Dave Holland

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 – Screaming For Vengeance (30th Anniversary Edition)

JUDAS PRIEST – Screaming For Vengeance (Originally 1982, 2012 Sony 30th Anniversary Edition)

While people recognize British Steel as a platinum Judas Priest landmark, it was Screaming For Vengeance that went double platinum.  It introduced Priest to the MTV generation and opened them up to bigger American audiences.  But before we get to Screaming For Vengeance itself, a cornerstone Judas Priest album in anyone’s books, the “Special 30th Anniversary Edition” must first be addressed.  The extra content is a full concert DVD, and four bonus audio live tracks from the same DVD.

To have Priest live at the US Festival is a wish fulfilled for many.  The daylight show with full classic costumes (Rob decked in silver) is a nostalgia blowout.  The band look lethal although drummer Dave Holland appears overwhelmed by the demanding tunes.  The setlist isn’t half bad, with “Green Manalishi”, “Diamonds and Rust”, and “Victim of Changes” being highlights and filling the need for old classics.  The bulk of the set is made up of more recent material from the three 1980s Priest albums thus far.  Tempos are fast, cowbells are in the air, and Rob is at his confident shrieking best.  The audio is great and the video is well reproduced.  Owning this edition of Screaming really is a must since it’s the only official release of this show on DVD.

The re-imagined cover art is nice, fitting in with other Priest deluxe reissues (see images at bottom).  In an unfortunate oversight, the clean and sharp original artwork is included nowhere inside this set.  They did include the two bonus tracks from the previous remastered CD release, which we’ll get to after we discuss the album in full.

Screaming For Vengeance was a sudden change of style for the Priest, after two rather soundalike albums.  Similarly the next album Defenders of the Faith would be cast from the same mold as Screaming.  All these albums were produced by Tom Allom.  Tempos were turned up, guitars sharpened, and as per the title, Rob Halford screamed.  A lot.  The refined 80s Priest was evident on the opening duo “The Hellion/Electric Eye”.  The guitars are sleeker, the vocals processed and robotic.  The riffs are just as sharp.  Priest were going for the throat.  This opening one-two punch was more punishing than any music I ever heard at that time.  Though you could not claim it’s heavier than a Priest oldie like “Saints In Hell”, the production is louder and more in your face than ever before.

Drummer Dave Holland sprays a bloodbath of bashes at the start of “Riding on the Wind”, Priest speeding on the highway once again.  With Rob in high register, this catchy tune is perfect for keeping the wind in your face.  The first respite in terms of tempo is “Bloodstone”, though its glorious riffs need no accelerant.  Halford’s scatting at the end is classic and a rare reappearance of his old sassy self from Hell Bent for Leather.

“(Take These) Chains” is one of the most immediately accessible tracks, a mid-tempo delight as Priest do so well.  They end the side with a slow metal grind called “Pain and Pleasure”, drums soaked in echo.  Rob alludes to an interest in BDSM again, but with music this heavy most people just headbanged and ignored.  (In another sad oversight, the lyrics are not contained within this edition, but were reproduced on the previous CD remaster.)  Don’t assume that because it’s a slow one it’s weak.  “Pain and Pleasure” is a resounding an d memorable side-ender.

The second side opens with the sudden shock blitzkrieg of the title track.  Speed metal turned up to 11, “Screaming For Vengeance” is over the top and almost self-parody.  It’s one of Priest’s most overdriven blasts of might, but it also verges on mindlessness if not for a spirited solo section in the middle.  But then in another jarring shift, the sleek mid-tempo groove of “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” rears its familiar head.  When I was a kid, there was no question this was Priest’s “big hit”.  It was the song everyone knew, and the music video was on constant rotation.  Classic clip.  The man pursuing Priest is meant to represent the tax man.  When Rob essentially yells at him “no tax man, you will not take my money,” his head blows up.  They used a little too much TNT on the mannequin, and so the tax man’s pants fell down in an added humiliation.  Such is the power of heavy metal, folks.  Got tax problems?  Rock and roll right in that tax man’s face.  Eventually his head will blow up.  If you’re lucky the pants might also fall.  This is what Priest have given the world!

