the Middle Ages and their subsequent rise to power as one of the most powerful entities in Europe. Their power was usurped by the French King Philip IV, and so began the gradual slide into purgatory, based on the deceit and lies of the French Monarchy and The Vatican of the time. The Papal Decree to abolish the Knights Templar was called 'Vox In Excelso', hence the name of this album. If you love concept albums based on medieval history (and we have seen a few of them over the last few years), then this Saracen effort is right up there with the best of them.

The Songs
Each of the tracks has a spoken word intro which allows the listener to make sense of the content as the CD is navigated, much like some of the Kamelot concept albums. We'll navigate our way through the songs, and provide the storyline.

Lament - goes back to the time of Jesus, the start of the Knights Templar story.

Meet Me At Midnight - is the final meeting between Jesus and Mary Magdalene prior to his crucifixion, though Jesus has other intentions.. like staying alive.

Exile - is the time after the crucifixion and resurrection, where the couple escape to the West, effectively in exile, rumored to be in foothills of the Pyrenees, the future stronghold of the Knights Templar. This track features some beautiful keyboard parts from Bradder.

The Order - the timeline has moved on to the 10th century. A band of French Knights have come to the Holy City of Jerusalem now under western rule, and from here, their beginnings took shape. Musically, this track is pure pomp.

Militum Christi - the Knights Templar have grown to become a mighty army, the ultimate fighting force in the (then) western world. This track is an instrumental.

Mary - The Knights Templar held the secret that the royal bloodline of Christ had survived through the centuries in France. They had come to Jerusalem in search of the key to that secret. A special event took place, whereby the mother of the bloodline - Mary Magdalene appeared to the Knights Templar in a visitation/vision.

Vive Dieu…Saint Amour - an incredibly beautiful track, sung in French, very keyboard laden, atmospheric and choral.. all in one.

The Power & The Glory - the timeline has moved on to the 14th century. The Knights Templar are one of the most powerful entities outside of the Catholic Church. Much admired, much feared and the envy of many, including the ruthless French Monarchy - led by King Philip IV. He led a conspiracy to usurp the power of the Knights Templar by arresting their leader and many of the Knights themselves.

Chain Reaction - describes the capture of the Knights, their arrest, interrogation and in some cases execution. Prince Philip persuaded Pope Clement V to abolish the order of the Knights Templar, through his papal decree 'Vox In Excelso'.

Vox In Excelso - Though considered weak, Pope Clement V seriously questioned his papal decree, and underwent some soul-searching knowing full well the lies being perpetrated. Steve Bettney's soulful vocals explore the Pope's lament.

Where Was Their God? - asks the question put to King Philip IV and Pope Clement V, who sold out the Knights Templar based on a series of lies. How could two men (of God) condemn the leader of the Knights Templar to death based upon a lie? A curse was put upon these two men, and within a year of the execution of the leader, both men were dead.

Priory Of Zion - The Order of the Knights Templar though officially abolished, moved deeper into secrecy and the shadows as the years went on. This order exists today as the Priory Of Zion, though admittedly is still steeped in mystery, with the primary goal of protecting the royal bloodline of Christ. Again, the incredible pomp rock on display here really warrants a good listen, even if the track is 9 minutes long.

In Summary
I've read a few reviews of this album, it seems some of the reviewers out there have not totally grasped what this album is about. Some short-sighted observations have panned this album unfairly. Musically, this is pristine stuff. Great vocals, guitar lines, majestic keyboards (Paul Bradder is a keyboard wizard, that there is no doubt) and having a guy like Mark Cross providing a powerful back-end all makes 'Vox In Excelso' a terrific companion piece. Arrangement wise, you don't have to dive too deeply into the album to make sense of it, as most concept albums seem to do. From my perspective, this is Saracen's finest work and I have no hesitation in recommending it to lovers of that heavier pomp rock style. The storyline of the Knights Templar is the icing on the cake.

Metal Inside.de

Wow! After the extremely cool double-CD ‘Red Sky ‘/’Heroes, Saints & Fools’ appropriately published, now a first-class comeback of the English Hard Rock line-up. And I do not exaggerate when I write that ‘Vox in Excelso’ fits smoothly with the band’s earlier phase (and particularly with the already mentioned ‘Heroes, Saints & Fools’). This concept album, which is concerned with the history of the Templar Knights, is one of the strongest Hard Rock/Epic Metal works of recent times, and in over 70 minutes of music not one filler! The line-up has changed somewhat from those early days, but the existing presence of singer Steve Bettney has remained throughout the other personnel changes. Brilliant rock-hymns like ‘Meet Me At Midnight ‘, ‘The Order’, ‘The Power And The Glory “, reminding us a little of Magnum, ‘Militum Christi’, plus epics like ‘Priory Of Zion’ or the outstanding ‘Mary’ with sensitive guitar harmonies, bombastic passages and a freedom of movement, which make the album appear much more varied than one might assume. With the help of interspersed narration – ‘Vox In Excelso’ works all the more – it even feels like you are listening to a mini rock opera. Naturally, fans of even harder rock will not necessarily appreciate the beautiful melodies and even condemn the keyboards, but the fans of SARACEN-style music will get a real treat! If only all new recording attempts by old cult bands would turn out like ‘Vox in Excelso’, then surely we could become much more positive towards the many reunions. For friends of this music genre, this is the genuine article - highlight of the year for certain!

Hardrockhouse.com

Vox In Excelso is Saracen's first new studio offering in many a long year and follows hot on the heels of Escape's re-issue of the bands Red Sky/Heroes Saints & Fools opus that was released earlier this year. Vox In Excelso has taken some three years to write and record and, whether through a happy coincidence or deliberate planning the release of this album comes hot on the heels of the big budget movie version of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code with which Vox In Excelso shares common ground.

The album is a concept piece telling of the rise and fall of the Knights Templar, an order of knights charged with keeping the secret of the Zion. (Descendants of Jesus Christ). From the opener 'Lament' with its medieval yet still rocky feel, coupled with the excellent  narration courtesy of  Meg Farlie Maunder, which appears throughout the album and keeps the listener informed of precisely what is going on, the music covers the whole spectrum. From beautiful acoustic pieces to out and out heavy metal with lots of medieval style licks the album in general has a very symphonic feel.

Produced by Martin Kronlund, Vox In Excelso benefits from a well balanced and clear sound and the drums of former Helloween man Mark Cross prove particularly fitting to the mood and feel of the piece. Of course that is without mentioning the intelligent and thought provoking music from Rob Bendelow and his equally impressive guitar work, whilst the vocals of the only other original member, Steve Bettney, are lush and full of power throughout.

Overall the closest comparisons that one can draw to Vox in Excelso is with a slightly heavier/pompy Magnum whilst also featuring moments that bring Iron Maiden to mind. In short this is an epic tale told in an epic style. An album I’ve listened to a lot and will continue to.

Auxportesdumetal.com

Do not miss this small jewel - “Vox in Excelso”. A superb concept album telling the history of the Crusades and the Templars. The major advantage of this album is that the history is told in very clear, distinct English which allows those poor Gallic ones amongst us to seize the magic of the concept and the album.

After the “Lament” opening instrumental, “Meet me At Midnight” paints the portrait of the album, built around a ‘British Wave Of New Heavy Metal’ style! Saxon’s “Crusader” is not far away! There is no doubt: Saracen are indeed an English metal group. “Meet Me At Midnight” is a superb piece, an epic headbanger with large Saxon-style riffs.

“Exile” shows another influence in this album: one of melodic hardrock as per Arena. “Exile” is a mid-tempo piece with superb melodic keyboard accompaniment, as Jon Oliva might do. Its first half is a rather medieval epic ballad - its second half more melodic-rock with guitar and keyboards.

“The Order”, with an ultra-epic warlike chorus, is again a massive, ‘roast beef’ heavy-metal track with a superb covering of keyboards. A piece written to lead us into battle!

“Militum Christi” offers another view to the combat, thanks to its hypnotic instrumental melodies.

The excellent “Mary”, an epic anthem about Mary Magdalene, is simply filled with emotion. A warrior’s ballad with an incomparable chorus. To some extent, this album makes me think of works by guitar-hero James Byrd, in particular “Crimes Of Virtuosity”.

After the restful “Vive Dieu…Saint Amour”, the battle starts again with “The Power & The Glory”…..a title which curiously points to a mythical group of English heavy-metallers perhaps?

The level then falls a little with “Chain Reaction”.

Fortunately, we then have the epic ballad “Vox In Excelso”, sung with just piano accompaniment, followed by “Where Was Their God”, again touching our hearts with the emotions of the warriors.

The work finishes with “Priory Of Zion” concluding the album well: a mixture of true metal riffs and progressive keyboard melodies. Another warlike piece full of emotion, and one really making us regret that “Vox in Excelso” has to come to an end.

To summarize “Vox in Excelso” is an excellent concept album with hints of Saxon, Iron Maiden and Arena. Advice: this is an album of such quality that every ‘metal historian or warrior’ must acquire.

Powerplay Mag

When the term ‘pomp rock’ crops up in conversation (which for those rock fans of a certain age, it does from time to time), most thoughts initially turn to the vibrant late 70’s US scene dominated by bands like Kansas, Styx, and Angel. As an aside, some might venture later acts such as White Sister, or even reflect misty eyed upon the ‘Heartbreak’ album by Sabu, but very few will elucidate upon a scene that was much closer to home. Led by Brummie kings Magnum (yes, they were once considered a pomp rock act), there was quite a thriving UK scene in the late 70’s / early 80’s, and though bands like Nightwing, Limelight, and Daga Band were hardly household names, they did manage to produce some uniformly excellent music. One of the best from that era though had to be East Midlands quintet Saracen.

Formed in the late 70’s around the nucleus of guitarist Rob Bendelow and high octane vocalist Steve Bettney (the best pomp rock singer this country has ever produced), Saracen were earmarked by the likes of Sounds at the time as a band who would go on to achieve great things. Their 1981 debut effort ‘Heroes, Saints & Fools’ (recently reissued on CD for the first time by Escape) is widely, and quite rightly, regarded as a classic of the genre, and should by rights have set them on the road to international success. Unfortunately, the usual line up changes (including the untimely departure of Bendelow), compounded by a change in direction – 84’s sophomore outing ‘Change Of Heart’ was a much more straightforward, almost AOR focussed affair – led to their downfall, leaving behind an unfulfilled musical legacy.

A few years ago, the Saracen name was reactivated for the excellent ‘Red Sky’ album, a mixture of revamped oldies (the reworked ‘We Have Arrived’ is excellent, and much more in keeping with the original Saracen ethos than the watered down version that made the final cut of ‘Change Of Heart’) and new songs which echoed the rich, multi-layered textures of that long out-of-print debut. Only Bendelow and vocalist Steve Bettney remain from the original Saracen line up, but if the latest studio album ‘Vox In Excelso’ is anything to go by, this latest incarnation are every bit as committed to the cause as their forebears.

A boldly ambitious, grandiose and sweeping conceptual tome based on the shadowy history of the Knights Templar (both that in the public domain, as well as that which has become the subject of much speculation in recent years), and the explosive secrets they’ve guarded for nearly a thousand years, ‘Vox In Excelso’ is a magnificent testament to everything that earmarked Saracen out as something special back in the day. Filled with lush melodies, studied lyrical themes, and deftly crafted musical light and shade, it’s partly narrated storytelling builds to a climax every bit as spectacular as that in Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’!. Picking out individual songs for praise seems kind of irrelevant here, as the quality and delightful diversity makes this a totally enthralling work from beginning to end.

It’s really a travesty that there aren’t more bands out there doing this kind of stuff, but the very fact there aren’t makes ‘Vox In Excelso’ that much more precious. Brilliant!

Powerpoints 9/10

Underground Empire

Founded during the late 70ies around Steve Bettney, the men of this British hard rock institution have now been performing for more then 25years, but with some interruptions.

You will be very much mistaken, however, if you think that this formation consists of tired warriors chasing the boring dragon. With ex-Halloween drummer Mark Cross, these men confidently celebrate their usual hard and symphonic sound.

Now in 2006 it all comes full circle, as if by accident Vox in Excelso fits within the current fashion trend, as it an album written about the lives of the Knights Templar. It has the same content as Dan Browns ‘Da Vinci Code’. Fascinating and relevant material, which due to it’s mysterious aura and dark secret actually demanded to be translated into music.

The songs are cleverly connected by story passages mixed in between the heavy music tracks. Close atmospheric passages, in true Dare or Pink Floyd style, meet head-shaking and galloping rhythms a la Iron Maiden & friends. You can clearly hear that the band is of British origin due to the sound being rooted within the melodic ‘New Wave of British Heavy Metal’.

The mid-tempo rifer ‘Chain Reaction’ and the nostalgic ‘The Order’ are particularly good. The hymnal Grande Finale of ‘Priory of Zion’ is just as grandiose.

In summary, the album does not have any low points and should be heard & enjoyed in it’s entirety. It is then when the album shows it’s full strength and presents it’s progressive elements to the full.

Metal Express Radio

Saracen is a band that has been around for a long time, originally forming in the late 1970s. However, they have only released four albums in that time frame; prior to the release of 2003's Red Sky, the last album that had the band's name on it was 1984's Change Of Heart. Only two original members of Saracen are recording with the band now: vocalist Steve Bettney and guitarist Rob Bendelow.

Saracen return with Vox In Excelso, an epic concept album that takes on the legend of the Knights Of the Templar, attempting to tell the story of the rise, fall, and resurrection of this group of warrior monks who grew to great wealth, influence, and power in Europe during the Middle Ages, only to be betrayed at the height of their strength and sent into hiding. Truly an epic tale. A controversial one too, since the album subscribes to the theory that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene had children together, and their bloodline (which the Templar Knights are sworn to protect) exists to this day.

Befitting its broad subject matter, Vox In Excelso fills an entire CD, having a playing time of about 79 minutes. Once you sit down to it, you're in for the duration. The story is long and detailed, but is constructed in such a way that it's easy to follow, both in the lyrics and the helpful narration the runs between many of the twelve songs. If you didn't know anything about the Knights of the Templar before hearing this album, you will by the end of your first listen, and you may even be inspired to learn more about this interesting time in history.

Music: it's educational too!

Vox In Excelso is a history lesson in musical form, but it's not dry and stuffy: it's sweeping, epic, and filled with drama, action, greed, suspense, and betrayal. Much like reading a good book, you'll get caught up in the story and will want to find out what happens next. The story takes some surprising twists and turns, and you won't want to miss any of it.

Musically, Vox In Excelso feels like a product of another time, when pompy, Symphonic bands like Kansas ruled. Saracen use lots of big, impressive “old-school” keyboard passages, sounding much like a heavy band from the 1970s on this album, but in a good way. The soaring guitarwork of Rob Bendelow is quite good too, and he contributes some memorable solos and nice riffs. Steve Bettney injects his vocals with heart and passion, both in the verses and in the big choruses that dominate this album.

Vox In Excelso was five years in the making, but the wait was worth it; Saracen has crafted a winner of an album.

Classic Rock Mag

Having reunited in 2003, Saracen are here to bury the accusation that the NWoBHM bands couldn’t play and had little imagination. A concept album that took five years of painstaking work to complete, Vox In Excelso is worth all the (holy) blood, sweat and tears. Beginning with Jesus and Mary Magdalene fleeing into exile in the Pyrenees after a botched attempt at Crucifixion, it parallels the bestseller The Da Vinci Code book by relating the story of the Knights Templar.

Rich, full-bodied and evocative in the vein of classic Magnum, the pomp rock of The Order and The Power & The Glory is interwoven with narrated sections, guest drummer Mark Cross (ex-Helloween) helping to drive the music along.

Chaos Realm (USA)

SARACEN - "Vox In Excelso" CD '06 (Escape, Eng) - For years and years, I've loved a lot of different kinds of music, it's true. Besides the things I'm probably most known for embracing, many things have come my way and been welcomed. Celtic music, folk, progressive, bluegrass, the list is long and populated by mostly anything original, interesting and different. And yet, when I think about it, there are 2 periods of time that have made the most impact on my musical soul, the first being the very early '70's...bands like Sabbath, Cactus, Budgie and their even more underground ilk showing the way with a new breed of originality & heaviness. The other is the NWOBHM. Besides the easily noted stalwarts like Maiden, (early!!!) Leppard, Diamond Head & Saxon, those in the subterranean were even more captivating. Bands like Legend, Holocaust, Warrior and SARACEN.

Truly, one of my favourite platters from the "day" was SARACEN's 1981 masterpiece "Heroes, Saints & Fools." This opus combined the leaden Iommi-ish guitar crunch of Rob Bendelow with a keyboard-tinged, proggy feel that really gave the album an other-worldly feel & made it a standout for me. Over the years, Rob Bendelow has stayed around, in recent years releasing captivating records like his TEMPLAR project as well as the SARACEN - "Red Sky" disc, a wonderfully updated specimen of metallic prog. Now, in 2006 we are greeted with the latest work to bear the SARACEN name and I'm here to tell you, it's the best one yet.

With "Vox In Excelso," Rob B. and crew have issued a statement that deserves to stand with the very best. It takes all the best SARACEN trademarks...the crushing left-handed SG riffs, the melodies that seem to start somewhere below the surface & then rise to stratospheric heights and the gorgeous song-structures and weaves them into one of the coolest concept albums I've ever heard. Taking it's cue from recent written works like Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code," "Vox In Excelso" explores the history of the Knights Templar, it's mysterious existence & the secret it protects unto this very day. The songs are the story here...not only the way each is written as a stand-alone piece, but the way they work and flow together, joined by interesting-yet-never-intrusive narratives explaining the details of the story along the way. Whether it be the lengthy numbers like the nearly 10-minute "Mary," the closing 9-minute epic "Priory Of Zion," or the shorter tracks "Meet Me At Midnight" and "The Power & The Glory," it all works...famously.

I can honestly say that they are all highlights, because each is of the same wonderfully high standard...heavy, captivating and melodic enough that you'll be singing the choruses in your head for days. On top of it all, I have to give special accolades in a couple choice places. To begin with, the vocals of Steve Bettney are stunning throughout. This is the kinda guy who, if Glenn Hughes were not already known as "the voice of rock" would have something to say about the title. Secondly, but certainly not least, I have to say that the guitar work of Rob Bendelow is at it's very zenith here. Sure, this guy has been behind some awfully good playing in the past, but this time he's outdone himself. Just listen to the lead work on "Priory Of Zion." This is Iommi on "Heaven & Hell" or Tipton on "Dreamer Deceiver." Yes, it's that good. The final deal is this: If you're into absolutely great hard rock/metal with awesome songs, great playing and no shortage on thought-provoking (even educational) lyrics, your first stop after reading this should be "Vox In Excelso."

CIAO Website

I can go on a bit about music so I'll try to be brief - and maybe even relevant! I've played in bands, gigged the pub circuit, met some great musicians, and I've seen some really talented people get nowhere. Then there are others who do get a deal but with a small label, who can't compete with the big names for promotion and hype so they never break into the big time. Some do eventually - think Pulp, who had been around for years before "Common People" and "Disco 2000" catapulted them into the big time; or No Doubt, who had several albums out before "Don't Speak" did it for them. Others aren't so luckly, they bubble around for a year or two, deserving more but losing out to technobollocks and over-hyped crap before they have to call time. How much talent have we lost, how much great music went unheard? How much utter shite have we had to put up with instead!

WHO WERE SARACEN?
Back in the 1980s in the UK, heavy rock/hard rock was in its heyday - it even had a name and an acronym! NWOBHM - New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, encompassing all from Status Quo to Motorhead. Dozens of young bands were emerging as the next "big things", but most were just repeating the same formula, trying to sound like Iron Maiden, or believing that "the faster and heavier the better".

One or two did something different and stood out. One of them was Saracen.

Saracen were gigging the "up and coming" circuit; they signed to one of several "up and coming" record labels who put them into a studio to record their debut album. "Heroes, Saints and Fools" was the result. Sadly it was not the success it should have been- due at least partly to lack of promotion and support by the small record company. One look at the album cover and you will know that the record company did not spend megabucks on the band. Fools. If only they had....

How to describe them? Melodic Rock? Soft Rock? Cerebral power pop-rock? The band preferred "symphonic rock", so who am I to argue.

Who do they sound like? I'm sure that somewhere there is a band that sound like Saracen; if so, please let me know. If you imagine crossing Marillion with Bon Jovi and add in some Deep Purple you would not be a million miles out.

HEROES SAINTS AND FOOLS
Playing in Saracen on this album were:
Rob Bendelow on guitar, the band leader and the song writer
Steve Bettney on vocals
Richard Lowe on keyboards and backing vocals
Barry Yates on bass guitar and backing vocals
John Thorne on drums

The album opens with with a single keyboard chord fading in. The drums and guitar come in, and "Crusader" starts. It begins slow and plodding, then picks up some tempo for the second verse. After the second chorus there is a sudden change of pace, a new riff and it leaps into a fast final verse, keyboard solo and last chorus with extra harmony vocals. The song finishes with a short and impressive drum cadenza.

The second song, "Rock Of Ages" is an upbeat, simple, rock anthem with a catchy riff and chorus. This could so easily have been a world wide hit, but.... The budget recording shows as the drums start slightly quicker than the guitar (!) but so what, it is a great rock song.

"Who built the rock of ages? Tell me coz I wasn't there.
Whoever it was, gave us a dream we can share."

"No More Lonely Nights" is a midtempo riff-driven MOR rock song. It is a good-time popster, about having a good time in the city at night. This was a single (with "Rock of Ages" on the B side) which was how I first heard the band. This is the first time we hear a guitar solo by Bendelow, and it shows he is a capable axeman.

"Horsemen of the Apocalypse" is a perfect example of a great Saracen song. It is introduced by a drum riff, followed by the keyboards, then the bass kicks in, making it sound even darker, and lastly the guitar overlays a simple but effective riff giving a slightly sinister feel to the song. The vocals join, a song about the four horsement: Famine, Plague, War and Death. After two verses and a middle eighth, the song softens, an acoustic replaces the rock electric guitar for another verse, after which it accelerates faster than before, just for everything to drop out except the guitar introducing the third movement with a classic Bendelow lick, progressing into a short and sweet solo. The last verse is repeated, rising and slowing to a crescendo. Great Stuff.

"Heroes, Saints and Fools", the title track, is the story of a young boy who is presented with three choices in life: to become a hero, a saint or a fool. It starts with a church organ, joined by acoustic guitar. Two short verses in the sound switches, the pace picks up under a muted guitar riff, and the "hero", the "saint" and "fool" each present their case to the child. The whole song kicks back into life, as the boy pleads that he doesn't want to be any of these things, and the music rocks up reflecting the inner turmoil. After a short, slow guitar solo the boy turns round and takes the road for home, but the song continues through a few more tempo changes, another guitar solo, to the final conclusion.

"Dolphin Ride" is a stunning instrumental, centred around an exchange between keyboards and guitar swapping a melody and harmonising with eachother, over a mid tempo drum and bass rhythm. It is a song to lie back, shut your eyes and imagine the ocean waves...

"Ready to Fly" a good time rock song, starting with a a long lead in to a good rock riff. From here it drives forward through two verses and choruses. It pauses for breath for a few seconds in a short slow, middle eighth, in which they promise:

"Though now we leave you, we shall return
Again to fly, higher and higher and high."
From here Rob Bendelow launches into a superb guitar solo several minutes long, building and rising to the final crescendo.

The first time I heard the album I sat in silence for several minutes thinking, "wow". Once I had the chance to see them, at a rock club in West London, but I passed it up thinking that I would see them on the next tour. It never happened. The album was, inexplicably, not overly successful and the band fragmented. Two of the members did produce a weaker follow up album called "Change of Heart" then in 1985 they disbanded.

The album, "Heroes Saints and Fools", was to my mind a milestone. If it had succeeded, as it deserved to, we would have dozens of Saracen sound-alikes. It didn't, and we don't. That is our loss.

PS. In 2002 Saracen reformed and have released a new album, "Red Sky" and plan two more at least including a re-release of Heroes, Saints and Fools. If you like rock of any kind, do yourself a favour and pick up a copy!

AOR Website

Nearly twenty years after the fact, Saracen return. A band often mentioned in somewhat hushed tones, and one I was totally ignorant of. Thus, it seemed reasonable to allow curiosity to get the better of me.

Apparently guitarist Rob Bendelow has spent much of the last two years recording "Red Sky" ( evocative artwork) in his own Rivendell Studios and at Mad Hat, and the obvious care and attention to details has resulted in a epic clarion call of pomp and circumstance, a blending of classic Priest, Sabbath riffery, Magnum-esque English atmospherics and layered vocals Kansas would surely approve of, all caught in a elegant melodic flow.

Opener "We have arrived" with it's swathes of keyboards from Richard Lowe, and Bendelow's stately guitar figures is Magnum writ fearlessly bold, though Steve Bettney's superb vocals are a dynamic cross between DC Cooper and Rob Halford as opposed to a Bob Catley, whilst the title track is Asia with a core of pure, titanium chased British Steel.

Two tracks that I understand are re-recorded from the debut, namely the Dio era Sabs finery of " Horseman of the Apocalypse" and the twists and turns presented by choice of " Heroes, Saints and Fools", beg the question as why Saracen did not have a substantial career and considerable canon of work behind them by 2003.

Moments of a more delicate shade come in the bittersweet acoustica of "Castles in the Sand" or the love song in need of a sea of lighters that is the soaring vaulted arch of "Angel Eyes".

Ultimately, "Red Sky" is a wondrous tale, a fable of symphonic light and shade traced with melodies that insinuate their way into the cranial cavities, whilst with their elegance suggesting timelessness.

I now fully appreciate why this band were so lauded, and also makes one wonder at the standards of an industry that can allow such a band to fade away for so long. So kudos to Now and Then for persuading them back into the arena, and to the band for the album itself.

Armageddon Rock Sky 885

Why: Melodic, powerful, driving rock, complete with fabulous harmonies and smoooooth guitars that make my toes curl! Welcome to the world of Saracen, who started out as "Lammergier" pre 1981. This is a great collection of new songs as well as some of their classics. Here we have their first ever song "Follow the Piper", regarded by many as the band's anthem, and never available before on record. Also check out "Jeykll and Hyde" from their 1981 session for the radio 1 Rock Show, with an (allbeit rather quiet) intro by none other than someone sounding very much like Tony Wilson and Tommy Vance! Other wonderful songs? ALL OF EM! Coz they got both the melody as well as meaningful lyrics: "We Have Arrived" all about UFOs and the slower "Faith", dedicated to distant lovers, when you just can't find the right words! Definitely one to add to your collection for those mellower moments.

(NB: this radio station recently played ‘Faith’, followed by a Pink Floyd track, so we’re definitely in good company! – ROB).

Atomic Chaser (USA)

Before there was Asia, there was Sarcen. The brainchild of longtime mates, Richard Lowe and Rob Bendelow. Sarcen's sound is hybrid of guitar-oriented rock, that is layered with symphonic keyboard sound. Their debut release in the early 80's, 'Heroes, Saints & Fools', is considered a work of pure genius. That is why it is so hard to believe that Saracen didn't make a bigger impact here on American shores. Hopefully with the release of the band's “welcome back” release, 'Red Sky', Saracen will finally get the recognition and respect they so deserve. Saracen's new line up now features; Steve Bettney on vocals, Rob Bendelow on guitar, Richard Lowe on keyboards, Richard Bendelow on bass and Jamie Little on drums. 'Red Sky' is a fine example of good music standing the test of time.

The material on the new album has re-works of Saracen classics including, "Heroes, Saints & Fools", and the first ever studio recording of the another classic, "Follow The Piper". They may have been written over 20 years ago, but listening to them now, they sound tens times better then most of the new stuff I'm hearing today. Once you hit play and "We Have Arrived" comes through your speakers, your listening senses are taken by force as yet being swept away to a place where only your imagination can take you. The pictures that were painted in my mind when "Horsemen Of The Apocalypse" came on were simply breathtaking! Fans of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" or Savatages "Gutter Ballter" will sure enjoy this song.

Steve Bettney's vocals reminded me of a mix Rob Halford around 'Sad Wings Of Destiny' and Dave Byron of Uriah Heep, but with a smoother delivery. As is evident on such tracks like, "Faith", "Castles In the Sand" and the title track. As for Rob Bendelow's guitar work, nothing short of magnificent! Dynamic, filled with passion and energy, nothing over the top, just hitting the right notes on que. Every song on this recording is graced with the presence of his amazing gutiar work. Great job, Rob!

Now growing up as a military brat had its perks - while my Father was stationed overseas, I had the opportunity to tune into a variety of rock radio shows. One show that I always had a blast listening to was the Tommy Vance "Friday Night Rock Show". I would love hearing Tommy's comments on all the bands he had on his show. If it wasn't for Tommy's show, I would have never had heard of Saracen. That is why I was so happy to see that the band have included a clip from their appearance on Tommy's show. Let me tell you, when you made an appearance on the Tommy Vance Show, you knew you were good!

'Red Sky' is a triumphant return of one rock music true rock bands, one that I would definitely recommend to any one who loves great rock music. Now for some, this will be the first time hearing of Saracen. Take it from Me, over the 30-plus years that I've been listening to music, Saracen is one band whose music will win you over at first listen. Welcome back mates! It's been a while, but it was sure worth the wait.

Chaos Realm (USA)

Check out these amazing facts. In 1981, during the prime of the NWOBHM, 3 of the best & most original albums of that era were released. Legend - "Legend," Holocaust - "The Nightcomers" & SARACEN - "Heroes, Saints & Fools." They were 3 totally different records, each very unique and forged in great part by the creativity of 3 killer guitarists, Pete Haworth, John Mortimer & Rob Bendelow, respectively. And yet, despite releasing further material during the immediate time thereafter, none reached anywhere near the commercial heights scaled by others from the age like Leppard, Maiden or Saxon. But here's the truly amazing part.... Some 22 years down the road, each band, piloted by the same 6-string slinger, is releasing a mammoth new album in 2003: Legend's "Still Screaming," Holocaust's "Primal" (coming in June, & previewed by '02's devastating "War In Heaven...") and SARACEN's "Red Sky."

In the NWOBHM days, SARACEN really stood out to me as being very different from the "pack" of Priest-like dual guitar rippers. Their style was one of heavy, prog-tinged rock with some great Sabbath-y guitar leanings and a mystical overtones. Managing to not only retain that glorious sound, plus bringing in a new maturity that only deepens my respect for them, SARACEN now delivers "Red Sky," a thoroughly awesome album, from the beginning to the end of it's 70+ minutes.

Present here are updated versions of old tracks like "Horsemen Of The Apocalypse" & "Heroes, Saints & Fools," still forged with the timelessnesss of '81, yet fresh as they could get. The keyboards do more than augment, they take their place powerfully & gracefully while Rob Bendelow's guitar drives the proceedings in a stately yet forceful manner & Steve Bettney's vocals work the mid-to-upper range so well.

The new cuts here are just fantastic too, and stack right up, with the melodies in numbers like the title cut, "Faith" & "Angel Eyes" being seductive & gripping. And, listen to the NWOBHM-like scorcher "Jekyll & Hyde!" How 'bout the simply gorgeous instrumental "Menage A Trois?!" This beauty sounds like a cross between the sweetest Schenker licks (think "Arbory Hill") and Gary Moore's work in "Parisienne Walkways." Then, check out the epic closer, "Follow The Piper!!!"

The production of this whole baby (courtesy of Mr. Bendelow) just scintillates like the best Tony Martin-era Sabbath & the insert booklet is awesome. Lovers of any kind of melodic heavy rock need to grab "Red Sky" now. It's a masterpiece!!!


Classic Rock

Another band for the late 70’s comes back, with three original members on board – vocalist Steve Bettney, guitarist Rob Bendelow and keyboard player Richard Lowe. Jamie Little joins them on drums (he is a top session drummer having worked with A1 & Boyzone!) with Richard Bendelow on bass.

This CD features some re-recorded classics mixed in with newer compositions and marks the band’s first new album in 19 years!

The whole album sounds very similar to latter day Uriah Heep, with the emphasis on epic songs relying heavily on harmonised vocals and keyboards. Opener ‘We Have Arrived’ illustrates this to a tee, as the keyboards take a lead role backing the vocal harmonies. But fear not guitar fans as the guitars are cleverly interwoven into the songs without dominating the sound like on ‘Red Sky’ (complete with Heep style vocal wails!). ‘Faith’ pomps it up big time with swirling keys and vocal harmonies all over the place! Brings to mind the Magnum sound of the 80’s. ‘Castles In The Sand’ is a tuneful acoustic number and a chance for Steve Bettney’s vocals to shine. Bizarre track is the instrumental ‘Menage A Trois’ with two saxes battling it out with Rob Bendelow’s guitar.

Quality epic melodic rock with a big nod to the classic sound of the 70’s. Uriah Heep and Praying Mantis fans will lap this album up and melodic rockers will find much to enjoy on here as well. A welcome return and how about a tour with Uriah Heep and Praying Mantis?

Destiny Records

Another real blast from the past, this time from my neck of the woods! Like Magnum and Nightwing, Saracen were one of the UK pomp rock scene’s rising stars in the late 70’s / early 80’s, offering a more sophisticated alternative to the endless stream of NWOBHM hopefuls then grabbing all the attention in magazines like Sounds and Melody Maker. They issued two albums in the early 80’s - 82’s; cult classic debut ‘Heroes, Saints & Fools’, and the more Americanised ‘Change Of Heart’ a couple of years later - before going their separate ways, but after a gap of nearly twenty years the band have been tempted back out of retirement to record ‘Red Sky’.

