It is a well known and accepted fact that Saxon lost their way for a number of years in the mid 80’s and found themselves floundering somewhat in a sea of mediocrity. Popular opinion would also say that with their ninth album, Destiny, released in 1988, Saxon reached their nadir.
Destiny was the only album recorded with the short lived line-up of vocalist Biff Byford, guitarists Paul Quinn and Graham Oliver, bassist Paul Johnson and drummer Nigel Durham and listening to the album – nearly thirty years after its release – the first thing that is noticeable is the big, fuck off shiny 80’s production job and the generic 80’s drum sound. More than likely inspired by the success of their peers such as Def Leppard and Whitesnake, Destiny comes with the obligatory keyboards and harmonised backing vocals of the era in an obvious attempt to make them a tad more radio friendly. But, 35 years since its release, the question is does Saxon‘s Destiny deserve to be cut some slack?
Opening with “Ride Like The Wind”, a cover of the Christopher Cross song, this was the ‘big’ single and best known song from the album. Things start off well with some nice riffs, however it quickly becomes apparent that the album had been given the full 80’s production treatment and any rough edges were smoothed away. By the the time the first chorus rolled in the keyboards emerged and so did some predictable Leppard-esque backing vocals. All in all, it was a reasonable opening track – and by no means the worst song on the album – but nothing to stoke the metal fires that should have been raging.
“Where The Lightning Strikes” was a wee bit more like the Saxon we know and love and finally gifted the chance to get your gnashers into some meaty guitars. Big, bold and anthemic, this is the type of song Biff and the boys could shit out in their sleep and suddenly Destiny was not looking like a complete dud.
However, with “I Can’t Wait Anymore” any momentum the band had gathered so far quickly subdued by this big attempt at a Def Leppard style power ballad; complete with Biff attempting to sound broken hearted, more harmonised backing vocals and ‘atmospheric’ keyboards. Although catchy enough and reasonably memorable, it’s pretty harmless and it takes a bit of getting used to….the band rarely sounded this safe.
When it comes to writing about the plight of the working man there are few betters bands than Saxon. But, with “Calm Before The Storm”, a tune dull and uninspired for the most part, the parping keyboards again only detract from the power of the music. A number of the lyrics would show up a few years later on “Iron Wheels”, a far superior song in every way. However bad this song is, we still haven’t reached rock bottom. Oh no, that delight still awaits the intrepid listener.
Finally, we reach the end of side one with “SOS” which is about the sinking of the Titanic. Funnily enough we feel like sending out distress signals ourselves as we need saving from the overall bland and mediocre experience we’ve had to endure so far!
Onwards to side two and a second ballad with “Song For Emma” which is drenched in those fucking keyboards which – and not for the first time – leave guitarists Graham Dawson and Paul Quinn sounding strangely muted. This is another safe tune with some good hooks but, as with “I Can’t Wait Anymore”, remains an obvious attempt to appeal to a mainstream America that had recently embraced the Lepps and Whitesnake to their heaving bosom.
Fortunately, with “For Whom The Bell Tolls” it would appear that the lads had finally located their balls again. Pounding drums and finally some riffs to get the old head-a-banging were the order of the day. While this story of the Berlin Wall will not go down in history as an all time Saxon great, it’s good to hear the band sounding hungry and vibrant again.
Unfortunately, any good feelings generated by this track are short lived due to what came next.
Yep, it’s those damn keyboards again! Biff and Paul Quinn had obviously been listening to Van Halen‘s “Jump” on repeat play if the start of “We Are Strong” was anything to go by….except they appeared to have hired a deaf goat with deformed hooves to play the keys. Easily the worst thing on Destiny and the least said about it the better.
Still, we’re on the home stretch now and while “Jericho Sirens” was just ok it was at least a marked improvement on what came before it and with “Red Alert”, at least Destiny went out with a bit of a bang and not the whimper that you’d be forgiven for expecting. A meat and potatoes Saxon tune that sees our valiant heroes being chased around Eastern Europe by the fallout from Chernobyl, the music finally has some oomph to it and Biff actually sounds the way we want him to; that is to say a bit rough around the edges and not harmonizing like some second rate Coverdale clone!
So, there we have it! Does Saxon‘s Destiny deserve some slack? We would have to say no. There are a few good tunes, some bad ones too, but for the most part it’s bland and uninspired; which is probably one of the worst things you could accuse a band of being. Destiny was obviously an attempt to court mainstream America and one that backfired badly. The album hasn’t stood up at all to the test of time and the bombastic production really makes it a victim of its era.
Saxon’s Destiny; best filed under avoid.