“Another Thing Comin'” is a brilliant song.  Radio super-saturation cannot dull its simply-constructed hooks.  Its placement (second song, side two) is odd but that didn’t stop it to #4 on the US Billboard rock chart, nor did it impede the album rising to #17 on the Billboard 200.

The album begins drawing to a close, with an echoey tremolo effect on “Fever”, one of the album’s best cuts.  Then the echo ends, and a clean guitar accompanies a plaintive Rob.  Mid-tempo, powerfully built and loaded with hooks, “Fever” is a late-album winner.  Then, three quarters in, Halford turns on the high voice and the song transforms into something else equally cool.  Finally the echo-guitar returns to help bring the song to its dramatic end.

“Devil’s Child” is the last hurrah, a fun and heavy indictment of an ex-lover who’s “so damn wicked” and “smashed and grabbed all I had”.  The album ends as suddenly as it begins; jarring transitions being a sonic theme on Screaming For Vengeance.

Tom Allom’s production is often maligned as inferior to the more raw and loose sounds of Priest on their 70s albums, and there’s certainly an argument to be made there.  Screaming For Vengeance is not a warm album.  It is cold, sharp and steely.  It has a precise, digital undertone.  But it’s also heavy, considerably more so than Point of Entry which preceded it.  The cover art indicated that we were entering a new phase for Judas Priest; a simpler streamlined 80s phase but still deadly enough for the old fans.

The live bonus tracks included on the CD were not chosen willy-nilly.  Instead of including the best hits from the US Festival DVD, they use tracks from a different show in San Antonio, and all from Screaming For Vengeance:  “Electric Eye”, “Riding On the Wind”, “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” and “Screaming” itself.  Watch out for the squealing feedback!  Finally the original bonus tracks from the 2001 CD are edition are tacked on so you don’t have to own two copies.  These include a raspy, smoking “Devil’s Child” live from another concert, and a demo from the 1985-86 Twin Turbos sessions called “Prisoner of Your Eyes”.  I hate when Priest use bonus tracks from the wrong era, but the Screaming For Vengeance reissues are the only place you can get this song.  In a stylistic shift, this slick ballad sounds more like “A Touch of Evil” from Painkiller, but far tamer.  (The guitar solos were overdubbed and tracks finished in 2001.)

Good special edition, but not great.  As these things go I’m sure we can expect a better 40 anniversary edition.  It won’t be long now.

5/5 stars for the album

3.5/5 stars for the 30th Anniversary edition

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Point of Entry (1981, Remastered)

JUDAS PRIEST – Point of Entry (1981, 2001 Sony remaster)

Point of Entry will always be one of those “other” Judas Priest albums. It wasn’t a ground breaker and wasn’t a massive seller. It will always just be “the album that came after British Steel” or “the one that came before Screaming for Vengeance“.  It did fine (500,000 US sales) and spawned a killer single called “Heading Out to the Highway”, but it didn’t make history like the other two records.

Coming after British Steel, Priest continued with producer Tom Allom and drummer Dave Holland, and it doesn’t sound like they were overly interested in taking chances.  Sonically Point of Entry is a carbon copy, though with less impactful songs.  In 2001, it was issued remastered by Sony with two bonus tracks.

For me, Point of Entry occupies an interesting space.  Listening to it on a recent road trip took me back to 1987 or 88, when I was in the midst of seriously trying to collect “all the Priest”.  From the perspective of a kid in 1988, Point of Entry was what I thought 1981 must have sounded like, though it wasn’t that long before.  So Point of Entry takes me back not to the early 80s, but the late 80s.  And in the late 80s, it sounded good.

Sure, I was aware that it sounded a lot like British Steel before, but without the massive landmark tracks like “Metal Gods”.  But what about “Desert Plains”?  Why wasn’t it as important as “Metal Gods”?

To this day, I don’t know.

Point of Entry does boast a few songs that could go toe-to-toe with any on British Steel.  Certainly “Desert Plains” and “Heading Out to the Highway” can stand up to the prior album.  “Highway” has one of those riffs so classic that I sometimes find myself humming it in a grocery line wondering what song was in my head.  As a mid-tempo road song, it does the job.  One could argue it’s just a sequel to “Living After Midnight”, but you just try and resist this one.

