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Part 1 of a miniseries on Rob Halford’s solo career!
FIGHT – War of Words (1993 Sony)
I was devastated when Rob Halford left Priest. I was so heavily invested emotionally in the excellent Painkiller album, I couldn’t believe it was over! Last I had heard, the band were going to be working on two new songs for a greatest hits album (Metal Works) and then Rob would take a break to do a solo album. Instead, the band split completely! Halford and drummer extraordinaire Scott Travis formed Fight with guitarists Russ Parish and Brian Tilse, and the bass player from hell, Jay Jay. (Today, Parish goes by the name “Satchel” when he plays with Steel Panther!) Regarding Jay Jay, Halford says that he did a number of Rob’s own tattoos. Rob figured if he could play bass as well he he tattooed, he was in. Jay Jay also does the grunt-metal backing vocals.
The resulting album, War of Words, is a Pantera-esque thrash-fest, one of the heaviest things Rob had ever done (until Halford’s Crucible album), undeniable brutal, scream-laden, and punishing from start to finish. Halford had cleverly assembled two shredding guitar players with differing styles too: Tilse specialized in the noisy speedy solos, while Parrish played the more melodic and traditional speedy solos! War of Words is solo nirvana for fans of Rob and Priest. And Rob wrote every single song by himself.
The twin openers, “Into the Pit” and “Nailed to the Gun”, are two of a kind: they are rip-yer-head-off thrashers with Rob’s patented glass-breaking screams. The song structures on War of Words are simpler than what we heard with Priest, no doubt since Rob composed the songs by himself. This simplicity serves to make the album feel even heavier and more relentless.
The lyrics, just as simple and aggressive. “Into the Pit” doesn’t feature much in the way of poetry:
Conspiring, for sation
Malfeasance, on high
Obstruction, of duty
Disorder, will rise
Rob takes the pace back a bit on the third track, “Life in Black” which I don’t think you can fairly call a ballad, to me it’s more Dio-era Sabbath with a very vintage-Dio sounding solo. (Rob had just helped out Sabbath live after Dio left, singing lead for two shows while opening for Ozzy Osbourne.) Meanwhile “Immortal Sin” bears a slow groove with a melodic chorus, downtuned but a bright spot in the proceedings.
The title track opens with the American First Amendment (Rob was living in Phoenix). It’s another aural assault with Rob keeping his vocals in the upper register. Travis’ incredible drumming punctuates every venomous word. Considering that less than three years prior, Rob (with Priest) was in court defending his band during the infamous “suicide trial”, the words are apt.
Dream Deceivers, directed by David Van Taylor, the excellent documentary on the Judas Priest trial
It’s back to dark haunting territory next: “Laid to Rest” ended the first side of the album. I find this one to contain one of Rob’s best vocal performances of the album. It’s reminiscent of “A Touch of Evil” by Priest, but downtuned and slightly exotic.
Side Two’s opener, “For All Eternity” is really the final reprieve. It is most definitely a power ballad in vintage Priest vibe, but again with the modern downtuned guitars. A song like this really proved Rob’s songwriting chops. He’s capable of writing emotive, catchy powerful music completely on his own, and the song is an achievement. The bridge around 2:25 is just awesomeness, but Tilse’s guitar solo completes the picture. As if that wasn’t enough, Rob returns to full on scream mode for the end.
“Little Crazy” was a critically acclaimed heavy metal blues, and the second single/video. I’m struggling to describe it beyond “heavy metal blues”, but this song is definitely a highlight. Rob puts everything he has into the slinky lead vocal, while band fuse the blues feel with heavy metal’s precision. I recall reviews of the time saying, “If Rob wanted to drop metal and go full-on blues, he could.” Now that would be interesting.
The rest of the album is no-holds-barred. The triple threat of “Contortion”, “Kill It”, and “Vicious” is almost too much. Each song strips everything down to the basics: simple riffs, violent words, relentless drums, without much in terms of melody. This is the most difficult part of the album to penetrate. In time the three songs grow. “Contortion” protests what we are doing to the Earth with angry frustration. “Kill It” is about TV preachers (whom I’m sure had their opinions on Priest during the trial). “Vicious” was always my favourite of the trio:
You cheating, lying, mother-fucking son of a bitch..
I was going through an angry phase at the time!
Rob saved the best track for last. “Reality: A New Beginning” is a weighty epic, a perfect closer, slightly exotic and successfully combining Fight’s heavy side with Rob’s ability to write great melodies. This is simply an incredible song, a jewel in Halford’s crown, and a song which definitely deserves another look. The lyrics seem to be autobiographical:
This time, when I’m leaving,
Who cares where I’ll go?
