Dave Holland

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

 

Advertisements

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.

scan_20161117-2

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.

IMG_20150809_081711

“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!

 

 

 

REVIEW: Trapeze – You Are the Music…We’re Just the Band (1972)

TRAPEZE_0001TRAPEZE – You Are the Music…We’re Just the Band (1972 Threshold)

Trapeze in ’72 was:

  • Glenn Hughes (future Deep Purple) – bass & vocals
  • Mel Galley (future Whitesnake) – guitar
  • Dave Holland (future Judas Priest) – drums

Due to the fame that this trio found fame separately elsewhere, Trapeze will be on interest to fans of classic British 70’s rock. Trapeze are a funky soul rock band — picture some of the funkier moments that Deep Purple were into when Tommy Bolin was in the band, and you are in the general ballpark.  The very first track “Keepin’ Time” easily could have been on Purple’s Come Taste the Band.  Not only is a high quality funk-rock song, but Mel Galley has some serious chops going on!


Personal highlights on this CD for me are the ferocious funk of “Way Back To The Bone”, the soul of “What Is a Woman’s Role”, and the solid rock of “Feelin’ So Much Better Now”. I also need to single out the track “Loser” as a great little lost funk rock gem. One thing is clear to anyone upon first listen: These guys could PLAY. Particularly with Holland and Galley, what they did later really was only the tip of the iceberg that is Trapeze. Hughes is in fabulous voice, at the very peak of his vocal powers, and this is essential listening for fans of the man that the Japanese call “The God of Voice”.

3.5/5 stars. A pleasantly perfect example of great 70’s soul/funk/rock!

#380: Custom Priest Box Set Mania!

THE BEST FUCKING COLLABORATION WEEK EVER

Alas, it’s the end of THE BEST FUCKING COLLABORATION WEEK EVER!* I made a five disc Judas Priest box set for Aaron a while ago.  Let’s take a close look at the tracks.  Dig in!

Aaron: Custom Priest Box Set Mania!

priest

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#380: Custom Priest Box Set Mania!

I’ve known Aaron, your incredible co-host over at the KeepsMeAlive website, for almost 20 years.  For most of those 20 years we haven’t lived in the same town, so we kept in touch via email, text messages, and physical mail.  It wasn’t that long ago that we were sending each other parcels semi-regularly, including musical gifts and mix CDs.  Mix CDs are an art that we both take very seriously.

At one point Aaron had expressed interest in hearing more Judas Priest, so I took it upon myself to create a custom box set, by me, for him.  The official Metalogy box set is pretty good, but as I said in my review for it, “just not the box set that I would have made given the opportunity.”  Aaron gave me the opportunity so I decided to out-do Metalogy and go for a full five discs, and update him to the then-current Priest album Nostradamus.

I found a track listing that I drafted for that very set.  The final CDs that I made for him may have differed, because I was rough-guessing my disc times here.  As close as I have records of, this is the box set that I burned for Aaron.  Let’s take a look at it disc by disc and see how it holds up.

Rocka Rolla – The Old Grey Whistle Test

DISC 1

1. One For The Road
2. Rocka Rolla
3. Diamonds and Rust
4. Dreamer Deceiver
5. Deceiver
6. Cheater
7. Caviar and Meths
8. Prelude
9. Tyrant
10. Dissident Aggressor
11. Better By You, Better Than Me
12. Race With The Devil
13. Stained Class
14. Beyond The Realms of Death
15. Exciter
16. Delivering The Goods
17. Rock Forever
18. Burnin’ Up
19. The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown)
20. Take On The World
21. Hell Bent For Leather

In my Metalogy review, I complained about the absence of “Rocka Rolla” and “One For the Road”.  I have fixed that oversight here, but at the cost of “Never Satisfied”.  It’s not the perfect trade-off.  The ending to “Never Satisfied” was as epic as early Priest got, so it is a win for a loss.  I replaced the live “Diamonds and Rust” with the studio version though, so that is a good thing for a listener like Aaron.  I like that I included the rare “Race With the Devil”, a cover of The Gun.  There is also a healthy dose of Hell Bent for Leather/Killing Machine.  I’m not sure what I was thinking with the track order, but I probably modified that before I burned the final CD.