“Heading Out to the Highway” was made into an unintentionally funny video, mixing on-set with on-location footage in an obvious way.  Worse though were the two videos that followed:  “Don’t Go” and “Hot Rockin'”.  “Don’t Go” features the band playing trapped inside a small room, with a door that leads various impossible locations including outer space.  Fortunately the song is better:  slow and plaintive, yet with that solid rocking beat and a killer guitar solo.  “Hot Rockin'” is high-speed but tends to be forgotten because Priest have better material at this tempo.  The video is situated in a sauna, and then a concert stage where Rob’s flaming feet light fire to his microphone, and the microphone to a couple guitars.  Funny to look at, but I think it’s one of those cases where we’re laughing at the band, not with them.

“Turning Circles”, and a lot of the rest of the album, fall into various categories.  This one fits alongside “Don’t Go” as a slow but hard track.  “We’ve all got somethin’ wrong to say,” sings Rob in this song that seems to be about ending a relationship.  The “ah ha, ah ha” break in the middle is an album highlight, and to me it sounds exactly like my bedroom in 1987.

It’s “Desert Plains” that really brings it home.  There is a pulse to this song, created by Dave Holland and Ian Hill.  You don’t associate those two guys with awesome rock beats often, but here it is.  “Desert Plains” is an instant classic, and it’s alive with movement.  From the verses, to the choruses, to Holland’s drum “sound effects” (like “wild mountain thunder”), this is a Priest classic and shall forever remain so.  This side one closer should have been a video way before “Hot Rockin'”.

The second side opens with “Solar Angels”, another track with an interesting rhythm (slow drums, fast guitar chug).  The song feels like it could use some more substance, but it’s still enjoyable albeit in a “Metal Gods” knock-off kind of way.  Though heaviness is always celebrated, who doesn’t enjoy when Rob Halford gets sassy?  That’s “You Say Yes”, an outstanding shoulda-been hit.  The verses verge on punk rock as Rob spits out the words as only he can.  Then the airy “what I do, what I do, what I do” middle section goes right to heaven — or my room in ’87, I’m not sure which.

Point of Entry ends on three decent but unremarkable mid-tempo tracks, which perhaps always served to weaken the album’s impressions.  “All the Way” might be an attempt to rewrite “Living After Midnight”, and although it’s a cool track we all know Priest have better stuff in this vein.  “Troubleshooter” might even be more of a rewrite, with that opening drum beat sounding a little familiar.  But Rob’s vocals kill it.  Finally “On the Run” is a screamy album closer where Rob is once again the star.

As with previous CDs in this Priest remasters series, there are two bonus tracks, one of which has nothing to do with Point of Entry.  “Thunder Road” sounds a lot like Ram It Down era Priest, so you can safely assume it’s from those sessions in the late 80s.  Clearly outtake quality, almost like a prototype for “Johnny B Goode”.  Then there is a live version of “Desert Plains” from what sounds like the 1987 tour judging by the big echoey drums and Rob’s added screams.  It’s much faster than the album cut, all but destroying the pulse of the original.  Yet the song still kills!  Somehow it didn’t make it onto the Priest…Live! album, which was already stuffed full.

In the late 90s, a guy sold a used copy of this on CD to me, but he left something inside.  Something I wish I’d kept because it was so bizarre and funny.  The back cover features five white boxes in the desert.  The guy left a little white piece of note paper inside, explaining what he thought the back cover was about.   “Maybe they are graves,” said part of it.  I wish I could remember the rest.  (I always thought the five boxes represented the five band members, with the large one in the back being Dave Holland and the drum kit.)  And speaking of the cover, this album does look better on vinyl.  I have vinyl for almost all the Priest up to Ram It Down, and they all look better on vinyl.

Although Point of Entry will always live in the shadows of the towering albums that came before and after, it still leaves a glow behind.

3.75/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Sin After Sin (1977)

JUDAS PRIEST – Sin After Sin (Originally 1977, 2001 Sony reissue)

“SIN AFTER SIN, I have endured, but the wounds I bear are the wounds of love.”

This lyric from “Genocide” on 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny would have been little more than a throwaway, if Priest didn’t recycle the words “sin after sin” for their next album title.  Though the song may have appeared to be the same, much had actually changed.  For the first time, they had a producer that understood that kind of aggressive rock that the young band were trying to create:  Roger Glover, ex-Deep Purple, who had already recorded several albums for Elf, Ian Gillan and Nazareth.  Perhaps even more significantly, for the first time they had a serious drummer creating the beats:  the not-yet-legendary Simon Phillips, who had still already played on a Jack Bruce album.  This was just a session for Phillips, but it enabled Priest to break the shackles of rhythm and really start exploring.

