SARACEN – Change Of Heart [digitally remastered +2] (2018)
After their remarkable early ’80s debut album, British rock combo SARACEN disappeared for a bit, underwent a wholesale line-up change and re-appeared in 1984 with this second album “Change Of Heart”, finally reissued on CD at the end of last year, including two hard to find bonus tracks.
Perhaps it was the line-up change or perhaps it was a distinct decision by the band to move in to more “mainstream” New Wave of British Heavy Metal territory (or perhaps both) – “Change Of Heart” is, overall, a more of a straight-ahead hard rock style album with AOR tinges.
On this record we have some greatly melodic, softer, pop-rock sounding songs – exhibiting the band’s Asia and Heart influences, all strongly keyboard infused, still crafted together with attributes of the NWOBHM.
Saracen seems to shift focus to a more conventional 3-minute song formula – and they do this incredibly well. Just check the thundering, rockin’ ‘Jekyll & Hyde’, or the no frills rocker ‘Love on Sight’.
One of my favorites is opener ‘We Have Arrived’, a showcase for Steve Bettney’s sharp, powerful and clear vocals, and the use of lovely analog synthesizer to provide a ‘pomp’ atmosphere.
‘Julie’ is a semi-ballad, radio-friendly tune akin Journey or Steve Perry solo but also Boston, then follower ‘Seabird’ is another highlight which starts as a ballad with acoustics into the mix and then explodes into a melodic rocker with certain epicness.
‘Meet Me At Midnight’ has that very typical NWOBHM tone – however combined with melodic rock – resulting into something Tygers Of Pan Tang or Bronz did in the mid ’80s. Love this stuff.
‘Cheatin’ is a quite epic progressive AOR melodic rocker, a midtempo with some American influences such as Saga or even Kansas.
Then ‘A Face In The Crowd’ is an elaborated slow tune with a bit of progressive on it, some acoustic guitars, and a feeling similar to Magnum.
‘Hot Love’ is arguably the most NWOBHM sounding track on the LP and does kick a bit of ass. When this band attempts the genre, they do it better than many, bringing interesting riffs, good structures, more impressive lyrics, and enough of that ass-kicking roughness that made bands like Badger so great. Keyboards continue to feature in even these tracks, bring additional melody and thickness.
The strong ballad ‘Bridge of Tears’ features piano, bongo drums and soulful guitar leads. Vocals are awesome on this one evoking a very young Rob Halford with that meaningful vibrato, and heartfelt lyrics. Here Saracen not only shows their originality within the genre, but proves they are probably one of the best NWOBHM bands to attempt the ballad – yes it’ that good. Guitar leads in this are as well structured and toned for the subject matter as you’re going to get.
As bonus tracks, we have the hard to find single versions of ‘We Have Arrived (Single Version)’ and ‘A Face In The Crowd (Single Version)’, being the first of special interest because is quite different to the album version, including other synth / keyboard arrangement.
By the time of the release of “Change Of Heart”, Saracen easily were one of the more original, and technically proficient bands of the NWOBHM movement, which started to morph to a more accessible sound.
With the ability to tackle various sub-genres from poppy melodic rock, hard rock and synth driven pomp AOR, to the rough and ready NWOBHM guitar riffs, and to do it well, Saracen are certainly a force to be reckoned with.
Basically, on this album Saracen are experts at blending various genres / influences to craft a unique sound of their own. Their originality and depth makes them streets ahead of many contemporaries.
In many ways, you can hear here something similar of what Phenomena project first album would deliver the following year.
After few listens, you’ll love “Change Of Heart”, a little gem that certainly deserved a reissue and you need to discover.
01 – We Have Arrived
02 – Love On Sight
03 – Julie
04 – Seabird
05 – Meet Me At Midnight
06 – Jekyll & Hyde
07 – Cheatin’
08 – A Face In The Crowd
09 – Hot Love
10 – Bridge Of Tears
11 – We Have Arrived (Single Version)
12 – A Face In The Crowd (Single Version)
Steve Bettney – Vocals
Jason Gardner – Bass
Haydn Conway – Guitars
Danny Spencer – Drums
Richard Lowe – Vocals, Keyboards
BUY IT !