Not exactly a brand new studio album per sae, ‘Red Sky’ is a mixture of re-recorded songs from the two previous albums with a smattering of newer and previously unreleased cuts. Of the re-recorded songs, ‘Horsemen of The Apocalypse’ and ‘Heroes, Saints & Fools’ still sound excellent (shame they didn’t redo ‘Ready To Fly’ as well), whilst both ‘We Have Arrived’ and ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ have each been given a new lease of life. But the real bonus comes in the shape of songs like ‘Red Sky’, ‘Flame Of Youth and ‘Angel Eyes’, all of which showcase a band who had a hell of a lot more to say than circumstances would allow at the time. And even better they’ve managed to retain that Saracen sound of old whilst bringing it into the 21st century with the aid of modern studio techniques. A very welcome return indeed.

Feedback Fanzine

Any fan of NWOBHM will recognise the name Saracen as they kicked up a storm with some class recordings and great gigs as well as the obligatory appearance on TV On the Radio’s ‘Friday Rock Show’. But by 1985 they were no more until guitarist Rob Bendelow recorded a solo album in 2000 which led to Now & Then tracking him down. Now Rob, along with original members vocalist Steve Bettney and keyboard player Richard Lowe have been joined by drummer James Little and bassist Richard Bendelow to bring Saracen back to life. Now, it is often the case that when a band gets back together after a long absence that it wasn’t worth the wait, but that is definitely not the case with these guys.

They have re-recorded some old numbers as well as the new, and the result is an album that any fans of strong melodic rock will just have to get. At times they are almost Maiden-esque, but with more melody and harmony. It just reeks power and substance, and is miles away from most people’s perception of what a NWOBHM band should be doing. It is majestic without being too over the top, there is no sour taste left in the mouth but rather a desire just to hit the repeat button.

I didn’t know what to expect, but have to say that not only is this one of the finest albums to come out of Now & Then, it also has to be one of the best comeback albums ever. So it is twenty-two years since they released their debut ‘Heroes, Saints & Fools’ (the title cut of which is one of those revisited) and twenty years since their last album, that just doesn’t matter as this is more than worth the wait.

The biggest problem will be getting people to hear this, but once they hear the power of the songs, the great vocals, and the overall joy of listening to this melodic hard rock album they will be converted. For more details visit the label site at www.nowandthen.co.uk, you won’t be disappointed.

Fireworks

It's been almost 20 years since the last Saracen album, and even longer since guitarist/main song-writer Rob Bendelow was part of the band. Now, thanks in part to Fireworks, Rob has pulled the band back together and this spring sees the release of their third album, 'Red Sky'.

Saracen's debut album, 'Heroes, Saints & Fools', was a delight of epic, symphonic rock, but without the backing of a record company at the time, the recordings were pretty rushed and overall sonic quality was not exactly wonderful. Things improved with their follow up 'Change of Heart' in 1984, but by that time Bendelow had left and the band veered towards more contemporary rock sounds.

But now in 2003, the spirit of the original Saracen is back - bigger, better and much more epic than before. Rob Bendelow has spent the last two years recording 'Red Sky' in his ‘Rivendell Studios’, and that loving care and attention to detail have resulted in an absolutely storming, symphonic rock album which, in Rob's own words, "...is going to crush your speaker cones!"

Bendelow has always been a fan of classic bands such as Priest and Sabbath, but has admitted that his love for new bands such as Ten has enabled him to appreciate just how effective layered harmonies can be for a song, a point proven throughout the new album.

This is definitely a CD that gells wonderfully as a whole, with something for everyone and a running order that was thought out long and hard. The term 'epic, symphonic rock' could have been created for Saracen and of the twelve tracks on offer, only three dip below the five-minute mark.

Opener 'We Have Arrived' has a pretentious intro lasting well over two minutes, evoking fond memories of Magnum's 'Sacred Hour', and the Magnum comparison is again brought to mind with 'Faith', a magnificent four and a half minute pop-rock song that was originally recorded on Bendelow's solo 'Templar' album, but has found new life and vigour here. Similarly with 'Angel Eyes', a glorious love song with Steve Bettney dueting with delightful German chantress Dagmar Kaletsch, a girl who has the voice of an angel, wrapped in honey and sex. This song has one of my favourite choruses from the last decade, and an outro I listen to on 'repeat'!

We also have two tracks re-recorded from that debut album: 'Horsemen of the Apocalypse' is a massive, Sabbath inspired rocker, while 'Heroes, Saints and Fools' is an almost eight minute long epic, opening on banks of keys before twisting and turning through several characters in a story about the choices in life. A classic!

Head down, pedal to the metal hard rock is provided by the likes of the Status Quo on steroids 'Flame of Youth', and 'Jekyll & Hyde', which evokes glorious memories of classic Priest, Bettney at times sounding uncannily like Halford.

For those lighter moments we have the beautiful acoustic balladry of 'Castles in the Sand', and 'Menage A Trois', a six and a half minute instrumental which is perfect late night music for lovers.

The band's live signature tune was 'Follow the Piper', and this epic closes the album, showcasing everything one could want in a classic Saracen song: evocative keys, massive drums, banks of harmony vocals and Bendelow's guitar riffing like a man possessed but tempered with feeling when required!

'Red Sky' is an album that is at times progressive, at others totally over-blown pomp, at all times genius.

Heart of the Rock

In a Lazarus type comeback, English pomp/AOR stalwarts Saracen have returned, ninteen years since their last effort 'Change Of Heart'. Positively, three original members have also made the trip forward in time, Bettney, Lowe and Rob Bendelow with newcomers Jamie Little and Richard Bendelow, the latter replacing original bassist Barry Yates, who passed away in 1992.

The re-emergence of Saracen was due to Rob Bendelow and the success of his solo Templar album 'Come To The Light' back in 2000, which prompted Now And Then to try and resurrect Saracen, something successfully achieved. For 'Red Sky' Saracen have opted to re-record five 80's favourites among a batch of originals. To their credit Saracen haven't altered their style too much since the heady days of 1982 and have happily stuck to their pomp guns.



 



A vintage 80's track kicks it off, 'We Have Arrived', Saracen's tale of a UFO visit back in 1981. Very mid-paced with guitars and synths both vying for attention, the reliance vocal wise is placed squarely on high pitched harmonies. It picks up near the end, with quicker movement and some solo tangents, all highly melodic. Perhaps the strongest track follows, the title cut, which is borderline heavy metal, some low end riffing giving a vintage Iron Maiden appeal.





Bettney comes across like Bruce Dickinson at his best, and an abundance of synth interludes make it a must-hear. 'Faith' is contemporary AOR at its best with timeless harmonies throughout and well balanced dramatics. It is completely at odds with the remake of 'Horseman Of The Apocolypse', seven minutes of heavy pomp, keyboard-heavy naturally and a host of twists, some slower, some uptempo, the latter segments definitive NWOBHM. Quite bleak is the mellow 'Castles In The Sand', a lament about ageing, which to be honest is hardly anything to shout about is it? Acoustic ridden, there's also a sax solo, adding flavour to five dreary minutes. Another remake follows, 'Heroes, Saints And Fools', the title track of 1981's debut.





This displays Saracen's preference to start things out slowly, before building up steam halfway through. An epic no less, the keybord work is pomp of some magnitude, giving an insight into why Saracen were so highly regarded. 

'Flame Of Youth' is very steeped in the kind of melodic rock Praying Mantis are supplying at this moment, halfway between AOR and metal, this one a satisfying four minute shot of relative aggression. Much more to my tastes is 'Jeckyll And Hide', pent up NWOBHM fury with spitfire riffs right from that genre's handbook. I can't get over the notion however that Bettney is Samson era Bruce Dickinson in disguise, perfectly mastering Bruce's 'Head On' crudeness. 'Ride Shotgun With The Wind' is powerful hard rock, little pomp tendencies here, much more acceptable than 'Angel Eyes', a tepid ballad.

Melodicrock - Germany

The british band Saracen gained some success in the beginning of the 80s with their debut album "Heroes, Saints And Fools" which was released on an independent label and managed to jump into the british Top 50 charts. After several line-up changes and another album named "Change Of Heart" in 1984 the band finally called it quits in 1985. After almost two decades Now & Then Records secured a 3-album deal with the band. Besides mastermind Rob Bendelow two more members from the original line-up are on board, they are singer Steve Bettney and keyboarder Richard Lowe.

The 12 songs of "Red Sky" mark the triumphant return of Saracen in the spring of 2003. With "Heroes, Saints And Fools" and "Horseman Of The Apocalypse" from the debut, "We Have Arrived" and "Jekyll And Hyde" from "Change Of Heart" and the previously unreleased concert favorite "Follow The Piper" there are also some songs from the past on the new album and they go pretty well together with the new songs and the new improved sound. Apart from some minor exceptions "Red Sky" sounds british through and through, almost like a small tour through the history of Hard Rock of the British Empire. Saracen always had a special liking for epic rock songs in which they combine hard rocking guitars, interesting keyboard arrangements and great vocal passages. The vocal harmonies are partly arranged in the typical "Uriah Heep-vocal style" as you can hear on the title track. Further musical parallels can be found in the more epic songs of Magnum, Praying Mantis and yes, an American band called Kansas. But I have hardly heard such a good combination of heavyness and memorable hooklines like on this album. The power with which the often six or seven minutes long songs are delivered is amazing. The whole production is great and particularly the drums have a special penetrating power.

The CD has some of its best moments on the rock hymns "We Have Arrived", "Red Sky" and "Follow The Piper". The outstanding "Faith" and the ballad duet "Angel Eyes" are two very AOR sounding tracks. More variety comes with the instrumental "Menage a Trois" which recalls Pink Floyd's "Us And Them" with it's saxophone parts and the up-tempo rocker "Jeckyll And Hyde" with the Ian Gillan-screams. Many songs have a progressive touch also, the best example may be "Heroes, Saints And Fools" which incorporates several tempo changes and an instrumental part sounding like Marillion in their beginnings and the Steve Rothery-like guitars aren't missing too. If the boys continue to release more albums on the same quality level as this one, I'm certainly looking forward to the next Saracen opus.

Metal Only

SARACEN is a high octane NWOBHM-band, a band that was up to the same standard as MARILLION. But in that genre they would have been better off in the States than in England. Their debut album “Heroes, Saints and Fools” has contributed a few songs for re-recording and they sound fabulous.

Guitarist Rob Bendelow has handled production duties very well, a distinct improvement compared to the debut. The 2000-project TEMPLAR (containing several of the gents in the band) has donated too, “Angel Eyes” and “Faith”. From an old Friday Night Rock Show session comes the magnificent “Jekyl & Hyde” and “Flame of Youth”.

Lost without new ideas? Oh no, the title track is brand new and a real rocker where Rob Bendelow´s BLACK SABBATH influences really show. The one tiny exception on the album is the saxophone filled instrumental “Menage à Trois”. This album is so good that it brings the listener back to the 80-ies – when the albums were so good you could complain when just one song wasn’t up to par!

Missing Piece

"Red Sky" is Saracen's third album and their first since 1984's "Change Of Heart". It contains seven new tracks along with re-recordings of five Saracen classics including the legendary "Heroes, Saints and Fools", as well as the first studio version of old ‘live’ favourite "Follow The Piper."

Not dissimilar in style and feel to the recent Praying Mantis releases, Saracen project epic Melodic Hard Rock, carried by strong guitar leads, atmospheric keyboards and pompous vocal harmonies, all dressed up in a classic NWOBHM sound which stems a lot from the Halford-style vocals of Steve Bettney and the early eighties guitar and keyboards.

New track "Red Sky" is a charismatic track, built around great keyboards and strong riffing - a mid-tempo melodic rocker with a genuine epic feel. The first ever studio recording of the old live classic "Follow The Piper" is a superb hard rocker, close in feel to "Crusader" era Saxon. The seven minute title track from 1982's "Heroes, Saints And Fools" is a pompous and complex structured song, featuring many Iron Maiden type tempo changes and ripping guitar work. "Horsemen Of The Apocalypse" is a remake of another song originally recorded for "Heroes, Saints & Fools" and another intelligent and intricate slice of classic hard rock. "Red Sky" is chock full of classy and momentous rock tracks, sewn together by a wonderfully melodic thread and strong NWOBHM roots. Highly recommended.

NEH Records

Among the important musical subgenres in England in the early 1980s were the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), as exemplified by bands like Saxon and Judas Priest, and neo-progressive rock, as exemplified by bands like Marillion.

Also around the turn of the '80s, Saracen released their first album – Heroes, Saints & Fools. Fast forward more than twenty years: With their new "Red Sky" album, symphonic hard rockers Saracen return - after nearly two decades away - with a potent, coherent blend of those two '80s-vintage styles. The album fuses the dry, cutting riffage of Saxon and Priest with the accessibly artsy, keyboard-infused pomp tendencies of neo-prog, resulting in an energetic, melodic, and ambitious set that extends beyond the basics of either component subgenre.

Solid sonics, consistently engaging melodies, and superb, Rob Halford-influenced vocals make "Red Sky" an impressive, convincing return; the opening track announces "We Have Arrived" (literally) and the remainder of the record impressively supports the claim. Other highlight tracks include the glorious hard pomp/neo-prog instrumental "Menage A Trois," the gorgeous atmospherics of "Angel Eyes," and the pomped-up NWOBHM of the title track and "Follow The Piper."

"Red Sky" is unquestionably old-school; you can call it "dated", you can call it "authentic", just don't ignore it. Admirably, Saracen has remained true to their roots, and for fans of symphonic/pomp-style hard rock that confidently ventures beyond obvious musical borders, the results are well worth repeated listens.

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Price Tool Website

Thus starts Red Sky, the long awaited (by me anyway) comeback album by 80s symphonic rockers, Saracen.

Back in the eighties there were a lot of rock bands who almost made it big. Of all of them, the ones who most deserved it were Saracen. Their debut album, Heroes, Saints and Fools was a masterpiece, which should have become one of the most ground breaking albums of the decade but was sadly passed over. The band split up shortly afterwards.

However, last year, guitarist and main man Rob Bendelow got the band back together again in the wake of a rather impressive solo album, Come To The Light.

Red Sky is the result, twelve songs of which four are from the original two Saracen albums, a fifth is an old Saracen standard recorded for the first time, and two appeared on Rob's solo album. Five are completely new - though one will be recognisable as a re-write of an older song.

The album opens in style with We Have Arrived which was their second single, and a song from the second album. However it is almost unrecognisable; instead of a full-out 4 minute rock song, the new version opens with multi-layer vocal harmonies, which gives way to a new keyboard melody, punctuated by some raw, powerful guitar, building gradually as a long intro until finally the vocals come in. Even then, the song doesn't really take off until four minutes in.

It's a very clever way to open a comeback album, with an old song re-written. It stamps a mark, it says, "this is Saracen, we are back, we have arrived but we have moved on."

What has stayed the same? Rob's guitar is as ballsy and punchy; Steve Bettney's vocals soar as they did twenty years ago; Richard Lowe's keyboards are perhaps a little more polished, a bit more upfront. What has changed? The two new members, Richard Bendelow (Rob's son) on bass and Jamie Little on drums fit in perfectly. What else is new is the mulit-layered vocals on the choruses, a choral sound that is prevelant throughout Red Sky, which was not there before.

The other three older songs re-recorded are much more faithful to the originals. All of them feature backing vocals that are more prominent and choral. Horsement of the Apocalypse is otherwise very true to the original. Heroes, Saints and Fools, the title track of their first, classic album, is probably the most eagerly awaited re-recording and again is faithful, except for a more complex - and sometimes heavy - backing passage during the conversations between the boy, the gatekeeper and the hero, saint and fool. Jekyll and Hyde, from the second album, is also quite true to the original, except that the drumming is slightly less frantic. However it is an important re-recording as, although Rob wrote the song, he didn't play on the second album. So we hear it with his guitar for the first time, and he doesn't disappoint!

Of the new songs, Red Sky is the title track for a reason: it is probably the new song that is closest to the original Saracen sound and style. A gutsy guitar riff, slightly airy, ethereal keyboards, and some wonderful vocals. After the second chorus, and a middle eighth, Rob brings on his first guitar break, a classic Saracen sound, to take us into an instrumental passage before coming back to the original riff.

See the heavens burning, it's a hunter's moonrise
Never close your eyes
You'll be caught like a child in the wild, by surprise

Flame of Youth is a pretty straightforward rocker, built around a fun, ballsy riff, which gives Rob a chance to let rip a little during the play out at the end. Ride Shotgun with the Wind is the other new song, somewhat slower, centred around a simple riff, almost plodding, a real road song in every sense.

Castles in the Sand is softer song, mostly played on acoustic guitar. Interestingly, the guitar and vocal melody in the verses are taken from an old song, "Face in the Crowd", with new lyrics and a totally new chorus.

Menage a trois is an instrumental, introduced with some beautiful, layered keyboards. It builds around a duet - triet? - between guitar and two saxophones, before speeding up to let the guitar carry the lead for a while, then slowin back down to let the saxes play it out.

Follow the Piper was a song that Saracen used to play live, one of their earliest songs, but was never recorded until now. A simple riff, with a softer, subtle middle; a haunting keyboard sound; towards the end it builds to a superb solo, rising to a finale crescendo.

Pied piper is it true this dream we all can share?
I will go with you now if you'll lead me there

There are two songs from Rob's "Templar" solo project. Faith is a nice song, which is growing on me; it is a softer, more commercial rock song, with a catchy chorus and some lovely instrumental work going on in the background. However, it is far surpassed by Angel Eyes, also originally Templar. This is another mid tempo rock song, sung as a duet between Steve and Dagi Kaletsch. It is rapidly becoming one of my favourite songs of the year, simple but quite stunning, with a beautiful, emotional chorus. Dagi's vocals are softer, less raunchy than Lori, who sang the original, but she gives it a more innocent feel and really brings out some wonderful emotion from Steve. Absolutely stunning.

So touch me, angel eyes,
So much to see, I realise
Caress me...possess me
Now you're here I feel so alive

Summary - a worthy comeback album indeed! It is great to hear the old songs, both faithful to the original, and completely rewritten. Of course the highlights are the new songs - Red Sky, Flame of Youth, Ride Shotgun With The Wind and Follow The Piper, but Angel Eyes is quite exceptional too.

Would I have done anything differently? I might have left off "Faith"; perhaps I might have left off one of the songs from the first album; it was such a classic, that any rerecording is going to prompt comparisons. Of course, all of this debate is really about how to get more new songs on, and for that we will have to look forward to the next album! Judging by Red Sky, it will be worth the wait!

ProgPower

The story of Saracen goes back to the mid 70s, when Richard Lowe and Rob Bendelow formed the band Lammergier. They added folk guitarist turned rock bassist Barry Yates to the line up and started to play live extensively through out the English ‘Midlands’. In the early 80s they completed the line up with Steve Bettney on vocals and John Thorne on drums and they changed their name to Saracen and started on their first album, ‘Heroes, Saints & Fools’ that caught the attention of a major label, Polygram. However, the tide turned in 1983, when Bendelow and Thorne left. Although the remaining members continued the band and recorded their second album, called ‘Change of Heart’, with the band effectively closing down in mid-1985. Saracen was resurrected early 2000, when Rob Bendelow released his Templar album ‘Come to the Light’ and Now & Then Records managed to bring three of the founding members back, it meant the return of Saracen.

Red Sky is a very diverse album with heavy rock songs with a metal edge, but also some ballads. Also, some Saracen classics like ‘Heroes, Saints & Fools’ and the first studio recording of ‘Follow the Piper’ were added to the album. ‘We Have Arrived’ is the very fitting first track on the album and it shows what Saracen has to offer: crystal clear keyboards, crunchy guitars, excellent bass, (and) powerful drums and haunting vocals! Singer Steve Bettney reminds me at times of Timo Kotipelto (Stratovarius). The songs are marked by strong melodies and they just stay in your head the first time you hear them. There is plenty of room for keyboard solos and the rhythm section of Richard Bendelow (bass) and Jamie Little (drums) is well oiled. Amidst of all the guitars there is room for love and ballads, which we find in the song ‘Faith’, with great vocals and a beautiful guitar solo. The inspiration for the songs come from various sources, even from people who knock on your door and make you write a classic song (read the liner notes for the story): ‘Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a song with powerful drums, a great heavy guitar riff and dark lyrics about the end of the world.

‘Jekyll and Hide’ starts with an old fragment of the Tommy Vance Night Rock Show, where Saracen was playing, and without warning all registers are opened with one of the heaviest songs of the album. Great song! Completely different is ‘Menage a Trois’, an instrumental song with two guest saxophonists, John Davison and Sophie Freeman, which really makes you dream away if you close your eyes on this one. What can I say more about this album? How about ‘Ride Shotgun with the Wind’, a real biker song with a blues feel to it, or the ballad ‘Angel Eyes’, where Steve Bettney sings a duet with guest vocaliste Dagi Kaletsch. The album ends with the very first song, not from Saracen, but even older, from Lammergier: ‘Follow the Piper’, a fantastic up tempo song with great keyboards and a good guitar solo.

Red Sky is a very addictive album and this becomes worse the more you play it. I wouldn’t call it Progressive Metal, although some of the songs do have a metal edge, but it is definitely one of the better epic rock albums you can find these days. We must thank Now & Then Records for their hand in bringing this classic album to us and we can look forward to the future as there will be another album by these skilled musicians. Until then let’s enjoy this outstanding album, that you will enjoy the moment you hear the first tones. One last piece of advice: if you play this album, play it loud!

Rock United

Do you ever get that feeling that you should’ve been born ten to fifteen years earlier from your time and that you missed out on so many good rock acts that were playing live when you were still in your mothers womb ? Or that you have missed out on a lot of great bands from your parents youth that you haven’t even discovered yet ? Well, that happens to me a lot and I ain’t even young anymore ! This time the “new” music comes in the form of Saracen, which was formed back in the mid 70’s by the name of Lammergier and in 1981 changed their name to Saracen and also that year they released their first album „Heroes, Saints And Fools”, which got great feedback and the band even got regular airplay from Tommy Vance’s “Friday Night Rock Show”, culminating in a “live” session being broadcast in January 1982. Now the band is back with “Red Sky” and with new line-up, that differs from the old one now having Richard Bendelow on bass and Jamie Little on drums.

“Red Sky” kicks off with “We Have Arrived” with Steve Bettney sounding like the soft side of Rob Halford. The bands music is labelled as symphonic rock, but these guys have more to offer than just that. It’s also progressive and very pomp at times. The title track “Red Sky” is much rougher and has that feeling of good old rock’n’roll in it, something alike to the Tony Martin-era Black Sabbath. By now it is evident that these guys have been around here before.

From here on the Cd gets better and better. Other rocking tunes are “Horsemen Of The Apocalypse” with synths at the beginning, old classics from the guys; “Heroes, Saints And Fools” and “Follow The Piper” and these sound great. I don’t know how the originals sounded, but these do rock, they’re complex, symphonic songs that make you start drumming on the table.

“Flame Of The Youth” continues with a great rocking beat where Bettney screams at times like Glenn Hughes. “Jekyll And Hyde” is in the same vein, there’s a hypnotic, straight rhythm to this one that continues throughout the song. “Ride Shotgun With The Wind” has again that great jamming rhythm in old rock style, thought at times it seems like it gets stuck. “Menage A Trois” is the only instrumental here and has saxophones. It’s an interesting, varying song with jamming and peaceful moments.

The softer side of the band is shown in “Faith” and me being a romantic I really love the lyrics and the idea behind them, as written in the lyrics sheet; ‘Ever fallen for someone, yet been unable to find the right words at the right time ?’. The song is beautiful too, it has a mellow start that leads to a catchy, rocking chorus. The simple “Castles In The Sand” tells a story of the decades of life, kind of a depressing song yet very melodic. “Angel Eyes” has the same story as “Faith”, though continues ‘If your eyes first met across a crowded room though, perhaps no words were necessary !’. There’s a female guest singer here, Dagi Kaletsch, and she brings a nice, gentle touch to the song. With Steve and Dagi singing together this song sounds really dramatic, it’s a true heart-tearing moment of love that we all have gone through.

If you have a little hippie living inside of you that loves progressive music with a weird twist that is totally off the mainstream of radio music, this one’s for you. For me listening to Saracen, you get a good feeling from their music. It’s rock, folk, psychedelia and even AOR mixed together. Make your own conclusions.

Strutter

In the late 1970s a new Symphonic Melodic Rockband was formed called SARACEN. The band played in the style of MAGNUM, RAINBOW and URIAH HEEP, and a few years later they had some success with the release of their debut LP ‘Heroes, saints and fools’. The following years saw them release another album, before closing the book of SARACEN in 1985.

15 years later guitarist Rob Bendelow released a solo album under the moniker TEMPLAR, with an album titled ‘Come to the light’ (reviewed by us 3 years ago). This eventually led to the reunion of SARACEN, and now in the year 2003, the band has finally released a new album. The album is titled ‘Red Sky’ and NOW AND THEN RECORDS has released it. Their music is of a very high level, a mixture of AOR/Pomprock, Melodic Rock and 80s Metal, something like KANSAS meets MAGNUM meets PRAYING MANTIS meets IRON MAIDEN. Very 80s with lots of keys as well and a pure British approach.

The album has a playing length of 70 minutes and keeps you enjoying it from start to finish. The highlights for me are “We Have Arrived” (80s MAGNUMish semi melodic rocker with big harmonyvocals and keys), “Red Sky” (strong melodic heavy rocker a la RAINBOW, with keyboard solos), “Faith” (very strong semi AOR ballad, classy 80s sound here!), “Horseman of the Apocalypse” (very impressive midtempo melodic heavy rocker, superstrong impressive epic song with a MAIDENish break and guitar solo), “Heroes, Saints and Fools” (epic semi melodic rocker a la MAGNUM, KANSAS), “Angel Eyes” (male/female duet, great semi AOR ballad) and closing track “Follow the Piper” (big uptempo melodic rocker).

This CD is highly recommended if you want to hear quality Melodic Rock with a strong diversity of song styles.

Fireworks

Being a massive Magnum fan, I immediately went out and bought Saracen’s debut album – Heroes, Saints & Fools – back in 1981, when reading of the comparisons in the press. I loved that album. The sound wasn’t so great, but the songs had an epic quality with lyrical content that appealed to my youthful ears. The follow-up was a massive disappointment, primarily due to departure of main songwriter/guitarist Rob Bendelow. Now, almost twenty years later, we have the first solo project from Bendelow – Come To The Light – recorded under the ‘Templar’ monicker.

Joining him on this project are erstwhile Saracen colleagues Steve Bettney & Jason Gardner, Jason’s wife Lorraine, Rob’s 16 year old son Richard…and various other friends.

Musically, the album is very close to Saracen of old, though the addition of Lorraine’s lead vocals on several tracks makes for a distinctive alternative to Steve’s and Jason’s more hard rockin’ tones. There are three instrumentals on the album, including a wonderful re-working of the Saracen classic ‘Dolphin Ride’, and ‘Swords of Damascus’, which is pure ‘Heroes…’ Saracen!

My favourite tracks are the evocative ‘Faith’, which simply bleeds emotion, and has a storming chorus that brings to mind Magnum at their peak, plus ‘Angel Eyes’, which starts with haunting pan pipes, and sees a duet being performed between Steve & Lorraine. The chorus is one of the most beautiful and passionate I have heard in years.

Other songs include the hard-rocking opener ‘On The Rockface’, and the seven-minute-plus workout of ‘Just Me & My Flying V’, plus a cover of the George Harrison classic ‘While My Buitar Gently Weeps’.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Bendelow album without an epic track, and here we finish on the ten minute epic ‘Come To The Light’, a fantastical musical description of passing through the Event Horizon of a black hole! It features classical guitar, haunting sax solos and moody oration. Simply inspirational!

Those keeping up with news on the web will know that this album has lead directly to the reformation of Saracen, a new album of which is currently being worked upon. A full interview with Rob will appear in the next issue of Fireworks.

Metalcoven

The last time that the name of Rob Bendelow came along my way was when, in 1994, the then ten-year-old "Change of Heart" LP by the English band Saracen entered my record collection. Saracen was a group that crossed epic hardrock with progressive influences and AOR-ish accessibility, and really impressed me with their two albums.

Unfortunately they did not get the success they deserved, even though both albums belong at the top of melodic hardrock, and are hard to beat. Too good for this world? Too accessible and moving for narrow-minded progressive rockers? Who knows? 2001, and twenty years after the release of their wonderful debut "Heroes Saints and Fools", Rob Bendelow comes back to the light with a brand new album, ‘Come To The Light’. With guest musicians involved, the whole thing seems to me like a kind of studio project; he’s even got some of the old Saracen members together, among them the Godlike singer Steve Bettney. How insane!

And there it is, this magic, these dreamful, deep but still memorable melodies. The marvellous guitar playing by string-magician Rob B. himself; keyboard ‘spheres’ that go further than the usual superficialities, and vocals of absolute greatness. It is a fine thing to listen to a CD which is most of the time not really extreme, but so anthemic, and absolutely non-pathetic among all those trendy and hectic, crap outfits like Korn, all those happy humming metal bands, all gothic fairies and too soft mainstream groups that cannot even spell "profound". Pathos and dumb aggressions are for other, trendy bands, Templar set on emotions and that burning guitar work that you can recognise from hundreds of similar sounding bands. "Just Me and My Flying V", the opener "On the Rockface" or the George Harrison cover "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" are fine examples for Rob Bendelow's guitar playing, rocking but still melodic and spiritually haunting in the lead section. Yet the softer pieces are no less impressive.

You can say that Rob has successfully made his comeback, and even exceeds the old Saracen level sometimes. My personal favourite is a ballad, titled "Angel Eyes", simple structured but impressively beautiful, pushed to an unearthly level by Steve Bettney and Lori Gardner. I feel such a wonderful warmth running through my body, while watching my cat Linus listening devotionally. His reaction proves my thesis that Templar are Godlike! Welcome back, Mr. Bendelow.

Contact this band at www.templarmusic.co.uk and let yourself (as long as you don't need powermetal all the time... ) to be enchanted by this band. Ten-out-of-ten for the rock album of the year.

Power Play Magazine

Templar’s ‘Come To The Light’ makes for the perfect soundtrack to driving on a rainy Friday night (trust me on this one). Overflowing with evocative, moody and textured melodies, it oozes class.

Although group leader and guitarist Rob Bendelow prefers to call this project, which features ‘special guest vocalists and musicians’, an AOR album, it goes beyond that. In fact, I’m not even sure I’m comfortable referring to this music as ‘AOR’. Bendelow is the former guitarist for British symphonis rockers Saracen, and his influences show on ‘Come To The Light’.

You’ll finf three expressive instrumentals that conjure up the exact images you’d expect after considering their titles – ‘Blue Stanza’, ‘Dolphin Ride’ and ‘Swords of Damascus’. None of tracks feature an unnecessary note. More impressive though, are songs like ‘Wish It Was Me’. Which boasts a sensuous vocal be Lori Emmitt-Gardner that never goes over the top, and ‘Angel Eyes’, a duet between smokey-voiced Emmitt-Gardner and former Saracen frontman Steve Bettney, that chills the spine as only the best power ballads can.

But perhaps the album’s defining moment is ‘Faith’, another tune featuring Bettney on vocals, that gloriously captures the emotion and frustration of love: “Days together are so precious, yet they go so fast…you know I never wanna leave. So I try collecting memories of every move you make, and every word you breathe…then much more than this…..I try to save every kiss”. What makes this song so unbelievably successful (besides it’s intrinsic melody) is that Bettney can sings those words without coming off as a ‘wuss’.

‘Come To The Light’ is no ordinary rock record – you won’t find yourself banging your head to this one…..but you will be moved!

Proce Tool Website

If I had to list my five favourite bands - come to think of it, I have, in an epinion somewhere - Saracen would definitely be in there.

They barely made any commercial impression in the few years they were around, but influentially they cut deeper, and among fans they are recognised for maybe having been ahead of their time.

Saracen were a band from the early eighties; they can be described as melodic rock, progressive rock, but they preferred the term "symphonic rock". Their debut album, Heroes, Saints and Fools, is regarded as a classic by those who have heard it and even now, twenty odd years on, it remains unsurpassed in many regards.

Sadly Saracen's founder member, songwriter and guitarist Rob Bendelow had to quit the band, which broke up in the mid eighties. Not much has been heard since, for a while, until now.

Rob Bendelow has recorded a new "solo" album under the name of Templar. The album, Come To The Light, released independently on his own label. He has regrouped some of his former Saracen bandmates for this project: vocalist Steve Bettney sings on several songs, and so does bassist Jason Gardner. Unsurprisingly, several of the songs do sound very like the old band. However, it is not "the third Saracen album"; as well as two old Saracen songs (one of which never appeared on record) there is one cover, but the other seven songs are all new, originals. The new material draws on a variety of sounds and styles, from rock and blues to keyboard instrumentals. It is, in effect, a classic "solo" album by a gifted songwriter and accomplished musician, reflecting the variety of influences and music he enjoys, as well as giving himself the chance to let rip on the guitar!

The album opens with a powerful, kicking drum riff, a guitar joins in, then the guitar breaks into a solid rock riff. On The Rockface is a great opener, up-front rock, some lovely guitarwork, an intelligent rock song and, to the old Saracen fan, it leaves no doubt: "Rob is back in business"! The only downside is that, after the great intro, the drum-machine drums at times do sound a bit too fake.

Faith is a softer, more commercial rock song, sung by Saracen vocalist Steve. It's a good song which has grown on me after the first few weeks when I would sometimes skip it. However, it is overshadowed by the following song. Wish It Was Me is a great bluesy rock song, simple verses over acoustic guitar, drums and bass, then raw, powerful singalong chorus. It is sung by Lorainne Emmit-Gardner, who shows she has a remarkable voice, bluesy, melancholy in the verses and belting out the choruses - she should be a star herself! Rob Bendelow gets the chance to show off his guitar skills here too.

I guess no one's saying how love can live on a one way street
When your journey home's all in the rain

Blue Stanza is a guitar-led instrumental, hinting at blues, rock, sounding quite Gary Moore-esque at times. This gives way to a cover of George Harrison's/The Beatles' While My Guitar Gently Weeps, an interesting version, quite faithful to the original, but my preference would have been another Bendelow piece!