Opener “Sinner” might have been the same kind of tempos that Priest were working with before, but there is a new slickness to the drums; an effortless drive with increasingly interesting accents.  With a solid backing, Priest sound more vicious.  “Demonic vultures stalking, drawn by the smell of war and pain.”  The apocalypse has never sounded cooler.  As Phillips drops sonic bombs left and right, KK Downing goes to town on what would become his live showcase solo.  His growls and trills sound like a beast inflicting wounds on a struggling combatant.  At almost seven minutes, “Sinner” is the album epic, and it’s the opening track!

Priest previously recorded a cover of Joan Baez’ “Diamonds and Rust” for Gull records; that early version can be acquired on The Best of Judas Priest or Hero, Hero.  The Glover-produced track is the more famous and better of the two.  Radio play for “Diamonds and Rust” helped push the album to eventually sell 500,000 copies.  Rob Halford’s high pitched harmonies gleam like polished silver.

Ironic observation:  I hope by now we all know a light year is a measurement of distance, not time.  It is the amount of distance that light can travel in one year (9.46 trillion kilometres).  So, really really far.  Joan Baez playfully used it as a melodramatic measure of time in “Diamonds and Rust”.  (“A couple of light years ago”.)  On the next track “Starbreaker”, Halford refers to “light year miles away”, a crudely worded hyperbole for distance.  So with Sin After Sin, you get it both ways.  Regardless of scientific accuracy (or not) “Starbreaker” is a good track with a slightly flat riff.  Though Phillips is brilliant, it could just use a little more pep.

Like with Sad Wings of Destiny, you gotta have a ballad in there somewhere, and on side one that’s “Last Rose of Summer”.  This softie isn’t bad, though Priest have done and will do better.  Using a ballad to close a side isn’t always wise either, but on CD nobody really notices except us nerds.

“Let Us Prey/Call For the Priest” is a pretty epic side two opener, with harmony guitars playing an opening instrumental anthem.  Then a choir of Halfords joins in, and the band break in to what could be their fastest song yet.  From the wickedly fast dual guitar solos to the powerful rhythm, this song is a blitzkrieg of metal trademarks.  It’s relentless and all over the board, something that 80s Priest rarely was.

Side two keeps getting better with the groove of “Raw Deal”, which was Rob’s real “coming out” to fans in the know.  Today he calls it a “heavy metal gay rights song”.  It’s actually one of Halford’s best lyrics.  Instead of mashing together science fiction words and singing about battlefields, this time Halford paints a hazy picture of what is probably a gay club in Fire Island, New York.  It’s vivid but vague:  “The mirror on the wall was collecting and reflecting, all the heavy bodies ducking, stealing eager for some action.”  It’s also backed by some seriously cool Priest music, almost funky but always heavy.  “The true free expression I demand is human rights – right?”  It was all there in the lyrics all along.

A second ballad, the dirge “Here Comes the Tears” brings a cloudier mood.  An ode to loneliness, “Here Comes the Tears” is the one to play when you just can’t take it anymore.  When Halford starts givin’ ‘er at the end with the wildest screams in history, it sounds like an exorcism.  The guitars howl, a hint of piano can be heard, and there is an underlying choir of Robs singing sadly in unison.  Finally “Dissident Aggressor”, famously covered by Slayer, concludes the album on a violently fast note.  “Stab!  Fall!  Punch!  Crawl!”  This song is not for amateurs and might be the heaviest thing Priest have ever done.  There are plenty of contenders, but “Dissident Aggressor” must be in the Top Five Heaviest Priest Songs Ever.  But that being said, they still have the balls to end the song with another multi-layered harmony of Halfords.

