classic rock

REVIEW: AC/DC – Power Up (2020 Light Box edition)

AC/DC – Power Up (2020 Sony “Light Box”)

FAQ:

  1. No, Malcolm Young doesn’t play on it.
  2. No, Axl Rose is also not on the album.
  3. Yes, it is as good as you’ve heard.

41 minutes is all it takes to rock the world.  We needed AC/DC in 2020, and we got it.  This isn’t the first time AC/DC have put guitars on magnetic tape without Malcolm.  That era began with 2014’s Rock Or Bust, but this album is better.  The riffs are Malcolm’s, and nephew Stevie Young performs them admirably as he always has.  As for Brian Johnson, he sounds as if time stopped back in 1995.

“Realize” is catchier than the average AC/DC, with a few guitar overdubs to sweeten it up.  “Rejection” is similarly fun, despite its title.  Good tunes.  Not immortal classics in the making, just good album cuts as AC/DC have done for decades.  Even the first single “Shot in the Dark” doesn’t sound like the kind of AC/DC tune that radio will be pounding out in 10 years, even though they sure are playing the crap out of it today.  Good songs all, but comparison to the back catalogue is a doomed endeavour.

The one tune that does sound like a future staple is “Through the Mists of Time”, a title that seems more like Zep than Acca Dacca.  Focused on melody and spare guitar picking, it’s a bit softer than what most people expect.  The “Ahh-ah” backing vocals sell it.  This is probably the song you’ll remember years from now.

Moving on down the tracklist, we have a few songs with potential to grow.  “Kick You When You’re Down” has some cool pickin’ rhythm.  Also cool is “Witch’s Spell”, another title that doesn’t seem like AC/DC at first.  It’s among the most memorable tunes thanks to a stuttery guitars and a fun chorus.  The mood changes on “Demon Fire”, an excellent song similar in style to “Safe in New York City” from 20 years ago.  It’s got that fast 4/4 beat, coupled with a low Brian Johnson growl (at first).

After “Demon Fire”, we’re in for a series of workmanlike AC/DC tracks without a lot of distinction.  There’s “Bad Reputation” (mid-tempo), “No Man’s Land” (slow and menacing), “Systems Down” (mid-tempo), “Money Shot” (mid-tempo with bite), and “Code Red” (slinky).  Power Up, like any AC/DC album since about Flick of the Switch, gets the job done.  The only true classic is “Through the Mists of Time”, but there is plenty of strong material headlined by “Demon Fire”, “Shot in the Dark”, “Realize”, “Witch’s Spell” and “Money Shot”.  It’s still early of course, and in three months you might have some clear favourites.  This album has room to grow.

Now, the $60 “Light Box” is…disappointing.  It’s a box, made of cardboard, with a sound chip that plays exactly 17 seconds of “Shot in the Dark” through a little speaker in the top, while flashing.  (I call it a “Seizure Box”!)  It stays lit for a few more seconds, and then stops.  You can push the button as many times as you like, because it comes with a handy-dandy USB charging cable.  (I bet you needed another one of those!)  So that’s all it does.  Inside is the standard CD digipack wedged between two sturdy foam slats.  On the left hand side with the button and charging port, a cardboard strip is attached to prevent the button from being pushed in the stores.  Removing this piece, which you need to do to recharge the box, is difficult and I tore mine.  I glued it back, but you can still see it.  $60 box, ripped just like that.  Bummer.

AC/DC sound like AC/DC the most when Phil Rudd is in the band.  With Phil, Brian Johnson and Cliff Williams all back for one more round, authenticity is not an issue.  This is an album that deserves multiple listens.  You’ll have your own favourites too.

3.75/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Priest, Live & Rare (1998 Japanese import)

JUDAS PRIEST – Priest, Live & Rare (1998 Sony Japan)

Fun fact:  in 1998, there were three Judas Priest live albums released.  First was the official ’98 Live Meltdown, featuring then-current singer Tim “Ripper” Owens.  There was also Concert Classics, an unauthorised CD from the British Steel tour that the band swiftly took legal action to remove from store shelves.  Finally, a CD called Priest, Live & Rare released by their old label Sony in Japan, featuring a smorgasbord of live B-sides.

Judas Priest’s B-sides don’t garner a lot of attention, but are worth looking in to.  Fortunately, a large assortment of them are collected on this compilation.  Covering a period from 1978 to 1986, Priest released a number of live B-sides (and one remix) that are included here.  Only two (“Starbreaker”, and a version of “Breaking the Law”) were released on CD in the 2004 Metalogy box set.  Because Priest were conscious of giving value to fans, the live B-sides are not the same familiar versions from live albums.