When the Tax Man comes for Priest’s money, he loses his head and pants!

DISC 2

1. Victim of Changes (Live)
2. Sinner (Live)
3. The Ripper (Live)
4. Breaking The Law (Live)
5. You Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise
6. Living After Midnight
7. The Rage
8. Desert Plains
9. Heading Out To The Highway
10. Troubleshooter
11. Turnin’ Circles
12. Riding On The Wind
13. (Take These) Chains
14. Bloodstone
15. You Got Another Thing Comin’
16. Devil’s Child
17. The Hellion / Electric Eye (Live)
18. Steeler (Live)

I see here that I included the live versions of “The Ripper” and “Victim of Changes”.  I suppose that I left these on, because Unleashed in the East is such a critical live album.  It simply must be represented on a box set like this, so I chose to keep a few songs, some of the best ones.  I also like to include rare tracks, so I snagged the live “Steeler” from the radio broadcast CD called Concert Classics. I see a lot of personal favourites on this CD, especially from Screaming for Vengeance. Pretty damn fine disc!

In the dead of night, Love Bites

DISC 3

1. Love Bites
2. Jawbreaker
3. Rock Hard Ride Free
4. The Sentinel
5. Some Heads Are Gonna Roll
6. Night Comes Down (Live)
7. Heavy Duty
8. Defenders of the Faith
9. Turbo Lover
10. Parental Guidance
11. Reckless
12. Out In The Cold (Live)
13. Metal Gods (Live)
14. Freewheel Burning (Live)
15. Ram It Down
16. Hard As Iron
17. Blood Red Skies

From Defenders of the Faith to Ram it Down, the 80’s can be a tricky period of Judas Priest to navigate. This third CD could have been the worst. I opened with the studio version of “Love Bites”, where Metalogy utilized an unreleased live version. I think it makes a great disc opener. For rarities I went with the live “Night Comes Down” instead, a great version from the Priest Re-Masters.  I also had to represent Priest…Live! from this era, so I chose its dramatic concert opener “Out in the Cold” as a live version.  The live version of “Metal Gods” from that album is more melodic than others, so I went with it too.  I look at this disc as some of the very best Priest from this period.

Priest with Ripper – Blood Stained, live in London

DISC 4

1. Heart of a Lion (Demo)
2. Painkiller
3. Hell Patrol
4. One Shot at Glory
5. Jugulator
6. Rapid Fire ‘98
7. Burn In Hell
8. A Touch of Evil (Live)
9. Blood Stained (Live)
10. One On One
11. Feed On Me
12. What’s My Name
13. Running Wild (Live)
14. The Ripper (Live)
15. Diamonds and Rust (Live)
16. The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown) ‘98

There it is! “Heart of a Lion” is one of the best rare Priest demos, only available on the Metalogy box set, but recorded in the Turbo era.  It would make a good disc opener, but following it with “Painkiller”?  I’m not sure about my transition there.  It could be like a sledgehammer of awesome, or it could be an awkward stumble.  I think the most difficult mixture of different periods has to be the sudden change of lead singers.  When Tim “Ripper” Owens replaced Rob Halford on 1997’s Jugulator, the band’s sound changed.  That’s probably why I chose a remake of the oldie “Rapid Fire” to be one of the first Ripper songs on this CD.  There are also plenty of live versions here of old Priest classics, from the various live albums Priest did with Ripper.  “Blood Stained” was a live take on a new Ripper song, from their ’98 Live Meltdown album.  I think it’s vastly superior to the original version on Jugulator.   “What’s My Name” is included as a rare B-side from the Japanese version of Demolition.  On the whole I think this is a pretty good CD representing a difficult period in Priest history, and in hindsight it could use more tracks from Painkiller.