Dolphin Ride is an old Saracen instrumental, from the first album. I love the original version, so it was quite odd hearing it updated and redone. The melody is the same as before, but the rhythm section is completely different, with some new keyboard sounds running through. Very different, very good, very beautiful, equally haunting, trippy, but in a different way.

Jason Gardner sings again on Just Me And My Flying V, another rock song suited to his voice. Mid tempo, speeding up in the middle, then a classic Bendelow-Saracen guitar solo insturmental bringing it back to the riff and leading to the end. Almost plodding at times, a rolling, riffing, rocker...

None of which applies to Angel Eyes. Well, rockey maybe, but this is a beautiful ballad. A duet, with Saracen singer Steve Bettney sharing the vocals with the amazing Lori, this is one of the album's unexpected highlights. They work so well together, the song is soft and simple but together they electrify it, with some help from a beautiful solo by Rob.

So touch me, Angel Eyes
So much to see, I realise
Caress me, possess me
Now you're here I feel so alive

Swords of Damascus is an old Saracen instrumental that was never recorded. The opening guitar riff sounds arabesque, a horn calling across the desert, then the drums kick in and it takes off. A great track, moody, atmospheric, you can almost taste the dust.

Finally the title track, Come To The Light, starting with a choral intro, then a beautiful acoustic guitar section. A gentle, beautiful, moving passage which then changes, giving way to a more upbeat, rhythmic passage, spoken vocals overlaying keyboards, spacey at times, very interesting, sounding at times almost "Enigma"-like, or "Jade Warrior", at times almost sinister, dark. The acoustic guitar wins, the Templar choir join in and some instrumental passages take us through. This song is for lying back in a darkened room holding hands...for a massage...for making love to.

There is some really great music here. There are some new Saracen songs, but also some other fantastic material. Well worth a listen whether you like Saracen, not, or never heard of them!

Ray's Realm

Interesting how things end up coming to our attention, especially the ones we really like. I was always a huge fan of the English band SARACEN in the '80's. Their 2 albums, "Heroes, Saints & Fools" and "Change of Heart" were sterling examples of a unique blend of heavy prog, AOR and metal that also featured great guitar work and that all important clincher, killer songs. I had always wondered what had happened to SARACEN main-man Rob Bendelow and probably should have searched for him on the 'net before now. However, in an e-mail I got a couple months back from a reader of this page (Hello Down Under, Dennis!) he referenced Bendelow's new TEMPLAR project. I found the page, fired off an e-mail and quickly heard back from Rob that a CD was on the way.

Of course, then 09/11/01 happened. With things like that, we all took some steps back to realize what is really important in life and a disc on it's way didn't have quite the urgency it might have otherwise. But, a few weeks later, a packet from England arrived and since I tore it open and slid the TEMPLAR CD into my player, only The Mammals CD has given it serious competition. In truth, this is easily one of the best albums of the year. Why? Like most things that are great, TEMPLAR is not the easiest thing to describe. Yes, there are elements of the heavy prog of SARACEN, but then again, there's an AOR-ish glory I haven't heard since the first New England record as well.

A wealth of lead vocalists, both male & female adds to the mix and, unlike some works where this can cause confusion, here the variety of singers only strengthens the material's confluence. As with SARACEN, this debut by TEMPLAR is fused by the beautiful & powerful guitar work of Rob Bendelow. His playing has a lyrical, soaring quality that accompanies the styles of the very best. His respect for legends like Gary Moore, Iommi, Gilmour & Tipton is acknowledged but becomes far and away it's own. And, like all records that reach the upper echelon, it's the songs that ultimately do it. Whether it's the riffing "On The Rockface," the beautiful melodies of "Blue Stanza" and "Faith" or the Electric-Sun-like epic title cut (10+ min), there is simply nothing close to a filler. Hell, there are even a couple SARACEN-days instrumentals, "Dolphin Ride" & "Swords Of Damascus" and a scorching reading of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." In all, anyone who likes rock music, done with a sense of passion and symphonic power, not to mention superbly written & catchy songs will find something for themselves in "Come To The Light." I, myself, found a remarkable album I'll be spinning for some time to come!

Strutter Zine

Guitarist Rob Bendelow used to play with British Symphonic melodic rockers SARACEN, with whom he released a couple of great albums. Now he has a new project called TEMPLAR, and 'Come To The Light' is their first release. The album sounds very diverse, also due to the fact Rob has used many outsiders to come and play on the record.

Former SARACEN singer Steve Bettney also sings on 4 tracks, so there's a lot to enjoy for the people who wondered whatever happened to that legendary UK band SARACEN. The CD has a fantastic production, very high quality and right up there with major label releases. Opener "On The Rockface" is a good uptempo melodic rocker. Then comes the lovely pure AOR song "Faith", a superb classy 80s inspired tune a la MARK FREE and FOREIGNER, a very strong song indeed, maybe one of the best new AOR songs at the moment! The CD continues with the mid-tempo AOR/Melodic Rocker "Wish It Was Me", a great song with a female fronted singer called Lori-Emmitt Gardner, who reminds me of DARBY MILLS and ROBIN BROCK.

There are also three instrumentals - "Blue Stanza", "Dolphin Ride" and "Swords of Damascus", the GEORGE HARRISON/BEATLES cover "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (great job, very well-done!), the semi-rocker "Just Me and my Flying V" and closing track "Come to the Light". This last mentioned song is a ten-minute track that sounds a bit strange, there's a gospel kinda choir, a long instrumental part with a sax and some progressive rock influences can be heard, so a mix-up of all kinds of styles. Everything is played very well and it's a pleasure to listen to.

However, there's one more sensational song and that's the terrific semi-AOR ballad "Angel Eyes", a duet between Steve Bettney and Lori-Emmitt Gardner, incredible HUGE AOR song, with a catchy chorus!

This is a quality release with some very good performed music, recommended to fans of different genres, fans of female fronted rock will like a few songs, AOR fans definitely will love some songs, fans of instrumental music will find something of interest and maybe also the average rock fan will appreciate the diversity on this record.

Swedish Rock Mag

Do they still make albums like this one? In an age when our mailbox is flooded by speed and brutality this bunch dare to stand out. TEMPLAR consists of 7 persons, with the ex-SARACEN Guitarist Rob Bendelow at the nucleus of the band. He brings three vocalists along for the adventure; Steven Bettney (ex-Saracen), Jason Gardner (ex-bass player of Saracen) and Lori Emmitt-Gardner, a fabulous singer that apparently performs on both sides of the Atlantic, guitarists Richard Bendelow and Paul Shephard as well as sax player John Davison.

Not to worry now, this is not a departure from (hard)rock, just a softer approach. In case anyone wonders, Saracen were a classic symphonic NWOBHM-band.

The first track, “On the Rockface”, takes off in a typically Saracen way, with a dreamy and atmospheric keyboard until Rob takes charge with a killer riff. Third song “Wish it Was Me” showcases Loris amazing talent. The working title was “My Natalie Imbruglia Song” but the result has nothing to do with Natalie.

Three instrumental tracks are offered, I´d be surprised otherwise with a guitarist like Rob on the team! “Blue Stanza” brings TONY MACALPINE to mind at his most soft and melodic times but with a rounder sound. “Dolphin Ride” is a classic Saracen track that´s been given a more modern sound and has actually benefited from that. I´m definitely going on a ride with these dolphins!

They´ve also ventured a cover of Beatles “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, probably because the Double White Album was the first record Rob bought. It might seem a hackneyed choice but they´ve really given it a sound of their own and developed a fruitful combination. The Title track concludes the proceedings with more than 10 minutes of genuine craftsmanship. This album contains no fillers and is the soft hard rock album of the year! When it comes to musicianship it’s probably the best album of the year.

This was Escape Music's first Saracen release. It contains the full suite of lyrics for tracks on both discs, all beautifully presented.

RED SKY +
HEROES, SAINTS & FOOLS

This double album re-presents Saracen's 2003 release 'Red Sky' together with their debut album from 1981 'Heroes, Saints & Fools'. The 'Heroes' disc also contains no less than three 'bonus tracks' – one original recording from 1982, plus two tracks from Rob Bendelow's solo project 'Come To The Light', originally released in 2001.

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Released: March 2003 | Produced by: Rob Bendelow

Steve Bettney: Vocals
Richard Lowe: Keyboards, Vocals
Jamie Little: Drums
Richard Bendelow: Bass, Vocals
Rob Bendelow: Guitar

Angel Fire

The British rockscene is dead. The only releases from the UK are done by reformed NWOBHM bands, which are most of the time very standard releases. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, because the legendary band SARACEN has managed to release a very good album, which contains very strong original typical British Melodic Rock a la TEN, RAINBOW, THIN LIZZY, MAGNUM… Finally an album of an old UK Rockband which can compete with their earlier releases. The new CD ‘Vox In Excelso’ is based on the famous story on which also the DA VINCI CODE is based.

SARACEN hasn’t changed a bit musically, which is a good thing, because their mix of classic melodic rock and symphonic pomprock made them one of the better lesser-known bands. Comparisons to early MAGNUM/STYX/KANSAS are very clear, especially in the fantastic 70s Pomprocker “Exile”, a song with huge keys and fantastic vocals. SARACEN still has a fantastic singer, STEVE BETTNEY, who sounds like a mix between STEVE WALSH and BILLY GREER. Other highlights on the new CD are “The Order”, “Mary” and “Where Was Their God?”. A definite must-have for any Pompfan and probably one of the strongest releases out of the UK at the moment.

(Points: 8.6 out of 10)

Metal District

(Translated from German)

Too long away, but now the old masters of British Symphonic Hard Rock are back. No, not MAGNUM! SARACEN, who were a trace smaller, although not in musical terms, and heavier than their colleagues. Also they have yet more to give perhaps as “Vox in Excelso” is only their fourth album.

And here again the whole range of their talent is displayed. Majestic melodies stretch themselves over sharp-edged riffs, and a bright, very large voice beseeches and tears into us. Pictures before our eyes emerge…new pictures, images which do not belong into our reality. SARACEN have taken care with the legend surrounding the Holy Grail, as it was also treated in the book & film “ The Da Vinci Code”. From this philosophy a powerful concept album arises, which is bursting with individual tracks, and held together by sequential narration. This idea is not new, but with SARACEN it is recreated perfectly.

SARACEN set the mood, with pomp and strong melodies, a beautiful sound, which always contains a certain underlying dimension of strong energy. For Speed Metal fans it may not be fast enough to satisfy them, but the music of these Englishmen possesses real substance, which gradually unfolds, revealing the full splendor of its complete magical radiance.

With “Meet Me At Midnight” the first killersong arrives, although an old fan must naturally point out that this is a remake of a track from their 1984 “Change Of Heart” album. But what a remake! Whilst the song’s essential structure remains, the roots are strengthened and with this fresh version, SARACEN blow you over! God save the British Melodic Rockers! And in such a way the album precedes, constant switching between classic AOR Bombast and native British hard rock.

Similarly, “Priory Of Zion” is such a hard rock hammer, which develops rapidly and would be a ‘live’ favorite. Penetrating harmonies and floating keyboard spheres carry you on their strong shoulders into infinity.

The preceding tracks flow gradually into each other, cleverly deceiving the listener. More and more salient sequences form a feeling in your soul. Leaving you glowing with passion. Finally, you embrace the entire CD, even singing along, like you always can with SARACEN. It is new and fresh, and creativity flows throughout this great album.

Naturally the hardest rockers amongst you will not get total joy here, but lovers of the ultimate Pomp Rock, which was made popular by the likes of MAGNUM, will find in SARACEN a genuine piece of gold. The sound is naturally first-class and not overly smooth. Perfect for this monster album. One the Top Releases this year.

Melodicrock.com

Saracen has been doing their thing for some 25 years now. At this point the only original members are vocalist Steve Bettney and guitarist Rob Bendelow, but ask just about anyone and they would say the signature guitar and vocal sound are the most important ingredients to any band.

This British melodic, symphonic, hard rock band has a style of their own and a certain unique way of doing things and I must confess to not being pulled in on previous occasions.

For someone not sold on a particular band, what harder a prospect could there be than be faced with reviewing a 73 minute concept album about the history of the Knights Templar?! To my surprise, this was easier than I anticipated. That is because Vox In Excelso is a very fine record indeed and one, despite it's subject matter, that is far more accessible than you might think. The sound quality is also excellent. The album is tightly performed and well recorded, with a powerful sound and clear mix.

The lead vocals of Bettney are both authorative and graceful and help drive the melodies home. What I don't like is the female narrative every song or two, important in one sense to help convey the complex and lengthy story line, but annoying at times also.

The music here is dominated by guitar and those strong vocals, but there is also a boat load of swirling keyboards and a lot of additional texturing, such as haunting backing vocals, dark and moody acoustic effects and an instrumental or two. The album has been very well put together and as concept albums should, flows easily from start to finish. Symphonic rock fans get their bit (Where Was Their God, Priory Of Zion), hard rock fans get plenty to chew on (Meet Me At Midnight, The Order) and fans of epics get the 9 minute Mary to dissect.

The first 1000 albums will be available in special edition booklet format, rather than the conventional jewel case presentation, which will make for a nice complete package to deliver the story in.

The Bottom Line

Saracen fans will be beside themselves with this fine effort. Fans of symphonic rock and British hard rock and also fans of concept pieces would do well to check this album out. It may not appeal to all, but it is an album of very fine quality which might just draw in a few new fans because of that.

Pandaimonix

(Translated from German)

The sound of the British band Saracen is described as ‘symphonic rock music’ in their publicity information, but equally could be called ‘symphonic & bombastic hard rock’. This would be better infact, since the guitars are a dominant feature alongside the beautiful keyboard ‘carpets’. In addition, there is also the marvellously sensitive singing of Steve Bettney, who along with guitarist Rob Bendelow is the last remaining original member of Saracen. They are celebrating their 25th anniversary and probably never imagined reaching this point with their music-making.

‘Vox in Excelso’ is a concept album based upon the history of the medieval Knights Templar. The story is skilfully relayed by narration sequences between the individual songs, making the album appear almost as a film soundtrack, seizing the listener and propelling them along from scene to scene.

Musically, ‘Vox in Excelso’ depicts perfectly the epic story, with songs like ‘The Order’’ sending shivers down the spine. In addition, pure instrumental pieces, like ‘Militum Christi’, are able to grab the listener and drag them along. The whole album, not least because of the keyboards, partly reminds me of Rick Wakeman´s ‘Return to the Centre of the Earth’.

This is a very strong album, which surprised me completely, since I have heard nothing of this style for some considerable time. It has been in my personal CD player for quite a few days now.

Conclusion: an unrestricted recommendation for melodic rock / hard rock fans.

A well-earned 9/10.

Lords of Metal

(Translated from Dutch)

Sjak: It has been quite a long time ago that I had heard something about the English band Saracen. To be honest, I more or less completely lost sight of them after their debut album 'Heroes, Saints & Fools' from 1981. With 'Vox In Excelso' they're up to their fourth release and they decided to make it a concept album. The storyline is about the so called "Knights Templar", a group of warrior monks who grew to become one of the most powerful organizations in Europe and that were guardians of an "Ancient Knowledge". Nice to have such a concept album of course but for me the music is still the most important and with that I have some mixed feelings.

First of all, the continuity of the album is disrupted by spoken parts that are to be found between the songs. They fit nicely into the concept of the album of course, but after a while they start to irritate me. Furthermore, I'm not too keen on the symphonic influences that are to be found in the music. A positive aspect of this record is the musical performance of the whole band, with a special mention for old-timers Steve Bettney (vocals) and Rob Bendelow (guitar).

Besides this there are some pretty decent songs to be found, like for instance 'Meet Me At Midnight', 'Mary' and especially the great 'Where Was Their God?'. Weighing the positive and less positive aspects I must conclude that Saracen has delivered an okay record, but nothing more than that.

Rating: 71/100

Get Ready to Rock

Saracen are back with a new album (their first since 2003's comeback album 'Red Sky') and this time it's a concept album based on the Knights Templar, very topical given the interest in all things 'The Da Vinci Code' at the moment. The mainstays of vocalist Steve Bettney and guitarist Rob Bendelow are still present with a notable addition in former Helloween drummer Mark Cross.

It is classic Saracen - symphonic keys and arrangements, the layered harmony vocals (very similar to the Heep 'choir' at times) coupled with epic guitar solos and strong lyrical ideas. Pick of the album has to be either 'Meet Me At Midnight', a concise rocker Magnum would be proud of, and the epic 'Mary', where the band stretch their wings musically. Some good instrumentals fit nicely into the overall flow of the album, although the only bugbear I have is the female narration. It is useful for giving the background to the story but it may have been better to tag it at the start/end of the album as you keep having to fast forward through it after an initial listen.

Existing fans will be delighted at this album as it keeps all the band's trademark sounds and adds another layer particularly in the vocal and guitar arrangements. If you haven't tried this band before this is the album to start with especially if you like classic Uriah Heep and Magnum.

**** Review by Jason Ritchie

Metal Page

(Translated from German)

Great melodic Metal/Hard Rock. Incredible voice, fantastic songs! What else can I say? Here we have the album of the year! Their first two LPs were a must for every collection. This one demands a place alongside them and you cannot reach any other conclusion (even after hearing it some hundred times!!!) I am sure many people hoped for a quite good album, but expected something only average, as that’s what they are used to from many "old bands". What you get, however, is a masterpiece!! It is incredible that SARACEN did yet again such an outstanding job!!! "Vox In Excelso" is an absolute must-have for every fan of timeless good music! This is the Melodic Rock highlight of 2006!!!

Stefan Riermaier

Metal Page

Whatever you believe, the conspiracy theory that Dan Brown brought to a worldwide audience with his book The Da Vinci Code has it's legends steeped in the history of Grail lore and the Knights Templar. I myself took it all with a pinch of salt, until I saw the painting of the Last Supper and really looked at it; if that's not a woman next to Christ I’m, as they say, a Dutchman (I have also gone on to read many books about the Knights which are all very interesting indeed). I mention all this because as you may know this new album from Saracen is a concept album based around the secrets and legends of the Templars, and is easily one of the best album's I’ve heard this year.

It’s an album full of sophisticated British pomp rock, that has twelve superb tracks and narration that moves the music along, plus some of the most pomptastic keyboards this side of a classic Styx record. Each of the songs is a mini-story, starting with the crucifixion of Christ (where he didn't die) and his subsequent escape and exile with his wife Mary Magdalene into France, followed by the founding of the Knights Templar, through their rise to power and their role as keepers of the secret of the bloodline of Jesus & Mary. The story then moves on to the persecution of The Order, their capture & torture, and in the end destruction at the hands of a jealous King and a weak Pope. Finally, the album focuses on the founding of the secret order The Priory Of Zion and it's continuing mission to protect and keep safe the lineage of the bloodline of Christ.

As I said, it doesn't really matter what you believe because as a piece of music this is wonderful. It has it all - superb vocals / guitars / bass and the already mentioned killer keyboards. It also has the songs, the production and that little bit of magic that all great albums need. This is a must-have and an album that Messer’s Steve Bettney, Rob Bendelow, Paul Bradder, Richard Bendelow and guest drummer Mark Cross should be justly proud of. A wonderful CD - ‘nuff said.

Ian Johnson 

Melodic.net

British pomprockers Saracen are back with a brand new studio album.

It all began in the late 70s and early 80s, which saw the release of their debut album "Heroes, Saints & Fools" in 1981, that was re-released earlier this year in a special boxed-set together with the 2003 release "Red Sky", plus bonus tracks and new artwork & mastering.

Now Escape Music release their brand new album "Vox In Excelso" that is a concept album about Dan Brown's best seller The Da Vinci Code.

This is a great album where Saracen will for sure please those that are into Pomp. They have managed to create a pompish sound like a mixture of early 80s pomp with a new edge in it. Imagine early Magnum-meets-Ten with some touches of 70s Kansas here and there. I was really taken by surprise how damn good these guys sound - I don't think their earlier albums sounded this good. This is so well-produced with an epic and huge sound of brilliant arrangements. If you miss those good old days when they released pure pomp albums in the late 70s and early 80s with class, then you have to check out Saracen. I won't say that this is as good as it was back then, but these guys are doin' it really well. The album has no weak moments and the singer Steve Bettney is fantastic with a powerful and strong voice. A female voice makes an introduction before the songs on the album.

As I told you earlier, there is not a single weak moment on the album that starts with the great "Meet Me At Midnight", a great pomp-rocker, and ends with another rocker called "Priory Of Zion" with fantastic keyboards and riffs. In between there are other highlights such as "Mary", "Chain Reaction", "Vox In Excelso" and the sentimental ballad "Where Was Their God?".

Escape Music has a strong release ahead of them and this is a must for all that are into pompish music with a rockier touch. A mighty strong release not to be missed

Rockreport.be

‘Vox In Excelso’ follows hot on the heels (six months) of ‘Red Sky’ & “Heroes, Saints & Fools’, another one of Escape Music’s famous quality digipacks, which was released at the beginning of this year. Escape Music’s main focus of signing this British symphonic rock band was their eagerly awaited new album, based around the same story that underpins Dan Brown’s bestseller ‘The Da Vinci Code’.

‘Vox In Excelso’ is indeed a concept album, based on the mysterious and controversial history of the Knights Templar, a medieval body of warrior monks who grew to become one of the most powerful military and financial organisations in Europe.

The best way to listen to this epic rock opus is through headphones whilst following the lyrics in the booklet. What makes it of extra interest is the superb narration of Meg Fairlie Maunder, who links all the tracks. Responsible for writing the material is founder-member Rob Bendelow (guitar) and it has to be said: he did a good job. Nowadays he’s joined by founder-member Steve Bettney (vocals) and newcomers Paul Bradder (keyboards) and Richard Bendelow (bass & vocals). Appearing as a special guest is none other than former Helloween drummer Mark Cross. All of them perform well and the same can be said of the production (courtesy of Martin Kronlund).

Conclusion: Saracen’s ‘Vox In Excelso’ may be not as good as Magnum’s ‘Chase The Dragon’, but it’s still a damn fine record in its own right. 

Rockunited.com

I believe I gave Saracen a rather harsh treatment and review last time around (and I still stand by my words). Thus why I never saw this coming and hardly thought this to be anything special or out of their ordinary gaga. You don't really expect a U.K. Pomp/Symphonic act out of the early 80's to all of a sudden record their best album ever in the year of 2006. Really? What are the odds??? Nonetheless, "Vox In Excelso" is a concept album that will surprise many and most fans of late 70's early 80's symphonic rock.

The concept story is based on the mysterious and controversial history of the Knights Templar. The medieval body of warrior monks who grew to become one of the most powerful military & financial organisations in Europe. Well, at least until the church thought it to be too powerful and decided to ban and close down the organisation. You get the whole she-bang with crusades to Jerusalem (the holy city) with all its power and glory. It's also the same story that underpins Dan Brown's best seller The Da Vinci Code and we all know by now that they had a secret to keep. Jesus + Mary = true?

The band is still a classic five-piece line-up of drums, bass, guitar, keyboards and vocals. From the original five, the two most important members are still present at the heart of Saracen (namely vocalist Steve Bettney and guitarist/songwriter Rob Bendelow). The concept story flows throughout the CD and I don't even mind the female narrator at the beginning of each track (Meg Fairlie Maunder). There's no real highlight nor downer to be found, the band keep a rather high concept standard overall. I'm not entirely sure that all of you out there have heard about Saracen in the past. However, this comes highly recommended to anyone who's into the early 80's work of Magnum (mostly), Demon (secondly), with a slight hint of both 70's Styx and Kansas. Very symphonic, very classy!!

Fireworks Mag

This is the grandiose conceptual album that Rob Bendelow simply had to get out of his system – and yet a serious illness threatened its completion. The album’s central theme, narrated for a change by a female narrator – Meg Fairlie Maunder (and I feel that she makes a very good job of it, too!) – is based upon “the mysterious and controversial history of the Knights Templar – a medieval body of warrior monks, that grew to become the most powerful military and financial organisation in Europe” and who were also guardians of an ancient knowledge. Their present day equivalent is the Priory of Zion. I am sure there will be some of you who will find the narration intrusive - as it does occur at the end of nearly every song. However, for me it is a unifying feature within a long (73 minute) album and personally I feel it works very well in conveying the story line.

The central story is a very heavy affair covering the past two thousand years, and while this story has a religious theme, ‘Vox In Excelso’ is not per sé a religious album. The playing across the twelve tracks is on the whole quite phenomenal with fantastic arrangements that has soaring, symphonic keyboard-led melodies one minute and exquisite virtuoso lead guitar passages the next. Hauntingly atmospheric backing and multi-track vocals and all manner of additional instrumentation contribute to the wide variety of sounds here – far more than on any previous Saracen album. There is only one song – the plodding ‘Chain Reaction’ that (after a promising start) fails to reach the standard set by the rest of the album and I feel very nearly causes the album to run out of steam twenty minutes early. However, apart from this hiccup the album is a hugely successful concept album that I am sure delivers all that Rob Bendelow had in mind when his ideas were originally formulated, and should interest those of you who enjoy epic songs, bombastic symphonic arrangements and MHR in its various manifestations.

Rob Bendelow is again joined by long-time associate and vocalist Steve Bettney (and a wonderful job he has done in bringing this collection of songs to life) plus new members Paul Bradder on keyboards and son Richard Bendelow on bass and vocals, whilst former Helloween drummer Mark Cross guests in that role. This is a great record and one that may well emerge amongst my top five albums of the year. It does, perhaps, work best when heard in its entirety, although with repeated listens I found myself singling out tracks, and found that they do work well in isolation from one another once they become familiar. Anyway, I am really glad that Rob Bendelow was able to fulfil his vision. If you wish to sample before buying, I must recommend the trio of songs at the heart of the album: the epic and majestic ‘Mary’, the eerie and choralian ‘Vive Dieu…Saint Amour’ and no-nonsense hard rock of ‘The Power And The Glory’. These songs encapsulate the power and splendour of ‘Vox In Excelso’ and I would be flabbergasted if nine cats out of ten didn’t agree! Paul Jerome Smith

Rock It Mag

Wow! I remember well – during my teens I searched several car boot sales to find a particular vinyl - the title, the band; “Heroes, Saints & Fools” by SARACEN.

Why did I look for it? A rarity in Hard Rock. I have to admit that I didn’t know anything about the band (and how could I?) and really only thought that the cover was cool. Unfortunately I never found the vinyl (and never listened to it either). You can get it on CD now anyway - no points for nostalgia. SARACEN are back again. New album, new label (Escape), new concept (close to Dan Brown/the Da Vinci mystery and the whole shebang)It is the old measurement – the only thing that counts is the output from the back (or from the side, or…). I am talking about the speakers! And it Rocks!!!!! “Meet Me At Midnight” could easily be on any PHENOMENA album. With reference to quality: the production is positively bureaucratic and the songs maintain a good level at all times. “Meet Me At Midnight” however is predominant. This is where ‘chorus’ earns its name. It is sugar to the ears – you can whistle to it after the first run. – Excellent! ‘Exile’ is more progressive – a ballade with beautiful keyboarding. Everybody should be able to pick their own favourite out of more then one hour of music. The choice of songs is definitively right.

A convincing return from a true legend of English rock music.

Bright Eyes.de

When I saw the Cover to ‘Vox in Excelso’ I imagined it to be a Heavy or Speed Metal album. As I listened, however, to the opening tones of ‘Lament' - a gentle intro - and then ‘Meet Me At Midnight', it was clear - here we have timeless, traditional hard rock of the old school, with it’s roots firmly planted in the rock world of 25 years ago.

‘Vox in Excelso’ is a concept album, inspired by the Dan Brown best-seller ‘The Da Vinci Code’. In musical terms, as already mentioned, it is a very traditional work but also with epic moments, as can be heard with ‘Exile', for example. The keyboards of Paul Bradder are just as equally important here as the guitars of Rob Bendelow. This is particularly noticeable on ‘The Order', where both instruments duel inspiringly with each other.

SARACEN’s sound is completely their own: definitely rocking but at the same time symphonic, with a variety of volumes & styles and not just one constant trend. SARACEN do not follow fashion, but trust in their ample abilities, which after 25 years is still producing fresh, convincing rock music! Best proof of this is the epic rocker ‘Mary'; listen and enjoy! Also the very calm ‘Vive Dieu… Saint Amour' brings a pleasant mood change and rings in the steam-roller & headbanger ‘The Power & The Glory'. A more varied yet homogeneous album it would be hard to imagine! ‘Chain Reaction' then sounds almost like a Black Sabbath classic, while the title track is a ballad par excellence with wicked piano playing, showing the gentler side of SARACEN.

Summary: a timeless classic rock album which easily belongs in every CD cabinet! Take time to look at www.escape-music.com.

Glory Daze

Background
Just as the Da Vinci Code peters out at the Box Office, British band Saracen come along and continue the story of Mary Magdalene, segueing into the history of the Knights Templar. It's a theme that is well read with the band, and if you've investigated their past works you'll know about their pre-occupation and fascination with all things to do with the Knights Templar. In 2003, Glory Daze did a bit of investigative work with their (then) studio album 'Red Sky', which was much lauded by the way, plus an interview with main-man Rob Bendelow. Well we can report that things are as good as ever with Saracen. Signed to Escape Music now, the addition of special guest drummer Mark Cross, but also now sadly without the talents of longtime keyboardist Richard Lowe who has since retired. Nothing lost though - new keys recruit Paul Bradder does a great job, providing a very Magnum like sheen over the top of some very melodic sounding Black Sabbath guitars supplied by Rob Bendelow. And if Steve Bettney was ever asked to take over the vocals from Rob Halford in Judas Priest, then he is undoubtedly the man. A near carbon-copy!

The story on 'Vox In Excelso' follows the timeline of the Knights Templar from the time of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, right through to the Middle Ages and their subsequent rise to power as one of the most powerful entities in Europe. Their power was usurped by the French King Philip IV, and so began the gradual slide into purgatory, based on the deceit and lies of the French Monarchy and The Vatican of the time. The Papal Decree to abolish the Knights Templar was called 'Vox In Excelso', hence the name of this album. If you love concept albums based on medieval history (and we have seen a few of them over the last few years), then this Saracen effort is right up there with the best of them.

The Songs
Each of the tracks has a spoken word intro which allows the listener to make sense of the content as the CD is navigated, much like some of the Kamelot concept albums. We'll navigate our way through the songs, and provide the storyline.

Lament - goes back to the time of Jesus, the start of the Knights Templar story.

Meet Me At Midnight - is the final meeting between Jesus and Mary Magdalene prior to his crucifixion, though Jesus has other intentions.. like staying alive.

Exile - is the time after the crucifixion and resurrection, where the couple escape to the West, effectively in exile, rumored to be in foothills of the Pyrenees, the future stronghold of the Knights Templar. This track features some beautiful keyboard parts from Bradder.

The Order - the timeline has moved on to the 10th century. A band of French Knights have come to the Holy City of Jerusalem now under western rule, and from here, their beginnings took shape. Musically, this track is pure pomp.

Militum Christi - the Knights Templar have grown to become a mighty army, the ultimate fighting force in the (then) western world. This track is an instrumental.

Mary - The Knights Templar held the secret that the royal bloodline of Christ had survived through the centuries in France. They had come to Jerusalem in search of the key to that secret. A special event took place, whereby the mother of the bloodline - Mary Magdalene appeared to the Knights Templar in a visitation/vision.

Vive Dieu…Saint Amour - an incredibly beautiful track, sung in French, very keyboard laden, atmospheric and choral.. all in one.

The Power & The Glory - the timeline has moved on to the 14th century. The Knights Templar are one of the most powerful entities outside of the Catholic Church. Much admired, much feared and the envy of many, including the ruthless French Monarchy - led by King Philip IV. He led a conspiracy to usurp the power of the Knights Templar by arresting their leader and many of the Knights themselves.

Chain Reaction - describes the capture of the Knights, their arrest, interrogation and in some cases execution. Prince Philip persuaded Pope Clement V to abolish the order of the Knights Templar, through his papal decree 'Vox In Excelso'.

Vox In Excelso - Though considered weak, Pope Clement V seriously questioned his papal decree, and underwent some soul-searching knowing full well the lies being perpetrated. Steve Bettney's soulful vocals explore the Pope's lament.

Where Was Their God? - asks the question put to King Philip IV and Pope Clement V, who sold out the Knights Templar based on a series of lies. How could two men (of God) condemn the leader of the Knights Templar to death based upon a lie? A curse was put upon these two men, and within a year of the execution of the leader, both men were dead.

Priory Of Zion - The Order of the Knights Templar though officially abolished, moved deeper into secrecy and the shadows as the years went on. This order exists today as the Priory Of Zion, though admittedly is still steeped in mystery, with the primary goal of protecting the royal bloodline of Christ. Again, the incredible pomp rock on display here really warrants a good listen, even if the track is 9 minutes long.

In Summary
I've read a few reviews of this album, it seems some of the reviewers out there have not totally grasped what this album is about. Some short-sighted observations have panned this album unfairly. Musically, this is pristine stuff. Great vocals, guitar lines, majestic keyboards (Paul Bradder is a keyboard wizard, that there is no doubt) and having a guy like Mark Cross providing a powerful back-end all makes 'Vox In Excelso' a terrific companion piece. Arrangement wise, you don't have to dive too deeply into the album to make sense of it, as most concept albums seem to do. From my perspective, this is Saracen's finest work and I have no hesitation in recommending it to lovers of that heavier pomp rock style. The storyline of the Knights Templar is the icing on the cake.