From the “Evening Star” single in 1978 comes “Beyond the Realms of Death”, Judas Priest’s “Stairway to Heaven”, or so some said.  It’s a rather weak comparison, but “Beyond the Realms of Death” does hold special status.  Glen’s solo, though imperfect, drips with the tension that comes from the live performance.  From the same gig, but lifted from the “Take on the World” single comes “White Heat, Red Hot” and “Starbreaker”.  You can hear the life in the songs, from Les Binks’ organic drum work to Rob’s impassioned performance.  The man is in top voice especially on “White Heat, Red Hot”.  Les Binks has an extended energized drum solo on “Starbreaker”.  These are fantastic live versions that need to be in a diehard’s collection.

The next single visited is 1981’s “Hot Rockin'”, with two live B-sides:  “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight” from that year in Holland.  The drum stool has changed hands from Les Binks to Dave Holland, and it is like the band has had a heart transplant.  The difference is notable given that on this CD, Binks went out on a drum solo.  It’s like a pacemaker has been installed and the pulse of the beast has been tamed.  But that’s 80s Priest for you, and with that said, these are two excellent versions of some serious Priest hits.  Refreshing to hear, after the same familiar ones over and over again.

Priest’s set at the 1983 US Festival has not been released on CD yet, but here are some for you.  (The Festival on DVD is not an issue — the deluxe Screaming for Vengeance contains the whole thing.)  Here you get “Green Manalishi”, “Breaking the Law” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”.  “Green Manalishi” is a fantastic version (at least for one with Dave Holland on drums!) and Rob is peak Halford.  These three tracks are sourced from a live 1983 Japanese “Green Manalishi” EP that costs some fair funds on its own.  (This is the version of “Breaking the Law” that you can also find on the Metalogy box set.)

“Private Propety” (originally from 1986’s Turbo) is a rare live take from St. Louis. It was originally released on the “Parental Guidance” 12″ single.  Therefore it’s not the same one from Priest Live, nor the Turbo 30th anniversary set.  This one predates the release of the others and has a nice untampered quality.  Finally, also from the “Parental Guidance” single, is the only disappointing B-side in this collection.  It’s the “Hi-Octane” extended remix of “Turbo Lover”!  Extended remixes were a popular thing in the 80s.  Every mainstream artist did them; for example Def Leppard, Kiss and Aerosmith.  “Turbo Lover” is one of the poorer such examples.  Were any dance clubs likely to play Judas Priest?  No, but the Priest did try.

Unweildy ham-fisted “Turbo Lover” aside, Priest, Live & Rare is a highly recommended collection to get 10 rare Priest B-sides in one fell swoop.  Definitely cheaper than tracking down all those singles.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Defenders of the Faith – Part Two – Special 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition and 2001 Remaster

For yesterday’s review of the original album, click here.  

JUDAS PRIEST – Defenders of the Faith (2001 Sony reissue, 2014 Special 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

Let’s start this review by taking a quick look at the bonus tracks that were added to the 2001 Sony remastered CD.  The first is an acoustic ballad called “Turn On Your Light”.  With lead guitars overdubbed later on, this spare acoustic ballad would have been a sharp left turn for the band had it come out on the next album (Turbo).  It’s very light, even more so than the material that made the album.  On the other hand, given the musical climate of the era, maybe it could have been a hit that propelled Priest to heights previously unseen.  We’ll never know.  The second bonus track comes from Long Beach on the Defenders tour.  It is the duo of “Heavy Duty” and “Defenders of the Faith”, but we’ll get into it later as it’s also included (albeit remixed) in the 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition we’re about to discuss.  Important to note:  the 30th Anniversary does not include “Turn On Your Light”.  If you want to get that song, you have to get the 2001 version.

When I was a kid, around the time of Defenders of the Faith, I can remember listening to a live Priest concert with the next door neighbour George.  We were on his picnic table in the side yard, listening to it on the radio.  That must have been Long Beach, May 5 1984, the show included in the Anniversary Deluxe set.  Spread over two discs, it’s a full Priest show with nine of the ten new songs played.  Only the controversial “Eat Me Alive” was not played.

“Love Bites” is an unusual set opener, but of course they did use “Out in the Cold” on the following tour too.  The mix is bass-heavy with Ian Hill up front for some reason.  Barking Rob spits out the words like bullets.  Sticking with new material, it’s “Jawbreaker”, the second track on Defenders, performed at light speed.  Rob says hello to 13,000 heavy metal maniacs and then dives into the oldies.  Three well-received number from British Steel in a row:  “Grinder”, “Metal Gods”, and “Breaking the Law”.  Though robotic in tempo these songs were and still are landmarks for the band.  “Breaking the Law” is the most lively, with Rob acting as the cheerleader in concert.

They reach way back for “Sinner”, which again suffers from the Dave Holland treatment on drums.  It’s too fast and stiff.  Fortunately, Halford belts out the chorus in scream-form with earnest.  “Desert Plains” comes next, a song for which there are few live versions available.  It’s a bit too fast, with pulse of the original song lost, but strong nonetheless.