The 2001 Sony remastered CD has two bonus tracks, and the first is the best in the entire series:  “Race With the Devil”, a cover of a track by The Gun.  This version, recorded for the next album Stained Class (Les Binks on drums) could easily have been a B-side all this time.  Why it went unreleased until 2001 is unknown.  Perhaps it was lost, but now that it has gotten a proper mastering job it is available on CD.  This is un-retouched, which cannot be said for other unreleased tracks in the Priest Remasters series.  “Run With the Devil” is raw, riffy, fast, and wicked.  All it really needed to make it album quality is a better guitar solo.  The second bonus track is a live “Jawbreaker” (Dave Holland on drums) from the Defenders of the Faith tour.  Out of place, but an excellent song regardless.

Incidentally, Sin After Sin is the last album before Priest adopted the first version of their current logo design.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Trouble Shooters (1989 CBS cassette)

JUDAS PRIEST – Trouble Shooters (1989 CBS cassette)

Readers understand that I’m pretty anti-cassette.  For most of my life, I had shitty equipment and shitty tapes so my memories of fiddling with tapes are not happy ones.  You do tend to find oddities on cassette that don’t exist on any other media, which is one reason I’ll always need a tape deck.

Here’s one from my personal collection that I bought in early 1990.

Bob Schipper knew my favourite band in 1989/1990 was the mighty Priest.  He told me of a cassette I didn’t have called Trouble Shooters.  The one detail I can’t recall is what store he saw it in, but I gave him some money and he got me the tape.

I was disappointed that it was a cheap tape with nothing on the inlay, but I now had a Priest tape I didn’t own before.  I spied the release date:  1989.  It looked odd sitting in my tape cases filed as the “newest” Judas Priest release, with Les Binks on the front cover.  Trouble Shooters was in fact a bargain bin compilation made up of songs from Sin After Sin, Stained Class, Hell Bent for Leather, Point of Entry, British Steel, and Defenders of the Faith.  Another thing that looked strange:  the uber-metal Priest logo on the front.  Turning it up to 11, it’s rendered as the insane-o looking Jüdäs Priést.

The running order on these tapes is usually pretty random, but side one of Trouble Shooters goes down really well.  “Let Us Prey/Call For the Priest” is a pretty cool way to open a tape, with that low hum of instruments before the regal guitarmonies enter.  (Note that the second part of the title isn’t printed anywhere.)  “Let Us Prey” is suited to commence a Priest tape that is heavier than the average.  Its proto-thrash pacing represents Judas Priest at an early peak.  Then, sensibly, Trouble Shooters gets the “hit single” out of the way early, in this case “Living After Midnight”.  Casual music buyers picked up these tapes in discount bins, so you have to put on the hit early; the second slot working best.

I appreciated that they included two songs from Point of Entry as that has always been a personal favourite.  The title track is parsed wrong as “Trouble Shooters” when it should be all one word.  Still a good song, with Priest taking a simple sassy 4/4 time stance.  “Turning Circles” from the same album is lesser known but possesses a slower groove that works just as well as the fast ones.  The secret seems to be Rob Halford, who twists and turns every word for maximum expression.

Side One is granted an epic quality thanks to “The Green Manalishi”, my favourite Priest song of all time and certainly a crowd pleaser too.  (Yeah, yeah, I know it’s a Fleetwood Mac cover.)  You just can’t find a better closer for a Side One anywhere else in the Priest canon.

Continuing the excellent sequencing is a song heralding the arrivals of “Metal Gods” on Side Two.  Then “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll”, the most recent song from 1984’s Defenders of the Faith.  Nothing from Turbo or Ram It Down.  I wonder if there were rules about what could and couldn’t go on these budget compilations.  Maybe they were limited to music five years old or more.  Back to the tape, “Some Heads” follows a similar sonic mood as “Metal Gods”, though the production is less sleek and more muddled.  It’s still apocalyptic metal for breakfast.

Finally it’s back to the start with a couple epics from the early days.  For me, I think I would have ended the tape on “Sinner”, but it comes before “Saints In Hell” here.  Much like “Let Us Prey” on Side One, these songs show off the early savage side of Judas Priest, ripping meat from the bone raw and ugly.  It’s barbaric metal with sharply precise moves.

I don’t know why I hung on to this tape when so many of them ended up in a Thunder Bay landfill.  I’m glad I did:  this was a fun cassette to review.

