The evolution of Pennsylvania's tech-death/prog metal leaders Rivers of Nihil has been remarkable to watch unfold over the last decade. With their latest album, The Work, they've continued to mature while expanding on the new elements of their style present on 2018's brilliant Where Owls Know My Name — the saxophone. So bassist Adam Biggs is here to school you in the 10 'Saxiest' Rock + Metal Songs.
While the sax might seem like a rather unlikely instrument to utilize in heavy music, it's cropped up for the last 50-plus years in some of the biggest songs to have ever been released. Especially in progressive rock and metal, the sax is so expertly used as a soulful voice to shade the dynamic moods these masterclass musicians are capable of conjuring.
From Chicago to Ihsahn, Biggs' list truly span's the full spectrum of rock and metal in pursuit of sweet, saxy sounds that help define his taste.
You're probably able to think of a couple songs with memorable saxophone parts, but have you heard them all? Find out in the list below.
Rivers of Nihil's 'The Work' is out now. Get your copy of the album here and follow the band on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Spotify.
Rivers of Nihil, "The Void From Which No Sound Escapes" Music Video
It’s well known amongst... well... just about anyone that David Gilmour’s one-of-a-kind approach to the guitar solo as a concept is something that put Pink Floyd on the map of all-time greatness. What gets little love, however, is the band’s use of saxophone throughout their career, which, to me, is pretty mind-boggling since they made excellent use of the instrument through the years.
There are few finer and more famous examples of this than "Money," one of their earliest smash hits. The song has an over one minute long absolute ripper of a sax solo that leads the song from a 7/8 jam right into blues rock 4/4 heaven and one of Gilmour’s patented killer leads of his own. Next time you jam some Floyd, keep an ear out for that horn!
Ihsahn is one of the most criminally underrated voices in the modern prog-metal scene. Just take 10 minutes out of your day to jam this tune from his excellent 2010 album After and you’ll almost have to agree. The track's long, soulful buildup gives way to an absolutely soul-rending “sax chorus” if you will (provided by Shining’s Jørgen Munkeby no less), and few things in music have felt as captivating to me since, honestly.
King Crimson, "21st Century Schizoid Man"
Anyone who makes the argument that heavy riffs and sax don’t belong next to one another would be well served by this monster track concocted way back in 1969. This song already has one of the most fire riffs ever conceived of by man OR beast, and then they throw the insanity of Ian Mcdonald’s rock-horn all over this bad boy, and BOOM, they break the game right then and there. Honestly the rest of us have just been playing catch-up ever since.
Look I’ll be honest, on the whole, I could care less about Chicago. BUT THIS SONG THOUGH. Holy hell, does it rip top to bottom. The riff, the guitar solo, vocals, everything is on 10. However, it’s the horn section that brings this song from simply exceptional to legendary. This one gets the blood pumping. Catch me hate-moshing at the next Chicago concert to this one.
When David Bowie ascended from this lowly place back in 2016, he did so with such artful generosity as to leave us with one of the best records of his amazing career — Blackstar. The record features a smorgasbord of free jazz instrumentation to accompany the late singer’s sonic reconciliation with the end of life, and the saxophone is one of its primary musical dishes. If you want a bite-sized portion of this feast then look no further than "Lazarus."
Like any of the best songs on this list, the sax accompanies the feelings in the vocals/lyrics and enhances them to absolutely moving effect. Extra points to this track for really being the catalyst for my own band to use the instrument as well. Thank you, Mr. Bowie.
Mr. Bungle, "My Ass Is on Fire"
Silly weirdo clown band makes silly weirdo clown noises, right? Well, yeah. But this early Mike Patton-fronted track is no laughing matter. Heavy, unpredictable, and just plain fucked up, the musicianship of the track (often very sax driven overall) could leave the most hardened tech-death musician's head-spinning.
David Bowie, "Space Oddity"
A freshly reborn (and renamed) Davy Jones launched his career into the stratosphere with this track back in 1969, and what exactly was so special about it? The melancholy space vibe and lyrics? The way-ahead-of-its-time songwriting? Yeah those things are nice, but I’d have to say it’s the sax break during the bridge that puts this one right over the top. Ground control just needs to hit a few of those sweet, sweet brass notes to get a hold of yours truly.
Supertramp, "The Logical Song"
This song rules. It’s like if Rush lost their mind and decided to be a pop band that is somehow just as proggy as any Rush song. Admittedly it’s something of a guilty pleasure, but if loving that sax solo at the two-minute mark is wrong then I’d rather not be right. Give this one another, closer listen if the last time you heard it was in a Chili’s and you were too busy with your southwest eggrolls to pay attention.
Pink Floyd, "The Gunner's Dream"
Any excuse for me to talk about Pink Floyd is always nice. So let me hit you with a sort of deep cut from one of the most celebrated bands in rock history — "The Gunner’s Dream." The Final Cut was and still is a divisive record in Floyd’s catalog to be sure (I, personally, love it), but even the staunchest hater of the Waters-driven era of the band probably wouldn’t argue with the emotional hit delivered by the wailing sax in this song right as Waters belts out, “And hold on to the dream.” It’s a powerful musical moment elevated by the instrument that will make me tear up almost anytime I hear it.
The Edgar Winter Group, "Frankenstein"
Here we are, the final thesis statement of monster riffs meeting monster sax. The song is an instantly recognizable classic, which is a tough thing for an instrumental song to achieve, but what most don’t know is that Mr. Winter himself is responsible for a lion’s share of the instrumentation on the track. Guitars, synths, and you guessed it, the sax is all a product of this insanely talented fella. Give this one another spin and try to keep your head on straight.