Metal Inside.de

Wow! After the extremely cool double-CD ‘Red Sky ‘/’Heroes, Saints & Fools’ appropriately published, now a first-class comeback of the English Hard Rock line-up. And I do not exaggerate when I write that ‘Vox in Excelso’ fits smoothly with the band’s earlier phase (and particularly with the already mentioned ‘Heroes, Saints & Fools’). This concept album, which is concerned with the history of the Templar Knights, is one of the strongest Hard Rock/Epic Metal works of recent times, and in over 70 minutes of music not one filler! The line-up has changed somewhat from those early days, but the existing presence of singer Steve Bettney has remained throughout the other personnel changes. Brilliant rock-hymns like ‘Meet Me At Midnight ‘, ‘The Order’, ‘The Power And The Glory “, reminding us a little of Magnum, ‘Militum Christi’, plus epics like ‘Priory Of Zion’ or the outstanding ‘Mary’ with sensitive guitar harmonies, bombastic passages and a freedom of movement, which make the album appear much more varied than one might assume. With the help of interspersed narration – ‘Vox In Excelso’ works all the more – it even feels like you are listening to a mini rock opera. Naturally, fans of even harder rock will not necessarily appreciate the beautiful melodies and even condemn the keyboards, but the fans of SARACEN-style music will get a real treat! If only all new recording attempts by old cult bands would turn out like ‘Vox in Excelso’, then surely we could become much more positive towards the many reunions. For friends of this music genre, this is the genuine article - highlight of the year for certain!

Hardrockhouse.com

Vox In Excelso is Saracen's first new studio offering in many a long year and follows hot on the heels of Escape's re-issue of the bands Red Sky/Heroes Saints & Fools opus that was released earlier this year. Vox In Excelso has taken some three years to write and record and, whether through a happy coincidence or deliberate planning the release of this album comes hot on the heels of the big budget movie version of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code with which Vox In Excelso shares common ground.

The album is a concept piece telling of the rise and fall of the Knights Templar, an order of knights charged with keeping the secret of the Zion. (Descendants of Jesus Christ). From the opener 'Lament' with its medieval yet still rocky feel, coupled with the excellent  narration courtesy of  Meg Farlie Maunder, which appears throughout the album and keeps the listener informed of precisely what is going on, the music covers the whole spectrum. From beautiful acoustic pieces to out and out heavy metal with lots of medieval style licks the album in general has a very symphonic feel.

Produced by Martin Kronlund, Vox In Excelso benefits from a well balanced and clear sound and the drums of former Helloween man Mark Cross prove particularly fitting to the mood and feel of the piece. Of course that is without mentioning the intelligent and thought provoking music from Rob Bendelow and his equally impressive guitar work, whilst the vocals of the only other original member, Steve Bettney, are lush and full of power throughout.

Overall the closest comparisons that one can draw to Vox in Excelso is with a slightly heavier/pompy Magnum whilst also featuring moments that bring Iron Maiden to mind. In short this is an epic tale told in an epic style. An album I’ve listened to a lot and will continue to.

Auxportesdumetal.com

Do not miss this small jewel - “Vox in Excelso”. A superb concept album telling the history of the Crusades and the Templars. The major advantage of this album is that the history is told in very clear, distinct English which allows those poor Gallic ones amongst us to seize the magic of the concept and the album.

After the “Lament” opening instrumental, “Meet me At Midnight” paints the portrait of the album, built around a ‘British Wave Of New Heavy Metal’ style! Saxon’s “Crusader” is not far away! There is no doubt: Saracen are indeed an English metal group. “Meet Me At Midnight” is a superb piece, an epic headbanger with large Saxon-style riffs.

“Exile” shows another influence in this album: one of melodic hardrock as per Arena. “Exile” is a mid-tempo piece with superb melodic keyboard accompaniment, as Jon Oliva might do. Its first half is a rather medieval epic ballad - its second half more melodic-rock with guitar and keyboards.

“The Order”, with an ultra-epic warlike chorus, is again a massive, ‘roast beef’ heavy-metal track with a superb covering of keyboards. A piece written to lead us into battle!

“Militum Christi” offers another view to the combat, thanks to its hypnotic instrumental melodies.

The excellent “Mary”, an epic anthem about Mary Magdalene, is simply filled with emotion. A warrior’s ballad with an incomparable chorus. To some extent, this album makes me think of works by guitar-hero James Byrd, in particular “Crimes Of Virtuosity”.

After the restful “Vive Dieu…Saint Amour”, the battle starts again with “The Power & The Glory”…..a title which curiously points to a mythical group of English heavy-metallers perhaps?

The level then falls a little with “Chain Reaction”.

Fortunately, we then have the epic ballad “Vox In Excelso”, sung with just piano accompaniment, followed by “Where Was Their God”, again touching our hearts with the emotions of the warriors.

The work finishes with “Priory Of Zion” concluding the album well: a mixture of true metal riffs and progressive keyboard melodies. Another warlike piece full of emotion, and one really making us regret that “Vox in Excelso” has to come to an end.

To summarize “Vox in Excelso” is an excellent concept album with hints of Saxon, Iron Maiden and Arena. Advice: this is an album of such quality that every ‘metal historian or warrior’ must acquire.

Powerplay Mag

When the term ‘pomp rock’ crops up in conversation (which for those rock fans of a certain age, it does from time to time), most thoughts initially turn to the vibrant late 70’s US scene dominated by bands like Kansas, Styx, and Angel. As an aside, some might venture later acts such as White Sister, or even reflect misty eyed upon the ‘Heartbreak’ album by Sabu, but very few will elucidate upon a scene that was much closer to home. Led by Brummie kings Magnum (yes, they were once considered a pomp rock act), there was quite a thriving UK scene in the late 70’s / early 80’s, and though bands like Nightwing, Limelight, and Daga Band were hardly household names, they did manage to produce some uniformly excellent music. One of the best from that era though had to be East Midlands quintet Saracen.

Formed in the late 70’s around the nucleus of guitarist Rob Bendelow and high octane vocalist Steve Bettney (the best pomp rock singer this country has ever produced), Saracen were earmarked by the likes of Sounds at the time as a band who would go on to achieve great things. Their 1981 debut effort ‘Heroes, Saints & Fools’ (recently reissued on CD for the first time by Escape) is widely, and quite rightly, regarded as a classic of the genre, and should by rights have set them on the road to international success. Unfortunately, the usual line up changes (including the untimely departure of Bendelow), compounded by a change in direction – 84’s sophomore outing ‘Change Of Heart’ was a much more straightforward, almost AOR focussed affair – led to their downfall, leaving behind an unfulfilled musical legacy.

A few years ago, the Saracen name was reactivated for the excellent ‘Red Sky’ album, a mixture of revamped oldies (the reworked ‘We Have Arrived’ is excellent, and much more in keeping with the original Saracen ethos than the watered down version that made the final cut of ‘Change Of Heart’) and new songs which echoed the rich, multi-layered textures of that long out-of-print debut. Only Bendelow and vocalist Steve Bettney remain from the original Saracen line up, but if the latest studio album ‘Vox In Excelso’ is anything to go by, this latest incarnation are every bit as committed to the cause as their forebears.

A boldly ambitious, grandiose and sweeping conceptual tome based on the shadowy history of the Knights Templar (both that in the public domain, as well as that which has become the subject of much speculation in recent years), and the explosive secrets they’ve guarded for nearly a thousand years, ‘Vox In Excelso’ is a magnificent testament to everything that earmarked Saracen out as something special back in the day. Filled with lush melodies, studied lyrical themes, and deftly crafted musical light and shade, it’s partly narrated storytelling builds to a climax every bit as spectacular as that in Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’!. Picking out individual songs for praise seems kind of irrelevant here, as the quality and delightful diversity makes this a totally enthralling work from beginning to end.

It’s really a travesty that there aren’t more bands out there doing this kind of stuff, but the very fact there aren’t makes ‘Vox In Excelso’ that much more precious. Brilliant!

Powerpoints 9/10

Underground Empire

Founded during the late 70ies around Steve Bettney, the men of this British hard rock institution have now been performing for more then 25years, but with some interruptions.

You will be very much mistaken, however, if you think that this formation consists of tired warriors chasing the boring dragon. With ex-Halloween drummer Mark Cross, these men confidently celebrate their usual hard and symphonic sound.

Now in 2006 it all comes full circle, as if by accident Vox in Excelso fits within the current fashion trend, as it an album written about the lives of the Knights Templar. It has the same content as Dan Browns ‘Da Vinci Code’. Fascinating and relevant material, which due to it’s mysterious aura and dark secret actually demanded to be translated into music.

The songs are cleverly connected by story passages mixed in between the heavy music tracks. Close atmospheric passages, in true Dare or Pink Floyd style, meet head-shaking and galloping rhythms a la Iron Maiden & friends. You can clearly hear that the band is of British origin due to the sound being rooted within the melodic ‘New Wave of British Heavy Metal’.

The mid-tempo rifer ‘Chain Reaction’ and the nostalgic ‘The Order’ are particularly good. The hymnal Grande Finale of ‘Priory of Zion’ is just as grandiose.

In summary, the album does not have any low points and should be heard & enjoyed in it’s entirety. It is then when the album shows it’s full strength and presents it’s progressive elements to the full.

Metal Express Radio

Saracen is a band that has been around for a long time, originally forming in the late 1970s. However, they have only released four albums in that time frame; prior to the release of 2003's Red Sky, the last album that had the band's name on it was 1984's Change Of Heart. Only two original members of Saracen are recording with the band now: vocalist Steve Bettney and guitarist Rob Bendelow.

Saracen return with Vox In Excelso, an epic concept album that takes on the legend of the Knights Of the Templar, attempting to tell the story of the rise, fall, and resurrection of this group of warrior monks who grew to great wealth, influence, and power in Europe during the Middle Ages, only to be betrayed at the height of their strength and sent into hiding. Truly an epic tale. A controversial one too, since the album subscribes to the theory that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene had children together, and their bloodline (which the Templar Knights are sworn to protect) exists to this day.

Befitting its broad subject matter, Vox In Excelso fills an entire CD, having a playing time of about 79 minutes. Once you sit down to it, you're in for the duration. The story is long and detailed, but is constructed in such a way that it's easy to follow, both in the lyrics and the helpful narration the runs between many of the twelve songs. If you didn't know anything about the Knights of the Templar before hearing this album, you will by the end of your first listen, and you may even be inspired to learn more about this interesting time in history.

Music: it's educational too!

Vox In Excelso is a history lesson in musical form, but it's not dry and stuffy: it's sweeping, epic, and filled with drama, action, greed, suspense, and betrayal. Much like reading a good book, you'll get caught up in the story and will want to find out what happens next. The story takes some surprising twists and turns, and you won't want to miss any of it.

Musically, Vox In Excelso feels like a product of another time, when pompy, Symphonic bands like Kansas ruled. Saracen use lots of big, impressive “old-school” keyboard passages, sounding much like a heavy band from the 1970s on this album, but in a good way. The soaring guitarwork of Rob Bendelow is quite good too, and he contributes some memorable solos and nice riffs. Steve Bettney injects his vocals with heart and passion, both in the verses and in the big choruses that dominate this album.

Vox In Excelso was five years in the making, but the wait was worth it; Saracen has crafted a winner of an album.

Classic Rock Mag

Having reunited in 2003, Saracen are here to bury the accusation that the NWoBHM bands couldn’t play and had little imagination. A concept album that took five years of painstaking work to complete, Vox In Excelso is worth all the (holy) blood, sweat and tears. Beginning with Jesus and Mary Magdalene fleeing into exile in the Pyrenees after a botched attempt at Crucifixion, it parallels the bestseller The Da Vinci Code book by relating the story of the Knights Templar.

Rich, full-bodied and evocative in the vein of classic Magnum, the pomp rock of The Order and The Power & The Glory is interwoven with narrated sections, guest drummer Mark Cross (ex-Helloween) helping to drive the music along.

Chaos Realm (USA)

SARACEN - "Vox In Excelso" CD '06 (Escape, Eng) - For years and years, I've loved a lot of different kinds of music, it's true. Besides the things I'm probably most known for embracing, many things have come my way and been welcomed. Celtic music, folk, progressive, bluegrass, the list is long and populated by mostly anything original, interesting and different. And yet, when I think about it, there are 2 periods of time that have made the most impact on my musical soul, the first being the very early '70's...bands like Sabbath, Cactus, Budgie and their even more underground ilk showing the way with a new breed of originality & heaviness. The other is the NWOBHM. Besides the easily noted stalwarts like Maiden, (early!!!) Leppard, Diamond Head & Saxon, those in the subterranean were even more captivating. Bands like Legend, Holocaust, Warrior and SARACEN.

Truly, one of my favourite platters from the "day" was SARACEN's 1981 masterpiece "Heroes, Saints & Fools." This opus combined the leaden Iommi-ish guitar crunch of Rob Bendelow with a keyboard-tinged, proggy feel that really gave the album an other-worldly feel & made it a standout for me. Over the years, Rob Bendelow has stayed around, in recent years releasing captivating records like his TEMPLAR project as well as the SARACEN - "Red Sky" disc, a wonderfully updated specimen of metallic prog. Now, in 2006 we are greeted with the latest work to bear the SARACEN name and I'm here to tell you, it's the best one yet.

With "Vox In Excelso," Rob B. and crew have issued a statement that deserves to stand with the very best. It takes all the best SARACEN trademarks...the crushing left-handed SG riffs, the melodies that seem to start somewhere below the surface & then rise to stratospheric heights and the gorgeous song-structures and weaves them into one of the coolest concept albums I've ever heard. Taking it's cue from recent written works like Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code," "Vox In Excelso" explores the history of the Knights Templar, it's mysterious existence & the secret it protects unto this very day. The songs are the story here...not only the way each is written as a stand-alone piece, but the way they work and flow together, joined by interesting-yet-never-intrusive narratives explaining the details of the story along the way. Whether it be the lengthy numbers like the nearly 10-minute "Mary," the closing 9-minute epic "Priory Of Zion," or the shorter tracks "Meet Me At Midnight" and "The Power & The Glory," it all works...famously.

I can honestly say that they are all highlights, because each is of the same wonderfully high standard...heavy, captivating and melodic enough that you'll be singing the choruses in your head for days. On top of it all, I have to give special accolades in a couple choice places. To begin with, the vocals of Steve Bettney are stunning throughout. This is the kinda guy who, if Glenn Hughes were not already known as "the voice of rock" would have something to say about the title. Secondly, but certainly not least, I have to say that the guitar work of Rob Bendelow is at it's very zenith here. Sure, this guy has been behind some awfully good playing in the past, but this time he's outdone himself. Just listen to the lead work on "Priory Of Zion." This is Iommi on "Heaven & Hell" or Tipton on "Dreamer Deceiver." Yes, it's that good. The final deal is this: If you're into absolutely great hard rock/metal with awesome songs, great playing and no shortage on thought-provoking (even educational) lyrics, your first stop after reading this should be "Vox In Excelso."

CIAO Website

I can go on a bit about music so I'll try to be brief - and maybe even relevant! I've played in bands, gigged the pub circuit, met some great musicians, and I've seen some really talented people get nowhere. Then there are others who do get a deal but with a small label, who can't compete with the big names for promotion and hype so they never break into the big time. Some do eventually - think Pulp, who had been around for years before "Common People" and "Disco 2000" catapulted them into the big time; or No Doubt, who had several albums out before "Don't Speak" did it for them. Others aren't so luckly, they bubble around for a year or two, deserving more but losing out to technobollocks and over-hyped crap before they have to call time. How much talent have we lost, how much great music went unheard? How much utter shite have we had to put up with instead!

WHO WERE SARACEN?
Back in the 1980s in the UK, heavy rock/hard rock was in its heyday - it even had a name and an acronym! NWOBHM - New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, encompassing all from Status Quo to Motorhead. Dozens of young bands were emerging as the next "big things", but most were just repeating the same formula, trying to sound like Iron Maiden, or believing that "the faster and heavier the better".

One or two did something different and stood out. One of them was Saracen.

Saracen were gigging the "up and coming" circuit; they signed to one of several "up and coming" record labels who put them into a studio to record their debut album. "Heroes, Saints and Fools" was the result. Sadly it was not the success it should have been- due at least partly to lack of promotion and support by the small record company. One look at the album cover and you will know that the record company did not spend megabucks on the band. Fools. If only they had....

How to describe them? Melodic Rock? Soft Rock? Cerebral power pop-rock? The band preferred "symphonic rock", so who am I to argue.

Who do they sound like? I'm sure that somewhere there is a band that sound like Saracen; if so, please let me know. If you imagine crossing Marillion with Bon Jovi and add in some Deep Purple you would not be a million miles out.

HEROES SAINTS AND FOOLS
Playing in Saracen on this album were:
Rob Bendelow on guitar, the band leader and the song writer
Steve Bettney on vocals
Richard Lowe on keyboards and backing vocals
Barry Yates on bass guitar and backing vocals
John Thorne on drums

The album opens with with a single keyboard chord fading in. The drums and guitar come in, and "Crusader" starts. It begins slow and plodding, then picks up some tempo for the second verse. After the second chorus there is a sudden change of pace, a new riff and it leaps into a fast final verse, keyboard solo and last chorus with extra harmony vocals. The song finishes with a short and impressive drum cadenza.

The second song, "Rock Of Ages" is an upbeat, simple, rock anthem with a catchy riff and chorus. This could so easily have been a world wide hit, but.... The budget recording shows as the drums start slightly quicker than the guitar (!) but so what, it is a great rock song.

"Who built the rock of ages? Tell me coz I wasn't there.
Whoever it was, gave us a dream we can share."

"No More Lonely Nights" is a midtempo riff-driven MOR rock song. It is a good-time popster, about having a good time in the city at night. This was a single (with "Rock of Ages" on the B side) which was how I first heard the band. This is the first time we hear a guitar solo by Bendelow, and it shows he is a capable axeman.

"Horsemen of the Apocalypse" is a perfect example of a great Saracen song. It is introduced by a drum riff, followed by the keyboards, then the bass kicks in, making it sound even darker, and lastly the guitar overlays a simple but effective riff giving a slightly sinister feel to the song. The vocals join, a song about the four horsement: Famine, Plague, War and Death. After two verses and a middle eighth, the song softens, an acoustic replaces the rock electric guitar for another verse, after which it accelerates faster than before, just for everything to drop out except the guitar introducing the third movement with a classic Bendelow lick, progressing into a short and sweet solo. The last verse is repeated, rising and slowing to a crescendo. Great Stuff.

"Heroes, Saints and Fools", the title track, is the story of a young boy who is presented with three choices in life: to become a hero, a saint or a fool. It starts with a church organ, joined by acoustic guitar. Two short verses in the sound switches, the pace picks up under a muted guitar riff, and the "hero", the "saint" and "fool" each present their case to the child. The whole song kicks back into life, as the boy pleads that he doesn't want to be any of these things, and the music rocks up reflecting the inner turmoil. After a short, slow guitar solo the boy turns round and takes the road for home, but the song continues through a few more tempo changes, another guitar solo, to the final conclusion.

"Dolphin Ride" is a stunning instrumental, centred around an exchange between keyboards and guitar swapping a melody and harmonising with eachother, over a mid tempo drum and bass rhythm. It is a song to lie back, shut your eyes and imagine the ocean waves...

"Ready to Fly" a good time rock song, starting with a a long lead in to a good rock riff. From here it drives forward through two verses and choruses. It pauses for breath for a few seconds in a short slow, middle eighth, in which they promise:

"Though now we leave you, we shall return
Again to fly, higher and higher and high."
From here Rob Bendelow launches into a superb guitar solo several minutes long, building and rising to the final crescendo.

The first time I heard the album I sat in silence for several minutes thinking, "wow". Once I had the chance to see them, at a rock club in West London, but I passed it up thinking that I would see them on the next tour. It never happened. The album was, inexplicably, not overly successful and the band fragmented. Two of the members did produce a weaker follow up album called "Change of Heart" then in 1985 they disbanded.

The album, "Heroes Saints and Fools", was to my mind a milestone. If it had succeeded, as it deserved to, we would have dozens of Saracen sound-alikes. It didn't, and we don't. That is our loss.

PS. In 2002 Saracen reformed and have released a new album, "Red Sky" and plan two more at least including a re-release of Heroes, Saints and Fools. If you like rock of any kind, do yourself a favour and pick up a copy!

AOR Website

Nearly twenty years after the fact, Saracen return. A band often mentioned in somewhat hushed tones, and one I was totally ignorant of. Thus, it seemed reasonable to allow curiosity to get the better of me.

Apparently guitarist Rob Bendelow has spent much of the last two years recording "Red Sky" ( evocative artwork) in his own Rivendell Studios and at Mad Hat, and the obvious care and attention to details has resulted in a epic clarion call of pomp and circumstance, a blending of classic Priest, Sabbath riffery, Magnum-esque English atmospherics and layered vocals Kansas would surely approve of, all caught in a elegant melodic flow.

Opener "We have arrived" with it's swathes of keyboards from Richard Lowe, and Bendelow's stately guitar figures is Magnum writ fearlessly bold, though Steve Bettney's superb vocals are a dynamic cross between DC Cooper and Rob Halford as opposed to a Bob Catley, whilst the title track is Asia with a core of pure, titanium chased British Steel.

Two tracks that I understand are re-recorded from the debut, namely the Dio era Sabs finery of " Horseman of the Apocalypse" and the twists and turns presented by choice of " Heroes, Saints and Fools", beg the question as why Saracen did not have a substantial career and considerable canon of work behind them by 2003.

Moments of a more delicate shade come in the bittersweet acoustica of "Castles in the Sand" or the love song in need of a sea of lighters that is the soaring vaulted arch of "Angel Eyes".

Ultimately, "Red Sky" is a wondrous tale, a fable of symphonic light and shade traced with melodies that insinuate their way into the cranial cavities, whilst with their elegance suggesting timelessness.

I now fully appreciate why this band were so lauded, and also makes one wonder at the standards of an industry that can allow such a band to fade away for so long. So kudos to Now and Then for persuading them back into the arena, and to the band for the album itself.

Armageddon Rock Sky 885

Why: Melodic, powerful, driving rock, complete with fabulous harmonies and smoooooth guitars that make my toes curl! Welcome to the world of Saracen, who started out as "Lammergier" pre 1981. This is a great collection of new songs as well as some of their classics. Here we have their first ever song "Follow the Piper", regarded by many as the band's anthem, and never available before on record. Also check out "Jeykll and Hyde" from their 1981 session for the radio 1 Rock Show, with an (allbeit rather quiet) intro by none other than someone sounding very much like Tony Wilson and Tommy Vance! Other wonderful songs? ALL OF EM! Coz they got both the melody as well as meaningful lyrics: "We Have Arrived" all about UFOs and the slower "Faith", dedicated to distant lovers, when you just can't find the right words! Definitely one to add to your collection for those mellower moments.

(NB: this radio station recently played ‘Faith’, followed by a Pink Floyd track, so we’re definitely in good company! – ROB).

Atomic Chaser (USA)

Before there was Asia, there was Sarcen. The brainchild of longtime mates, Richard Lowe and Rob Bendelow. Sarcen's sound is hybrid of guitar-oriented rock, that is layered with symphonic keyboard sound. Their debut release in the early 80's, 'Heroes, Saints & Fools', is considered a work of pure genius. That is why it is so hard to believe that Saracen didn't make a bigger impact here on American shores. Hopefully with the release of the band's “welcome back” release, 'Red Sky', Saracen will finally get the recognition and respect they so deserve. Saracen's new line up now features; Steve Bettney on vocals, Rob Bendelow on guitar, Richard Lowe on keyboards, Richard Bendelow on bass and Jamie Little on drums. 'Red Sky' is a fine example of good music standing the test of time.

The material on the new album has re-works of Saracen classics including, "Heroes, Saints & Fools", and the first ever studio recording of the another classic, "Follow The Piper". They may have been written over 20 years ago, but listening to them now, they sound tens times better then most of the new stuff I'm hearing today. Once you hit play and "We Have Arrived" comes through your speakers, your listening senses are taken by force as yet being swept away to a place where only your imagination can take you. The pictures that were painted in my mind when "Horsemen Of The Apocalypse" came on were simply breathtaking! Fans of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" or Savatages "Gutter Ballter" will sure enjoy this song.

Steve Bettney's vocals reminded me of a mix Rob Halford around 'Sad Wings Of Destiny' and Dave Byron of Uriah Heep, but with a smoother delivery. As is evident on such tracks like, "Faith", "Castles In the Sand" and the title track. As for Rob Bendelow's guitar work, nothing short of magnificent! Dynamic, filled with passion and energy, nothing over the top, just hitting the right notes on que. Every song on this recording is graced with the presence of his amazing gutiar work. Great job, Rob!

Now growing up as a military brat had its perks - while my Father was stationed overseas, I had the opportunity to tune into a variety of rock radio shows. One show that I always had a blast listening to was the Tommy Vance "Friday Night Rock Show". I would love hearing Tommy's comments on all the bands he had on his show. If it wasn't for Tommy's show, I would have never had heard of Saracen. That is why I was so happy to see that the band have included a clip from their appearance on Tommy's show. Let me tell you, when you made an appearance on the Tommy Vance Show, you knew you were good!

'Red Sky' is a triumphant return of one rock music true rock bands, one that I would definitely recommend to any one who loves great rock music. Now for some, this will be the first time hearing of Saracen. Take it from Me, over the 30-plus years that I've been listening to music, Saracen is one band whose music will win you over at first listen. Welcome back mates! It's been a while, but it was sure worth the wait.

Chaos Realm (USA)

Check out these amazing facts. In 1981, during the prime of the NWOBHM, 3 of the best & most original albums of that era were released. Legend - "Legend," Holocaust - "The Nightcomers" & SARACEN - "Heroes, Saints & Fools." They were 3 totally different records, each very unique and forged in great part by the creativity of 3 killer guitarists, Pete Haworth, John Mortimer & Rob Bendelow, respectively. And yet, despite releasing further material during the immediate time thereafter, none reached anywhere near the commercial heights scaled by others from the age like Leppard, Maiden or Saxon. But here's the truly amazing part.... Some 22 years down the road, each band, piloted by the same 6-string slinger, is releasing a mammoth new album in 2003: Legend's "Still Screaming," Holocaust's "Primal" (coming in June, & previewed by '02's devastating "War In Heaven...") and SARACEN's "Red Sky."

In the NWOBHM days, SARACEN really stood out to me as being very different from the "pack" of Priest-like dual guitar rippers. Their style was one of heavy, prog-tinged rock with some great Sabbath-y guitar leanings and a mystical overtones. Managing to not only retain that glorious sound, plus bringing in a new maturity that only deepens my respect for them, SARACEN now delivers "Red Sky," a thoroughly awesome album, from the beginning to the end of it's 70+ minutes.

Present here are updated versions of old tracks like "Horsemen Of The Apocalypse" & "Heroes, Saints & Fools," still forged with the timelessnesss of '81, yet fresh as they could get. The keyboards do more than augment, they take their place powerfully & gracefully while Rob Bendelow's guitar drives the proceedings in a stately yet forceful manner & Steve Bettney's vocals work the mid-to-upper range so well.

The new cuts here are just fantastic too, and stack right up, with the melodies in numbers like the title cut, "Faith" & "Angel Eyes" being seductive & gripping. And, listen to the NWOBHM-like scorcher "Jekyll & Hyde!" How 'bout the simply gorgeous instrumental "Menage A Trois?!" This beauty sounds like a cross between the sweetest Schenker licks (think "Arbory Hill") and Gary Moore's work in "Parisienne Walkways." Then, check out the epic closer, "Follow The Piper!!!"

The production of this whole baby (courtesy of Mr. Bendelow) just scintillates like the best Tony Martin-era Sabbath & the insert booklet is awesome. Lovers of any kind of melodic heavy rock need to grab "Red Sky" now. It's a masterpiece!!!


Classic Rock

Another band for the late 70’s comes back, with three original members on board – vocalist Steve Bettney, guitarist Rob Bendelow and keyboard player Richard Lowe. Jamie Little joins them on drums (he is a top session drummer having worked with A1 & Boyzone!) with Richard Bendelow on bass.

This CD features some re-recorded classics mixed in with newer compositions and marks the band’s first new album in 19 years!

The whole album sounds very similar to latter day Uriah Heep, with the emphasis on epic songs relying heavily on harmonised vocals and keyboards. Opener ‘We Have Arrived’ illustrates this to a tee, as the keyboards take a lead role backing the vocal harmonies. But fear not guitar fans as the guitars are cleverly interwoven into the songs without dominating the sound like on ‘Red Sky’ (complete with Heep style vocal wails!). ‘Faith’ pomps it up big time with swirling keys and vocal harmonies all over the place! Brings to mind the Magnum sound of the 80’s. ‘Castles In The Sand’ is a tuneful acoustic number and a chance for Steve Bettney’s vocals to shine. Bizarre track is the instrumental ‘Menage A Trois’ with two saxes battling it out with Rob Bendelow’s guitar.

Quality epic melodic rock with a big nod to the classic sound of the 70’s. Uriah Heep and Praying Mantis fans will lap this album up and melodic rockers will find much to enjoy on here as well. A welcome return and how about a tour with Uriah Heep and Praying Mantis?

Destiny Records

Another real blast from the past, this time from my neck of the woods! Like Magnum and Nightwing, Saracen were one of the UK pomp rock scene’s rising stars in the late 70’s / early 80’s, offering a more sophisticated alternative to the endless stream of NWOBHM hopefuls then grabbing all the attention in magazines like Sounds and Melody Maker. They issued two albums in the early 80’s - 82’s; cult classic debut ‘Heroes, Saints & Fools’, and the more Americanised ‘Change Of Heart’ a couple of years later - before going their separate ways, but after a gap of nearly twenty years the band have been tempted back out of retirement to record ‘Red Sky’.

Not exactly a brand new studio album per sae, ‘Red Sky’ is a mixture of re-recorded songs from the two previous albums with a smattering of newer and previously unreleased cuts. Of the re-recorded songs, ‘Horsemen of The Apocalypse’ and ‘Heroes, Saints & Fools’ still sound excellent (shame they didn’t redo ‘Ready To Fly’ as well), whilst both ‘We Have Arrived’ and ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ have each been given a new lease of life. But the real bonus comes in the shape of songs like ‘Red Sky’, ‘Flame Of Youth and ‘Angel Eyes’, all of which showcase a band who had a hell of a lot more to say than circumstances would allow at the time. And even better they’ve managed to retain that Saracen sound of old whilst bringing it into the 21st century with the aid of modern studio techniques. A very welcome return indeed.

Feedback Fanzine

Any fan of NWOBHM will recognise the name Saracen as they kicked up a storm with some class recordings and great gigs as well as the obligatory appearance on TV On the Radio’s ‘Friday Rock Show’. But by 1985 they were no more until guitarist Rob Bendelow recorded a solo album in 2000 which led to Now & Then tracking him down. Now Rob, along with original members vocalist Steve Bettney and keyboard player Richard Lowe have been joined by drummer James Little and bassist Richard Bendelow to bring Saracen back to life. Now, it is often the case that when a band gets back together after a long absence that it wasn’t worth the wait, but that is definitely not the case with these guys.

They have re-recorded some old numbers as well as the new, and the result is an album that any fans of strong melodic rock will just have to get. At times they are almost Maiden-esque, but with more melody and harmony. It just reeks power and substance, and is miles away from most people’s perception of what a NWOBHM band should be doing. It is majestic without being too over the top, there is no sour taste left in the mouth but rather a desire just to hit the repeat button.

I didn’t know what to expect, but have to say that not only is this one of the finest albums to come out of Now & Then, it also has to be one of the best comeback albums ever. So it is twenty-two years since they released their debut ‘Heroes, Saints & Fools’ (the title cut of which is one of those revisited) and twenty years since their last album, that just doesn’t matter as this is more than worth the wait.

The biggest problem will be getting people to hear this, but once they hear the power of the songs, the great vocals, and the overall joy of listening to this melodic hard rock album they will be converted. For more details visit the label site at www.nowandthen.co.uk, you won’t be disappointed.

Fireworks

It's been almost 20 years since the last Saracen album, and even longer since guitarist/main song-writer Rob Bendelow was part of the band. Now, thanks in part to Fireworks, Rob has pulled the band back together and this spring sees the release of their third album, 'Red Sky'.

Saracen's debut album, 'Heroes, Saints & Fools', was a delight of epic, symphonic rock, but without the backing of a record company at the time, the recordings were pretty rushed and overall sonic quality was not exactly wonderful. Things improved with their follow up 'Change of Heart' in 1984, but by that time Bendelow had left and the band veered towards more contemporary rock sounds.

But now in 2003, the spirit of the original Saracen is back - bigger, better and much more epic than before. Rob Bendelow has spent the last two years recording 'Red Sky' in his ‘Rivendell Studios’, and that loving care and attention to detail have resulted in an absolutely storming, symphonic rock album which, in Rob's own words, "...is going to crush your speaker cones!"

Bendelow has always been a fan of classic bands such as Priest and Sabbath, but has admitted that his love for new bands such as Ten has enabled him to appreciate just how effective layered harmonies can be for a song, a point proven throughout the new album.

This is definitely a CD that gells wonderfully as a whole, with something for everyone and a running order that was thought out long and hard. The term 'epic, symphonic rock' could have been created for Saracen and of the twelve tracks on offer, only three dip below the five-minute mark.

Opener 'We Have Arrived' has a pretentious intro lasting well over two minutes, evoking fond memories of Magnum's 'Sacred Hour', and the Magnum comparison is again brought to mind with 'Faith', a magnificent four and a half minute pop-rock song that was originally recorded on Bendelow's solo 'Templar' album, but has found new life and vigour here. Similarly with 'Angel Eyes', a glorious love song with Steve Bettney dueting with delightful German chantress Dagmar Kaletsch, a girl who has the voice of an angel, wrapped in honey and sex. This song has one of my favourite choruses from the last decade, and an outro I listen to on 'repeat'!

We also have two tracks re-recorded from that debut album: 'Horsemen of the Apocalypse' is a massive, Sabbath inspired rocker, while 'Heroes, Saints and Fools' is an almost eight minute long epic, opening on banks of keys before twisting and turning through several characters in a story about the choices in life. A classic!