There was a hidden CD bonus track (not on cassette) after a five minute silence, a jokey song called “Jesus Saves”. Rob’s voice is electronically manipulated to sound…well, not sure what he’s supposed to sound like. An angry elf, I guess.
There are some supplementary releases available:
1. This one is on my wishlist, I don’t own a physical copy: In 1994 Fight released a Christmas CD single called “Christmas Ride” with a message from Rob! They later reissued this as a free download from Rob’s site, but that is no longer around.
2. The live/remix EP, Mutations (next up in this series of reviews).
3. In 2007, a demo album called K5: The War of Words Demos was released. This featured demo versions of most of the album, plus five more. These include four new songs, and “Psycho Suicide” which was later remade for the second Fight album, A Small Deadly Space. The demos reveal that a much more conventional-sounding metal album was initially planned. (“The Beast Denies” is a very different version of “Reality: A New Beginning”.)
4. The 2008 Fight box set Into the Pit contains remixed versions of War of Words (again without “Jesus Saves”) and A Small Deadly Space. But the cool thing it contains is a DVD, Fight Live In Phoenix. The band rips through the entire album, in sequence (no “Jesus Saves”!) and then Rob’s solo track, “Light Comes Out of Black” (from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie soundtrack).
5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer original motion picture soundtrack. This is the only place you can get the studio version of “Light Comes Out of Black”, featuring his backing band…Pantera. All of Pantera.
I like “Light Comes Out of Black”, but it’s a lot easier to swallow than Fight is on first listen. I remember a M.E.A.T Magazine interview with Glenn Tipton and KK Downing, where they trashed it. “If it were on Painkiller, it would be one of the weaker songs, if not the weakest,” said KK.
KK might have been right about that to a certain extent, but only because Painkiller consists of 10 awesome songs!
God, how I hated that album when it came out. I was never a Pantera fan (still ain’t), but I’ve grown to love this album. It’s easily as good as anything Priest has ever done (well, almost). Immortal Sin is still my fave here.
Jon, I am also still not a Pantera fan.
I grew into this album too. It was really hard to get into on first listen, but like you I enjoy it as much as many Priest albums now. Hope you stick around for the whole series!
Here’s the Immortal Sin video for anyone who wants to check ‘er out:
Well for I passed on the whole Fight thing. My bro who is 10 yrs younger than me and was about14/ 15 at the time loved it! I put my eggs in Dickinsons basket and waited for the followup to Tatooed Millionaire. I seen the Fight vid on Muchmusic and I just did not get into it. For me Priest was British Steel/P.O.E/Screaming…so this was a shift in direction in sumthin I wasn’t interested in. I listened to my bros tape and well I just thought well hey at lest he’s doing something …
I totally get your opinion Deke because I didn’t really have any friends who were into Fight, and I can hear what they’re talking about.
What’s funny though is that the whole Fight thing came and went before Priest released anything at all! Fight broke up in 96 and Jugulator came out in late ’97. By that time Scott Travis was able to return to Priest! Really weird how that worked out.
Incidentally Deke at the very bottom of the review I quote an old Priest interview from M.E.A.T Magazine…did you remember that one?
Hey Deke, I’ll go you one better (and it’ll involve my having to relinquish any remaining cred I may have left) – I only own one Priest record, and I didn’t even know this Fight thing existed! But wait! Don’t flame me! See, I come to LeBrain for my education. He leads me to all sorts of wonders of rawk. Like this record, which (by its description) sounds like something I might like very much indeed!
I faintly recall that MEAT interview MIke I remember Priest was not to happy at the time with Fight esp as Halford took the drummer as well….for sure Isaacanscop this is a great lesson that Mike provides for all of us here,I love the flashbacks he gives me thru his reviews and I can chirp on about things as well…….
Also when Priest put out the Ripper stuff I just passed by it as well..I just did not get into that as well and than Maiden with the Blaze stuff I just about lost it with lead singer changes by than of course VH 3…. Late nineties weren’t good at all …I did have hope for Generation Swine …..
Yeah and we know what happened with Gen Swine!
With Priest I lost interest pretty much until Rob came back and then it seemed too good to be true! It was definitely a bad time for rock.
In my top 5 CDs all time !! Can’t believe it has been 20 years. The night he came to San Diego was the OJ chase we were watching and partying before the show. I like the follow up too Small Deadly Space.
Well Mike that album is set to be my part 3. Stay tuned for that…
So you’re saying you saw the OJ chase and Fight in one night? Cool.