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Ram It Down (Remastered)

JUDAS PRIEST – Ram It Down (Originally 1988, 2001 Sony remaster)

Judas Priest seemed pretty lost in the late 80s.  They were bigger than ever, but they lost focus of their musical direction.  Producer Tom Allom had cursed them with a robotic plod, far removed from the lively firepower of yesteryear.  When they released Turbo in 1986, they had gone as far down those roads as possible.  It was am ambitious departure, but 100% a product of the 1980s.

For Turbo, Priest had written enough songs for a double album.  Twin Turbos, as it was to be called, was supposed to reflect all facets of metal, but the record comany got cold feet and a single disc was issued.  It contained the most techno-commercial tracks, while Priest held onto the rest for another day.  That day came in 1988 when Priest (again with producer Tom Allom) released Ram It Down, largely made up of Turbo outtakes.  The album was hyped as a return to the heavy Priest of yore, and this was at least partly true, but fans were unconvinced by it.  In comparison with Turbo, yes, Ram It Down was heavier.  But Priest had gone as far as they could with Allom.  Ram It Down was too sterile and bogged down with filler.

Certainly the title track opens Ram It Down on a thrash-like note.  As if to silence to critics, it was a proud metal statement with an opening Rob Halford scream that curdles the brain.  The weakness is drummer Dave Holland on his final Priest outing.  Only when Scott Travis joined Priest in 1990 did they acquire a drummer who could play the kind of beats at the speed they needed.  On Ram It Down, Priest were held back by the drummer and clunky production, two mistakes they fixed on 1990’s Painkiller.  The lyrics also seem dumbed-down for the 80s.  “Thousands of cars, and a million guitars, screaming with power in the air,” is cool but cliche.

“Heavy Metal” is more of the same lyrically, an ode to the power and glory of power chords.  Rob Halford’s performance is fantastic, and the man has rarely sounded as fantastic as he does on Ram It Down.  You can’t say the same for the words, the highschool equivalent of poetry.  On the music front, Priest were now following rather than leading.  They were on the same clunky metal trip as bands such as Scorpions at the same time.  There audible Kiss and Whitesnake influences on the album, with Rob sometimes sounding like he was trying to write a Gene Simmons tune.  “Love You to Death” on side two sounds right out of the Demon’s closet.  The embarrassingly terrible  “Love Zone” and “Come and Get It” both sound as if Coverdale co-wrote them on the sly.  Whether Priest were consciously copying other bands or just lost, who knows.  (“Love Zone” is one of the few songs that Halford almost seemed to write gender specific.  “With your razor nails and painted smile” are not specifically referring to a female, but certainly that was the general assumption.)

There are definitely a few cool tracks that deserve mention.  The first is “Hard as Iron” which had to be one of the fastest Priest songs to date.  It’s still held back by the production, but has some serious energy to it.  Like metal espresso injected right into the brain!  The other standout is “Blood Red Skies”, a forgotten highlight of this album and indeed of the Priest catalog in general.  (I actually used “Blood Red Skies” in a poetry project for school.  A girl liked it so much she asked for a copy of the lyrics.)  Using the synth effectively, “Blood Red Skies” paints a Terminator-like future with humans hunted by beings with “pneumatic fingers”, “laser eyes” and “computer sights”.  Halford  pours power and anguish into it, as a human freedom fighter.  “As I die, a legend will be born!”  Cheesey?  Absolutely.  Priest perfection?  Yes indeed!

There are also two mis-steps on Ram It Down that must be addressed.  The first and most obvious is “Johnny B. Goode”, from the 1988 movie Johnny Be Good starring Anthony Michael Hall and some guy named Robert Downey Something.  This track should have been kept off the album.  As a novelty single, sure, you can dig it.  It’s a stereotypical cliche-ridden metal cover, and that’s fun for a goof.  As a Priest album track, it only serves to completely destroy any momentum that Ram It Down managed to build.  Then there is “Monsters of Rock”.  This awful excuse for a song is only 5:31 long, but seems twice that.  It is the prototype for the even more awful “Loch Ness” from Angel of Retribution.  Most buyers probably didn’t finish listening to the album because of this bloated and aimless track.

The Priest Re-masters collection had two bonus tracks per studio album.  Ram It Down provides two completely unrelated but great tracks:  live versions of “Bloodstone” and “Night Comes Down”.  The liner notes don’t state when they were recorded, but live versions of either are always welcome in any Priest collection.  It’s interesting that bonus tracks from these actual sessions, such as “Red, White and Blue”, were used on other CDs but not Ram It Down.

