angel of retribution

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Angel of Retribution (2004 CD/DVD)

“Sabbath are heavy, but Priest are metal.” – K.K. Downing

JUDAS PRIEST – Angel of Retribution (2004  Sony CD/DVD deluxe set)

Like Iron Maiden before them, Judas Priest pulled off a successful reunion tour before venturing into the studio to record a new album.  When the new music finally came, a deluxe package was made available featuring live videos from the reunion tour.  In this deluxe-sized review, we’ll take a close look at both the CD and DVD content.

The CD

Pure anticipation preceded the arrival of the Angel of Retribution.  Two underwhelming albums with Tim “Ripper” Owens on lead vocals caused Judas Priest’s star to diminish in the 90s and 2000s.  The return of the Metal God, Rob Halford, meant a reunion of the successful 1990-1991 Painkiller lineup.  The new album cover even featured the return of the Painkiller character, now the Angel of Retribution.  But a long time had passed.  Could Priest hope to live up to the hype, and their legacy?

The answer is mixed.  While Angel of Retribution contains enough classic Judas Priest metal to consider it a success, it also has some truly legendary filler, of sub-Ram It Down quality.  Instead of running through the album track by track, let’s break it down in terms of song integrity.

Priest wrote a natural sounding album, with elements from virtually all eras of Priest past.  They say it came about organically, and it does sound that way.  Some of the best material are the songs that sound like variations of classic Priest.

The opening song “Judas Rising” brings it back to 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny with that fade-in opener inspired by “Victim of Changes”.  Then it transforms right into the Painkiller era, with something that sounds like a far more intense “Hell Patrol”.  Solid 5/5.

The slightly psychedelic first single “Revolution” ranks among the better songs, although perhaps it’s actually most similar to “Little Crazy” by Rob Halford’s Fight.  It has flavours of Rocka Rolla and Killing Machine, and is far from what anyone expected Priest to put out for a first single.  Dig that slide guitar bit in the solo!  Solid 5/5.

Worth Fighting For” isn’t a ballad; it’s a little harder edged than that.  It’s the one song that is unique in the Priest catalogue, and remarkably strong.  The riff has a nice chug to it, while Rob ably carries the melody to a higher place.  A special song, and a 5/5.

Demonizer” is Jugulator meets Painkiller, faster than a hellriding devil dog (whatever that is), but “the Painkiller rises again!”   So testifies Halford.  It’s so ridiculously over the top that it can only be worth a solid 5/5.  Likewise the similar “Hellrider” on side two.  Both feature double bass so fast that it’s almost a parody of itself, but both rock so hard you’ll break your neck keeping up.  “Hellrider” is also notable as the song where Rob Halford inexplicably name drops “Megatron”.  Similar songs, both solid 5/5’s.

The ballad “Angel” is a little soft, unexpectedly so on an album with so much heavy metal.  Yet, Priest can do anything.  The acoustic “Angel” could be the quietest ballad since the early days.  “Put sad wings around me now,” sings Rob to the angel, an appropriate callback.  As his voice aged it acquired more depth.  That helps make “Angel” a respectable 4/5.

Deal With the Devil” and “Wheels of Fire” fall in a netherworld of pedestrian Priest.  These both feel like filler from Point of Entry or Ram it Down.  Less explosive, less memorable.  The autobiographical “Deal With the Devil” is amusing for its many lyrical callbacks: “Under blood red skies”, “Took on all the world”, references to razor blades.  Likewise the short one, “Eulogy“, which is really an intro for another song that we’ll get to.  “They remain still as stained class”, “Guarded by the Sentinel”, and so on.  3/5 each.

The worst of all songs is “Loch Ness“, a mess so atrocious that we had to devote an entire entry just to that one song.  Combined with its intro “Eulogy”, it’s over 15 minutes of mire that has no reason to exist.  Many people simply stop the album after “Hellrider” and leave this foul turd to rot unheard.  “Loch Ness” could very well be the worst Judas Priest song of all time.  A flaming turd to extinguish all flaming turds.  The worst of all putrid, rancid filler songs ever foisted upon the faithful.  0/5.


“Reunited” DVD

It’s worth getting a copy of this album with the bonus DVD.  For one, there’s a documentary from the Priest Reunited tour.  Secondly, there are seven uncut live songs here for you to enjoy, and it’s the only official video release from the Reunited tour.  The live footage is something to see, especially if you own the robotic Rising in the East DVD.  In that concert, Rob Halford was a stiff mannequin instead of a frontman.  Here, he comfortably in charge and engaged.  The entire lineup is energized.  “Breaking the Law” sees them powered up and working hard.