Another batch of new songs follow, all awesome in their own right:  “Some Heads are Gonna Roll”, “The Sentinel”, “Hard Hard Ride Free” and “Night Comes Down”.  It speaks to the strength and popularity of the album that the set looks like this.  These are ably performed, though Rob’s voice sounds very raw on “The Sentinel”.  The crowd goes completely nuts when, before “Rock Hard Ride Free”, he announces that five million people are listening live on the radio!  Unfortunately due to his sore-sounding voice, the version on Priest…Live makes for better listening.  “Night Comes Down” (issued in an alternate live mix on the Ram It Down 2001 remaster) is one of Priest’s most unsung triumphs, a ballad of sorts set in the dusk.  Try listening to it when the sun is going down some time.

Strangely, “Electric Eye” is the first song from the previous hit album Screaming For Vengeance, an album that is largely ignored here in favour of the new one.  Next it’s a last gasp of new songs in the form of “Freewheel Burning” and the anthemic duo “Heavy Duty” and “Defenders of the Faith”.  These are a treat.  Rob uses “Defenders” to get the crowd to do a singalong.  “Freewheel” is pretty manic, and then it’s into the set-ending classics.

“Victim of Changes” can’t help but be the centrepiece of the set.  It’s a serious Priest epic and isn’t rushed through like other songs.  This version is just a little bit different.  “Green Manalishi” is dutifully tough, though every version with Dave Holland is intrinsically and unfortunately inferior to the one with Les Binks.  The guitar solos are note perfect and full of sparks.  Moving on to “Living After Midnight”, it’s big blockheaded fun.  “Hell Bent for Leather” is a high speed thrill as always, and then Priest finally end it on “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” and the inevitable and annoying “Oh-oo-oh-oo-oh-yeah” crowd singalong.

The 30th Deluxe has a booklet with several live pictures — none of former drummer Dave Holland however.  (If you don’t know why, Google him and guess.)  The remastering of the album itself may be new, but the real emphasis is on the complete concert.  The fact that the setlist contained almost all the new album makes it unique among Priest releases.  It’s a show worth returning to and playing again.  If Rob’s voice was less rugged that night, it might have been a live album in its own right.

3.5/5 stars

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Defenders of the Faith (1984) Part One – Vinyl

JUDAS PRIEST – Defenders of the Faith (1984 Columbia)

If memory serves, in contemporary times, Defenders of the Faith was considered good but not as good as Screaming for Vengeance.  It was a down-ratchet in terms of tempo and intensity.  With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that both albums are near-equals in quality.

It begins with a bang.  “Freewheel Burning” is borderline thrash, with the kind of high octane tempos they do so well.  Racing metaphors are paired with a lightspeed lead Rob Halford vocal, syllables flowing so fast that only a seasoned rapper could keep up with his flow.

Look before you leap has never been the way we keep, our road is free.
Charging to the top and never give in never stop’s the way to be.
Hold on to the lead with all your will and not concede,
You’ll find there’s life with victory on high.

Without a lyric sheet, there was no way you were able to follow the words.

After an adrenaline rush like that, Priest wisely shifted the throttle back a few gears with “Jawbreaker”.  Though not slow, it’s also not mental like “Freewheel Burning”.  The pace is determined.  It would not be controversial to say that Dave Holland isn’t as complex a drummer as Les Binks was.  Still he and Ian Hill do lay down a pulsing, robotic metal beat.

Third in line and backed by regal guitars, “Rock Hard Ride Free” sounds like an anthem.  “Rock hard with a purpose, got a mind that won’t bend.  Die hard resolution that is true to the end.”  For context, in the 1980s, being a metal fan was like choosing to be a neighbourhood pariah.  Many of us appreciated upbeat, encouraging messages like “Rock Hard Ride Free”.  We believed in something, and it wasn’t what the teachers and preachers thought it was.  That’s what “Rock Hard Ride Free” is about.

The first side closes on “The Sentinel”, a mini epic.  A street battle is taking place in a shattered apocalyptic landscape.  It could very well be the same world inhabited in “Blood Red Skies” or “Painkiller”.

Amidst the upturned burned-out cars,
The challengers await,
And in their fists clutch iron bars,
With which to seal his fate.
Across his chest in scabbards rest,
The rows of throwing knives,
Whose razor points in challenged tests,
Have finished many lives.

A multi-parted dual guitar solo animates what the rumble must look like.  Rob tells the story with the necessary urgency.  In the end it’s a scream-laden metal triumph.

Ominous echoing bass notes ring as soon as the needle drops on Side Two.  “Love Bites” was a single, an unusual song with a very spare riff.  Its simplicity is its weapon as it bores its way into your brain.  Halford sounds absolutely menacing.  Then they go turn on the afterburners for the very naughty “Eat Me Alive”, a song which got them a bit of trouble in the 1980s.  It  was one of 15 songs the Parents Music Resource Center wanted stickered for “explicit content” . “I’m gonna force you at gunpoint to eat me alive” sings dirty Rob, as the parents of America weep in their Cheerios.  Not an album highlight, except in terms of pure aggression.

