Chosen to support Motorhead on the “Bomber” tour in 1979, Saxon seemed a perfect fit and yet there was something different about them that confounded Lemmy. Being the charitable sort, Lemmy – is there really any need to list his last name anymore? – offered them some of his vodka and samples of whatever drugs he had available, as former Saxon bassist Steve “Dobby” Dawson remembers it, readily admitting that the alcohol made him sick. Saxon actually didn’t seem to want any of it, and that made Lemmy … well, not sad, but a bit baffled. They were a heavy metal band, after all. What part of sex, drugs and rock and roll didn’t they understand?

Shaking his head and having a good laugh about it now in the long-awaited 2012 Saxon documentary Heavy Metal Thunder – The Movie, Lemmy still finds it amusing that they were more interested in drinking tea than downing bottles of booze. As a matter of fact, Saxon demanded crates of English tea when the New Wave of British Heavy Metal horsemen set out to conquer America for the first time, believing that they couldn’t find the good stuff in the U.S. That’s what kept Saxon up at night –the ability to find quality tea … and lots of it. Not exactly the stuff of a “Behind the Music” special, is it?

In the beginning, Saxon was one for all and all for one, a band of brothers that busted out of the mining and industrial wasteland of South Yorkshire with modest dreams of heavy-metal glory. Informed by the punk movement and the harsh, dirty noise of industry and machines, Saxon’s sound couldn’t have been less pretentious. Devoid of artifice, the hard-nosed, hot-wired guitars of Paul Quinn and Graham Oliver were searing and rugged, and Steve “Dobby” Dawson’s bass rumbled like a Hell’s Angels’ chopper, while the drums – first ably played by David Ward, and then bashed into powder by former Gary Glitter drummer Pete Gill – pumped furiously like pistons. Driving this thundering vehicle, Biff Byford, a lanky, long-haired showman with the voice of a metal god, always has been the heart and soul of Saxon, as well as its most compelling character. They were, and still are, a working-class band, however, and their lyrics often sympathized with the plight of blue-collar England, which at the time was embroiled in vicious labor disputes with the mother of all union busters Margaret Thatcher.

Against this backdrop of economic depression and rusted-out factories, Saxon’s story played out, taking interesting turns, their struggle mirroring that of Black Sabbath and other NWOBHM legends. Setting the record straight, with the kind of honesty and integrity that characterized Saxon’s music, Heavy Metal Thunder – The Movie tells a heroic tale of perseverance and substance over flash. Full of wicked old war stories, as told by the members of Saxon, this documentary traces the Saxon story all the way back to when they were called Son of a Bitch. Despite the dated production values, this no-frills film – supplemented with amazingly rare and vital live footage from various points in Saxon’s history, including great stuff from that infamous “Bomber” tour with Motorhead – travels back to those rough-and-tumble English rock club circuit the band played when that fire in their bellies burning hot. They toured on a shoestring budget, taking liberties with groupies in a cramped van containing their gear and no privacy. They fervently hoped to secure a record contract, and when they did, it was with French label Carrere Records, a deal that would leave them penniless. Details about how their famous logo was developed and how the cover of their debut album was created are revisited in the film, and when Saxon’s machinery finally started churning out the records they were born to make, like Strong Arm of the Law, Wheels of Steel and Denim and Leather – these powerhouse, chrome-plated albums of tough, smoking riffs, workhorse rhythms and gritty, uncompromising hooks – Heavy Metal Thunder – The Movie traces the band’s steady progression to the top of British rock heap.

Of course, there’s the inevitable decline, the clueless producers who tamed Saxon’s mighty roar, Dawson’s cocaine use and the fierce battles with Byford that led to his messy departure, and insight into the hard feelings that persist between past and present members – all of whom talk candidly and passionately about these matters and about this thing they started. Narrated by Fastway’s Toby Jepson, Heavy Metal Thunder – The Movie would go nowhere without these conversations, and the editing strikes a not-so-easy balance between shaping loads of content into something entertaining while at the same time releasing a flood of Saxon-specific information. The result is an engrossing and comprehensive biography, essential viewing for anybody with even a passing interest in Saxon.

And there’s more on a second disc comprised of behind-the-scenes material, stirring live footage, in-studio scenes and easy-going, funny interaction between Biff and Lemmy – much of it stemming from a recent Saxon tour with Motorhead. Then there’s the vintage televised video of a tight and energetic Saxon killing it in a raucous 1981 performance for the “Beat Club” show as they charge through “Motorcycle Man,” “Hungry Years,” “Strong Arm of the Law,” “747” and a host of other favorites. It’s an immersive Saxon experience, packaged to celebrate a band that was always underappreciated, especially in America. Stuffed to the gills with loads of Saxon material, this whole set is a must-have for Saxon fans. Tea is not included, however.