But how did the seemingly unlikely reunion begin?  According to the documentary, the band and Halford met to discuss the forthcoming Metalogy box set.  Glenn Tipton states that they decided to reunite later the same day.  It was like they’d never been apart.  Terribly British, says Rob.  “Have a cup of tea, see you later.”  Rob does express regret for his actions (reportedly he gave Judas Priest his notice in 1992 by fax), but it seems all was forgiven over time.

Beware which version you buy.  This CD/DVD combo set contains the documentary plus the full live songs:  “Breaking the Law”, “Metal Gods”, “A Touch of Evil”, “Hell Bent for Leather”, “Eletric Eye:”, “Diamonds & Rust”, and “Living After Midnight”.  The DualDisc version does not; it only includes edited fragments of those tracks.  Which is a shame, because the band sounded fantastic and Rob was in full-lunged form.  This is probably the best live version of “A Touch of Evil” available, for example.  Not everyone likes the acoustic version of “Diamonds & Rust”, but it’s certainly different. The only bonus to DualDisc is that you also get the album in “enhanced stereo”.  Avoid that; get this.

Although Angel of Retribution is overall a very strong Judas Priest album, “Loch Ness” is impossible to ignore.  It does serious damage to an album that was otherwise an impressive listen.  In the included DVD, K.K. Downing says they had to pick and choose from an overabundance of songs.  Can you imagine how bad the leftovers are if “Loch Ness” made the album?

3.5/5 stars

#779: Loch Ness

GETTING MORE TALE #779: “Loch Ness” – A Lyrical Analysis

Judas Priest are known not just for their incendiary riffing, but also vivid lyricism.  It’s often a winning combination.  Witness such metal concoctions as “Blood Red Skies” or “Metal Gods”.  When it works, it works.  When it fails, it fails gloriously.  Let’s have a look at Judas Priest’s most epic failure.  That would be the 13:28 long “Loch Ness”, from 2005’s reunion album Angel of Retribution.

Musically, “Loch Ness” is utter garbage; lethargic rock for the sleepy.  The lyrics are a little better, though not enough to save the song.

Judas Priest usually create their own mythology.  Characters such as the Painkiller, the Sentinel and the Jugulator are three such examples.  This time, Priest dipped into cryptozoology and Scottish legends for their subject matter.  Today, the general consensus is that there is no monster in the depths of Loch Ness.  It’s still fun to speculate and imagine what might have been.

The first verse of “Loch Ness” sets the scene.  The loch is the largest (by volume) in the UK, with an incredible depth of 755 feet.  Because of the loch’s depth and murkiness, long has there been uncertainty about what may be down below.  Using sonar and other modern technologies, nothing of any great size has ever been found.  Though legends remain strong today, it is highly unlikely that a large monster lives in Loch Ness.  What say Judas Priest?

Grey mist drifts upon the water,
The mirrored surface moves,
Awakened of this presence,
Dispelling legends proof.

Stories of a beast in the loch date back almost 1500 years.  A definitive modern day sighting would indeed be the proof needed to move the monster from legend to reality.  Rob Halford references the grey mists, and how the movements of the “mirrored surface” can look like a creature is swimming beneath.  This is how most sightings begin.  Then “Nessie” rises from the water:

A beastly head of onyx,
With eyes set coals of fire,
It’s leathered hide glides glistening,
Ascends the heathered briar.

Physical descriptions of “Nessie” the monster vary wildly.  A head attached to a long neck is a defining characteristic.  It is usually described as dark, which Halford here exaggerates as “onyx” (black) in colour.  It’s eyes being “coals of fire” seems to be a Halford invention.  Likewise the hide, which is usually not described in much detail.  Out of necessity, Rob had to elaborate on the myth in order to describe the beast.  An interesting line is “ascends the heathered briar”.  Indeed, in some of the older sightings, the beast is seen climbing onto land – once even crossing a road.  When seen in full, the creature is often described as similar to a plesiosaur.

This legend lives through centuries,
Evoking history’s memories,
Prevailing in eternities,
On and on and on.

More interesting than the physical descriptions of the beast are the old legends. Water beast legends were not uncommon.  Why was Loch Ness always such a hotspot for such tales?  There is no simple answer.  Recently, large eels were filmed in the loch.  A mistaken sighting of an eel could account for many of the stories.  With the advent of modern media in the 1900s, tales of the monster spread worldwide and stories were reported with more frequency.  Proponents of the monster theory point to the oldest legends as proof that there was always something mysterious about the loch, though there is no proof that there is any connection to the “Nessie” of today.