Much more interesting is the slower, menacing “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll”.  A great deep cut.  Dave Holland could have been a drum machine for what it’s worth, but this song is a champion.  Interestingly they followed it with the even slower “Night Comes Down” which might be the album ballad (albeit a heavy one).  Great pulsing bassline by Ian Hill on this track.  It’s a more sensitive, thoughtful side of Rob.  “Call me and I’ll wait till summer.  You never understood that I would wait forever, for love that’s only good.”

The album closes on a dual track:  “Heavy Duty” / “Defenders of the Faith”.  “Defenders” itself is an epic outro with “Heavy Duty” being the main part of the song.  As it implies, this is a heavy duty stomp.  The highly processed drums are accompanied by a repeating riff until Rob breaks into the outro.  Though “Defenders” itself is only a minute and a half in length, it’s among the best minutes on the album.

Not a perfect album, but even though this is a simpler Judas Priest for the 1980s, it still commands respect.  Defenders of the Faith is undoubtedly an 80s album.  It’s aimed at a wider demographic that wouldn’t necessarily get their earlier more complex material.  Defenders does it well, with some truly timeless riffs, and great song after great song.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Unleashed in the East (1979, Remastered)

JUDAS PRIEST – Unleashed in the East (Originally 1979, 2001 Sony reissue)

The best Judas Priest live album isn’t the biggest or the newest.  It’s the first:  the humble Unleashed in the East.  The first Priest album to be produced by Tom Allom, the last with Les Binks on drums…this is a special album for a number of reasons but most important are the songs.  It would not be going out on a limb to suggest that some of these tracks are now the definitive versions.

Like many live albums of the 1970s, it has been questioned how much of Unleashed in the East was redone in the studio.  Rob Halford has maintained that only the vocals were touched up, but it does not matter one iota when the needle hits wax or laser strikes plastic.  The band were at a musical peak in 1979, and with accelerated tempos, they attacked the best of their body of work, although neglecting the bluesier debut Rocka Rolla.

With “Exciter” (from 1978’s Stained Class) opening the set, this collection has more energy by comparison to the somewhat stiffer studio counterparts.  Les Binks has his foot on the pedal and the band is fully energized on this proto-thrash classic.  “Stand back for Exciter” indeed, as Halford has the Tokyo crowd in the palm of his hand, heavy on the echo.  “Running Wild” (1978’s Hell Bent for Leather) is extra caffeinated compared to the in-the-pocket original, giving the album the feel of a race.  KK goes bananas at the end, and then it’s his showpiece:  “Sinner” from 1977’s Sin After Sin.  Finally it sounds like Priest have stopped hurryin’ about.  About half of the track features KK taking his guitar to outer space in a trippy solo segment.

In its original form, “The Ripper” (1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny) was thin and stiff by comparison.  Here it is a beast, with Rob Halford fully unleashed and stalking the back-alley streets.  Easiest contender for most definitive version of a song on Unleashed in the East.  “Green Manalishi” also comes close, with this electrifying version containing the full-blown dual solo in fantastic, crisp, live glory in stereo.  Each part of the solo is an essential part of the song, just as “Green Manalishi” is an essential part of the album.  If you own the LP, this is where you flip sides and go straight into an adrenalized “Diamonds and Rust”, keeping the energy moving.  Binks’ double-bass work is fun as hell to listen to, like a kid who can’t stop tapping his feet excitement.

The Priest epic “Victim of Changes” takes its time to unfold, though mightily it does.  The live setting and the unstoppable Les Binks make this another definitive Priest live version.  It is the climax of the album, with the last two tracks “Genocide” and “Tyrant” unable to surpass its mountainous metal spires.  Regardless, both are far more fuelled than their seemingly crippled studio counterparts.  Halford is more expressive and engaging live, while the guitars riff on relentlessly.

This album would be 5/5 stars right here, full stop, no need to elaborate.  The already definitive Priest live album became even more definitive in Japan in 1979, and 2001 in the rest of the world, with additional bonus tracks.  On the 2001 remastered Sony edition, all the tracks blend into one another without fade-outs.

Most of the tracks originated on Hell Bent for Leather, with one from Sin After Sin.  “Rock Forever” and “Delivering the Goods” cook!  Not too dissimilar from the originals, these are nice additions that extend the album without weakening it.  “Hell Bent for Leather” was conspicuous by its absence from the album proper, so its restoration is significant.  Finally the lengthy “Starbreaker” occupies the final slot, including a Binks drum solo.  An odd positioning but a stellar version nonethless.  All said and done, the version of Unleashed with bonus tracks is just over an hour long.  By today’s standards that’s a bit short for a live album, but it certainly does feel more complete.