Head down, pedal to the metal hard rock is provided by the likes of the Status Quo on steroids 'Flame of Youth', and 'Jekyll & Hyde', which evokes glorious memories of classic Priest, Bettney at times sounding uncannily like Halford.

For those lighter moments we have the beautiful acoustic balladry of 'Castles in the Sand', and 'Menage A Trois', a six and a half minute instrumental which is perfect late night music for lovers.

The band's live signature tune was 'Follow the Piper', and this epic closes the album, showcasing everything one could want in a classic Saracen song: evocative keys, massive drums, banks of harmony vocals and Bendelow's guitar riffing like a man possessed but tempered with feeling when required!

'Red Sky' is an album that is at times progressive, at others totally over-blown pomp, at all times genius.

Heart of the Rock

In a Lazarus type comeback, English pomp/AOR stalwarts Saracen have returned, ninteen years since their last effort 'Change Of Heart'. Positively, three original members have also made the trip forward in time, Bettney, Lowe and Rob Bendelow with newcomers Jamie Little and Richard Bendelow, the latter replacing original bassist Barry Yates, who passed away in 1992.

The re-emergence of Saracen was due to Rob Bendelow and the success of his solo Templar album 'Come To The Light' back in 2000, which prompted Now And Then to try and resurrect Saracen, something successfully achieved. For 'Red Sky' Saracen have opted to re-record five 80's favourites among a batch of originals. To their credit Saracen haven't altered their style too much since the heady days of 1982 and have happily stuck to their pomp guns.



 



A vintage 80's track kicks it off, 'We Have Arrived', Saracen's tale of a UFO visit back in 1981. Very mid-paced with guitars and synths both vying for attention, the reliance vocal wise is placed squarely on high pitched harmonies. It picks up near the end, with quicker movement and some solo tangents, all highly melodic. Perhaps the strongest track follows, the title cut, which is borderline heavy metal, some low end riffing giving a vintage Iron Maiden appeal.





Bettney comes across like Bruce Dickinson at his best, and an abundance of synth interludes make it a must-hear. 'Faith' is contemporary AOR at its best with timeless harmonies throughout and well balanced dramatics. It is completely at odds with the remake of 'Horseman Of The Apocolypse', seven minutes of heavy pomp, keyboard-heavy naturally and a host of twists, some slower, some uptempo, the latter segments definitive NWOBHM. Quite bleak is the mellow 'Castles In The Sand', a lament about ageing, which to be honest is hardly anything to shout about is it? Acoustic ridden, there's also a sax solo, adding flavour to five dreary minutes. Another remake follows, 'Heroes, Saints And Fools', the title track of 1981's debut.





This displays Saracen's preference to start things out slowly, before building up steam halfway through. An epic no less, the keybord work is pomp of some magnitude, giving an insight into why Saracen were so highly regarded. 

'Flame Of Youth' is very steeped in the kind of melodic rock Praying Mantis are supplying at this moment, halfway between AOR and metal, this one a satisfying four minute shot of relative aggression. Much more to my tastes is 'Jeckyll And Hide', pent up NWOBHM fury with spitfire riffs right from that genre's handbook. I can't get over the notion however that Bettney is Samson era Bruce Dickinson in disguise, perfectly mastering Bruce's 'Head On' crudeness. 'Ride Shotgun With The Wind' is powerful hard rock, little pomp tendencies here, much more acceptable than 'Angel Eyes', a tepid ballad.

Melodicrock - Germany

The british band Saracen gained some success in the beginning of the 80s with their debut album "Heroes, Saints And Fools" which was released on an independent label and managed to jump into the british Top 50 charts. After several line-up changes and another album named "Change Of Heart" in 1984 the band finally called it quits in 1985. After almost two decades Now & Then Records secured a 3-album deal with the band. Besides mastermind Rob Bendelow two more members from the original line-up are on board, they are singer Steve Bettney and keyboarder Richard Lowe.

The 12 songs of "Red Sky" mark the triumphant return of Saracen in the spring of 2003. With "Heroes, Saints And Fools" and "Horseman Of The Apocalypse" from the debut, "We Have Arrived" and "Jekyll And Hyde" from "Change Of Heart" and the previously unreleased concert favorite "Follow The Piper" there are also some songs from the past on the new album and they go pretty well together with the new songs and the new improved sound. Apart from some minor exceptions "Red Sky" sounds british through and through, almost like a small tour through the history of Hard Rock of the British Empire. Saracen always had a special liking for epic rock songs in which they combine hard rocking guitars, interesting keyboard arrangements and great vocal passages. The vocal harmonies are partly arranged in the typical "Uriah Heep-vocal style" as you can hear on the title track. Further musical parallels can be found in the more epic songs of Magnum, Praying Mantis and yes, an American band called Kansas. But I have hardly heard such a good combination of heavyness and memorable hooklines like on this album. The power with which the often six or seven minutes long songs are delivered is amazing. The whole production is great and particularly the drums have a special penetrating power.

The CD has some of its best moments on the rock hymns "We Have Arrived", "Red Sky" and "Follow The Piper". The outstanding "Faith" and the ballad duet "Angel Eyes" are two very AOR sounding tracks. More variety comes with the instrumental "Menage a Trois" which recalls Pink Floyd's "Us And Them" with it's saxophone parts and the up-tempo rocker "Jeckyll And Hyde" with the Ian Gillan-screams. Many songs have a progressive touch also, the best example may be "Heroes, Saints And Fools" which incorporates several tempo changes and an instrumental part sounding like Marillion in their beginnings and the Steve Rothery-like guitars aren't missing too. If the boys continue to release more albums on the same quality level as this one, I'm certainly looking forward to the next Saracen opus.

Metal Only

SARACEN is a high octane NWOBHM-band, a band that was up to the same standard as MARILLION. But in that genre they would have been better off in the States than in England. Their debut album “Heroes, Saints and Fools” has contributed a few songs for re-recording and they sound fabulous.

Guitarist Rob Bendelow has handled production duties very well, a distinct improvement compared to the debut. The 2000-project TEMPLAR (containing several of the gents in the band) has donated too, “Angel Eyes” and “Faith”. From an old Friday Night Rock Show session comes the magnificent “Jekyl & Hyde” and “Flame of Youth”.

Lost without new ideas? Oh no, the title track is brand new and a real rocker where Rob Bendelow´s BLACK SABBATH influences really show. The one tiny exception on the album is the saxophone filled instrumental “Menage à Trois”. This album is so good that it brings the listener back to the 80-ies – when the albums were so good you could complain when just one song wasn’t up to par!

Missing Piece

"Red Sky" is Saracen's third album and their first since 1984's "Change Of Heart". It contains seven new tracks along with re-recordings of five Saracen classics including the legendary "Heroes, Saints and Fools", as well as the first studio version of old ‘live’ favourite "Follow The Piper."

Not dissimilar in style and feel to the recent Praying Mantis releases, Saracen project epic Melodic Hard Rock, carried by strong guitar leads, atmospheric keyboards and pompous vocal harmonies, all dressed up in a classic NWOBHM sound which stems a lot from the Halford-style vocals of Steve Bettney and the early eighties guitar and keyboards.

New track "Red Sky" is a charismatic track, built around great keyboards and strong riffing - a mid-tempo melodic rocker with a genuine epic feel. The first ever studio recording of the old live classic "Follow The Piper" is a superb hard rocker, close in feel to "Crusader" era Saxon. The seven minute title track from 1982's "Heroes, Saints And Fools" is a pompous and complex structured song, featuring many Iron Maiden type tempo changes and ripping guitar work. "Horsemen Of The Apocalypse" is a remake of another song originally recorded for "Heroes, Saints & Fools" and another intelligent and intricate slice of classic hard rock. "Red Sky" is chock full of classy and momentous rock tracks, sewn together by a wonderfully melodic thread and strong NWOBHM roots. Highly recommended.

NEH Records

Among the important musical subgenres in England in the early 1980s were the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), as exemplified by bands like Saxon and Judas Priest, and neo-progressive rock, as exemplified by bands like Marillion.

Also around the turn of the '80s, Saracen released their first album – Heroes, Saints & Fools. Fast forward more than twenty years: With their new "Red Sky" album, symphonic hard rockers Saracen return - after nearly two decades away - with a potent, coherent blend of those two '80s-vintage styles. The album fuses the dry, cutting riffage of Saxon and Priest with the accessibly artsy, keyboard-infused pomp tendencies of neo-prog, resulting in an energetic, melodic, and ambitious set that extends beyond the basics of either component subgenre.

Solid sonics, consistently engaging melodies, and superb, Rob Halford-influenced vocals make "Red Sky" an impressive, convincing return; the opening track announces "We Have Arrived" (literally) and the remainder of the record impressively supports the claim. Other highlight tracks include the glorious hard pomp/neo-prog instrumental "Menage A Trois," the gorgeous atmospherics of "Angel Eyes," and the pomped-up NWOBHM of the title track and "Follow The Piper."

"Red Sky" is unquestionably old-school; you can call it "dated", you can call it "authentic", just don't ignore it. Admirably, Saracen has remained true to their roots, and for fans of symphonic/pomp-style hard rock that confidently ventures beyond obvious musical borders, the results are well worth repeated listens.

Buy this CD in The Music Store

Price Tool Website

Thus starts Red Sky, the long awaited (by me anyway) comeback album by 80s symphonic rockers, Saracen.

Back in the eighties there were a lot of rock bands who almost made it big. Of all of them, the ones who most deserved it were Saracen. Their debut album, Heroes, Saints and Fools was a masterpiece, which should have become one of the most ground breaking albums of the decade but was sadly passed over. The band split up shortly afterwards.

However, last year, guitarist and main man Rob Bendelow got the band back together again in the wake of a rather impressive solo album, Come To The Light.

Red Sky is the result, twelve songs of which four are from the original two Saracen albums, a fifth is an old Saracen standard recorded for the first time, and two appeared on Rob's solo album. Five are completely new - though one will be recognisable as a re-write of an older song.

The album opens in style with We Have Arrived which was their second single, and a song from the second album. However it is almost unrecognisable; instead of a full-out 4 minute rock song, the new version opens with multi-layer vocal harmonies, which gives way to a new keyboard melody, punctuated by some raw, powerful guitar, building gradually as a long intro until finally the vocals come in. Even then, the song doesn't really take off until four minutes in.

It's a very clever way to open a comeback album, with an old song re-written. It stamps a mark, it says, "this is Saracen, we are back, we have arrived but we have moved on."

What has stayed the same? Rob's guitar is as ballsy and punchy; Steve Bettney's vocals soar as they did twenty years ago; Richard Lowe's keyboards are perhaps a little more polished, a bit more upfront. What has changed? The two new members, Richard Bendelow (Rob's son) on bass and Jamie Little on drums fit in perfectly. What else is new is the mulit-layered vocals on the choruses, a choral sound that is prevelant throughout Red Sky, which was not there before.

The other three older songs re-recorded are much more faithful to the originals. All of them feature backing vocals that are more prominent and choral. Horsement of the Apocalypse is otherwise very true to the original. Heroes, Saints and Fools, the title track of their first, classic album, is probably the most eagerly awaited re-recording and again is faithful, except for a more complex - and sometimes heavy - backing passage during the conversations between the boy, the gatekeeper and the hero, saint and fool. Jekyll and Hyde, from the second album, is also quite true to the original, except that the drumming is slightly less frantic. However it is an important re-recording as, although Rob wrote the song, he didn't play on the second album. So we hear it with his guitar for the first time, and he doesn't disappoint!

Of the new songs, Red Sky is the title track for a reason: it is probably the new song that is closest to the original Saracen sound and style. A gutsy guitar riff, slightly airy, ethereal keyboards, and some wonderful vocals. After the second chorus, and a middle eighth, Rob brings on his first guitar break, a classic Saracen sound, to take us into an instrumental passage before coming back to the original riff.

See the heavens burning, it's a hunter's moonrise
Never close your eyes
You'll be caught like a child in the wild, by surprise

Flame of Youth is a pretty straightforward rocker, built around a fun, ballsy riff, which gives Rob a chance to let rip a little during the play out at the end. Ride Shotgun with the Wind is the other new song, somewhat slower, centred around a simple riff, almost plodding, a real road song in every sense.

Castles in the Sand is softer song, mostly played on acoustic guitar. Interestingly, the guitar and vocal melody in the verses are taken from an old song, "Face in the Crowd", with new lyrics and a totally new chorus.

Menage a trois is an instrumental, introduced with some beautiful, layered keyboards. It builds around a duet - triet? - between guitar and two saxophones, before speeding up to let the guitar carry the lead for a while, then slowin back down to let the saxes play it out.

Follow the Piper was a song that Saracen used to play live, one of their earliest songs, but was never recorded until now. A simple riff, with a softer, subtle middle; a haunting keyboard sound; towards the end it builds to a superb solo, rising to a finale crescendo.

Pied piper is it true this dream we all can share?
I will go with you now if you'll lead me there

There are two songs from Rob's "Templar" solo project. Faith is a nice song, which is growing on me; it is a softer, more commercial rock song, with a catchy chorus and some lovely instrumental work going on in the background. However, it is far surpassed by Angel Eyes, also originally Templar. This is another mid tempo rock song, sung as a duet between Steve and Dagi Kaletsch. It is rapidly becoming one of my favourite songs of the year, simple but quite stunning, with a beautiful, emotional chorus. Dagi's vocals are softer, less raunchy than Lori, who sang the original, but she gives it a more innocent feel and really brings out some wonderful emotion from Steve. Absolutely stunning.

So touch me, angel eyes,
So much to see, I realise
Caress me...possess me
Now you're here I feel so alive

Summary - a worthy comeback album indeed! It is great to hear the old songs, both faithful to the original, and completely rewritten. Of course the highlights are the new songs - Red Sky, Flame of Youth, Ride Shotgun With The Wind and Follow The Piper, but Angel Eyes is quite exceptional too.

Would I have done anything differently? I might have left off "Faith"; perhaps I might have left off one of the songs from the first album; it was such a classic, that any rerecording is going to prompt comparisons. Of course, all of this debate is really about how to get more new songs on, and for that we will have to look forward to the next album! Judging by Red Sky, it will be worth the wait!

ProgPower

The story of Saracen goes back to the mid 70s, when Richard Lowe and Rob Bendelow formed the band Lammergier. They added folk guitarist turned rock bassist Barry Yates to the line up and started to play live extensively through out the English ‘Midlands’. In the early 80s they completed the line up with Steve Bettney on vocals and John Thorne on drums and they changed their name to Saracen and started on their first album, ‘Heroes, Saints & Fools’ that caught the attention of a major label, Polygram. However, the tide turned in 1983, when Bendelow and Thorne left. Although the remaining members continued the band and recorded their second album, called ‘Change of Heart’, with the band effectively closing down in mid-1985. Saracen was resurrected early 2000, when Rob Bendelow released his Templar album ‘Come to the Light’ and Now & Then Records managed to bring three of the founding members back, it meant the return of Saracen.

Red Sky is a very diverse album with heavy rock songs with a metal edge, but also some ballads. Also, some Saracen classics like ‘Heroes, Saints & Fools’ and the first studio recording of ‘Follow the Piper’ were added to the album. ‘We Have Arrived’ is the very fitting first track on the album and it shows what Saracen has to offer: crystal clear keyboards, crunchy guitars, excellent bass, (and) powerful drums and haunting vocals! Singer Steve Bettney reminds me at times of Timo Kotipelto (Stratovarius). The songs are marked by strong melodies and they just stay in your head the first time you hear them. There is plenty of room for keyboard solos and the rhythm section of Richard Bendelow (bass) and Jamie Little (drums) is well oiled. Amidst of all the guitars there is room for love and ballads, which we find in the song ‘Faith’, with great vocals and a beautiful guitar solo. The inspiration for the songs come from various sources, even from people who knock on your door and make you write a classic song (read the liner notes for the story): ‘Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a song with powerful drums, a great heavy guitar riff and dark lyrics about the end of the world.

‘Jekyll and Hide’ starts with an old fragment of the Tommy Vance Night Rock Show, where Saracen was playing, and without warning all registers are opened with one of the heaviest songs of the album. Great song! Completely different is ‘Menage a Trois’, an instrumental song with two guest saxophonists, John Davison and Sophie Freeman, which really makes you dream away if you close your eyes on this one. What can I say more about this album? How about ‘Ride Shotgun with the Wind’, a real biker song with a blues feel to it, or the ballad ‘Angel Eyes’, where Steve Bettney sings a duet with guest vocaliste Dagi Kaletsch. The album ends with the very first song, not from Saracen, but even older, from Lammergier: ‘Follow the Piper’, a fantastic up tempo song with great keyboards and a good guitar solo.

Red Sky is a very addictive album and this becomes worse the more you play it. I wouldn’t call it Progressive Metal, although some of the songs do have a metal edge, but it is definitely one of the better epic rock albums you can find these days. We must thank Now & Then Records for their hand in bringing this classic album to us and we can look forward to the future as there will be another album by these skilled musicians. Until then let’s enjoy this outstanding album, that you will enjoy the moment you hear the first tones. One last piece of advice: if you play this album, play it loud!

Rock United

Do you ever get that feeling that you should’ve been born ten to fifteen years earlier from your time and that you missed out on so many good rock acts that were playing live when you were still in your mothers womb ? Or that you have missed out on a lot of great bands from your parents youth that you haven’t even discovered yet ? Well, that happens to me a lot and I ain’t even young anymore ! This time the “new” music comes in the form of Saracen, which was formed back in the mid 70’s by the name of Lammergier and in 1981 changed their name to Saracen and also that year they released their first album „Heroes, Saints And Fools”, which got great feedback and the band even got regular airplay from Tommy Vance’s “Friday Night Rock Show”, culminating in a “live” session being broadcast in January 1982. Now the band is back with “Red Sky” and with new line-up, that differs from the old one now having Richard Bendelow on bass and Jamie Little on drums.

“Red Sky” kicks off with “We Have Arrived” with Steve Bettney sounding like the soft side of Rob Halford. The bands music is labelled as symphonic rock, but these guys have more to offer than just that. It’s also progressive and very pomp at times. The title track “Red Sky” is much rougher and has that feeling of good old rock’n’roll in it, something alike to the Tony Martin-era Black Sabbath. By now it is evident that these guys have been around here before.

From here on the Cd gets better and better. Other rocking tunes are “Horsemen Of The Apocalypse” with synths at the beginning, old classics from the guys; “Heroes, Saints And Fools” and “Follow The Piper” and these sound great. I don’t know how the originals sounded, but these do rock, they’re complex, symphonic songs that make you start drumming on the table.

“Flame Of The Youth” continues with a great rocking beat where Bettney screams at times like Glenn Hughes. “Jekyll And Hyde” is in the same vein, there’s a hypnotic, straight rhythm to this one that continues throughout the song. “Ride Shotgun With The Wind” has again that great jamming rhythm in old rock style, thought at times it seems like it gets stuck. “Menage A Trois” is the only instrumental here and has saxophones. It’s an interesting, varying song with jamming and peaceful moments.

The softer side of the band is shown in “Faith” and me being a romantic I really love the lyrics and the idea behind them, as written in the lyrics sheet; ‘Ever fallen for someone, yet been unable to find the right words at the right time ?’. The song is beautiful too, it has a mellow start that leads to a catchy, rocking chorus. The simple “Castles In The Sand” tells a story of the decades of life, kind of a depressing song yet very melodic. “Angel Eyes” has the same story as “Faith”, though continues ‘If your eyes first met across a crowded room though, perhaps no words were necessary !’. There’s a female guest singer here, Dagi Kaletsch, and she brings a nice, gentle touch to the song. With Steve and Dagi singing together this song sounds really dramatic, it’s a true heart-tearing moment of love that we all have gone through.

If you have a little hippie living inside of you that loves progressive music with a weird twist that is totally off the mainstream of radio music, this one’s for you. For me listening to Saracen, you get a good feeling from their music. It’s rock, folk, psychedelia and even AOR mixed together. Make your own conclusions.

Strutter

In the late 1970s a new Symphonic Melodic Rockband was formed called SARACEN. The band played in the style of MAGNUM, RAINBOW and URIAH HEEP, and a few years later they had some success with the release of their debut LP ‘Heroes, saints and fools’. The following years saw them release another album, before closing the book of SARACEN in 1985.

15 years later guitarist Rob Bendelow released a solo album under the moniker TEMPLAR, with an album titled ‘Come to the light’ (reviewed by us 3 years ago). This eventually led to the reunion of SARACEN, and now in the year 2003, the band has finally released a new album. The album is titled ‘Red Sky’ and NOW AND THEN RECORDS has released it. Their music is of a very high level, a mixture of AOR/Pomprock, Melodic Rock and 80s Metal, something like KANSAS meets MAGNUM meets PRAYING MANTIS meets IRON MAIDEN. Very 80s with lots of keys as well and a pure British approach.

The album has a playing length of 70 minutes and keeps you enjoying it from start to finish. The highlights for me are “We Have Arrived” (80s MAGNUMish semi melodic rocker with big harmonyvocals and keys), “Red Sky” (strong melodic heavy rocker a la RAINBOW, with keyboard solos), “Faith” (very strong semi AOR ballad, classy 80s sound here!), “Horseman of the Apocalypse” (very impressive midtempo melodic heavy rocker, superstrong impressive epic song with a MAIDENish break and guitar solo), “Heroes, Saints and Fools” (epic semi melodic rocker a la MAGNUM, KANSAS), “Angel Eyes” (male/female duet, great semi AOR ballad) and closing track “Follow the Piper” (big uptempo melodic rocker).

This CD is highly recommended if you want to hear quality Melodic Rock with a strong diversity of song styles.

Fireworks

Being a massive Magnum fan, I immediately went out and bought Saracen’s debut album – Heroes, Saints & Fools – back in 1981, when reading of the comparisons in the press. I loved that album. The sound wasn’t so great, but the songs had an epic quality with lyrical content that appealed to my youthful ears. The follow-up was a massive disappointment, primarily due to departure of main songwriter/guitarist Rob Bendelow. Now, almost twenty years later, we have the first solo project from Bendelow – Come To The Light – recorded under the ‘Templar’ monicker.

Joining him on this project are erstwhile Saracen colleagues Steve Bettney & Jason Gardner, Jason’s wife Lorraine, Rob’s 16 year old son Richard…and various other friends.

Musically, the album is very close to Saracen of old, though the addition of Lorraine’s lead vocals on several tracks makes for a distinctive alternative to Steve’s and Jason’s more hard rockin’ tones. There are three instrumentals on the album, including a wonderful re-working of the Saracen classic ‘Dolphin Ride’, and ‘Swords of Damascus’, which is pure ‘Heroes…’ Saracen!

My favourite tracks are the evocative ‘Faith’, which simply bleeds emotion, and has a storming chorus that brings to mind Magnum at their peak, plus ‘Angel Eyes’, which starts with haunting pan pipes, and sees a duet being performed between Steve & Lorraine. The chorus is one of the most beautiful and passionate I have heard in years.

Other songs include the hard-rocking opener ‘On The Rockface’, and the seven-minute-plus workout of ‘Just Me & My Flying V’, plus a cover of the George Harrison classic ‘While My Buitar Gently Weeps’.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Bendelow album without an epic track, and here we finish on the ten minute epic ‘Come To The Light’, a fantastical musical description of passing through the Event Horizon of a black hole! It features classical guitar, haunting sax solos and moody oration. Simply inspirational!

Those keeping up with news on the web will know that this album has lead directly to the reformation of Saracen, a new album of which is currently being worked upon. A full interview with Rob will appear in the next issue of Fireworks.

Metalcoven

The last time that the name of Rob Bendelow came along my way was when, in 1994, the then ten-year-old "Change of Heart" LP by the English band Saracen entered my record collection. Saracen was a group that crossed epic hardrock with progressive influences and AOR-ish accessibility, and really impressed me with their two albums.

Unfortunately they did not get the success they deserved, even though both albums belong at the top of melodic hardrock, and are hard to beat. Too good for this world? Too accessible and moving for narrow-minded progressive rockers? Who knows? 2001, and twenty years after the release of their wonderful debut "Heroes Saints and Fools", Rob Bendelow comes back to the light with a brand new album, ‘Come To The Light’. With guest musicians involved, the whole thing seems to me like a kind of studio project; he’s even got some of the old Saracen members together, among them the Godlike singer Steve Bettney. How insane!

And there it is, this magic, these dreamful, deep but still memorable melodies. The marvellous guitar playing by string-magician Rob B. himself; keyboard ‘spheres’ that go further than the usual superficialities, and vocals of absolute greatness. It is a fine thing to listen to a CD which is most of the time not really extreme, but so anthemic, and absolutely non-pathetic among all those trendy and hectic, crap outfits like Korn, all those happy humming metal bands, all gothic fairies and too soft mainstream groups that cannot even spell "profound". Pathos and dumb aggressions are for other, trendy bands, Templar set on emotions and that burning guitar work that you can recognise from hundreds of similar sounding bands. "Just Me and My Flying V", the opener "On the Rockface" or the George Harrison cover "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" are fine examples for Rob Bendelow's guitar playing, rocking but still melodic and spiritually haunting in the lead section. Yet the softer pieces are no less impressive.

You can say that Rob has successfully made his comeback, and even exceeds the old Saracen level sometimes. My personal favourite is a ballad, titled "Angel Eyes", simple structured but impressively beautiful, pushed to an unearthly level by Steve Bettney and Lori Gardner. I feel such a wonderful warmth running through my body, while watching my cat Linus listening devotionally. His reaction proves my thesis that Templar are Godlike! Welcome back, Mr. Bendelow.

Contact this band at www.templarmusic.co.uk and let yourself (as long as you don't need powermetal all the time... ) to be enchanted by this band. Ten-out-of-ten for the rock album of the year.

Power Play Magazine

Templar’s ‘Come To The Light’ makes for the perfect soundtrack to driving on a rainy Friday night (trust me on this one). Overflowing with evocative, moody and textured melodies, it oozes class.

Although group leader and guitarist Rob Bendelow prefers to call this project, which features ‘special guest vocalists and musicians’, an AOR album, it goes beyond that. In fact, I’m not even sure I’m comfortable referring to this music as ‘AOR’. Bendelow is the former guitarist for British symphonis rockers Saracen, and his influences show on ‘Come To The Light’.

You’ll finf three expressive instrumentals that conjure up the exact images you’d expect after considering their titles – ‘Blue Stanza’, ‘Dolphin Ride’ and ‘Swords of Damascus’. None of tracks feature an unnecessary note. More impressive though, are songs like ‘Wish It Was Me’. Which boasts a sensuous vocal be Lori Emmitt-Gardner that never goes over the top, and ‘Angel Eyes’, a duet between smokey-voiced Emmitt-Gardner and former Saracen frontman Steve Bettney, that chills the spine as only the best power ballads can.

But perhaps the album’s defining moment is ‘Faith’, another tune featuring Bettney on vocals, that gloriously captures the emotion and frustration of love: “Days together are so precious, yet they go so fast…you know I never wanna leave. So I try collecting memories of every move you make, and every word you breathe…then much more than this…..I try to save every kiss”. What makes this song so unbelievably successful (besides it’s intrinsic melody) is that Bettney can sings those words without coming off as a ‘wuss’.

‘Come To The Light’ is no ordinary rock record – you won’t find yourself banging your head to this one…..but you will be moved!

Proce Tool Website

If I had to list my five favourite bands - come to think of it, I have, in an epinion somewhere - Saracen would definitely be in there.

They barely made any commercial impression in the few years they were around, but influentially they cut deeper, and among fans they are recognised for maybe having been ahead of their time.

Saracen were a band from the early eighties; they can be described as melodic rock, progressive rock, but they preferred the term "symphonic rock". Their debut album, Heroes, Saints and Fools, is regarded as a classic by those who have heard it and even now, twenty odd years on, it remains unsurpassed in many regards.

Sadly Saracen's founder member, songwriter and guitarist Rob Bendelow had to quit the band, which broke up in the mid eighties. Not much has been heard since, for a while, until now.

Rob Bendelow has recorded a new "solo" album under the name of Templar. The album, Come To The Light, released independently on his own label. He has regrouped some of his former Saracen bandmates for this project: vocalist Steve Bettney sings on several songs, and so does bassist Jason Gardner. Unsurprisingly, several of the songs do sound very like the old band. However, it is not "the third Saracen album"; as well as two old Saracen songs (one of which never appeared on record) there is one cover, but the other seven songs are all new, originals. The new material draws on a variety of sounds and styles, from rock and blues to keyboard instrumentals. It is, in effect, a classic "solo" album by a gifted songwriter and accomplished musician, reflecting the variety of influences and music he enjoys, as well as giving himself the chance to let rip on the guitar!

The album opens with a powerful, kicking drum riff, a guitar joins in, then the guitar breaks into a solid rock riff. On The Rockface is a great opener, up-front rock, some lovely guitarwork, an intelligent rock song and, to the old Saracen fan, it leaves no doubt: "Rob is back in business"! The only downside is that, after the great intro, the drum-machine drums at times do sound a bit too fake.

Faith is a softer, more commercial rock song, sung by Saracen vocalist Steve. It's a good song which has grown on me after the first few weeks when I would sometimes skip it. However, it is overshadowed by the following song. Wish It Was Me is a great bluesy rock song, simple verses over acoustic guitar, drums and bass, then raw, powerful singalong chorus. It is sung by Lorainne Emmit-Gardner, who shows she has a remarkable voice, bluesy, melancholy in the verses and belting out the choruses - she should be a star herself! Rob Bendelow gets the chance to show off his guitar skills here too.

I guess no one's saying how love can live on a one way street
When your journey home's all in the rain

Blue Stanza is a guitar-led instrumental, hinting at blues, rock, sounding quite Gary Moore-esque at times. This gives way to a cover of George Harrison's/The Beatles' While My Guitar Gently Weeps, an interesting version, quite faithful to the original, but my preference would have been another Bendelow piece!

Dolphin Ride is an old Saracen instrumental, from the first album. I love the original version, so it was quite odd hearing it updated and redone. The melody is the same as before, but the rhythm section is completely different, with some new keyboard sounds running through. Very different, very good, very beautiful, equally haunting, trippy, but in a different way.

Jason Gardner sings again on Just Me And My Flying V, another rock song suited to his voice. Mid tempo, speeding up in the middle, then a classic Bendelow-Saracen guitar solo insturmental bringing it back to the riff and leading to the end. Almost plodding at times, a rolling, riffing, rocker...

None of which applies to Angel Eyes. Well, rockey maybe, but this is a beautiful ballad. A duet, with Saracen singer Steve Bettney sharing the vocals with the amazing Lori, this is one of the album's unexpected highlights. They work so well together, the song is soft and simple but together they electrify it, with some help from a beautiful solo by Rob.

So touch me, Angel Eyes
So much to see, I realise
Caress me, possess me
Now you're here I feel so alive

Swords of Damascus is an old Saracen instrumental that was never recorded. The opening guitar riff sounds arabesque, a horn calling across the desert, then the drums kick in and it takes off. A great track, moody, atmospheric, you can almost taste the dust.

Finally the title track, Come To The Light, starting with a choral intro, then a beautiful acoustic guitar section. A gentle, beautiful, moving passage which then changes, giving way to a more upbeat, rhythmic passage, spoken vocals overlaying keyboards, spacey at times, very interesting, sounding at times almost "Enigma"-like, or "Jade Warrior", at times almost sinister, dark. The acoustic guitar wins, the Templar choir join in and some instrumental passages take us through. This song is for lying back in a darkened room holding hands...for a massage...for making love to.

There is some really great music here. There are some new Saracen songs, but also some other fantastic material. Well worth a listen whether you like Saracen, not, or never heard of them!

Ray's Realm

Interesting how things end up coming to our attention, especially the ones we really like. I was always a huge fan of the English band SARACEN in the '80's. Their 2 albums, "Heroes, Saints & Fools" and "Change of Heart" were sterling examples of a unique blend of heavy prog, AOR and metal that also featured great guitar work and that all important clincher, killer songs. I had always wondered what had happened to SARACEN main-man Rob Bendelow and probably should have searched for him on the 'net before now. However, in an e-mail I got a couple months back from a reader of this page (Hello Down Under, Dennis!) he referenced Bendelow's new TEMPLAR project. I found the page, fired off an e-mail and quickly heard back from Rob that a CD was on the way.

Of course, then 09/11/01 happened. With things like that, we all took some steps back to realize what is really important in life and a disc on it's way didn't have quite the urgency it might have otherwise. But, a few weeks later, a packet from England arrived and since I tore it open and slid the TEMPLAR CD into my player, only The Mammals CD has given it serious competition. In truth, this is easily one of the best albums of the year. Why? Like most things that are great, TEMPLAR is not the easiest thing to describe. Yes, there are elements of the heavy prog of SARACEN, but then again, there's an AOR-ish glory I haven't heard since the first New England record as well.

A wealth of lead vocalists, both male & female adds to the mix and, unlike some works where this can cause confusion, here the variety of singers only strengthens the material's confluence. As with SARACEN, this debut by TEMPLAR is fused by the beautiful & powerful guitar work of Rob Bendelow. His playing has a lyrical, soaring quality that accompanies the styles of the very best. His respect for legends like Gary Moore, Iommi, Gilmour & Tipton is acknowledged but becomes far and away it's own. And, like all records that reach the upper echelon, it's the songs that ultimately do it. Whether it's the riffing "On The Rockface," the beautiful melodies of "Blue Stanza" and "Faith" or the Electric-Sun-like epic title cut (10+ min), there is simply nothing close to a filler. Hell, there are even a couple SARACEN-days instrumentals, "Dolphin Ride" & "Swords Of Damascus" and a scorching reading of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." In all, anyone who likes rock music, done with a sense of passion and symphonic power, not to mention superbly written & catchy songs will find something for themselves in "Come To The Light." I, myself, found a remarkable album I'll be spinning for some time to come!