Priest may have known Ram It Down wasn’t the metal album they hoped to make.  They cleared house afterwards.  Dave Holland and Tom Allom were done, and there is no question that Painkiller was superior to Ram It Down because of that.

2/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Al Atkins – Victim of Changes (1998)

scan_20161117AL ATKINS – Victim of Changes (1998 Pulse)

Al Atkins was the original lead singer in Judas Priest, before “Bob” Halford was invited to join. You’ll find a number of Atkins credits on the first two Priest albums, even though he was out of the band by that time. In fact, Atkins formed a band called Judas Priest in 1969. The band were named by bassist Bruno Stapenhill. They split in 1970, and Atkins went looking for a new band. He found them in Ken “KK” Downing and Ian “Skull” Hill, who were looking for a singer. With Atkins and drummer John Ellis, they eventually settled on the name Judas Priest, same as Atkins’ prior band. And yes, that means that Ian Hill is actually the only remaining original member of Judas Priest.

Atkins wrote and co-wrote much of Priest’s earliest material. Before he left, he wrote a song called “Whiskey Woman”. Rob Halford used that song and merged it with one of his called “Red Light Lady”. The result was “Victim of Changes”, the first and perhaps greatest of Judas Priest’s epics. Two other songs he wrote in Priest were “Mind Conception” and “Holy is the Man” which were demoed but never released.

Atkins worked a 9-5 job after Priest, but got back into music again in short order. His fourth solo album, Victim of Changes, was essentially a tribute to his Judas Priest years. It is a collection of new recordings of (mostly) a lot of numbers that Priest played live during the Atkins era.  As a gimmick, he had Priest’s drummer from the 1980s, Dave Holland, on this album.

Atkins and Halford couldn’t sound less alike.  Rob is known for his high-pitched operatics.  Atkins has a gutsier, grittier sound, somewhat like a Paul Di’anno meeting Blaze Bayley.  There is no question that Rob is the right singer for Judas Priest, so it is really only a matter of curiosity to hear these tunes with Atkins singing.  The tunes are at least good.

The unreleased “Mind Conception” commences the disc, re-recorded and very modern sounding especially in the guitars.  It is difficult to know exactly what the original “Mind Conception” sounded like, but it’s very safe to say it would not have sounded like this.  In the liner notes, Atkins states the original demos were recorded stoned and with a sore throat.  “Holy is the Man” has a slower groove to it, and would work very nicely as a modern Priest track.  As the only representation of these unreleased tracks available, die-hard Priest collectors will want to hear them.  Another track of interest is the cover of Quatermass’ “Black Sheep of the Family” which Priest played live at their earliest gigs (along with Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic”).  Rainbow’s recording is still the one to beat.

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The familiar Priest tracks are actually anything but.  They are probably arranged more like the way Priest used to play them in the early days.  “Never Satisfied” is extended with a tough bluesy acoustic intro.  The heavy parts have a Zeppelin-y beat, due to Holland’s straightforward style.  Same with “Winter”.  Then there is “Caviar and Meths” which is a whopping 7:12 long.  According to Atkins, this song was their big finale live, but never recorded in full in the studio.  This version is the full-length arrangement that they used to close with live.  And it’s brilliant.  Finally there is “Victim of Changes” itself, and Atkins has some help from a backup singer for the high parts that Rob does.

There are a couple tracks that could be considered filler, since they have nothing to do with Judas Priest.  These are the instrumentals “The Melt Down” and “Metanoia”, written by guitarist Paul May.  They are excellent tracks, however, and should not be ignored.  (“Metanoia” serves as a postscript to “Winter” on the CD.) They are European sounding heavy metal tracks, loaded with guitar drama and ferocity.

Check out Victim of Changes for a glance at what Priest might have sounded like with Al Atkins singing lead.  One can hope for those unreleased demos to surface, but one can also wish for the moon.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Greatest Hits (2008 Sony Steel Box)

 

Welcome back to GREATEST HITS WEEK! This week we are looking at different, interesting hits albums from various bands. Today we re- visit the Mighty Priest, for the second of a Priest double-shot!