Though he was indeed a significant source of Judas Priest’s musical power both on stage and in the studio, Les Binks quit the band mid-tour to be replaced by ex-Trapeze drummer Dave Holland for the remainder.  Binks was never made an official member on paper and was dissatisfied.  To be sure, other Priest drummers can sympathise.  The only taint on this otherwise perfect “live” metal album is the absence of the departed drummer on the front cover.

5/5/5 stars

 

JUDAS PRIEST REVIEWS

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Hell Bent for Leather / Killing Machine (1978)

JUDAS PRIEST – Hell Bent for Leather / Killing Machine (Originally, 1978, 2001 Sony reissue)

After producing “Better By You, Better Than Me” on Judas Priest’s Stained Class LP, James Guthrie was hired to do their next album.  This coincided with another step in Judas Priest’s evolution.  In the 1980s they would streamline and simplify their sound, but their earlier albums were darker and more complex.  1978’s Hell Bent for Leather (called Killing Machine in the UK) is the dividing line between the two sides of Priest.

A stuttering riffs opens “Delivering the Goods”, one of the best known tracks from this excellent LP.  A newly upbeat Priest does indeed deliver the goods on this bright rocker.  “Feeling like we’re ready to kick tonight, no hesitating, my bodies aching, looking for some action, satisfaction all right.” This is a far cry from “Saints in Hell” and “Dissident Aggressor”.  Now Priest are uplifting your rock and roll souls.  It’s a heavy, headbanging party track with solid gold riffage.  The outro is a showcase for drummer Les Binks, unfortunately on his final Priest studio album.  His loss would be felt through the entire 1980s.

Another simple hard rock classic, “Rock Forever”, is second in line.  Binks’ double bass work is like an impatient kid anxious to quit school for the day.  Part way through, a multi-tracked Halford turns into a cool choir of Robs.  Further in, “Evening Star” is a bit of a surprise.  Starting as a ballad, it quickly turns into a…rock and roll singalong?  As one of Priest’s most melodic songs, it could have easily swayed new fans onto this band.  It also could have turned off fans who liked their metal heavy.

Two tracks from this album have consistently been in the Priest setlists.  One is “Hell Bent for Leather”.  It has a delightfully dry sound, with guitars cranked and Binks on overdrive.  It was obviously good enough to close Priest’s shows going forward (mostly), with Rob riding out on his Harley.  It’s not Priest’s greatest song, but it is one of their most legendary.

Closing side one is “Take On the World”, sort of a prequel to “United” from British Steel.  With double tracked drums, it has a “We Will Rock You” quality, but done Priest style.  It’s clearly meant to be sung from the stage, to a screaming audience.  “Put yourself in our hands so our voices can be heard, and together we will take on all the world!”  Repeat, rinse, dry.

Side two’s opener is one of Rob’s naughty numbers:  “Burnin’ Up”.  The sexy groove on this one will nail you to your seat.  It’s an album highlight though it might leave you feeling funny, like that time you climbed the rope in gym class.  “You dish the hot stuff up but you keep me waiting, so I’ll play it dirty until your body is breaking.”

At this point, the US version of the album breaks into what I will call the greatest song Judas Priest have ever done.  It’s the second one that has remained in setlists.  And it’s not even one of theirs.  It’s Fleetwood Mac’s “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)”.  Rarely does a band make a cover song their own like Priest did with “Green Manalishi”.  Everything on this is perfect, from the impeccable tempo, to the immaculately composed solos, to the flawless riff.  Les Binks is right in the pocket, and it’s very telling that live versions with Dave Holland on drums were stiffer.  If you only ever get to hear one Judas Priest song in your whole life, make sure that it’s “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)”.

You could put a fork in the album at this point and call it “done”, but there’s still plenty of awesome to go.

A funky Priest groove goes down on “Killing Machine”.  A menacing Halford warns, “I got a contract on you,”  backed by trademark Priest riff.  The middle section with the solo is a whole different beast.  A faster song,  “Running Wild”, pumps the adrenaline with chugging guitars.  “I take on all comers, they back up or they fall,” sings Rob with a challenge in his voice.  At this point I’m convinced that this guy could take on the world for real.  “I rebel but I worked hard, and I demand respect,” he sings with earnest.

There’s a respite here before the end, with a ballad:  “Before the Dawn”, which reminds of softer moments from Sad Wings of Destiny.  The guitar solo is legendary, but Rob Halford is the star on this melancholy masterpiece.  Finally, Priest go dirty again with “Evil Fantasies”.  Lock up your kinks, or just go with it!  It’s another sexy groove.  Rob knew how to write lyrics appropriate to the music.  “You pout, I snarl, you whimper.”  It’s like a Romulan having sex with a Klingon.  It shouldn’t be, but it is, and it’s cool!

Sony tacked on two completely unrelated bonus tracks, but review them we must.

“Fight For Your Life” is a demo of “Rock Hard, Ride Free” from Defenders of the Faith, almost identical except for some of the lyrics, and solo section.  Great bonus material for that album, but not this one.  Also unrelated is a live version of “Riding on the Wind” originally from Screaming for Vengeance.  This blitzkrieg is from the legendary US festival.