Loch Ness confess,
Your terror of the deep,
Loch Ness distress,
Malingers what you keep,
Loch Ness protects monstrosity,
Loch Ness confess to me.

This chorus is a contender for the worst on any Judas Priest album.  There is nothing here to sing along to.  The words are awkward and juvenile with overly simple rhymes.

The speaker is addressing the loch itself; asking the loch to give up its secrets.  But “Terror of the deep”?  Few today find the idea of the Loch Ness monster to be terrifying .  True, early sightings would have been quite scary. Even if the creature spotted was only an otter or an eel, in the dusk or fog it could have been startling.  As you’ll see, however, it is implied this song takes place in the modern age.

The most interesting word choice here is “malingers”, meaning to pretend to be sick in order to avoid something.  It’s possible the word is being intentionally misused because it simply sounded good.  Insofar as meaning goes, “distress”, “malinger” and “protect” all imply the creature isn’t actually threatening.  Perhaps it or its young need protection.  Halford begs the beast for the truth, but the truth is not to be found.

Somehow it heeds the piper,
From battlements that call,
From side to side it ponders,
In passion in the skirl.

Scottish imagery here, implying that the monster will appear if a piper plays its song.  “Skirl” refers to the shrill sound of bagpipes.  “From side to side it ponders, in passion in the skirl” is a variation of the old saying that music soothes the savage beast.  Otherwise, the connection between the pipes and the monster seem to be a Halford construction.  There is also an old joke:  “Bagpipes and the Loch Ness Monster have two things in common – they both attract tourists and terrify little children.”

This highland lair of mystery,
Retains a lost world empathy,
Resilient to discovery,
On and on and on.

“Resilient to discovery” isn’t the most accurate phrasing.  “Resilient” means to recover quickly.  The Loch Ness monster is more “resistant” to discovery than “resilient”, though the legend certainly is resilient.  It goes on and on regardless of a narrowing scope of possibilities.  “Retains a lost world empathy” probably refers to the age of the beast.  It is so old that it comes from a simple time when people had more empathy than today.

This legend lives through centuries,
Evoking history’s memories,
Prevailing in eternity,
Your secret lies safe with me.

These lines simply refer to the age of the old legends, which will live forever.  Rob assures the beast that if it reveals its secrets, he will not tell.

This creature’s peril from decease,
Implores to mankind for release,
A legacy to rest in peace,
On and on and on.

Finally the last verse goes back to the idea that the creature is in some sort of distress.  It’s unclear what the peril is, but mankind is a part of it.  Is it the call of the pipers?  The monster simply wants to be at peace. Perhaps this is a hint of an environmental message, for conservation.

The lyrics to “Loch Ness” are not overly complex. Their simplicity, combined with slow monotonous music, make the 13 minute song seriously drag.  A few unusual word choices tend to obscure meaning, but “Loch Ness” is otherwise a fairly straightforward Judas Priest lyric.  When sung aloud, it begins to sound a little foolish.  “Loch Ness, confess, your terror of the deep” is not poetry.  It’s something you would have written in highschool English class.  While the words mostly stand up to analysis, they are not resilient to singing aloud.  In this manner (perhaps the only manner in which rock lyrics really matter), “Loch Ness” flounders.

“Loch Ness” has never and will never be played live.  It’s a shame that one of the greatest cryptids in all of legend has been given such a weak heavy metal song!


REVIEW: Judas Priest – A Touch of Evil – Live (2009 Japanese and iTunes versions)

JUDAS PRIEST – A Touch of Evil – Live (2009)

A Touch of Evil is, depending on how you count, either Priest’s 5th or 7th live album.  Regardless, it’s their first official live album since the Rob Halford reunion. The goal here was to give fans versions of songs never before released live on CD. However, when Priest claim that, they’re not counting the live albums they did with “Ripper” Owens on vocals, or the live songs released on remasters and box sets.

This is a great CD, and it’s very well recorded and mixed. Tom Allom came back to the mixing board after a 21 year break from the Priest. The guitars are driving, the drums are loud & clear but not overwhelming. Allom has done a great job. You can’t hear any obvious tampering or overdubbing (even though, let’s be honest, you know on every live album released today there must be some).

Rob Halford’s voice really struggles on “Painkiller” but absolutely shreds on “Hellrider”. “Hellrider”, in fact, is even better than its 2005 studio version. Halford is now singing in a lower register and saving his screams for special moments in the songs. Don’t forget, he has been screaming for 35 years by this album. He tends to be stronger on more recent material. The rest of the band show no signs of slowing down at all, especially Scott Travis on the drums.