Strutter Zine

Guitarist Rob Bendelow used to play with British Symphonic melodic rockers SARACEN, with whom he released a couple of great albums. Now he has a new project called TEMPLAR, and 'Come To The Light' is their first release. The album sounds very diverse, also due to the fact Rob has used many outsiders to come and play on the record.

Former SARACEN singer Steve Bettney also sings on 4 tracks, so there's a lot to enjoy for the people who wondered whatever happened to that legendary UK band SARACEN. The CD has a fantastic production, very high quality and right up there with major label releases. Opener "On The Rockface" is a good uptempo melodic rocker. Then comes the lovely pure AOR song "Faith", a superb classy 80s inspired tune a la MARK FREE and FOREIGNER, a very strong song indeed, maybe one of the best new AOR songs at the moment! The CD continues with the mid-tempo AOR/Melodic Rocker "Wish It Was Me", a great song with a female fronted singer called Lori-Emmitt Gardner, who reminds me of DARBY MILLS and ROBIN BROCK.

There are also three instrumentals - "Blue Stanza", "Dolphin Ride" and "Swords of Damascus", the GEORGE HARRISON/BEATLES cover "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (great job, very well-done!), the semi-rocker "Just Me and my Flying V" and closing track "Come to the Light". This last mentioned song is a ten-minute track that sounds a bit strange, there's a gospel kinda choir, a long instrumental part with a sax and some progressive rock influences can be heard, so a mix-up of all kinds of styles. Everything is played very well and it's a pleasure to listen to.

However, there's one more sensational song and that's the terrific semi-AOR ballad "Angel Eyes", a duet between Steve Bettney and Lori-Emmitt Gardner, incredible HUGE AOR song, with a catchy chorus!

This is a quality release with some very good performed music, recommended to fans of different genres, fans of female fronted rock will like a few songs, AOR fans definitely will love some songs, fans of instrumental music will find something of interest and maybe also the average rock fan will appreciate the diversity on this record.

Swedish Rock Mag

Do they still make albums like this one? In an age when our mailbox is flooded by speed and brutality this bunch dare to stand out. TEMPLAR consists of 7 persons, with the ex-SARACEN Guitarist Rob Bendelow at the nucleus of the band. He brings three vocalists along for the adventure; Steven Bettney (ex-Saracen), Jason Gardner (ex-bass player of Saracen) and Lori Emmitt-Gardner, a fabulous singer that apparently performs on both sides of the Atlantic, guitarists Richard Bendelow and Paul Shephard as well as sax player John Davison.

Not to worry now, this is not a departure from (hard)rock, just a softer approach. In case anyone wonders, Saracen were a classic symphonic NWOBHM-band.

The first track, “On the Rockface”, takes off in a typically Saracen way, with a dreamy and atmospheric keyboard until Rob takes charge with a killer riff. Third song “Wish it Was Me” showcases Loris amazing talent. The working title was “My Natalie Imbruglia Song” but the result has nothing to do with Natalie.

Three instrumental tracks are offered, I´d be surprised otherwise with a guitarist like Rob on the team! “Blue Stanza” brings TONY MACALPINE to mind at his most soft and melodic times but with a rounder sound. “Dolphin Ride” is a classic Saracen track that´s been given a more modern sound and has actually benefited from that. I´m definitely going on a ride with these dolphins!

They´ve also ventured a cover of Beatles “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, probably because the Double White Album was the first record Rob bought. It might seem a hackneyed choice but they´ve really given it a sound of their own and developed a fruitful combination. The Title track concludes the proceedings with more than 10 minutes of genuine craftsmanship. This album contains no fillers and is the soft hard rock album of the year! When it comes to musicianship it’s probably the best album of the year.

RED SKY

  • 1: We Have Arrived
  • 2: Red Sky
  • 3: Faith
  • 4: Horsemen Of The Apocalypse
  • 5: Castles In The Sand
  • 6: Heroes, Saints & Fools
  • 7: Flame Of Youth
  • 8: Jekyll & Hyde
  • 9: Menage A Trois
  • 10: Ride Shotgun With The Wind
  • 11: Angel Eyes
  • 12: Follow The Piper

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Released: October 1981 | Produced by: Rob Bendelow

Steve Bettney: Vocals
Richard Lowe: Keyboards, Vocals
John Thorne: Drums
Barry Yates: Bass, Vocals
Rob Bendelow: Guitar
HEROES, SAINTS & FOOLS REVIEW

[ CIAO Website ]

Angel Fire

The British rockscene is dead. The only releases from the UK are done by reformed NWOBHM bands, which are most of the time very standard releases. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, because the legendary band SARACEN has managed to release a very good album, which contains very strong original typical British Melodic Rock a la TEN, RAINBOW, THIN LIZZY, MAGNUM… Finally an album of an old UK Rockband which can compete with their earlier releases. The new CD ‘Vox In Excelso’ is based on the famous story on which also the DA VINCI CODE is based.

SARACEN hasn’t changed a bit musically, which is a good thing, because their mix of classic melodic rock and symphonic pomprock made them one of the better lesser-known bands. Comparisons to early MAGNUM/STYX/KANSAS are very clear, especially in the fantastic 70s Pomprocker “Exile”, a song with huge keys and fantastic vocals. SARACEN still has a fantastic singer, STEVE BETTNEY, who sounds like a mix between STEVE WALSH and BILLY GREER. Other highlights on the new CD are “The Order”, “Mary” and “Where Was Their God?”. A definite must-have for any Pompfan and probably one of the strongest releases out of the UK at the moment.

(Points: 8.6 out of 10)

Metal District

(Translated from German)

Too long away, but now the old masters of British Symphonic Hard Rock are back. No, not MAGNUM! SARACEN, who were a trace smaller, although not in musical terms, and heavier than their colleagues. Also they have yet more to give perhaps as “Vox in Excelso” is only their fourth album.

And here again the whole range of their talent is displayed. Majestic melodies stretch themselves over sharp-edged riffs, and a bright, very large voice beseeches and tears into us. Pictures before our eyes emerge…new pictures, images which do not belong into our reality. SARACEN have taken care with the legend surrounding the Holy Grail, as it was also treated in the book & film “ The Da Vinci Code”. From this philosophy a powerful concept album arises, which is bursting with individual tracks, and held together by sequential narration. This idea is not new, but with SARACEN it is recreated perfectly.

SARACEN set the mood, with pomp and strong melodies, a beautiful sound, which always contains a certain underlying dimension of strong energy. For Speed Metal fans it may not be fast enough to satisfy them, but the music of these Englishmen possesses real substance, which gradually unfolds, revealing the full splendor of its complete magical radiance.

With “Meet Me At Midnight” the first killersong arrives, although an old fan must naturally point out that this is a remake of a track from their 1984 “Change Of Heart” album. But what a remake! Whilst the song’s essential structure remains, the roots are strengthened and with this fresh version, SARACEN blow you over! God save the British Melodic Rockers! And in such a way the album precedes, constant switching between classic AOR Bombast and native British hard rock.

Similarly, “Priory Of Zion” is such a hard rock hammer, which develops rapidly and would be a ‘live’ favorite. Penetrating harmonies and floating keyboard spheres carry you on their strong shoulders into infinity.

The preceding tracks flow gradually into each other, cleverly deceiving the listener. More and more salient sequences form a feeling in your soul. Leaving you glowing with passion. Finally, you embrace the entire CD, even singing along, like you always can with SARACEN. It is new and fresh, and creativity flows throughout this great album.

Naturally the hardest rockers amongst you will not get total joy here, but lovers of the ultimate Pomp Rock, which was made popular by the likes of MAGNUM, will find in SARACEN a genuine piece of gold. The sound is naturally first-class and not overly smooth. Perfect for this monster album. One the Top Releases this year.

Melodicrock.com

Saracen has been doing their thing for some 25 years now. At this point the only original members are vocalist Steve Bettney and guitarist Rob Bendelow, but ask just about anyone and they would say the signature guitar and vocal sound are the most important ingredients to any band.

This British melodic, symphonic, hard rock band has a style of their own and a certain unique way of doing things and I must confess to not being pulled in on previous occasions.

For someone not sold on a particular band, what harder a prospect could there be than be faced with reviewing a 73 minute concept album about the history of the Knights Templar?! To my surprise, this was easier than I anticipated. That is because Vox In Excelso is a very fine record indeed and one, despite it's subject matter, that is far more accessible than you might think. The sound quality is also excellent. The album is tightly performed and well recorded, with a powerful sound and clear mix.

The lead vocals of Bettney are both authorative and graceful and help drive the melodies home. What I don't like is the female narrative every song or two, important in one sense to help convey the complex and lengthy story line, but annoying at times also.

The music here is dominated by guitar and those strong vocals, but there is also a boat load of swirling keyboards and a lot of additional texturing, such as haunting backing vocals, dark and moody acoustic effects and an instrumental or two. The album has been very well put together and as concept albums should, flows easily from start to finish. Symphonic rock fans get their bit (Where Was Their God, Priory Of Zion), hard rock fans get plenty to chew on (Meet Me At Midnight, The Order) and fans of epics get the 9 minute Mary to dissect.

The first 1000 albums will be available in special edition booklet format, rather than the conventional jewel case presentation, which will make for a nice complete package to deliver the story in.

The Bottom Line

Saracen fans will be beside themselves with this fine effort. Fans of symphonic rock and British hard rock and also fans of concept pieces would do well to check this album out. It may not appeal to all, but it is an album of very fine quality which might just draw in a few new fans because of that.

Pandaimonix

(Translated from German)

The sound of the British band Saracen is described as ‘symphonic rock music’ in their publicity information, but equally could be called ‘symphonic & bombastic hard rock’. This would be better infact, since the guitars are a dominant feature alongside the beautiful keyboard ‘carpets’. In addition, there is also the marvellously sensitive singing of Steve Bettney, who along with guitarist Rob Bendelow is the last remaining original member of Saracen. They are celebrating their 25th anniversary and probably never imagined reaching this point with their music-making.

‘Vox in Excelso’ is a concept album based upon the history of the medieval Knights Templar. The story is skilfully relayed by narration sequences between the individual songs, making the album appear almost as a film soundtrack, seizing the listener and propelling them along from scene to scene.

Musically, ‘Vox in Excelso’ depicts perfectly the epic story, with songs like ‘The Order’’ sending shivers down the spine. In addition, pure instrumental pieces, like ‘Militum Christi’, are able to grab the listener and drag them along. The whole album, not least because of the keyboards, partly reminds me of Rick Wakeman´s ‘Return to the Centre of the Earth’.

This is a very strong album, which surprised me completely, since I have heard nothing of this style for some considerable time. It has been in my personal CD player for quite a few days now.

Conclusion: an unrestricted recommendation for melodic rock / hard rock fans.

A well-earned 9/10.

Lords of Metal

(Translated from Dutch)

Sjak: It has been quite a long time ago that I had heard something about the English band Saracen. To be honest, I more or less completely lost sight of them after their debut album 'Heroes, Saints & Fools' from 1981. With 'Vox In Excelso' they're up to their fourth release and they decided to make it a concept album. The storyline is about the so called "Knights Templar", a group of warrior monks who grew to become one of the most powerful organizations in Europe and that were guardians of an "Ancient Knowledge". Nice to have such a concept album of course but for me the music is still the most important and with that I have some mixed feelings.

First of all, the continuity of the album is disrupted by spoken parts that are to be found between the songs. They fit nicely into the concept of the album of course, but after a while they start to irritate me. Furthermore, I'm not too keen on the symphonic influences that are to be found in the music. A positive aspect of this record is the musical performance of the whole band, with a special mention for old-timers Steve Bettney (vocals) and Rob Bendelow (guitar).

Besides this there are some pretty decent songs to be found, like for instance 'Meet Me At Midnight', 'Mary' and especially the great 'Where Was Their God?'. Weighing the positive and less positive aspects I must conclude that Saracen has delivered an okay record, but nothing more than that.

Rating: 71/100

Get Ready to Rock

Saracen are back with a new album (their first since 2003's comeback album 'Red Sky') and this time it's a concept album based on the Knights Templar, very topical given the interest in all things 'The Da Vinci Code' at the moment. The mainstays of vocalist Steve Bettney and guitarist Rob Bendelow are still present with a notable addition in former Helloween drummer Mark Cross.

It is classic Saracen - symphonic keys and arrangements, the layered harmony vocals (very similar to the Heep 'choir' at times) coupled with epic guitar solos and strong lyrical ideas. Pick of the album has to be either 'Meet Me At Midnight', a concise rocker Magnum would be proud of, and the epic 'Mary', where the band stretch their wings musically. Some good instrumentals fit nicely into the overall flow of the album, although the only bugbear I have is the female narration. It is useful for giving the background to the story but it may have been better to tag it at the start/end of the album as you keep having to fast forward through it after an initial listen.

Existing fans will be delighted at this album as it keeps all the band's trademark sounds and adds another layer particularly in the vocal and guitar arrangements. If you haven't tried this band before this is the album to start with especially if you like classic Uriah Heep and Magnum.

**** Review by Jason Ritchie

Metal Page

(Translated from German)

Great melodic Metal/Hard Rock. Incredible voice, fantastic songs! What else can I say? Here we have the album of the year! Their first two LPs were a must for every collection. This one demands a place alongside them and you cannot reach any other conclusion (even after hearing it some hundred times!!!) I am sure many people hoped for a quite good album, but expected something only average, as that’s what they are used to from many "old bands". What you get, however, is a masterpiece!! It is incredible that SARACEN did yet again such an outstanding job!!! "Vox In Excelso" is an absolute must-have for every fan of timeless good music! This is the Melodic Rock highlight of 2006!!!

Stefan Riermaier

Metal Page

Whatever you believe, the conspiracy theory that Dan Brown brought to a worldwide audience with his book The Da Vinci Code has it's legends steeped in the history of Grail lore and the Knights Templar. I myself took it all with a pinch of salt, until I saw the painting of the Last Supper and really looked at it; if that's not a woman next to Christ I’m, as they say, a Dutchman (I have also gone on to read many books about the Knights which are all very interesting indeed). I mention all this because as you may know this new album from Saracen is a concept album based around the secrets and legends of the Templars, and is easily one of the best album's I’ve heard this year.

It’s an album full of sophisticated British pomp rock, that has twelve superb tracks and narration that moves the music along, plus some of the most pomptastic keyboards this side of a classic Styx record. Each of the songs is a mini-story, starting with the crucifixion of Christ (where he didn't die) and his subsequent escape and exile with his wife Mary Magdalene into France, followed by the founding of the Knights Templar, through their rise to power and their role as keepers of the secret of the bloodline of Jesus & Mary. The story then moves on to the persecution of The Order, their capture & torture, and in the end destruction at the hands of a jealous King and a weak Pope. Finally, the album focuses on the founding of the secret order The Priory Of Zion and it's continuing mission to protect and keep safe the lineage of the bloodline of Christ.

As I said, it doesn't really matter what you believe because as a piece of music this is wonderful. It has it all - superb vocals / guitars / bass and the already mentioned killer keyboards. It also has the songs, the production and that little bit of magic that all great albums need. This is a must-have and an album that Messer’s Steve Bettney, Rob Bendelow, Paul Bradder, Richard Bendelow and guest drummer Mark Cross should be justly proud of. A wonderful CD - ‘nuff said.

Ian Johnson 

Melodic.net

British pomprockers Saracen are back with a brand new studio album.

It all began in the late 70s and early 80s, which saw the release of their debut album "Heroes, Saints & Fools" in 1981, that was re-released earlier this year in a special boxed-set together with the 2003 release "Red Sky", plus bonus tracks and new artwork & mastering.

Now Escape Music release their brand new album "Vox In Excelso" that is a concept album about Dan Brown's best seller The Da Vinci Code.

This is a great album where Saracen will for sure please those that are into Pomp. They have managed to create a pompish sound like a mixture of early 80s pomp with a new edge in it. Imagine early Magnum-meets-Ten with some touches of 70s Kansas here and there. I was really taken by surprise how damn good these guys sound - I don't think their earlier albums sounded this good. This is so well-produced with an epic and huge sound of brilliant arrangements. If you miss those good old days when they released pure pomp albums in the late 70s and early 80s with class, then you have to check out Saracen. I won't say that this is as good as it was back then, but these guys are doin' it really well. The album has no weak moments and the singer Steve Bettney is fantastic with a powerful and strong voice. A female voice makes an introduction before the songs on the album.

As I told you earlier, there is not a single weak moment on the album that starts with the great "Meet Me At Midnight", a great pomp-rocker, and ends with another rocker called "Priory Of Zion" with fantastic keyboards and riffs. In between there are other highlights such as "Mary", "Chain Reaction", "Vox In Excelso" and the sentimental ballad "Where Was Their God?".

Escape Music has a strong release ahead of them and this is a must for all that are into pompish music with a rockier touch. A mighty strong release not to be missed

Rockreport.be

‘Vox In Excelso’ follows hot on the heels (six months) of ‘Red Sky’ & “Heroes, Saints & Fools’, another one of Escape Music’s famous quality digipacks, which was released at the beginning of this year. Escape Music’s main focus of signing this British symphonic rock band was their eagerly awaited new album, based around the same story that underpins Dan Brown’s bestseller ‘The Da Vinci Code’.

‘Vox In Excelso’ is indeed a concept album, based on the mysterious and controversial history of the Knights Templar, a medieval body of warrior monks who grew to become one of the most powerful military and financial organisations in Europe.

The best way to listen to this epic rock opus is through headphones whilst following the lyrics in the booklet. What makes it of extra interest is the superb narration of Meg Fairlie Maunder, who links all the tracks. Responsible for writing the material is founder-member Rob Bendelow (guitar) and it has to be said: he did a good job. Nowadays he’s joined by founder-member Steve Bettney (vocals) and newcomers Paul Bradder (keyboards) and Richard Bendelow (bass & vocals). Appearing as a special guest is none other than former Helloween drummer Mark Cross. All of them perform well and the same can be said of the production (courtesy of Martin Kronlund).

Conclusion: Saracen’s ‘Vox In Excelso’ may be not as good as Magnum’s ‘Chase The Dragon’, but it’s still a damn fine record in its own right. 

Rockunited.com

I believe I gave Saracen a rather harsh treatment and review last time around (and I still stand by my words). Thus why I never saw this coming and hardly thought this to be anything special or out of their ordinary gaga. You don't really expect a U.K. Pomp/Symphonic act out of the early 80's to all of a sudden record their best album ever in the year of 2006. Really? What are the odds??? Nonetheless, "Vox In Excelso" is a concept album that will surprise many and most fans of late 70's early 80's symphonic rock.

The concept story is based on the mysterious and controversial history of the Knights Templar. The medieval body of warrior monks who grew to become one of the most powerful military & financial organisations in Europe. Well, at least until the church thought it to be too powerful and decided to ban and close down the organisation. You get the whole she-bang with crusades to Jerusalem (the holy city) with all its power and glory. It's also the same story that underpins Dan Brown's best seller The Da Vinci Code and we all know by now that they had a secret to keep. Jesus + Mary = true?

The band is still a classic five-piece line-up of drums, bass, guitar, keyboards and vocals. From the original five, the two most important members are still present at the heart of Saracen (namely vocalist Steve Bettney and guitarist/songwriter Rob Bendelow). The concept story flows throughout the CD and I don't even mind the female narrator at the beginning of each track (Meg Fairlie Maunder). There's no real highlight nor downer to be found, the band keep a rather high concept standard overall. I'm not entirely sure that all of you out there have heard about Saracen in the past. However, this comes highly recommended to anyone who's into the early 80's work of Magnum (mostly), Demon (secondly), with a slight hint of both 70's Styx and Kansas. Very symphonic, very classy!!

Fireworks Mag

This is the grandiose conceptual album that Rob Bendelow simply had to get out of his system – and yet a serious illness threatened its completion. The album’s central theme, narrated for a change by a female narrator – Meg Fairlie Maunder (and I feel that she makes a very good job of it, too!) – is based upon “the mysterious and controversial history of the Knights Templar – a medieval body of warrior monks, that grew to become the most powerful military and financial organisation in Europe” and who were also guardians of an ancient knowledge. Their present day equivalent is the Priory of Zion. I am sure there will be some of you who will find the narration intrusive - as it does occur at the end of nearly every song. However, for me it is a unifying feature within a long (73 minute) album and personally I feel it works very well in conveying the story line.

The central story is a very heavy affair covering the past two thousand years, and while this story has a religious theme, ‘Vox In Excelso’ is not per sé a religious album. The playing across the twelve tracks is on the whole quite phenomenal with fantastic arrangements that has soaring, symphonic keyboard-led melodies one minute and exquisite virtuoso lead guitar passages the next. Hauntingly atmospheric backing and multi-track vocals and all manner of additional instrumentation contribute to the wide variety of sounds here – far more than on any previous Saracen album. There is only one song – the plodding ‘Chain Reaction’ that (after a promising start) fails to reach the standard set by the rest of the album and I feel very nearly causes the album to run out of steam twenty minutes early. However, apart from this hiccup the album is a hugely successful concept album that I am sure delivers all that Rob Bendelow had in mind when his ideas were originally formulated, and should interest those of you who enjoy epic songs, bombastic symphonic arrangements and MHR in its various manifestations.

Rob Bendelow is again joined by long-time associate and vocalist Steve Bettney (and a wonderful job he has done in bringing this collection of songs to life) plus new members Paul Bradder on keyboards and son Richard Bendelow on bass and vocals, whilst former Helloween drummer Mark Cross guests in that role. This is a great record and one that may well emerge amongst my top five albums of the year. It does, perhaps, work best when heard in its entirety, although with repeated listens I found myself singling out tracks, and found that they do work well in isolation from one another once they become familiar. Anyway, I am really glad that Rob Bendelow was able to fulfil his vision. If you wish to sample before buying, I must recommend the trio of songs at the heart of the album: the epic and majestic ‘Mary’, the eerie and choralian ‘Vive Dieu…Saint Amour’ and no-nonsense hard rock of ‘The Power And The Glory’. These songs encapsulate the power and splendour of ‘Vox In Excelso’ and I would be flabbergasted if nine cats out of ten didn’t agree! Paul Jerome Smith

Rock It Mag

Wow! I remember well – during my teens I searched several car boot sales to find a particular vinyl - the title, the band; “Heroes, Saints & Fools” by SARACEN.

Why did I look for it? A rarity in Hard Rock. I have to admit that I didn’t know anything about the band (and how could I?) and really only thought that the cover was cool. Unfortunately I never found the vinyl (and never listened to it either). You can get it on CD now anyway - no points for nostalgia. SARACEN are back again. New album, new label (Escape), new concept (close to Dan Brown/the Da Vinci mystery and the whole shebang)It is the old measurement – the only thing that counts is the output from the back (or from the side, or…). I am talking about the speakers! And it Rocks!!!!! “Meet Me At Midnight” could easily be on any PHENOMENA album. With reference to quality: the production is positively bureaucratic and the songs maintain a good level at all times. “Meet Me At Midnight” however is predominant. This is where ‘chorus’ earns its name. It is sugar to the ears – you can whistle to it after the first run. – Excellent! ‘Exile’ is more progressive – a ballade with beautiful keyboarding. Everybody should be able to pick their own favourite out of more then one hour of music. The choice of songs is definitively right.

A convincing return from a true legend of English rock music.

Bright Eyes.de

When I saw the Cover to ‘Vox in Excelso’ I imagined it to be a Heavy or Speed Metal album. As I listened, however, to the opening tones of ‘Lament' - a gentle intro - and then ‘Meet Me At Midnight', it was clear - here we have timeless, traditional hard rock of the old school, with it’s roots firmly planted in the rock world of 25 years ago.

‘Vox in Excelso’ is a concept album, inspired by the Dan Brown best-seller ‘The Da Vinci Code’. In musical terms, as already mentioned, it is a very traditional work but also with epic moments, as can be heard with ‘Exile', for example. The keyboards of Paul Bradder are just as equally important here as the guitars of Rob Bendelow. This is particularly noticeable on ‘The Order', where both instruments duel inspiringly with each other.

SARACEN’s sound is completely their own: definitely rocking but at the same time symphonic, with a variety of volumes & styles and not just one constant trend. SARACEN do not follow fashion, but trust in their ample abilities, which after 25 years is still producing fresh, convincing rock music! Best proof of this is the epic rocker ‘Mary'; listen and enjoy! Also the very calm ‘Vive Dieu… Saint Amour' brings a pleasant mood change and rings in the steam-roller & headbanger ‘The Power & The Glory'. A more varied yet homogeneous album it would be hard to imagine! ‘Chain Reaction' then sounds almost like a Black Sabbath classic, while the title track is a ballad par excellence with wicked piano playing, showing the gentler side of SARACEN.

Summary: a timeless classic rock album which easily belongs in every CD cabinet! Take time to look at www.escape-music.com.

Glory Daze

Background
Just as the Da Vinci Code peters out at the Box Office, British band Saracen come along and continue the story of Mary Magdalene, segueing into the history of the Knights Templar. It's a theme that is well read with the band, and if you've investigated their past works you'll know about their pre-occupation and fascination with all things to do with the Knights Templar. In 2003, Glory Daze did a bit of investigative work with their (then) studio album 'Red Sky', which was much lauded by the way, plus an interview with main-man Rob Bendelow. Well we can report that things are as good as ever with Saracen. Signed to Escape Music now, the addition of special guest drummer Mark Cross, but also now sadly without the talents of longtime keyboardist Richard Lowe who has since retired. Nothing lost though - new keys recruit Paul Bradder does a great job, providing a very Magnum like sheen over the top of some very melodic sounding Black Sabbath guitars supplied by Rob Bendelow. And if Steve Bettney was ever asked to take over the vocals from Rob Halford in Judas Priest, then he is undoubtedly the man. A near carbon-copy!

The story on 'Vox In Excelso' follows the timeline of the Knights Templar from the time of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, right through to the Middle Ages and their subsequent rise to power as one of the most powerful entities in Europe. Their power was usurped by the French King Philip IV, and so began the gradual slide into purgatory, based on the deceit and lies of the French Monarchy and The Vatican of the time. The Papal Decree to abolish the Knights Templar was called 'Vox In Excelso', hence the name of this album. If you love concept albums based on medieval history (and we have seen a few of them over the last few years), then this Saracen effort is right up there with the best of them.

The Songs
Each of the tracks has a spoken word intro which allows the listener to make sense of the content as the CD is navigated, much like some of the Kamelot concept albums. We'll navigate our way through the songs, and provide the storyline.

Lament - goes back to the time of Jesus, the start of the Knights Templar story.

Meet Me At Midnight - is the final meeting between Jesus and Mary Magdalene prior to his crucifixion, though Jesus has other intentions.. like staying alive.

Exile - is the time after the crucifixion and resurrection, where the couple escape to the West, effectively in exile, rumored to be in foothills of the Pyrenees, the future stronghold of the Knights Templar. This track features some beautiful keyboard parts from Bradder.

The Order - the timeline has moved on to the 10th century. A band of French Knights have come to the Holy City of Jerusalem now under western rule, and from here, their beginnings took shape. Musically, this track is pure pomp.

Militum Christi - the Knights Templar have grown to become a mighty army, the ultimate fighting force in the (then) western world. This track is an instrumental.

Mary - The Knights Templar held the secret that the royal bloodline of Christ had survived through the centuries in France. They had come to Jerusalem in search of the key to that secret. A special event took place, whereby the mother of the bloodline - Mary Magdalene appeared to the Knights Templar in a visitation/vision.

Vive Dieu…Saint Amour - an incredibly beautiful track, sung in French, very keyboard laden, atmospheric and choral.. all in one.

The Power & The Glory - the timeline has moved on to the 14th century. The Knights Templar are one of the most powerful entities outside of the Catholic Church. Much admired, much feared and the envy of many, including the ruthless French Monarchy - led by King Philip IV. He led a conspiracy to usurp the power of the Knights Templar by arresting their leader and many of the Knights themselves.

Chain Reaction - describes the capture of the Knights, their arrest, interrogation and in some cases execution. Prince Philip persuaded Pope Clement V to abolish the order of the Knights Templar, through his papal decree 'Vox In Excelso'.

Vox In Excelso - Though considered weak, Pope Clement V seriously questioned his papal decree, and underwent some soul-searching knowing full well the lies being perpetrated. Steve Bettney's soulful vocals explore the Pope's lament.

Where Was Their God? - asks the question put to King Philip IV and Pope Clement V, who sold out the Knights Templar based on a series of lies. How could two men (of God) condemn the leader of the Knights Templar to death based upon a lie? A curse was put upon these two men, and within a year of the execution of the leader, both men were dead.

Priory Of Zion - The Order of the Knights Templar though officially abolished, moved deeper into secrecy and the shadows as the years went on. This order exists today as the Priory Of Zion, though admittedly is still steeped in mystery, with the primary goal of protecting the royal bloodline of Christ. Again, the incredible pomp rock on display here really warrants a good listen, even if the track is 9 minutes long.

In Summary
I've read a few reviews of this album, it seems some of the reviewers out there have not totally grasped what this album is about. Some short-sighted observations have panned this album unfairly. Musically, this is pristine stuff. Great vocals, guitar lines, majestic keyboards (Paul Bradder is a keyboard wizard, that there is no doubt) and having a guy like Mark Cross providing a powerful back-end all makes 'Vox In Excelso' a terrific companion piece. Arrangement wise, you don't have to dive too deeply into the album to make sense of it, as most concept albums seem to do. From my perspective, this is Saracen's finest work and I have no hesitation in recommending it to lovers of that heavier pomp rock style. The storyline of the Knights Templar is the icing on the cake.

Metal Inside.de

Wow! After the extremely cool double-CD ‘Red Sky ‘/’Heroes, Saints & Fools’ appropriately published, now a first-class comeback of the English Hard Rock line-up. And I do not exaggerate when I write that ‘Vox in Excelso’ fits smoothly with the band’s earlier phase (and particularly with the already mentioned ‘Heroes, Saints & Fools’). This concept album, which is concerned with the history of the Templar Knights, is one of the strongest Hard Rock/Epic Metal works of recent times, and in over 70 minutes of music not one filler! The line-up has changed somewhat from those early days, but the existing presence of singer Steve Bettney has remained throughout the other personnel changes. Brilliant rock-hymns like ‘Meet Me At Midnight ‘, ‘The Order’, ‘The Power And The Glory “, reminding us a little of Magnum, ‘Militum Christi’, plus epics like ‘Priory Of Zion’ or the outstanding ‘Mary’ with sensitive guitar harmonies, bombastic passages and a freedom of movement, which make the album appear much more varied than one might assume. With the help of interspersed narration – ‘Vox In Excelso’ works all the more – it even feels like you are listening to a mini rock opera. Naturally, fans of even harder rock will not necessarily appreciate the beautiful melodies and even condemn the keyboards, but the fans of SARACEN-style music will get a real treat! If only all new recording attempts by old cult bands would turn out like ‘Vox in Excelso’, then surely we could become much more positive towards the many reunions. For friends of this music genre, this is the genuine article - highlight of the year for certain!

Hardrockhouse.com

Vox In Excelso is Saracen's first new studio offering in many a long year and follows hot on the heels of Escape's re-issue of the bands Red Sky/Heroes Saints & Fools opus that was released earlier this year. Vox In Excelso has taken some three years to write and record and, whether through a happy coincidence or deliberate planning the release of this album comes hot on the heels of the big budget movie version of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code with which Vox In Excelso shares common ground.

The album is a concept piece telling of the rise and fall of the Knights Templar, an order of knights charged with keeping the secret of the Zion. (Descendants of Jesus Christ). From the opener 'Lament' with its medieval yet still rocky feel, coupled with the excellent  narration courtesy of  Meg Farlie Maunder, which appears throughout the album and keeps the listener informed of precisely what is going on, the music covers the whole spectrum. From beautiful acoustic pieces to out and out heavy metal with lots of medieval style licks the album in general has a very symphonic feel.

Produced by Martin Kronlund, Vox In Excelso benefits from a well balanced and clear sound and the drums of former Helloween man Mark Cross prove particularly fitting to the mood and feel of the piece. Of course that is without mentioning the intelligent and thought provoking music from Rob Bendelow and his equally impressive guitar work, whilst the vocals of the only other original member, Steve Bettney, are lush and full of power throughout.

Overall the closest comparisons that one can draw to Vox in Excelso is with a slightly heavier/pompy Magnum whilst also featuring moments that bring Iron Maiden to mind. In short this is an epic tale told in an epic style. An album I’ve listened to a lot and will continue to.

Auxportesdumetal.com

Do not miss this small jewel - “Vox in Excelso”. A superb concept album telling the history of the Crusades and the Templars. The major advantage of this album is that the history is told in very clear, distinct English which allows those poor Gallic ones amongst us to seize the magic of the concept and the album.

After the “Lament” opening instrumental, “Meet me At Midnight” paints the portrait of the album, built around a ‘British Wave Of New Heavy Metal’ style! Saxon’s “Crusader” is not far away! There is no doubt: Saracen are indeed an English metal group. “Meet Me At Midnight” is a superb piece, an epic headbanger with large Saxon-style riffs.

“Exile” shows another influence in this album: one of melodic hardrock as per Arena. “Exile” is a mid-tempo piece with superb melodic keyboard accompaniment, as Jon Oliva might do. Its first half is a rather medieval epic ballad - its second half more melodic-rock with guitar and keyboards.

“The Order”, with an ultra-epic warlike chorus, is again a massive, ‘roast beef’ heavy-metal track with a superb covering of keyboards. A piece written to lead us into battle!

“Militum Christi” offers another view to the combat, thanks to its hypnotic instrumental melodies.

The excellent “Mary”, an epic anthem about Mary Magdalene, is simply filled with emotion. A warrior’s ballad with an incomparable chorus. To some extent, this album makes me think of works by guitar-hero James Byrd, in particular “Crimes Of Virtuosity”.