Bonus tracks quibbles aside, Hell Bent for Leather (with “Green Manalishi”) is essential metal.  Period.

5/5 stars

* The lyrics on the Japanese version were poorly translated:  “Feeling rock queers, ready to kick tonight.”

JUDAS PRIEST REVIEWS

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Stained Class (1978, Remastered)

JUDAS PRIEST – Stained Class (Orignally 1978, 2001 Sony reissue)

I always considered Stained Class to be the “lost” Judas Priest album.  I rarely saw its name in a print magazine, and never saw a copy in a store.  Not until 1989.  As it turns out, I only needed one Priest tape to complete my collection.  There it sat, at Zellers at the mall.  My dad got out his wallet and bought it for me.  I could tell that he was not as impressed as I was that I had finally completed my Priest cassette library.

A year later after I bought it, Stained Class became world famous.  In 1990, Priest were taken to court over “Better By You, Better Than Me”, a song from the album.  Lawyers in Nevada argued that Priest had embedded backwards “do it!” messages within the song, prompting James Vance and Raymond Belknap to attempt suicide by shotgun.  Belknap succeeded, but Vance survived, horrifically disfigured.  In the summer of 1990, everybody knew the name Judas Priest.  But there were no backwards “do its!” embedded in the music.  Even if there were, what does “do it” even mean?  And why would a rock band want to kill off their source of income?

In short, I’m telling you that it’s perfectly safe to listen to Stained Class.  As one of the finer Priest albums, your life will be better for it, not worse.

Nine tracks.  New drummer.  The smouldering odor of quenched steel.  Stained Class.

Fall to your knees and repent if you please, and be sure to stand back for “Exciter”!  Though the production of the 1970s robs it of its potential thunder, “Exciter” does not fail.  Judas Priest had mastered the art of the speedy riff, and Halford coloured them with vibrant wordy imagery.  “When he leaps amidst us, with combustive dance, all shall bear the branding of his thermal lance.”  While it could have come from a comic book, it’s certainly a more challenging lyric than “Rock hard, ride free, all day, all night.”

Fire imagery continues on “White Heat, Red Hot”, a Glenn Tipton number with one of those mid-tempo guitar grooves that Priest specialize in.  The new kid, Les Binks, lends it a relentless heavy beat.  Yet it’s a cover tune, the aforementioned “Better By You, Better Than Me” (Spooky Tooth) that knocks me out.  That groove!  The record company suggested the tune, to balance an otherwise pretty heavy album.  It was a good idea.  While it’s not as notable as “Diamonds and Rust” or “Green Manalishi”, Priest put their own spin on it.  Headbangingly so!  Rob Halford’s vocal performance is top notch.

Side one ends with the closing duo “Stained Class” and “Invader”.  Halford duets with himself on the title track, a pretty cool effect for a metallic midtempo stomper.  Enjoy some nice guitar harmonies from the duo of Tipton and Downing.  Its gleaming chorus upholds a great song.  “Invader” has a similarly burnished chorus hook and a victorious tone.

The album’s second side is more challenging to the uninitiated.  A tantalizing riff leads in to the doomy “Saints In Hell”.  Shrieking, Rob agonizes over going “down into the fire”, but the real heat is coming from churning guitars.  Next, “Savage” is just that.  Time changes with tricky drum work, dualing solos, and screamin’ Rob is what you will get.  “What have we done to deserve such injustice?” pleads Halford, giving 110%.

It is Les Binks that is credited with writing the guitar part to the album’s epic.  Says KK:  “Our drummer at the time, Les Binks, was left handed.  One day he walked into the studio and picked up one of the guitars.  It must have been mine, because Glenn would guard his with his life!  Anyway Les picked it up, turned it upside down, and played that riff.”  They built “Beyond the Realms of Death” around the guitar part.  Downing adds that he’d never seen Binks play anything on guitar before or since!  Like “Victim of Changes” before, it has distinct sections and builds up on itself.  “It’s a bit like our ‘Stairway to Heaven’!” said Rob; or perhaps to hell?  The centerpiece of the album.

Closing on “Heroes End”, Priest go out with a serious rocker and a couple more cool riffs for your collection.  An extended outro solo is one of its main features.

But that’s not all folks, because Sony added two bonus tracks on this 2001 CD edition!  And hey, I have nothing against “Fire Burns Below”, but this Turbo / Ram It Down outtake should have been added to a different album, not Stained Class.  The synth and programmed drums are jarring.  The back cover states it was recorded during “the earlier years of our career”.  This is obviously not true.  Too bad, as it’s a cool track although Priest probably didn’t need any more ballads at that point.  They already had “Out in the Cold” and “Blood Red Skies”, not to mention “Red, White and Blue”.  Decent ballad, but on the wrong CD altogether.  A live take of “Better By You, Better Than Me” has more relevance.  This is from the Painkiller tour in 1990, when the song was resurrected in their set after a long absence.  A middle finger to the lawsuit.  For that reason, this live version is important for the collector.