It is absolutely great to hear two songs from the Nostradamus CD recorded live. “Prophecy” is one of my favourites from that album and I hope the band get to play the whole album live one day. It is also fantastic to hear “Dissident Aggressor” which was originally released on Sin After Sin in 1977. It is still heavy and powerful, although Rob has changed the vocal melodies a bit, out of necessity. “Beyond The Realms Of Death” is another great one to have with Rob singing, from 1978’s Stained Class. For a while in 1990 I thought they’d never play it live again, after the band’s “suicide trial”, even though they emerged victorious.

Japanese bonus tracks are “Worth Fighting For” and “Deal With The Devil” both from 2005’s Angel Of Retribution. I think these (and “Hellrider) are the same versions as the Rising In The East DVD. “Worth Fighting For” is one of my favourite recent Priest tunes.  It’s a great mid-tempo burner.  The iTunes bonus track is “Breaking The Law”, the only song absolutely positively undeniably released before on an official Priest-with-Rob live CD (Priest…Live!). This version of “Breaking” is faster than the studio version, and very enjoyable for the sheer glee that emanates from it.


The artwork for this CD, sadly, sucks. Mark Wilkinson has done some great covers for Priest (see: Painkiller), Iron Maiden, and Marillion. Here there’s a picture of the world on fire, or something. A comment on global warming? You decide. The liner notes also, sadly, suck. There are no indications as to which shows these songs were taken from, or even which tour (the CD culls from 2005 and 2008 tours). There is a brief note from the band about how awesome they are, as they have done on previous live albums. There are some cool pictures, but little else (the Japanese version has lyrics).

I don’t think this CD is essential to anybody but Priest fans. Newcomers would be wiser to buy Unleashed In The East first, and maybe even Priest…Live! before buying this. Priest fans will enjoy hearing live versions of these songs, because they already own “Another Thing Coming” and “Living After Midnight” elsewhere. So, if you are a Priest fan, pick it up and enjoy the sonic blast of metal fury as only Priest can deliver!

4/5 stars

*Note: There is supposedly a Russian version with another bonus track, also taken from the Rising in the East DVD: “Angel”. I question whether this is an official release or not.

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Rising In The East (DVD, 2005)

JUDAS PRIEST – Rising In The East (2005 DVD, live in Japan)
Two things I am sick of:
  1. The moaning and whining you read on Amazon reviews about Halford’s voice.
  2. The amount of live material that Priest have released since 1998 (too much).
In regards to point #2, most of that live material was released with Tim “Ripper” Owens on vocals. Rising In The East represents the first “real” live release since the return of Rob Halford (not counting the brief live DVD that came with Angel Of Retribution). So, this release is forgiveable. Even Priest fans who owned the live stuff with Ripper will be eager to get their hands on some brand new live visuals with Halford, with new songs, the first such release since 1987’s Priest…Live!
In regards to point #1, it is true that Rob Halford cannot hit all the high notes anymore, and he has stated as much in interviews.  It is what it is.  He’s 61 years old!  The man still has a fantastic voice.  If I could only sing that well!  He changes the keys on some songs, sometimes sings different notes, in order to do the challenging songs. Some, like “Painkiller”, he does his best at screaming, even though it’s not 1990 anymore. On other songs, like “Hellrider”, he lets loose a powerful piercing scream or two that seem to come out of nowhere! The cool thing about it is, when he does let loose, it’s so unexpected and so powerful that it just blows you away!  In fact, this version of “Hellrider” is my preferred version, over the album.

The song selection is interesting and varied if nothing else. All the staples are here: “Metal Gods”, “A Touch Of Evil”, “Painkiller”, “Hellbent”, “Another Thing Coming”, “Living After Midnight”, “Breaking The Law”. There are also lots of older Priest classics that, for some parts of the 80’s, were seldom played (if ever): “The Ripper”, “Victim Of Changes”, “Exciter”, “Diamonds & Rust” (the acoustic version too). There is a generous helping of new songs from Angel Of Retribution, and a couple odd ducks as well: “Turbo Lover”, “Hot Rockin'”, and “I’m A Rocker”. “I’m A Rocker” is definitely the biggest surprise, as Ram It Down-era material hasn’t been played live since that tour! It’s not the track I would have chosen (give me “Blood Red Skies”!) but I give them credit for being adventurous. The only missing link really is, I would have loved something from Defenders, or maybe “Sinner”.

