IN THE 2001 UK census, nearly 400,000 citizens claimed Jediism as their religion of choice. In 2011, Biff Byford, singer for raucous rockers Saxon, started a campaign to convince his fellow countrymen to pencil in heavy metal as their righteous path instead. Upon asking Byford how successful his campaign was, he is swift to interrupt before the question is finished.
"Oh, it's a religion," he says in a confident, matter-of-fact tone. "It ranked right up there behind Jediism and Druidism." When asked how one practices heavy metal as a religion, Byford's response is simple. "Just love the music and live the lifestyle."
It comes as no surprise that Byford and a large cross-section of the British would give their immortal soul to heavy metal. There's no denying the UK as the birthplace of metal. In the beginning, there was Black Sabbath (obviously), but the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement is dead-solid proof of the Brits furthering the genre. When referencing the NWOBHM, bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and even Def Leppard are typically mentioned first, but for some inexplicable reason, Saxon is often left off that list even though, having released their first full-length in 1979, they were at the forefront of the movement.
Like everything else in pop culture, though, music is cyclical. As high-waisted cutoffs have found their way back onto ladies' hips, sounds harkening back to the glory days of metal have crept back onto the stages of the world. New bands continue to mimic styles of old, and Byford says he has no problem with the younger generations plagiarizing the history books. When they look backward, metal musicians end up discovering bands like Saxon, who have been there all along.
To appease old and new fans, Saxon have embarked on a coast-to-coast North American tour in support of their new record Sacrifice. According to Byford, Saxon hasn't done a tour this vast since they went out with Mötley Crüe almost 30 years ago.
Perhaps Byford is right about heavy metal being a religion. Once converted, you're a follower for life.