It’s a real shame this album was so rare when I was a kid.  Stained Class is Priest at one of their many peaks.  This was them at peak curiosity: willing to take chances, play with tempo and riff changes, and to challenge themselves.  By the next album they were starting to hone in on a commercially viable sound.  Cover tune aside, that’s not a consideration on Stained Class.

4.5/5 stars

 

JUDAS PRIEST REVIEWS

REVIEW: The Cult – Dreamtime / Live at the Lyceum (Japanese import)

THE CULT – Dreamtime (Originally 1984) / Live at the Lyceum (Originally 1986) (2006 2 CD Beggars Banquet Japanese set)

This was a bit of a surprise to me. Once I got this Japanese pressing in my hot little hands and opened it up, out popped two CDs! This was not advertized on the case. (Well, maybe it was in Japanese, but I can’t read Japanese!) The second CD is the legendary and extremely hard to find live album, Live At The Lyceum. For that live album alone, this Japanese import is worth the price of admission.

The debut album by The Cult is surprisingly solid, a fully-formed vision of the band with complete and catchy songs. For a long time this album was hard to get and all but unknown to “new” fans of the band who thought that it started with Love. This was rectified in the 90’s with numerous reissues, plus many of these songs found their way onto the Pure Cult compilations.

Dreamtime has a punk-like energy.  The drums (by Nigel Preston) hit hard.  “Horse Nation” and “Spiritwalker” open Dreamtime with a powerful one-two punch.  “Gimmick” has soaring vocals with stabbing guitars, coupled with a fast beat that gets the heart racing.  The title track has a similar accelerated pace.  The Cult are also known for their slower, darker, macabre side.  “83rd Dream”, “Bad Medicine Waltz” and “Butterflies” certainly cover that.  Dreamtime sounds like an angry young band unwilling to compromise.

Yet tracks like “Go West” had tremendous commercial potential.  Memorable, punchy melodies and Ian Astbury singing with all the panache he can muster.  “A Flower in the Desert” could be called a ballad if you like.  A dour, dusky one.  An impactful “Rider in the Snow” has some excellent guitar shimmer.

Gladly, I have found that there is not one weak track on this album. The songs are more challenging and not as instantaneous as Love, but when Astbury’s one-of-a-kind vocals mix with Duffy’s angular guitars, it sounds like the Cult. Period. From aggressive rock songs to mournful dirges like “Bad Medicine Waltz”, this album has a bit of everything that the Cult would later become, in embryonic form.  This set contains just the album, the original 10 songs, and none of the B-sides. Don’t fret however as those songs can be found on the Rare Cult set.


Although I got Live at The Lyceum (the original abbreviated cassette which only had eight of the 15 songs) in my teens, I was a stranger to early Cult.  This raw live disc (which opens with a bit of Wendy Carlos’ score from The Shining) includes all the songs from the 1983 Death Cult EP:  “Christians”, “Horse Nation”, “Ghost Dance” and “Brothers Grimm”.  It also includes the blistering Death Cult single “God’s Zoo” live, and the B-side “Bone Bag”.  Going even further back, “Moya” predates Billy Duffy, being an early single by Ian’s band Southern Death Cult.  It slams with vital energy.  As good as this whole live album is, “God’s Zoo” has to be the highlight.

Astbury is as combative as ever, and the crowd eats it up. The energy of this live album is astounding. I strongly encourage you to look for a Japanese copy of this CD for the live album — it is totally worth your time and money to do so. Lyceum was the second Cult album I ever owned (shame it was just a cassette) and I have very fond memories of learning about the Cult’s history by playing  that tape over and over.

This Japanese CD release has the original, superior cover art.  With the full 15 song version of Live at the Lyceum included, it’s the standout version to own.  What an album, and what a live disc to boot.  Dig into the Cult.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Metallica – Death Magnetic (Coffin Box)

METALLICA – Death Magnetic (2008 Vertigo Coffin Box)

“What don’t kill ya, make ya more strong!”

Like many bands these days, Metallica decided to release a boxed special edition of Death Magnetic to make a little extra cash.  And also like a lot of other bands, this “coffin box” edition was crazy expensive. To me the deciding factor wasn’t all the bells and whistles (and there are a lot of them) it was the inclusion of the exclusive CD Demo Magnetic. This disc includes 10 demo tracks, unfinished and otherwise unreleased versions of the final Death Magnetic songs.

There were only 2000 copies of this made, so if you didn’t pre-order, chances are you gotta pay the late tax.