After the restful “Vive Dieu…Saint Amour”, the battle starts again with “The Power & The Glory”…..a title which curiously points to a mythical group of English heavy-metallers perhaps?

The level then falls a little with “Chain Reaction”.

Fortunately, we then have the epic ballad “Vox In Excelso”, sung with just piano accompaniment, followed by “Where Was Their God”, again touching our hearts with the emotions of the warriors.

The work finishes with “Priory Of Zion” concluding the album well: a mixture of true metal riffs and progressive keyboard melodies. Another warlike piece full of emotion, and one really making us regret that “Vox in Excelso” has to come to an end.

To summarize “Vox in Excelso” is an excellent concept album with hints of Saxon, Iron Maiden and Arena. Advice: this is an album of such quality that every ‘metal historian or warrior’ must acquire.

Powerplay Mag

When the term ‘pomp rock’ crops up in conversation (which for those rock fans of a certain age, it does from time to time), most thoughts initially turn to the vibrant late 70’s US scene dominated by bands like Kansas, Styx, and Angel. As an aside, some might venture later acts such as White Sister, or even reflect misty eyed upon the ‘Heartbreak’ album by Sabu, but very few will elucidate upon a scene that was much closer to home. Led by Brummie kings Magnum (yes, they were once considered a pomp rock act), there was quite a thriving UK scene in the late 70’s / early 80’s, and though bands like Nightwing, Limelight, and Daga Band were hardly household names, they did manage to produce some uniformly excellent music. One of the best from that era though had to be East Midlands quintet Saracen.

Formed in the late 70’s around the nucleus of guitarist Rob Bendelow and high octane vocalist Steve Bettney (the best pomp rock singer this country has ever produced), Saracen were earmarked by the likes of Sounds at the time as a band who would go on to achieve great things. Their 1981 debut effort ‘Heroes, Saints & Fools’ (recently reissued on CD for the first time by Escape) is widely, and quite rightly, regarded as a classic of the genre, and should by rights have set them on the road to international success. Unfortunately, the usual line up changes (including the untimely departure of Bendelow), compounded by a change in direction – 84’s sophomore outing ‘Change Of Heart’ was a much more straightforward, almost AOR focussed affair – led to their downfall, leaving behind an unfulfilled musical legacy.

A few years ago, the Saracen name was reactivated for the excellent ‘Red Sky’ album, a mixture of revamped oldies (the reworked ‘We Have Arrived’ is excellent, and much more in keeping with the original Saracen ethos than the watered down version that made the final cut of ‘Change Of Heart’) and new songs which echoed the rich, multi-layered textures of that long out-of-print debut. Only Bendelow and vocalist Steve Bettney remain from the original Saracen line up, but if the latest studio album ‘Vox In Excelso’ is anything to go by, this latest incarnation are every bit as committed to the cause as their forebears.

A boldly ambitious, grandiose and sweeping conceptual tome based on the shadowy history of the Knights Templar (both that in the public domain, as well as that which has become the subject of much speculation in recent years), and the explosive secrets they’ve guarded for nearly a thousand years, ‘Vox In Excelso’ is a magnificent testament to everything that earmarked Saracen out as something special back in the day. Filled with lush melodies, studied lyrical themes, and deftly crafted musical light and shade, it’s partly narrated storytelling builds to a climax every bit as spectacular as that in Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’!. Picking out individual songs for praise seems kind of irrelevant here, as the quality and delightful diversity makes this a totally enthralling work from beginning to end.

It’s really a travesty that there aren’t more bands out there doing this kind of stuff, but the very fact there aren’t makes ‘Vox In Excelso’ that much more precious. Brilliant!

Powerpoints 9/10

Underground Empire

Founded during the late 70ies around Steve Bettney, the men of this British hard rock institution have now been performing for more then 25years, but with some interruptions.

You will be very much mistaken, however, if you think that this formation consists of tired warriors chasing the boring dragon. With ex-Halloween drummer Mark Cross, these men confidently celebrate their usual hard and symphonic sound.

Now in 2006 it all comes full circle, as if by accident Vox in Excelso fits within the current fashion trend, as it an album written about the lives of the Knights Templar. It has the same content as Dan Browns ‘Da Vinci Code’. Fascinating and relevant material, which due to it’s mysterious aura and dark secret actually demanded to be translated into music.

The songs are cleverly connected by story passages mixed in between the heavy music tracks. Close atmospheric passages, in true Dare or Pink Floyd style, meet head-shaking and galloping rhythms a la Iron Maiden & friends. You can clearly hear that the band is of British origin due to the sound being rooted within the melodic ‘New Wave of British Heavy Metal’.

The mid-tempo rifer ‘Chain Reaction’ and the nostalgic ‘The Order’ are particularly good. The hymnal Grande Finale of ‘Priory of Zion’ is just as grandiose.

In summary, the album does not have any low points and should be heard & enjoyed in it’s entirety. It is then when the album shows it’s full strength and presents it’s progressive elements to the full.

Metal Express Radio

Saracen is a band that has been around for a long time, originally forming in the late 1970s. However, they have only released four albums in that time frame; prior to the release of 2003's Red Sky, the last album that had the band's name on it was 1984's Change Of Heart. Only two original members of Saracen are recording with the band now: vocalist Steve Bettney and guitarist Rob Bendelow.

Saracen return with Vox In Excelso, an epic concept album that takes on the legend of the Knights Of the Templar, attempting to tell the story of the rise, fall, and resurrection of this group of warrior monks who grew to great wealth, influence, and power in Europe during the Middle Ages, only to be betrayed at the height of their strength and sent into hiding. Truly an epic tale. A controversial one too, since the album subscribes to the theory that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene had children together, and their bloodline (which the Templar Knights are sworn to protect) exists to this day.

Befitting its broad subject matter, Vox In Excelso fills an entire CD, having a playing time of about 79 minutes. Once you sit down to it, you're in for the duration. The story is long and detailed, but is constructed in such a way that it's easy to follow, both in the lyrics and the helpful narration the runs between many of the twelve songs. If you didn't know anything about the Knights of the Templar before hearing this album, you will by the end of your first listen, and you may even be inspired to learn more about this interesting time in history.

Music: it's educational too!

Vox In Excelso is a history lesson in musical form, but it's not dry and stuffy: it's sweeping, epic, and filled with drama, action, greed, suspense, and betrayal. Much like reading a good book, you'll get caught up in the story and will want to find out what happens next. The story takes some surprising twists and turns, and you won't want to miss any of it.

Musically, Vox In Excelso feels like a product of another time, when pompy, Symphonic bands like Kansas ruled. Saracen use lots of big, impressive “old-school” keyboard passages, sounding much like a heavy band from the 1970s on this album, but in a good way. The soaring guitarwork of Rob Bendelow is quite good too, and he contributes some memorable solos and nice riffs. Steve Bettney injects his vocals with heart and passion, both in the verses and in the big choruses that dominate this album.

Vox In Excelso was five years in the making, but the wait was worth it; Saracen has crafted a winner of an album.

Classic Rock Mag

Having reunited in 2003, Saracen are here to bury the accusation that the NWoBHM bands couldn’t play and had little imagination. A concept album that took five years of painstaking work to complete, Vox In Excelso is worth all the (holy) blood, sweat and tears. Beginning with Jesus and Mary Magdalene fleeing into exile in the Pyrenees after a botched attempt at Crucifixion, it parallels the bestseller The Da Vinci Code book by relating the story of the Knights Templar.

Rich, full-bodied and evocative in the vein of classic Magnum, the pomp rock of The Order and The Power & The Glory is interwoven with narrated sections, guest drummer Mark Cross (ex-Helloween) helping to drive the music along.

Chaos Realm (USA)

SARACEN - "Vox In Excelso" CD '06 (Escape, Eng) - For years and years, I've loved a lot of different kinds of music, it's true. Besides the things I'm probably most known for embracing, many things have come my way and been welcomed. Celtic music, folk, progressive, bluegrass, the list is long and populated by mostly anything original, interesting and different. And yet, when I think about it, there are 2 periods of time that have made the most impact on my musical soul, the first being the very early '70's...bands like Sabbath, Cactus, Budgie and their even more underground ilk showing the way with a new breed of originality & heaviness. The other is the NWOBHM. Besides the easily noted stalwarts like Maiden, (early!!!) Leppard, Diamond Head & Saxon, those in the subterranean were even more captivating. Bands like Legend, Holocaust, Warrior and SARACEN.

Truly, one of my favourite platters from the "day" was SARACEN's 1981 masterpiece "Heroes, Saints & Fools." This opus combined the leaden Iommi-ish guitar crunch of Rob Bendelow with a keyboard-tinged, proggy feel that really gave the album an other-worldly feel & made it a standout for me. Over the years, Rob Bendelow has stayed around, in recent years releasing captivating records like his TEMPLAR project as well as the SARACEN - "Red Sky" disc, a wonderfully updated specimen of metallic prog. Now, in 2006 we are greeted with the latest work to bear the SARACEN name and I'm here to tell you, it's the best one yet.

With "Vox In Excelso," Rob B. and crew have issued a statement that deserves to stand with the very best. It takes all the best SARACEN trademarks...the crushing left-handed SG riffs, the melodies that seem to start somewhere below the surface & then rise to stratospheric heights and the gorgeous song-structures and weaves them into one of the coolest concept albums I've ever heard. Taking it's cue from recent written works like Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code," "Vox In Excelso" explores the history of the Knights Templar, it's mysterious existence & the secret it protects unto this very day. The songs are the story here...not only the way each is written as a stand-alone piece, but the way they work and flow together, joined by interesting-yet-never-intrusive narratives explaining the details of the story along the way. Whether it be the lengthy numbers like the nearly 10-minute "Mary," the closing 9-minute epic "Priory Of Zion," or the shorter tracks "Meet Me At Midnight" and "The Power & The Glory," it all works...famously.

I can honestly say that they are all highlights, because each is of the same wonderfully high standard...heavy, captivating and melodic enough that you'll be singing the choruses in your head for days. On top of it all, I have to give special accolades in a couple choice places. To begin with, the vocals of Steve Bettney are stunning throughout. This is the kinda guy who, if Glenn Hughes were not already known as "the voice of rock" would have something to say about the title. Secondly, but certainly not least, I have to say that the guitar work of Rob Bendelow is at it's very zenith here. Sure, this guy has been behind some awfully good playing in the past, but this time he's outdone himself. Just listen to the lead work on "Priory Of Zion." This is Iommi on "Heaven & Hell" or Tipton on "Dreamer Deceiver." Yes, it's that good. The final deal is this: If you're into absolutely great hard rock/metal with awesome songs, great playing and no shortage on thought-provoking (even educational) lyrics, your first stop after reading this should be "Vox In Excelso."

CIAO Website

I can go on a bit about music so I'll try to be brief - and maybe even relevant! I've played in bands, gigged the pub circuit, met some great musicians, and I've seen some really talented people get nowhere. Then there are others who do get a deal but with a small label, who can't compete with the big names for promotion and hype so they never break into the big time. Some do eventually - think Pulp, who had been around for years before "Common People" and "Disco 2000" catapulted them into the big time; or No Doubt, who had several albums out before "Don't Speak" did it for them. Others aren't so luckly, they bubble around for a year or two, deserving more but losing out to technobollocks and over-hyped crap before they have to call time. How much talent have we lost, how much great music went unheard? How much utter shite have we had to put up with instead!

WHO WERE SARACEN?
Back in the 1980s in the UK, heavy rock/hard rock was in its heyday - it even had a name and an acronym! NWOBHM - New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, encompassing all from Status Quo to Motorhead. Dozens of young bands were emerging as the next "big things", but most were just repeating the same formula, trying to sound like Iron Maiden, or believing that "the faster and heavier the better".

One or two did something different and stood out. One of them was Saracen.

Saracen were gigging the "up and coming" circuit; they signed to one of several "up and coming" record labels who put them into a studio to record their debut album. "Heroes, Saints and Fools" was the result. Sadly it was not the success it should have been- due at least partly to lack of promotion and support by the small record company. One look at the album cover and you will know that the record company did not spend megabucks on the band. Fools. If only they had....

How to describe them? Melodic Rock? Soft Rock? Cerebral power pop-rock? The band preferred "symphonic rock", so who am I to argue.

Who do they sound like? I'm sure that somewhere there is a band that sound like Saracen; if so, please let me know. If you imagine crossing Marillion with Bon Jovi and add in some Deep Purple you would not be a million miles out.

HEROES SAINTS AND FOOLS
Playing in Saracen on this album were:
Rob Bendelow on guitar, the band leader and the song writer
Steve Bettney on vocals
Richard Lowe on keyboards and backing vocals
Barry Yates on bass guitar and backing vocals
John Thorne on drums

The album opens with with a single keyboard chord fading in. The drums and guitar come in, and "Crusader" starts. It begins slow and plodding, then picks up some tempo for the second verse. After the second chorus there is a sudden change of pace, a new riff and it leaps into a fast final verse, keyboard solo and last chorus with extra harmony vocals. The song finishes with a short and impressive drum cadenza.

The second song, "Rock Of Ages" is an upbeat, simple, rock anthem with a catchy riff and chorus. This could so easily have been a world wide hit, but.... The budget recording shows as the drums start slightly quicker than the guitar (!) but so what, it is a great rock song.

"Who built the rock of ages? Tell me coz I wasn't there.
Whoever it was, gave us a dream we can share."

"No More Lonely Nights" is a midtempo riff-driven MOR rock song. It is a good-time popster, about having a good time in the city at night. This was a single (with "Rock of Ages" on the B side) which was how I first heard the band. This is the first time we hear a guitar solo by Bendelow, and it shows he is a capable axeman.

"Horsemen of the Apocalypse" is a perfect example of a great Saracen song. It is introduced by a drum riff, followed by the keyboards, then the bass kicks in, making it sound even darker, and lastly the guitar overlays a simple but effective riff giving a slightly sinister feel to the song. The vocals join, a song about the four horsement: Famine, Plague, War and Death. After two verses and a middle eighth, the song softens, an acoustic replaces the rock electric guitar for another verse, after which it accelerates faster than before, just for everything to drop out except the guitar introducing the third movement with a classic Bendelow lick, progressing into a short and sweet solo. The last verse is repeated, rising and slowing to a crescendo. Great Stuff.

"Heroes, Saints and Fools", the title track, is the story of a young boy who is presented with three choices in life: to become a hero, a saint or a fool. It starts with a church organ, joined by acoustic guitar. Two short verses in the sound switches, the pace picks up under a muted guitar riff, and the "hero", the "saint" and "fool" each present their case to the child. The whole song kicks back into life, as the boy pleads that he doesn't want to be any of these things, and the music rocks up reflecting the inner turmoil. After a short, slow guitar solo the boy turns round and takes the road for home, but the song continues through a few more tempo changes, another guitar solo, to the final conclusion.

"Dolphin Ride" is a stunning instrumental, centred around an exchange between keyboards and guitar swapping a melody and harmonising with eachother, over a mid tempo drum and bass rhythm. It is a song to lie back, shut your eyes and imagine the ocean waves...

"Ready to Fly" a good time rock song, starting with a a long lead in to a good rock riff. From here it drives forward through two verses and choruses. It pauses for breath for a few seconds in a short slow, middle eighth, in which they promise:

"Though now we leave you, we shall return
Again to fly, higher and higher and high."
From here Rob Bendelow launches into a superb guitar solo several minutes long, building and rising to the final crescendo.

The first time I heard the album I sat in silence for several minutes thinking, "wow". Once I had the chance to see them, at a rock club in West London, but I passed it up thinking that I would see them on the next tour. It never happened. The album was, inexplicably, not overly successful and the band fragmented. Two of the members did produce a weaker follow up album called "Change of Heart" then in 1985 they disbanded.

The album, "Heroes Saints and Fools", was to my mind a milestone. If it had succeeded, as it deserved to, we would have dozens of Saracen sound-alikes. It didn't, and we don't. That is our loss.

PS. In 2002 Saracen reformed and have released a new album, "Red Sky" and plan two more at least including a re-release of Heroes, Saints and Fools. If you like rock of any kind, do yourself a favour and pick up a copy!

AOR Website

Nearly twenty years after the fact, Saracen return. A band often mentioned in somewhat hushed tones, and one I was totally ignorant of. Thus, it seemed reasonable to allow curiosity to get the better of me.

Apparently guitarist Rob Bendelow has spent much of the last two years recording "Red Sky" ( evocative artwork) in his own Rivendell Studios and at Mad Hat, and the obvious care and attention to details has resulted in a epic clarion call of pomp and circumstance, a blending of classic Priest, Sabbath riffery, Magnum-esque English atmospherics and layered vocals Kansas would surely approve of, all caught in a elegant melodic flow.

Opener "We have arrived" with it's swathes of keyboards from Richard Lowe, and Bendelow's stately guitar figures is Magnum writ fearlessly bold, though Steve Bettney's superb vocals are a dynamic cross between DC Cooper and Rob Halford as opposed to a Bob Catley, whilst the title track is Asia with a core of pure, titanium chased British Steel.

Two tracks that I understand are re-recorded from the debut, namely the Dio era Sabs finery of " Horseman of the Apocalypse" and the twists and turns presented by choice of " Heroes, Saints and Fools", beg the question as why Saracen did not have a substantial career and considerable canon of work behind them by 2003.

Moments of a more delicate shade come in the bittersweet acoustica of "Castles in the Sand" or the love song in need of a sea of lighters that is the soaring vaulted arch of "Angel Eyes".

Ultimately, "Red Sky" is a wondrous tale, a fable of symphonic light and shade traced with melodies that insinuate their way into the cranial cavities, whilst with their elegance suggesting timelessness.

I now fully appreciate why this band were so lauded, and also makes one wonder at the standards of an industry that can allow such a band to fade away for so long. So kudos to Now and Then for persuading them back into the arena, and to the band for the album itself.

Armageddon Rock Sky 885

Why: Melodic, powerful, driving rock, complete with fabulous harmonies and smoooooth guitars that make my toes curl! Welcome to the world of Saracen, who started out as "Lammergier" pre 1981. This is a great collection of new songs as well as some of their classics. Here we have their first ever song "Follow the Piper", regarded by many as the band's anthem, and never available before on record. Also check out "Jeykll and Hyde" from their 1981 session for the radio 1 Rock Show, with an (allbeit rather quiet) intro by none other than someone sounding very much like Tony Wilson and Tommy Vance! Other wonderful songs? ALL OF EM! Coz they got both the melody as well as meaningful lyrics: "We Have Arrived" all about UFOs and the slower "Faith", dedicated to distant lovers, when you just can't find the right words! Definitely one to add to your collection for those mellower moments.

(NB: this radio station recently played ‘Faith’, followed by a Pink Floyd track, so we’re definitely in good company! – ROB).

Atomic Chaser (USA)

Before there was Asia, there was Sarcen. The brainchild of longtime mates, Richard Lowe and Rob Bendelow. Sarcen's sound is hybrid of guitar-oriented rock, that is layered with symphonic keyboard sound. Their debut release in the early 80's, 'Heroes, Saints & Fools', is considered a work of pure genius. That is why it is so hard to believe that Saracen didn't make a bigger impact here on American shores. Hopefully with the release of the band's “welcome back” release, 'Red Sky', Saracen will finally get the recognition and respect they so deserve. Saracen's new line up now features; Steve Bettney on vocals, Rob Bendelow on guitar, Richard Lowe on keyboards, Richard Bendelow on bass and Jamie Little on drums. 'Red Sky' is a fine example of good music standing the test of time.

The material on the new album has re-works of Saracen classics including, "Heroes, Saints & Fools", and the first ever studio recording of the another classic, "Follow The Piper". They may have been written over 20 years ago, but listening to them now, they sound tens times better then most of the new stuff I'm hearing today. Once you hit play and "We Have Arrived" comes through your speakers, your listening senses are taken by force as yet being swept away to a place where only your imagination can take you. The pictures that were painted in my mind when "Horsemen Of The Apocalypse" came on were simply breathtaking! Fans of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" or Savatages "Gutter Ballter" will sure enjoy this song.

Steve Bettney's vocals reminded me of a mix Rob Halford around 'Sad Wings Of Destiny' and Dave Byron of Uriah Heep, but with a smoother delivery. As is evident on such tracks like, "Faith", "Castles In the Sand" and the title track. As for Rob Bendelow's guitar work, nothing short of magnificent! Dynamic, filled with passion and energy, nothing over the top, just hitting the right notes on que. Every song on this recording is graced with the presence of his amazing gutiar work. Great job, Rob!

Now growing up as a military brat had its perks - while my Father was stationed overseas, I had the opportunity to tune into a variety of rock radio shows. One show that I always had a blast listening to was the Tommy Vance "Friday Night Rock Show". I would love hearing Tommy's comments on all the bands he had on his show. If it wasn't for Tommy's show, I would have never had heard of Saracen. That is why I was so happy to see that the band have included a clip from their appearance on Tommy's show. Let me tell you, when you made an appearance on the Tommy Vance Show, you knew you were good!

'Red Sky' is a triumphant return of one rock music true rock bands, one that I would definitely recommend to any one who loves great rock music. Now for some, this will be the first time hearing of Saracen. Take it from Me, over the 30-plus years that I've been listening to music, Saracen is one band whose music will win you over at first listen. Welcome back mates! It's been a while, but it was sure worth the wait.

Chaos Realm (USA)

Check out these amazing facts. In 1981, during the prime of the NWOBHM, 3 of the best & most original albums of that era were released. Legend - "Legend," Holocaust - "The Nightcomers" & SARACEN - "Heroes, Saints & Fools." They were 3 totally different records, each very unique and forged in great part by the creativity of 3 killer guitarists, Pete Haworth, John Mortimer & Rob Bendelow, respectively. And yet, despite releasing further material during the immediate time thereafter, none reached anywhere near the commercial heights scaled by others from the age like Leppard, Maiden or Saxon. But here's the truly amazing part.... Some 22 years down the road, each band, piloted by the same 6-string slinger, is releasing a mammoth new album in 2003: Legend's "Still Screaming," Holocaust's "Primal" (coming in June, & previewed by '02's devastating "War In Heaven...") and SARACEN's "Red Sky."

In the NWOBHM days, SARACEN really stood out to me as being very different from the "pack" of Priest-like dual guitar rippers. Their style was one of heavy, prog-tinged rock with some great Sabbath-y guitar leanings and a mystical overtones. Managing to not only retain that glorious sound, plus bringing in a new maturity that only deepens my respect for them, SARACEN now delivers "Red Sky," a thoroughly awesome album, from the beginning to the end of it's 70+ minutes.

Present here are updated versions of old tracks like "Horsemen Of The Apocalypse" & "Heroes, Saints & Fools," still forged with the timelessnesss of '81, yet fresh as they could get. The keyboards do more than augment, they take their place powerfully & gracefully while Rob Bendelow's guitar drives the proceedings in a stately yet forceful manner & Steve Bettney's vocals work the mid-to-upper range so well.

The new cuts here are just fantastic too, and stack right up, with the melodies in numbers like the title cut, "Faith" & "Angel Eyes" being seductive & gripping. And, listen to the NWOBHM-like scorcher "Jekyll & Hyde!" How 'bout the simply gorgeous instrumental "Menage A Trois?!" This beauty sounds like a cross between the sweetest Schenker licks (think "Arbory Hill") and Gary Moore's work in "Parisienne Walkways." Then, check out the epic closer, "Follow The Piper!!!"

The production of this whole baby (courtesy of Mr. Bendelow) just scintillates like the best Tony Martin-era Sabbath & the insert booklet is awesome. Lovers of any kind of melodic heavy rock need to grab "Red Sky" now. It's a masterpiece!!!


Classic Rock

Another band for the late 70’s comes back, with three original members on board – vocalist Steve Bettney, guitarist Rob Bendelow and keyboard player Richard Lowe. Jamie Little joins them on drums (he is a top session drummer having worked with A1 & Boyzone!) with Richard Bendelow on bass.

This CD features some re-recorded classics mixed in with newer compositions and marks the band’s first new album in 19 years!

The whole album sounds very similar to latter day Uriah Heep, with the emphasis on epic songs relying heavily on harmonised vocals and keyboards. Opener ‘We Have Arrived’ illustrates this to a tee, as the keyboards take a lead role backing the vocal harmonies. But fear not guitar fans as the guitars are cleverly interwoven into the songs without dominating the sound like on ‘Red Sky’ (complete with Heep style vocal wails!). ‘Faith’ pomps it up big time with swirling keys and vocal harmonies all over the place! Brings to mind the Magnum sound of the 80’s. ‘Castles In The Sand’ is a tuneful acoustic number and a chance for Steve Bettney’s vocals to shine. Bizarre track is the instrumental ‘Menage A Trois’ with two saxes battling it out with Rob Bendelow’s guitar.

Quality epic melodic rock with a big nod to the classic sound of the 70’s. Uriah Heep and Praying Mantis fans will lap this album up and melodic rockers will find much to enjoy on here as well. A welcome return and how about a tour with Uriah Heep and Praying Mantis?

Destiny Records

Another real blast from the past, this time from my neck of the woods! Like Magnum and Nightwing, Saracen were one of the UK pomp rock scene’s rising stars in the late 70’s / early 80’s, offering a more sophisticated alternative to the endless stream of NWOBHM hopefuls then grabbing all the attention in magazines like Sounds and Melody Maker. They issued two albums in the early 80’s - 82’s; cult classic debut ‘Heroes, Saints & Fools’, and the more Americanised ‘Change Of Heart’ a couple of years later - before going their separate ways, but after a gap of nearly twenty years the band have been tempted back out of retirement to record ‘Red Sky’.

Not exactly a brand new studio album per sae, ‘Red Sky’ is a mixture of re-recorded songs from the two previous albums with a smattering of newer and previously unreleased cuts. Of the re-recorded songs, ‘Horsemen of The Apocalypse’ and ‘Heroes, Saints & Fools’ still sound excellent (shame they didn’t redo ‘Ready To Fly’ as well), whilst both ‘We Have Arrived’ and ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ have each been given a new lease of life. But the real bonus comes in the shape of songs like ‘Red Sky’, ‘Flame Of Youth and ‘Angel Eyes’, all of which showcase a band who had a hell of a lot more to say than circumstances would allow at the time. And even better they’ve managed to retain that Saracen sound of old whilst bringing it into the 21st century with the aid of modern studio techniques. A very welcome return indeed.

Feedback Fanzine

Any fan of NWOBHM will recognise the name Saracen as they kicked up a storm with some class recordings and great gigs as well as the obligatory appearance on TV On the Radio’s ‘Friday Rock Show’. But by 1985 they were no more until guitarist Rob Bendelow recorded a solo album in 2000 which led to Now & Then tracking him down. Now Rob, along with original members vocalist Steve Bettney and keyboard player Richard Lowe have been joined by drummer James Little and bassist Richard Bendelow to bring Saracen back to life. Now, it is often the case that when a band gets back together after a long absence that it wasn’t worth the wait, but that is definitely not the case with these guys.

They have re-recorded some old numbers as well as the new, and the result is an album that any fans of strong melodic rock will just have to get. At times they are almost Maiden-esque, but with more melody and harmony. It just reeks power and substance, and is miles away from most people’s perception of what a NWOBHM band should be doing. It is majestic without being too over the top, there is no sour taste left in the mouth but rather a desire just to hit the repeat button.

I didn’t know what to expect, but have to say that not only is this one of the finest albums to come out of Now & Then, it also has to be one of the best comeback albums ever. So it is twenty-two years since they released their debut ‘Heroes, Saints & Fools’ (the title cut of which is one of those revisited) and twenty years since their last album, that just doesn’t matter as this is more than worth the wait.

The biggest problem will be getting people to hear this, but once they hear the power of the songs, the great vocals, and the overall joy of listening to this melodic hard rock album they will be converted. For more details visit the label site at www.nowandthen.co.uk, you won’t be disappointed.

Fireworks

It's been almost 20 years since the last Saracen album, and even longer since guitarist/main song-writer Rob Bendelow was part of the band. Now, thanks in part to Fireworks, Rob has pulled the band back together and this spring sees the release of their third album, 'Red Sky'.

Saracen's debut album, 'Heroes, Saints & Fools', was a delight of epic, symphonic rock, but without the backing of a record company at the time, the recordings were pretty rushed and overall sonic quality was not exactly wonderful. Things improved with their follow up 'Change of Heart' in 1984, but by that time Bendelow had left and the band veered towards more contemporary rock sounds.

But now in 2003, the spirit of the original Saracen is back - bigger, better and much more epic than before. Rob Bendelow has spent the last two years recording 'Red Sky' in his ‘Rivendell Studios’, and that loving care and attention to detail have resulted in an absolutely storming, symphonic rock album which, in Rob's own words, "...is going to crush your speaker cones!"

Bendelow has always been a fan of classic bands such as Priest and Sabbath, but has admitted that his love for new bands such as Ten has enabled him to appreciate just how effective layered harmonies can be for a song, a point proven throughout the new album.

This is definitely a CD that gells wonderfully as a whole, with something for everyone and a running order that was thought out long and hard. The term 'epic, symphonic rock' could have been created for Saracen and of the twelve tracks on offer, only three dip below the five-minute mark.

Opener 'We Have Arrived' has a pretentious intro lasting well over two minutes, evoking fond memories of Magnum's 'Sacred Hour', and the Magnum comparison is again brought to mind with 'Faith', a magnificent four and a half minute pop-rock song that was originally recorded on Bendelow's solo 'Templar' album, but has found new life and vigour here. Similarly with 'Angel Eyes', a glorious love song with Steve Bettney dueting with delightful German chantress Dagmar Kaletsch, a girl who has the voice of an angel, wrapped in honey and sex. This song has one of my favourite choruses from the last decade, and an outro I listen to on 'repeat'!

We also have two tracks re-recorded from that debut album: 'Horsemen of the Apocalypse' is a massive, Sabbath inspired rocker, while 'Heroes, Saints and Fools' is an almost eight minute long epic, opening on banks of keys before twisting and turning through several characters in a story about the choices in life. A classic!

Head down, pedal to the metal hard rock is provided by the likes of the Status Quo on steroids 'Flame of Youth', and 'Jekyll & Hyde', which evokes glorious memories of classic Priest, Bettney at times sounding uncannily like Halford.

For those lighter moments we have the beautiful acoustic balladry of 'Castles in the Sand', and 'Menage A Trois', a six and a half minute instrumental which is perfect late night music for lovers.

The band's live signature tune was 'Follow the Piper', and this epic closes the album, showcasing everything one could want in a classic Saracen song: evocative keys, massive drums, banks of harmony vocals and Bendelow's guitar riffing like a man possessed but tempered with feeling when required!

'Red Sky' is an album that is at times progressive, at others totally over-blown pomp, at all times genius.

Heart of the Rock

In a Lazarus type comeback, English pomp/AOR stalwarts Saracen have returned, ninteen years since their last effort 'Change Of Heart'. Positively, three original members have also made the trip forward in time, Bettney, Lowe and Rob Bendelow with newcomers Jamie Little and Richard Bendelow, the latter replacing original bassist Barry Yates, who passed away in 1992.

The re-emergence of Saracen was due to Rob Bendelow and the success of his solo Templar album 'Come To The Light' back in 2000, which prompted Now And Then to try and resurrect Saracen, something successfully achieved. For 'Red Sky' Saracen have opted to re-record five 80's favourites among a batch of originals. To their credit Saracen haven't altered their style too much since the heady days of 1982 and have happily stuck to their pomp guns.



 



A vintage 80's track kicks it off, 'We Have Arrived', Saracen's tale of a UFO visit back in 1981. Very mid-paced with guitars and synths both vying for attention, the reliance vocal wise is placed squarely on high pitched harmonies. It picks up near the end, with quicker movement and some solo tangents, all highly melodic. Perhaps the strongest track follows, the title cut, which is borderline heavy metal, some low end riffing giving a vintage Iron Maiden appeal.





Bettney comes across like Bruce Dickinson at his best, and an abundance of synth interludes make it a must-hear. 'Faith' is contemporary AOR at its best with timeless harmonies throughout and well balanced dramatics. It is completely at odds with the remake of 'Horseman Of The Apocolypse', seven minutes of heavy pomp, keyboard-heavy naturally and a host of twists, some slower, some uptempo, the latter segments definitive NWOBHM. Quite bleak is the mellow 'Castles In The Sand', a lament about ageing, which to be honest is hardly anything to shout about is it? Acoustic ridden, there's also a sax solo, adding flavour to five dreary minutes. Another remake follows, 'Heroes, Saints And Fools', the title track of 1981's debut.





This displays Saracen's preference to start things out slowly, before building up steam halfway through. An epic no less, the keybord work is pomp of some magnitude, giving an insight into why Saracen were so highly regarded. 

'Flame Of Youth' is very steeped in the kind of melodic rock Praying Mantis are supplying at this moment, halfway between AOR and metal, this one a satisfying four minute shot of relative aggression. Much more to my tastes is 'Jeckyll And Hide', pent up NWOBHM fury with spitfire riffs right from that genre's handbook. I can't get over the notion however that Bettney is Samson era Bruce Dickinson in disguise, perfectly mastering Bruce's 'Head On' crudeness. 'Ride Shotgun With The Wind' is powerful hard rock, little pomp tendencies here, much more acceptable than 'Angel Eyes', a tepid ballad.

Melodicrock - Germany

The british band Saracen gained some success in the beginning of the 80s with their debut album "Heroes, Saints And Fools" which was released on an independent label and managed to jump into the british Top 50 charts. After several line-up changes and another album named "Change Of Heart" in 1984 the band finally called it quits in 1985. After almost two decades Now & Then Records secured a 3-album deal with the band. Besides mastermind Rob Bendelow two more members from the original line-up are on board, they are singer Steve Bettney and keyboarder Richard Lowe.