Monday:  EXTREME – The Best of Extreme: An Accidental Collication of Atoms? (1997)
Tuesday: JUDAS PRIEST – The Best of Judas Priest (1978/2000 Insight Series)


JUDAS PRIEST – Greatest Hits (2008 Sony/BMG Steel Box Collection)

Ever buy a CD for no real good reason?  I have all these songs, because I already own every song Priest has ever released.  I saw this Judas Priest compilation, from the “Sony Steel Box” collection, at my local Best Buy for a few measly dollars.  There are a few artists who have hits albums in this collection, such as Aerosmith.  I just wanted one of the steel boxes, so I chose Priest.  I chose Priest because of the brief, but interesting track listing.  There are some odd choices for a greatest hits disc:  “Rock Hard Ride Free”, and “Rock You All Around the World”, for example, instead of “Heading Out to the Highway”, “A Touch of Evil”, “Painkiller”,  or other better know singles.  Hell, where’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” or any song from Screaming?  You do get two “new” songs from Angel of Retribution.  Needless to say, for a 10-track hits CD, it was an interesting selection of songs, so I chose this one.  I have only played it once, so it’s time to revisit and assign a rating.

This is where we run into the flaw with these Sony steel boxes — the front cover and back cover art is just a sticker, that wraps around the case.  When you open the case, it damages the sticker where it covers the hinge, digging huge creases all over the spine.  I’ve opened my copy a couple of times and see what it looks like already?  That’s me being careful.

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“Breaking the Law” has always worked well in the opening position.  Off with a bang (literally; the first sound is a snare drum), we are now off to the races.  This Greatest Hits concentrates almost entirely on material from British Steel and after, collecting a lot of Priest music from their simple, straightforward metal period of the 1980’s.  There is nothing wrong with that of course, but it lacks the balance that earlier more complex tracks like “Victim of Changes” would have brought to the table.  “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight”, both classics culled from British Steel, get the job done on a hit laden note.  The sound is fine, as it appears these were lifted from the Priest remasters.

I’m not sure the logic in choosing “Out of the Cold”, a synth-laden slow crawler from Turbo.  There is nothing wrong with it of course, it was and remains a stormy fan classic.  That’s just it though, it’s a fan classic, not a well known hit that the band play in concert.  On a 10 song CD, it seems an odd choice, but it leads well into the dark “Love Bites”.  I went through a period of about three days in grade 8 of being completely obsessed with this song.  The things I liked about it, such as the choppy rhythms and hypnotic vocals, are still striking today.  It also flows perfectly into “Rock You All Around the World”, which unfortunately is pretty much just filler that should have been donated to the Scorpions.

I still think it terms of albums having “sides”, and I wonder if whoever sequenced this CD had the same thought?  “Rock You All Around the World” is a great side closer, as it filled that slot on Turbo.  Then the next track is the very different “Diamonds and Rust” (live version from Unleashed in the East).  It’s as if you have started a new side.  Another track from Defenders of the Faith (“Rock Hard Ride Free”) brings the listener back to the 80’s.  Although it was not a single, it was good enough to be one.  Back to the Turbo album for the third time, “Turbo Lover” is a song that still gets occasional radio airplay.  It’s funny how this robotic and very dated song is still loved today.  I wouldn’t have predicted that.

“Turbo Lover” is the last of the golden oldies, since the last two tracks are off Angel of Retribution, Priest’s glorious reunion album with Rob Halford after a long solo career.  Strange though that the single “Revolution” is not one of these tracks.  “Deal With the Devil” was an OK tune, a good heavy album tune that was of the same quality as similar songs from Painkiller.  “Worth Fighting For” was excellent – a midtempo quiet rocker that almost borders on ballad territory.  This song was a triumph, a really excellent song worth of the Priest canon.  Unfortunately in this case, a quiet midtempo near-ballad does not work to close a Priest compilation.  It works as a song to build into another song, but here it just leaves you hanging.  Sloppy sequencing.

Rating the steel book CD is not a reflection on the songs or the band, just the CD itself.  There are too many serious omissions (“Metal Gods:, “Freewheel Burning”, hello!) for it to rate highly.  The flawed packaging design is the final nail in the steel box.

2/5 stars

JUDAS PRIEST GREATEST HITS 2008Thanks to Geoff over at the 1001 Albums in 10 Years for the “Excel”lent inspiration!