Sorry to jump the gun on your part 3….yes very vivid memories of tht nights events. Great show! Saw Fight a few times very small venues…always worked our way up right in front of Halford.
It must have been cool to saw Rob play those small venues. Something that happens very rarely now!
Incredible…but he puts on a great show in any venue. Seen him with Priest, Fight, Halford. One of the coolest and best shows I’ve seen was Rob filling in for Dio on the night Ozzy n Sabbath reunited. Lineup was Sabbath w Halford, Ozzy solo set then reunited Sabbath circa 1995….
Dude I have a video bootleg of that! I can’t dig it up right now so I can’t tell you the exact date but I think it was 1993. I have watched that tape so many times. I remember that Rob came in too early on Children of the Grave! Legendary. Rob came back for one show later on one of the Ozzfests when Ozzy was sick. The Ozzfest that had Priest and Sabbath.
That’s awesome I remember him coming in early too….for some reason I thought it was Into the Void….Iommi gave him a little death stare….definitely early to mid 90s….yes it was an Ozzfest and a looong day but worth it for sure!
Two of my favourite bands of all time are Priest and Sabbath…it would have been awesome to see it in person!
looks like it was 1992. My two favorites as well. Hard not to ague they ARE Heavy Metal…..and the two best Metal bands of all time
The funny thing to me is that Rob was still officially in Priest at the time — he hadn’t quit, and he mentions his “other band” on stage!
I got into this band really late. I wasn’t even interested in Priest when this came out so it really passed me by at the time. I really enjoy this album I think there’s plenty to like on it for Priest fans although I don’t like the “vicious vicious fucker fucker” stuff so much. Sounds too much like it should be being sung by wrestlers.
Too bad they missed that cross over promotion potential. But later on didn’t Rob have some kind of race car thing going on with Halford 4?
I wont be going that far in my series by the way, since I don’t any anything from the Christmas album onwards.
Well if the cover of 4 was anything to go by I guess so! Why did you stop getting more of the Halford stuff?
I’ll explain in greater detail when I get there but I followed the box sets and compilations, but lost interest when he did the Christmas album. With Priest back, Halford itself hit my back burner.
I love this album. I bought it last year for all of $3 at the bargain bin of my local record store, and it was love at first listen. Not as good as the Painkiller album, I must admit, but then, what is?
Another solo album I love is Halford 4. Especially “Matador.” Do you plan to review that one at any point?
Totally agreed, I think this album is a bit underrated! $3, what a price. I don’t plan on doing Halford 4 because I don’t own it. I didn’t buy it, or the Christmas CD. Should I?
Should you buy it? Hell, that’s a tough question to answer for someone else. I think you’d like it, though. The album seems to have something there for just about everyone. The single “Made of Metal” is a little strange. It’s meant to evoke imagery of some alien or even cybernetic being, and it achieves that aim quite admirably. The song isn’t what I’d have expected from the Metal God, but hearing that song for the first time is what made me buy the album. There’s just something about it that I found compelling. “Matador” is another unusual one. The guitar work has some lovely exotic touches to fit in with the theme of bullfighting in Latin America. Then, there’s “Till the Day I Die.” On the intro, guitar work is bluesy with more than a touch of southern rock influence if you can believe that. But it works, I swear it does. The song moves from slow, brooding passages to fast, harsh and nasty ones, and through it all, Halford keeps up a slow, almost meditative, vocal performance. On “The Mower,” Halford gives us something that would have been entirely at home on a Priest album, as it has a strong Painkiller vibe. And, for “Hell Razor,” he takes up back to Streaming for Vengeance territory.
All in all, it’s very good work. I hope to get a chance to check it out some time.
Sounds to me like you’ve done a good review there yourself! I wonder if that Latin sounding influence comes from Roy Z.
Might have to get this…
Love Halford’s “Resurrection” but never tried Fight. Had no idea about the Fight/Steel Panther connection, but I love Satchel’s smile-inducing melodic guitar histrionics. That, coupled with the 4.75(!) awarded here, moves this way up on my miles-long list of must-buys.
I also agree with Rob’s potential as a blues man. While very different from Little Crazy here, Rob’s affected bluesy vocals on Epitaph from Sad Wings of Destiny always seemed to me to suggest that I might stumble upon him in some smoke-filled piano bar after we both became too old to head bang. (Of course, I now understand that one can never be too old to head bang — see Christopher Lee, for example.)
Yes and I’m planning on buying Lee’s next album at age 91….
I have a review of Resurrection coming but I like this album much more, hands-down. Of course it’s all about perspective too, right? I do feel this is a better album though.