My only real beef is with Halford’s stage presence. I haven’t seen Halford perform live at all recently, but his stage presence here really baffled and stunned me.  For 90% of the show, he is standing in one place on stage, hunched over, staring at the floor, looking like some strange leather-and-studs hunchback. He rocks back and forth holding onto his half-sized mic stand, eyes closed, wailing away. Every once in a while, he stands straight up and walks around, proving he’s not suffering from ankylosing spondylitis.

He barely speaks to the crowd at all. A sample song intro? “Angel of Retribution? Revolution!” That’s it! He speaks a little more before “Turbo Lover”, reciting the same song intro that he used back in 1986, but quickly and robotically.

Considering that Glenn Tipton, KK Downing, and (yes) even Ian Hill give their all on stage while Scott Travis plays seemingly impossible drum parts, Halford’s stage presence was shockingly dull. He’s always had a flair for the theatrical, and his choice of leather and metal costumes show he’s still that guy. I just don’t get what he’s trying to do with the hunching over. I am sure there is a method to his madness, and he’s not waiting on a double hip replacement, but it’s lost on me.  Anybody who can add insight, please leave a comment.   Maybe you saw him on this tour — I have never seen Priest live.

Song-wise, production-wise, and performance-wise, this is a must-purchase for any Priest fan (I only wish it was released on CD too, although some songs are available on 2009’s A Touch Of Evil Live). Visually, Halford’s performance is puzzling — but even so, it’s actually grown on me since I first watched this.

4/5 stars

Part 119: Judas Is Rising In Hamilton, Ontario

RECORD STORE TALES PART 119: Judas Is Rising In Hamilton, Ontario

Feburary, 2005.  The week before Judas Priest’s new Angel of Retribution comeback album was about to drop.
I was on the road again, this time working in Hamilton Ontario.  I don’t remember the circumstances anymore.  Store after store, they all blended together.  I’m sure it was another staffing crisis, again.  I dutifully hit the road to Hamilton and helped put out whatever fire was happening.  I do remember that in the chaos I had forgotten to do something at my home store, where I was also pulling double duty.  I remember catching shit for whatever it was, while unwrapping those shiny new awesome Priest discs.

The burden of sin echoes the prophecy
Ascending from Hell, forever despising
Judas is rising

I remember that the store was really bad shape, really badly organized.  Albums were everywhere, just filed carelessly, and a lot had gotten lost somewhere in the netherworld of obscure genres.  Cases had gone missing, but so had ther actual CD’s behind the counter.  So to keep me busy, there was a list of missing discs and sections to organize. 

There was plenty of time to do this.  I don’t know how that store stayed in business, because the days that I spent there were really slow.  I remember playing almost an entire CD of the Mr. Bergis prank phone calls while I organized sections, because over an hour had passed before the last soul walked through my doors!  Not including me, as I went out to my car to get the CD.

Lunch time wasn’t too bad, as a lot of surprisingly polite highschool kids frequented the store at lunch.  They didn’t buy a lot, but they were pleasant enough and it was better than picking my nose.  That was refreshing, most highschool kids at my home store were pricks.

White bolts of lightning
Came out of nowhere
Blinded the darkness
Created the storm

It was pretty much just the kids that were tolerable.  The adults, not so much!  I remember opening up one morning and the first people in were selling a large box of discs.  They were a pain in the ass.  Everything I did was, “Oh, the regular person does it another way,” or “The regular person pays more for that one,” or “The regular person doesn’t ask me for ID.” 

It sucked being an irregular person!
There was also this one fellow looking for a Christmas song by the Eagles.  I knew this was on their recent box set, which I verified on Allmusic and told him.  I didn’t have a copy of the box set, since we were a used CD store and nobody had traded one in, which I explained to him.
“No problem, I don’t want to buy it.  I just want to hear it.  Can you play it?”
Unfortunately in 2005 that wasn’t possible, not with the computers we had, and any websites that would have allowed me to play music were blocked anyway.  Upper management was more worried about staff sitting there mucking around on the internet, than being able to play a song sample for customers.
“You can’t play it for me?  Seriously?  That’s useless!” said the nice man, as he walked out.

Forged out of flame from chaos to destiny
Bringer of pain, forever undying
Judas is rising

All told, Hamilton was another “fun” and “exciting” road trip for me.  The only good thing that happened was the chance to play the new Priest in store.  Not only was there no upper management to tell me to turn it off, but it wasn’t even out yet.  Sneak preview for my ears only, in an empty store, private audience of one!  Judas is rising indeed!