The 12 songs of "Red Sky" mark the triumphant return of Saracen in the spring of 2003. With "Heroes, Saints And Fools" and "Horseman Of The Apocalypse" from the debut, "We Have Arrived" and "Jekyll And Hyde" from "Change Of Heart" and the previously unreleased concert favorite "Follow The Piper" there are also some songs from the past on the new album and they go pretty well together with the new songs and the new improved sound. Apart from some minor exceptions "Red Sky" sounds british through and through, almost like a small tour through the history of Hard Rock of the British Empire. Saracen always had a special liking for epic rock songs in which they combine hard rocking guitars, interesting keyboard arrangements and great vocal passages. The vocal harmonies are partly arranged in the typical "Uriah Heep-vocal style" as you can hear on the title track. Further musical parallels can be found in the more epic songs of Magnum, Praying Mantis and yes, an American band called Kansas. But I have hardly heard such a good combination of heavyness and memorable hooklines like on this album. The power with which the often six or seven minutes long songs are delivered is amazing. The whole production is great and particularly the drums have a special penetrating power.

The CD has some of its best moments on the rock hymns "We Have Arrived", "Red Sky" and "Follow The Piper". The outstanding "Faith" and the ballad duet "Angel Eyes" are two very AOR sounding tracks. More variety comes with the instrumental "Menage a Trois" which recalls Pink Floyd's "Us And Them" with it's saxophone parts and the up-tempo rocker "Jeckyll And Hyde" with the Ian Gillan-screams. Many songs have a progressive touch also, the best example may be "Heroes, Saints And Fools" which incorporates several tempo changes and an instrumental part sounding like Marillion in their beginnings and the Steve Rothery-like guitars aren't missing too. If the boys continue to release more albums on the same quality level as this one, I'm certainly looking forward to the next Saracen opus.

Metal Only

SARACEN is a high octane NWOBHM-band, a band that was up to the same standard as MARILLION. But in that genre they would have been better off in the States than in England. Their debut album “Heroes, Saints and Fools” has contributed a few songs for re-recording and they sound fabulous.

Guitarist Rob Bendelow has handled production duties very well, a distinct improvement compared to the debut. The 2000-project TEMPLAR (containing several of the gents in the band) has donated too, “Angel Eyes” and “Faith”. From an old Friday Night Rock Show session comes the magnificent “Jekyl & Hyde” and “Flame of Youth”.

Lost without new ideas? Oh no, the title track is brand new and a real rocker where Rob Bendelow´s BLACK SABBATH influences really show. The one tiny exception on the album is the saxophone filled instrumental “Menage à Trois”. This album is so good that it brings the listener back to the 80-ies – when the albums were so good you could complain when just one song wasn’t up to par!

Missing Piece

"Red Sky" is Saracen's third album and their first since 1984's "Change Of Heart". It contains seven new tracks along with re-recordings of five Saracen classics including the legendary "Heroes, Saints and Fools", as well as the first studio version of old ‘live’ favourite "Follow The Piper."

Not dissimilar in style and feel to the recent Praying Mantis releases, Saracen project epic Melodic Hard Rock, carried by strong guitar leads, atmospheric keyboards and pompous vocal harmonies, all dressed up in a classic NWOBHM sound which stems a lot from the Halford-style vocals of Steve Bettney and the early eighties guitar and keyboards.

New track "Red Sky" is a charismatic track, built around great keyboards and strong riffing - a mid-tempo melodic rocker with a genuine epic feel. The first ever studio recording of the old live classic "Follow The Piper" is a superb hard rocker, close in feel to "Crusader" era Saxon. The seven minute title track from 1982's "Heroes, Saints And Fools" is a pompous and complex structured song, featuring many Iron Maiden type tempo changes and ripping guitar work. "Horsemen Of The Apocalypse" is a remake of another song originally recorded for "Heroes, Saints & Fools" and another intelligent and intricate slice of classic hard rock. "Red Sky" is chock full of classy and momentous rock tracks, sewn together by a wonderfully melodic thread and strong NWOBHM roots. Highly recommended.

NEH Records

Among the important musical subgenres in England in the early 1980s were the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), as exemplified by bands like Saxon and Judas Priest, and neo-progressive rock, as exemplified by bands like Marillion.

Also around the turn of the '80s, Saracen released their first album – Heroes, Saints & Fools. Fast forward more than twenty years: With their new "Red Sky" album, symphonic hard rockers Saracen return - after nearly two decades away - with a potent, coherent blend of those two '80s-vintage styles. The album fuses the dry, cutting riffage of Saxon and Priest with the accessibly artsy, keyboard-infused pomp tendencies of neo-prog, resulting in an energetic, melodic, and ambitious set that extends beyond the basics of either component subgenre.

Solid sonics, consistently engaging melodies, and superb, Rob Halford-influenced vocals make "Red Sky" an impressive, convincing return; the opening track announces "We Have Arrived" (literally) and the remainder of the record impressively supports the claim. Other highlight tracks include the glorious hard pomp/neo-prog instrumental "Menage A Trois," the gorgeous atmospherics of "Angel Eyes," and the pomped-up NWOBHM of the title track and "Follow The Piper."

"Red Sky" is unquestionably old-school; you can call it "dated", you can call it "authentic", just don't ignore it. Admirably, Saracen has remained true to their roots, and for fans of symphonic/pomp-style hard rock that confidently ventures beyond obvious musical borders, the results are well worth repeated listens.

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Price Tool Website

Thus starts Red Sky, the long awaited (by me anyway) comeback album by 80s symphonic rockers, Saracen.

Back in the eighties there were a lot of rock bands who almost made it big. Of all of them, the ones who most deserved it were Saracen. Their debut album, Heroes, Saints and Fools was a masterpiece, which should have become one of the most ground breaking albums of the decade but was sadly passed over. The band split up shortly afterwards.

However, last year, guitarist and main man Rob Bendelow got the band back together again in the wake of a rather impressive solo album, Come To The Light.

Red Sky is the result, twelve songs of which four are from the original two Saracen albums, a fifth is an old Saracen standard recorded for the first time, and two appeared on Rob's solo album. Five are completely new - though one will be recognisable as a re-write of an older song.

The album opens in style with We Have Arrived which was their second single, and a song from the second album. However it is almost unrecognisable; instead of a full-out 4 minute rock song, the new version opens with multi-layer vocal harmonies, which gives way to a new keyboard melody, punctuated by some raw, powerful guitar, building gradually as a long intro until finally the vocals come in. Even then, the song doesn't really take off until four minutes in.

It's a very clever way to open a comeback album, with an old song re-written. It stamps a mark, it says, "this is Saracen, we are back, we have arrived but we have moved on."

What has stayed the same? Rob's guitar is as ballsy and punchy; Steve Bettney's vocals soar as they did twenty years ago; Richard Lowe's keyboards are perhaps a little more polished, a bit more upfront. What has changed? The two new members, Richard Bendelow (Rob's son) on bass and Jamie Little on drums fit in perfectly. What else is new is the mulit-layered vocals on the choruses, a choral sound that is prevelant throughout Red Sky, which was not there before.

The other three older songs re-recorded are much more faithful to the originals. All of them feature backing vocals that are more prominent and choral. Horsement of the Apocalypse is otherwise very true to the original. Heroes, Saints and Fools, the title track of their first, classic album, is probably the most eagerly awaited re-recording and again is faithful, except for a more complex - and sometimes heavy - backing passage during the conversations between the boy, the gatekeeper and the hero, saint and fool. Jekyll and Hyde, from the second album, is also quite true to the original, except that the drumming is slightly less frantic. However it is an important re-recording as, although Rob wrote the song, he didn't play on the second album. So we hear it with his guitar for the first time, and he doesn't disappoint!

Of the new songs, Red Sky is the title track for a reason: it is probably the new song that is closest to the original Saracen sound and style. A gutsy guitar riff, slightly airy, ethereal keyboards, and some wonderful vocals. After the second chorus, and a middle eighth, Rob brings on his first guitar break, a classic Saracen sound, to take us into an instrumental passage before coming back to the original riff.

See the heavens burning, it's a hunter's moonrise
Never close your eyes
You'll be caught like a child in the wild, by surprise

Flame of Youth is a pretty straightforward rocker, built around a fun, ballsy riff, which gives Rob a chance to let rip a little during the play out at the end. Ride Shotgun with the Wind is the other new song, somewhat slower, centred around a simple riff, almost plodding, a real road song in every sense.

Castles in the Sand is softer song, mostly played on acoustic guitar. Interestingly, the guitar and vocal melody in the verses are taken from an old song, "Face in the Crowd", with new lyrics and a totally new chorus.

Menage a trois is an instrumental, introduced with some beautiful, layered keyboards. It builds around a duet - triet? - between guitar and two saxophones, before speeding up to let the guitar carry the lead for a while, then slowin back down to let the saxes play it out.

Follow the Piper was a song that Saracen used to play live, one of their earliest songs, but was never recorded until now. A simple riff, with a softer, subtle middle; a haunting keyboard sound; towards the end it builds to a superb solo, rising to a finale crescendo.

Pied piper is it true this dream we all can share?
I will go with you now if you'll lead me there

There are two songs from Rob's "Templar" solo project. Faith is a nice song, which is growing on me; it is a softer, more commercial rock song, with a catchy chorus and some lovely instrumental work going on in the background. However, it is far surpassed by Angel Eyes, also originally Templar. This is another mid tempo rock song, sung as a duet between Steve and Dagi Kaletsch. It is rapidly becoming one of my favourite songs of the year, simple but quite stunning, with a beautiful, emotional chorus. Dagi's vocals are softer, less raunchy than Lori, who sang the original, but she gives it a more innocent feel and really brings out some wonderful emotion from Steve. Absolutely stunning.

So touch me, angel eyes,
So much to see, I realise
Caress me...possess me
Now you're here I feel so alive

Summary - a worthy comeback album indeed! It is great to hear the old songs, both faithful to the original, and completely rewritten. Of course the highlights are the new songs - Red Sky, Flame of Youth, Ride Shotgun With The Wind and Follow The Piper, but Angel Eyes is quite exceptional too.

Would I have done anything differently? I might have left off "Faith"; perhaps I might have left off one of the songs from the first album; it was such a classic, that any rerecording is going to prompt comparisons. Of course, all of this debate is really about how to get more new songs on, and for that we will have to look forward to the next album! Judging by Red Sky, it will be worth the wait!

ProgPower

The story of Saracen goes back to the mid 70s, when Richard Lowe and Rob Bendelow formed the band Lammergier. They added folk guitarist turned rock bassist Barry Yates to the line up and started to play live extensively through out the English ‘Midlands’. In the early 80s they completed the line up with Steve Bettney on vocals and John Thorne on drums and they changed their name to Saracen and started on their first album, ‘Heroes, Saints & Fools’ that caught the attention of a major label, Polygram. However, the tide turned in 1983, when Bendelow and Thorne left. Although the remaining members continued the band and recorded their second album, called ‘Change of Heart’, with the band effectively closing down in mid-1985. Saracen was resurrected early 2000, when Rob Bendelow released his Templar album ‘Come to the Light’ and Now & Then Records managed to bring three of the founding members back, it meant the return of Saracen.

Red Sky is a very diverse album with heavy rock songs with a metal edge, but also some ballads. Also, some Saracen classics like ‘Heroes, Saints & Fools’ and the first studio recording of ‘Follow the Piper’ were added to the album. ‘We Have Arrived’ is the very fitting first track on the album and it shows what Saracen has to offer: crystal clear keyboards, crunchy guitars, excellent bass, (and) powerful drums and haunting vocals! Singer Steve Bettney reminds me at times of Timo Kotipelto (Stratovarius). The songs are marked by strong melodies and they just stay in your head the first time you hear them. There is plenty of room for keyboard solos and the rhythm section of Richard Bendelow (bass) and Jamie Little (drums) is well oiled. Amidst of all the guitars there is room for love and ballads, which we find in the song ‘Faith’, with great vocals and a beautiful guitar solo. The inspiration for the songs come from various sources, even from people who knock on your door and make you write a classic song (read the liner notes for the story): ‘Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a song with powerful drums, a great heavy guitar riff and dark lyrics about the end of the world.

‘Jekyll and Hide’ starts with an old fragment of the Tommy Vance Night Rock Show, where Saracen was playing, and without warning all registers are opened with one of the heaviest songs of the album. Great song! Completely different is ‘Menage a Trois’, an instrumental song with two guest saxophonists, John Davison and Sophie Freeman, which really makes you dream away if you close your eyes on this one. What can I say more about this album? How about ‘Ride Shotgun with the Wind’, a real biker song with a blues feel to it, or the ballad ‘Angel Eyes’, where Steve Bettney sings a duet with guest vocaliste Dagi Kaletsch. The album ends with the very first song, not from Saracen, but even older, from Lammergier: ‘Follow the Piper’, a fantastic up tempo song with great keyboards and a good guitar solo.

Red Sky is a very addictive album and this becomes worse the more you play it. I wouldn’t call it Progressive Metal, although some of the songs do have a metal edge, but it is definitely one of the better epic rock albums you can find these days. We must thank Now & Then Records for their hand in bringing this classic album to us and we can look forward to the future as there will be another album by these skilled musicians. Until then let’s enjoy this outstanding album, that you will enjoy the moment you hear the first tones. One last piece of advice: if you play this album, play it loud!

Rock United

Do you ever get that feeling that you should’ve been born ten to fifteen years earlier from your time and that you missed out on so many good rock acts that were playing live when you were still in your mothers womb ? Or that you have missed out on a lot of great bands from your parents youth that you haven’t even discovered yet ? Well, that happens to me a lot and I ain’t even young anymore ! This time the “new” music comes in the form of Saracen, which was formed back in the mid 70’s by the name of Lammergier and in 1981 changed their name to Saracen and also that year they released their first album „Heroes, Saints And Fools”, which got great feedback and the band even got regular airplay from Tommy Vance’s “Friday Night Rock Show”, culminating in a “live” session being broadcast in January 1982. Now the band is back with “Red Sky” and with new line-up, that differs from the old one now having Richard Bendelow on bass and Jamie Little on drums.

“Red Sky” kicks off with “We Have Arrived” with Steve Bettney sounding like the soft side of Rob Halford. The bands music is labelled as symphonic rock, but these guys have more to offer than just that. It’s also progressive and very pomp at times. The title track “Red Sky” is much rougher and has that feeling of good old rock’n’roll in it, something alike to the Tony Martin-era Black Sabbath. By now it is evident that these guys have been around here before.

From here on the Cd gets better and better. Other rocking tunes are “Horsemen Of The Apocalypse” with synths at the beginning, old classics from the guys; “Heroes, Saints And Fools” and “Follow The Piper” and these sound great. I don’t know how the originals sounded, but these do rock, they’re complex, symphonic songs that make you start drumming on the table.

“Flame Of The Youth” continues with a great rocking beat where Bettney screams at times like Glenn Hughes. “Jekyll And Hyde” is in the same vein, there’s a hypnotic, straight rhythm to this one that continues throughout the song. “Ride Shotgun With The Wind” has again that great jamming rhythm in old rock style, thought at times it seems like it gets stuck. “Menage A Trois” is the only instrumental here and has saxophones. It’s an interesting, varying song with jamming and peaceful moments.

The softer side of the band is shown in “Faith” and me being a romantic I really love the lyrics and the idea behind them, as written in the lyrics sheet; ‘Ever fallen for someone, yet been unable to find the right words at the right time ?’. The song is beautiful too, it has a mellow start that leads to a catchy, rocking chorus. The simple “Castles In The Sand” tells a story of the decades of life, kind of a depressing song yet very melodic. “Angel Eyes” has the same story as “Faith”, though continues ‘If your eyes first met across a crowded room though, perhaps no words were necessary !’. There’s a female guest singer here, Dagi Kaletsch, and she brings a nice, gentle touch to the song. With Steve and Dagi singing together this song sounds really dramatic, it’s a true heart-tearing moment of love that we all have gone through.

If you have a little hippie living inside of you that loves progressive music with a weird twist that is totally off the mainstream of radio music, this one’s for you. For me listening to Saracen, you get a good feeling from their music. It’s rock, folk, psychedelia and even AOR mixed together. Make your own conclusions.

Strutter

In the late 1970s a new Symphonic Melodic Rockband was formed called SARACEN. The band played in the style of MAGNUM, RAINBOW and URIAH HEEP, and a few years later they had some success with the release of their debut LP ‘Heroes, saints and fools’. The following years saw them release another album, before closing the book of SARACEN in 1985.

15 years later guitarist Rob Bendelow released a solo album under the moniker TEMPLAR, with an album titled ‘Come to the light’ (reviewed by us 3 years ago). This eventually led to the reunion of SARACEN, and now in the year 2003, the band has finally released a new album. The album is titled ‘Red Sky’ and NOW AND THEN RECORDS has released it. Their music is of a very high level, a mixture of AOR/Pomprock, Melodic Rock and 80s Metal, something like KANSAS meets MAGNUM meets PRAYING MANTIS meets IRON MAIDEN. Very 80s with lots of keys as well and a pure British approach.

The album has a playing length of 70 minutes and keeps you enjoying it from start to finish. The highlights for me are “We Have Arrived” (80s MAGNUMish semi melodic rocker with big harmonyvocals and keys), “Red Sky” (strong melodic heavy rocker a la RAINBOW, with keyboard solos), “Faith” (very strong semi AOR ballad, classy 80s sound here!), “Horseman of the Apocalypse” (very impressive midtempo melodic heavy rocker, superstrong impressive epic song with a MAIDENish break and guitar solo), “Heroes, Saints and Fools” (epic semi melodic rocker a la MAGNUM, KANSAS), “Angel Eyes” (male/female duet, great semi AOR ballad) and closing track “Follow the Piper” (big uptempo melodic rocker).

This CD is highly recommended if you want to hear quality Melodic Rock with a strong diversity of song styles.

Fireworks

Being a massive Magnum fan, I immediately went out and bought Saracen’s debut album – Heroes, Saints & Fools – back in 1981, when reading of the comparisons in the press. I loved that album. The sound wasn’t so great, but the songs had an epic quality with lyrical content that appealed to my youthful ears. The follow-up was a massive disappointment, primarily due to departure of main songwriter/guitarist Rob Bendelow. Now, almost twenty years later, we have the first solo project from Bendelow – Come To The Light – recorded under the ‘Templar’ monicker.

Joining him on this project are erstwhile Saracen colleagues Steve Bettney & Jason Gardner, Jason’s wife Lorraine, Rob’s 16 year old son Richard…and various other friends.

Musically, the album is very close to Saracen of old, though the addition of Lorraine’s lead vocals on several tracks makes for a distinctive alternative to Steve’s and Jason’s more hard rockin’ tones. There are three instrumentals on the album, including a wonderful re-working of the Saracen classic ‘Dolphin Ride’, and ‘Swords of Damascus’, which is pure ‘Heroes…’ Saracen!

My favourite tracks are the evocative ‘Faith’, which simply bleeds emotion, and has a storming chorus that brings to mind Magnum at their peak, plus ‘Angel Eyes’, which starts with haunting pan pipes, and sees a duet being performed between Steve & Lorraine. The chorus is one of the most beautiful and passionate I have heard in years.

Other songs include the hard-rocking opener ‘On The Rockface’, and the seven-minute-plus workout of ‘Just Me & My Flying V’, plus a cover of the George Harrison classic ‘While My Buitar Gently Weeps’.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Bendelow album without an epic track, and here we finish on the ten minute epic ‘Come To The Light’, a fantastical musical description of passing through the Event Horizon of a black hole! It features classical guitar, haunting sax solos and moody oration. Simply inspirational!

Those keeping up with news on the web will know that this album has lead directly to the reformation of Saracen, a new album of which is currently being worked upon. A full interview with Rob will appear in the next issue of Fireworks.

Metalcoven

The last time that the name of Rob Bendelow came along my way was when, in 1994, the then ten-year-old "Change of Heart" LP by the English band Saracen entered my record collection. Saracen was a group that crossed epic hardrock with progressive influences and AOR-ish accessibility, and really impressed me with their two albums.

Unfortunately they did not get the success they deserved, even though both albums belong at the top of melodic hardrock, and are hard to beat. Too good for this world? Too accessible and moving for narrow-minded progressive rockers? Who knows? 2001, and twenty years after the release of their wonderful debut "Heroes Saints and Fools", Rob Bendelow comes back to the light with a brand new album, ‘Come To The Light’. With guest musicians involved, the whole thing seems to me like a kind of studio project; he’s even got some of the old Saracen members together, among them the Godlike singer Steve Bettney. How insane!

And there it is, this magic, these dreamful, deep but still memorable melodies. The marvellous guitar playing by string-magician Rob B. himself; keyboard ‘spheres’ that go further than the usual superficialities, and vocals of absolute greatness. It is a fine thing to listen to a CD which is most of the time not really extreme, but so anthemic, and absolutely non-pathetic among all those trendy and hectic, crap outfits like Korn, all those happy humming metal bands, all gothic fairies and too soft mainstream groups that cannot even spell "profound". Pathos and dumb aggressions are for other, trendy bands, Templar set on emotions and that burning guitar work that you can recognise from hundreds of similar sounding bands. "Just Me and My Flying V", the opener "On the Rockface" or the George Harrison cover "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" are fine examples for Rob Bendelow's guitar playing, rocking but still melodic and spiritually haunting in the lead section. Yet the softer pieces are no less impressive.

You can say that Rob has successfully made his comeback, and even exceeds the old Saracen level sometimes. My personal favourite is a ballad, titled "Angel Eyes", simple structured but impressively beautiful, pushed to an unearthly level by Steve Bettney and Lori Gardner. I feel such a wonderful warmth running through my body, while watching my cat Linus listening devotionally. His reaction proves my thesis that Templar are Godlike! Welcome back, Mr. Bendelow.

Contact this band at www.templarmusic.co.uk and let yourself (as long as you don't need powermetal all the time... ) to be enchanted by this band. Ten-out-of-ten for the rock album of the year.

Power Play Magazine

Templar’s ‘Come To The Light’ makes for the perfect soundtrack to driving on a rainy Friday night (trust me on this one). Overflowing with evocative, moody and textured melodies, it oozes class.

Although group leader and guitarist Rob Bendelow prefers to call this project, which features ‘special guest vocalists and musicians’, an AOR album, it goes beyond that. In fact, I’m not even sure I’m comfortable referring to this music as ‘AOR’. Bendelow is the former guitarist for British symphonis rockers Saracen, and his influences show on ‘Come To The Light’.

You’ll finf three expressive instrumentals that conjure up the exact images you’d expect after considering their titles – ‘Blue Stanza’, ‘Dolphin Ride’ and ‘Swords of Damascus’. None of tracks feature an unnecessary note. More impressive though, are songs like ‘Wish It Was Me’. Which boasts a sensuous vocal be Lori Emmitt-Gardner that never goes over the top, and ‘Angel Eyes’, a duet between smokey-voiced Emmitt-Gardner and former Saracen frontman Steve Bettney, that chills the spine as only the best power ballads can.

But perhaps the album’s defining moment is ‘Faith’, another tune featuring Bettney on vocals, that gloriously captures the emotion and frustration of love: “Days together are so precious, yet they go so fast…you know I never wanna leave. So I try collecting memories of every move you make, and every word you breathe…then much more than this…..I try to save every kiss”. What makes this song so unbelievably successful (besides it’s intrinsic melody) is that Bettney can sings those words without coming off as a ‘wuss’.

‘Come To The Light’ is no ordinary rock record – you won’t find yourself banging your head to this one…..but you will be moved!

Proce Tool Website

If I had to list my five favourite bands - come to think of it, I have, in an epinion somewhere - Saracen would definitely be in there.

They barely made any commercial impression in the few years they were around, but influentially they cut deeper, and among fans they are recognised for maybe having been ahead of their time.

Saracen were a band from the early eighties; they can be described as melodic rock, progressive rock, but they preferred the term "symphonic rock". Their debut album, Heroes, Saints and Fools, is regarded as a classic by those who have heard it and even now, twenty odd years on, it remains unsurpassed in many regards.

Sadly Saracen's founder member, songwriter and guitarist Rob Bendelow had to quit the band, which broke up in the mid eighties. Not much has been heard since, for a while, until now.

Rob Bendelow has recorded a new "solo" album under the name of Templar. The album, Come To The Light, released independently on his own label. He has regrouped some of his former Saracen bandmates for this project: vocalist Steve Bettney sings on several songs, and so does bassist Jason Gardner. Unsurprisingly, several of the songs do sound very like the old band. However, it is not "the third Saracen album"; as well as two old Saracen songs (one of which never appeared on record) there is one cover, but the other seven songs are all new, originals. The new material draws on a variety of sounds and styles, from rock and blues to keyboard instrumentals. It is, in effect, a classic "solo" album by a gifted songwriter and accomplished musician, reflecting the variety of influences and music he enjoys, as well as giving himself the chance to let rip on the guitar!

The album opens with a powerful, kicking drum riff, a guitar joins in, then the guitar breaks into a solid rock riff. On The Rockface is a great opener, up-front rock, some lovely guitarwork, an intelligent rock song and, to the old Saracen fan, it leaves no doubt: "Rob is back in business"! The only downside is that, after the great intro, the drum-machine drums at times do sound a bit too fake.

Faith is a softer, more commercial rock song, sung by Saracen vocalist Steve. It's a good song which has grown on me after the first few weeks when I would sometimes skip it. However, it is overshadowed by the following song. Wish It Was Me is a great bluesy rock song, simple verses over acoustic guitar, drums and bass, then raw, powerful singalong chorus. It is sung by Lorainne Emmit-Gardner, who shows she has a remarkable voice, bluesy, melancholy in the verses and belting out the choruses - she should be a star herself! Rob Bendelow gets the chance to show off his guitar skills here too.

I guess no one's saying how love can live on a one way street
When your journey home's all in the rain

Blue Stanza is a guitar-led instrumental, hinting at blues, rock, sounding quite Gary Moore-esque at times. This gives way to a cover of George Harrison's/The Beatles' While My Guitar Gently Weeps, an interesting version, quite faithful to the original, but my preference would have been another Bendelow piece!

Dolphin Ride is an old Saracen instrumental, from the first album. I love the original version, so it was quite odd hearing it updated and redone. The melody is the same as before, but the rhythm section is completely different, with some new keyboard sounds running through. Very different, very good, very beautiful, equally haunting, trippy, but in a different way.

Jason Gardner sings again on Just Me And My Flying V, another rock song suited to his voice. Mid tempo, speeding up in the middle, then a classic Bendelow-Saracen guitar solo insturmental bringing it back to the riff and leading to the end. Almost plodding at times, a rolling, riffing, rocker...

None of which applies to Angel Eyes. Well, rockey maybe, but this is a beautiful ballad. A duet, with Saracen singer Steve Bettney sharing the vocals with the amazing Lori, this is one of the album's unexpected highlights. They work so well together, the song is soft and simple but together they electrify it, with some help from a beautiful solo by Rob.

So touch me, Angel Eyes
So much to see, I realise
Caress me, possess me
Now you're here I feel so alive

Swords of Damascus is an old Saracen instrumental that was never recorded. The opening guitar riff sounds arabesque, a horn calling across the desert, then the drums kick in and it takes off. A great track, moody, atmospheric, you can almost taste the dust.

Finally the title track, Come To The Light, starting with a choral intro, then a beautiful acoustic guitar section. A gentle, beautiful, moving passage which then changes, giving way to a more upbeat, rhythmic passage, spoken vocals overlaying keyboards, spacey at times, very interesting, sounding at times almost "Enigma"-like, or "Jade Warrior", at times almost sinister, dark. The acoustic guitar wins, the Templar choir join in and some instrumental passages take us through. This song is for lying back in a darkened room holding hands...for a massage...for making love to.

There is some really great music here. There are some new Saracen songs, but also some other fantastic material. Well worth a listen whether you like Saracen, not, or never heard of them!

Ray's Realm

Interesting how things end up coming to our attention, especially the ones we really like. I was always a huge fan of the English band SARACEN in the '80's. Their 2 albums, "Heroes, Saints & Fools" and "Change of Heart" were sterling examples of a unique blend of heavy prog, AOR and metal that also featured great guitar work and that all important clincher, killer songs. I had always wondered what had happened to SARACEN main-man Rob Bendelow and probably should have searched for him on the 'net before now. However, in an e-mail I got a couple months back from a reader of this page (Hello Down Under, Dennis!) he referenced Bendelow's new TEMPLAR project. I found the page, fired off an e-mail and quickly heard back from Rob that a CD was on the way.

Of course, then 09/11/01 happened. With things like that, we all took some steps back to realize what is really important in life and a disc on it's way didn't have quite the urgency it might have otherwise. But, a few weeks later, a packet from England arrived and since I tore it open and slid the TEMPLAR CD into my player, only The Mammals CD has given it serious competition. In truth, this is easily one of the best albums of the year. Why? Like most things that are great, TEMPLAR is not the easiest thing to describe. Yes, there are elements of the heavy prog of SARACEN, but then again, there's an AOR-ish glory I haven't heard since the first New England record as well.

A wealth of lead vocalists, both male & female adds to the mix and, unlike some works where this can cause confusion, here the variety of singers only strengthens the material's confluence. As with SARACEN, this debut by TEMPLAR is fused by the beautiful & powerful guitar work of Rob Bendelow. His playing has a lyrical, soaring quality that accompanies the styles of the very best. His respect for legends like Gary Moore, Iommi, Gilmour & Tipton is acknowledged but becomes far and away it's own. And, like all records that reach the upper echelon, it's the songs that ultimately do it. Whether it's the riffing "On The Rockface," the beautiful melodies of "Blue Stanza" and "Faith" or the Electric-Sun-like epic title cut (10+ min), there is simply nothing close to a filler. Hell, there are even a couple SARACEN-days instrumentals, "Dolphin Ride" & "Swords Of Damascus" and a scorching reading of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." In all, anyone who likes rock music, done with a sense of passion and symphonic power, not to mention superbly written & catchy songs will find something for themselves in "Come To The Light." I, myself, found a remarkable album I'll be spinning for some time to come!

Strutter Zine

Guitarist Rob Bendelow used to play with British Symphonic melodic rockers SARACEN, with whom he released a couple of great albums. Now he has a new project called TEMPLAR, and 'Come To The Light' is their first release. The album sounds very diverse, also due to the fact Rob has used many outsiders to come and play on the record.

Former SARACEN singer Steve Bettney also sings on 4 tracks, so there's a lot to enjoy for the people who wondered whatever happened to that legendary UK band SARACEN. The CD has a fantastic production, very high quality and right up there with major label releases. Opener "On The Rockface" is a good uptempo melodic rocker. Then comes the lovely pure AOR song "Faith", a superb classy 80s inspired tune a la MARK FREE and FOREIGNER, a very strong song indeed, maybe one of the best new AOR songs at the moment! The CD continues with the mid-tempo AOR/Melodic Rocker "Wish It Was Me", a great song with a female fronted singer called Lori-Emmitt Gardner, who reminds me of DARBY MILLS and ROBIN BROCK.

There are also three instrumentals - "Blue Stanza", "Dolphin Ride" and "Swords of Damascus", the GEORGE HARRISON/BEATLES cover "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (great job, very well-done!), the semi-rocker "Just Me and my Flying V" and closing track "Come to the Light". This last mentioned song is a ten-minute track that sounds a bit strange, there's a gospel kinda choir, a long instrumental part with a sax and some progressive rock influences can be heard, so a mix-up of all kinds of styles. Everything is played very well and it's a pleasure to listen to.

However, there's one more sensational song and that's the terrific semi-AOR ballad "Angel Eyes", a duet between Steve Bettney and Lori-Emmitt Gardner, incredible HUGE AOR song, with a catchy chorus!

This is a quality release with some very good performed music, recommended to fans of different genres, fans of female fronted rock will like a few songs, AOR fans definitely will love some songs, fans of instrumental music will find something of interest and maybe also the average rock fan will appreciate the diversity on this record.

Swedish Rock Mag

Do they still make albums like this one? In an age when our mailbox is flooded by speed and brutality this bunch dare to stand out. TEMPLAR consists of 7 persons, with the ex-SARACEN Guitarist Rob Bendelow at the nucleus of the band. He brings three vocalists along for the adventure; Steven Bettney (ex-Saracen), Jason Gardner (ex-bass player of Saracen) and Lori Emmitt-Gardner, a fabulous singer that apparently performs on both sides of the Atlantic, guitarists Richard Bendelow and Paul Shephard as well as sax player John Davison.

Not to worry now, this is not a departure from (hard)rock, just a softer approach. In case anyone wonders, Saracen were a classic symphonic NWOBHM-band.

The first track, “On the Rockface”, takes off in a typically Saracen way, with a dreamy and atmospheric keyboard until Rob takes charge with a killer riff. Third song “Wish it Was Me” showcases Loris amazing talent. The working title was “My Natalie Imbruglia Song” but the result has nothing to do with Natalie.

Three instrumental tracks are offered, I´d be surprised otherwise with a guitarist like Rob on the team! “Blue Stanza” brings TONY MACALPINE to mind at his most soft and melodic times but with a rounder sound. “Dolphin Ride” is a classic Saracen track that´s been given a more modern sound and has actually benefited from that. I´m definitely going on a ride with these dolphins!

They´ve also ventured a cover of Beatles “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, probably because the Double White Album was the first record Rob bought. It might seem a hackneyed choice but they´ve really given it a sound of their own and developed a fruitful combination. The Title track concludes the proceedings with more than 10 minutes of genuine craftsmanship. This album contains no fillers and is the soft hard rock album of the year! When it comes to musicianship it’s probably the best album of the year.

HEROES, SAINTS & FOOLS

  • 1: Crusader
  • 2: Rock Of Ages
  • 3: No More Lonely Nights
  • 4: Horsemen Of The Apocalypse
  • 5: Heroes, Saints & Fools
  • 6: Dolphin Ride
  • 7: Ready To Fly
  • 8: We Have arrived (Bonus Track)
  • 9: Blue Stanza (Bonus Track)
  • 10: Come to the Light (Bonus Track)