Contents:

  • Death Magnetic CD (the digipack version, identical to the retail release)
  • Demo Magnetic CD
  • The Making of Death Magnetic DVD
  • Four imitation guitar picks (made of flimsy plastic, not actual guitar picks)
  • Exclusive T-shirt
  • Exclusive bandana
  • Backstage pass with lanyard
  • A card with a download code for a free show
  • Coffin-shaped poster

Death Magnetic is, unfortunately, one of the most famous victims of the Loudness Wars.  Why put time and effort into production only to drown it all out in the mastering?  Apparently the version of Death Magnetic that was used in the video game Rock Band 3 was mastered “normally”, and is far better.  This CD has punch though, I’ll give it that.

On its own the album is worth 4 stars.  Mastering aside,  It is an above-average collection of typical Metallica rockers. Gone are the nu-metal tendencies of St. Anger and that was the correct move. Clearly, Metallica were reaching back and trying to write riffs that sound like the late 80s and that’s also fine.  Metallica are not Dream Theater.  They do what they do, and they do it quite well.

Expect typical Metallica riffage, barking Hetfield vocals, the usual Lars drumming, some tasty solos from Kirk, and slamming bass from Robert.  That is what Metallica do.  It’s not a bad album and some of these songs are damned near as good as the old days.  You’ll love “Broke, Beaten & Scarred”, “That Was Just Your Life”, and “The End of the Line”.  A favourite song for sheer chorus reasons is “All Nightmare Long”. The demo version (called “Flamingo”) is also really decent.

If you’re a diehard Metallica fan, the kind who owns Fan Cans, then you’ll want this box set for the exclusive music. It’s sure to become a rare collectible.

4/5 stars

 

 

 

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Honkin’ On Bobo (2004)

AEROSMITH – Honkin’ On Bobo (2014 Columbia)

Sometimes we take one for the team. For no reason other than to get it done, we take out albums we strongly dislike just for the sake of writing them up. Sometimes there are pleasant surprises and time has been kinder than our memories have been. And sometimes you’re just Honkin’ on Bobo, whatever the fuck that means. It could be code for Sucking the Big One.

Necessary background:  After 2001’s putrid Just Push Play, Aerosmith were eager to strip it back to basics and record an album live in the studio.  They returned to producer Jack Douglas and picked an album’s worth of blues covers to Aero-fy.  This is a formula that rarely works out well for rock bands, and Aerosmith fell into the blues cover trap with both feet.

The only exception is one new original, a ballady blues called “The Grind”.  It happens to be one of the best tracks, though firmly within that Aerosmith bluesy ballad niche that they carved out for themselves in the early 90s with “Cryin'” and “Blind Man”.  That this is an album highlight is a warning as sure as a watchman yelling “iceberg dead ahead!”  We’re about to take on water, and there aren’t enough lifeboats.

One of Aerosmith’s issues since the mid to late 90s is how they’ve become a caricature of themselves.  Bob Diddley’s “Road Runner” is thick with Aerosmith clichés to the point that it sounds like an Aerosmith covers band filling their set out with standards.  “Road Runner” isn’t limber, it’s thick in the thighs with thuddy rock tropes.  Joey Kramer injects some life into “Shame, Shame, Shame” but it only makes you wish Aerosmith had tackled the track in 1974 instead of 2004 so it wouldn’t sound so contrived.  “Eyesight to the Blind” (Sonny Boy Williamson) isn’t convincing, as Tyler huffs through the song like a burlesque singer.  “Baby Please Don’t Go” makes you crave AC/DC’s superior version, although the groove on this one is positively unearthly.  It’s an unbelievable groove that perhaps should have been made into an Aerosmith original rather than a throwaway cover.

Aretha’s “Never Loved a Man” is transformed into “Never Loved a Girl”, and with the Memphis Horns on board there’s some value to it, but compared to Aretha they sound like rookies.  Like an amateur artist copying a master with crayons.  “Back Back Train” is actually OK, and it might be that Joe Perry is a more appropriate vocalist for a blues classic.  Tyler’s histrionics wear thin on this album, but Perry’s laid back singing works better.  Tyler surely doesn’t aid the sluggish “You Gotta Move”.

A dreary “I’m Ready” (Muddy Waters) is still a long way from the end.  “Temperature” also drags along, Tyler turning it into a parody.  Fleetwood Mac get the Aero treatment on “Stop Messin’ Around”, at least the second Mac cover that Aerosmith have done after “Rattlesnake Shake”.  Please welcome Joe Perry back to the microphone on “Stop Messin’ Around”, and please keep Tyler away!  Unfortunately it’s a boring tune (blazing fretwork aside), and so is the closer “Jesus is on the Main Line”.

Even the most stalwart defender must concede that Honkin’ On Bobo isn’t a blues album for a blues lover.  It’s a blues-rock forgery that occasionally captures the odd highlight for posterity, but is otherwise expendable.  In other words if you’re in a Zombie apocalypse looking for CDs to chuck at the undead, Honkin’ On Bobo can be flung guilt-free.

1.5/5 stars

And once again, it’s the return of the dreaded flaming turd!

 

 

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