The Hellrider, live — same version that I used

DISC 5

1. Judas Rising
2. Revolution
3. Worth Fighting For
4. Demonizer
5. Angel
6. Hellrider (Live)
7. Between the Hammer & the Anvil (Live)
8. Eat Me Alive (Live)
9. Dawn of Creation
10. Prophesy
11. Revelations
12. Death (Live)
13. Persecution
14. Calm Before The Storm
15. Nostradamus

I remember having a really hard time with this disc. I wanted to give Nostradamus a fair shake, but as a double concept album it didn’t lend itself well to chopping up into bits for a mix CD.  By the time I got to this mix CD, all I had left to include were two studio albums (Angel of Retribution and Nostradamus) and a live album (A Touch of Evil) to utilize.  The version of “Hellrider” from that live album is among my favourite tracks due to Rob Halford’s over the top screaming.  This disc doesn’t appear to have any rarities among its tracks.  Not a bad disc but I think I could have done better here.

I remember having difficulty burning the CDs to my satisfaction.  There was some quirk happening with my Nero version, and ultimately I just abandoned the project and sent the discs to Aaron.  Apparently I didn’t even bother making a track list or covers for him.

Making mix CDs to my own satisfaction is a lot of work.  I know I sunk a lot of time into this Priest set, ripping the discs and meticulously choosing the songs.  Ultimately though, it was just fun to hand pick the Judas Priest songs to help Aaron in his exploration of this awesome band.

Monday: QUIET RIOT – Metal Health
Tuesday: DANKO JONES – Born A Lion
Wednesday: Aaron’s Black Crowes B-sides
Thursday: THE CULT – Pure Cult: The Singles 1984-1995

* Not the last collaboration, however.  Stay tuned.

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Metalogy (2004 box set)

Would you care for an Epic Review with your morning tea?

JUDAS PRIEST – Metalogy (2004 Sony 4CD/1DVD limited edition box set)

Q: Who would release a box set dressed up in faux-leather and studs?
A: Who else? PRIEST!

This five disc set (4 CD/1 DVD) compiles a generous sampling of Judas Priest’s music over the decades, from Rocka Rolla (1974) to Demolition (2002). While the tracklist is far from perfect in my eyes (where’s “Rocka Rolla”, “One For the Road”, the studio version of “Victim Of Changes”, “The Ripper”, etc?) it does provide some previously unreleased live versions (both B-sides and never-before-released) and a completely unreleased demo. It’s not a bad set. Just not the one I would have made personally given the opportunity.*

IMG_20150301_071946With insanely great fortune, I got this box set (a limited edition by the way; reissues lack the DVD) in mint condition but used at my own store! One of my favourite sellers, a customer named Conrad sold it to me only a short time after release.  I don’t know why and I don’t care.  I was just glad to have it affordably.  I loved the packaging and there was that unreleased demo that I was eager to finally hear.    Also, Metalogy was the first anthology style box set from Priest and I wanted to hear how it played out.

The unreleased song is the awesome hard rock track “Heart of a Lion”, demoed for Turbo back in ’85. You may have heard this one in re-recorded form on Halford’s live album Insurrection. It was also recorded back in the 80’s by a young band called Racer X, starring Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big) on guitar, and a drummer by the name of Scott Travis! It was a surprise to me that “Heart of a Lion” was not released on the Priest Re-masters series; obviously they were deviously saving it for something later, like this box set.

Some of the live versions are exclusive to this set. Two newly released versions included a 1981 radio broadcast of “Green Manalishi” (unfortunately, meaning the studio track isn’t on here). There is also an unreleased broadcast version of “Love Bites” from ’86.  In addition to these, there are a few live tracks taken from old single B-sides. Unfortunately I already have all Priest’s B-sides, on a Japanese compilation called Priest Live & Rare.

The biggest weakness with this box set is that it tragically loses steam right at the end. In 2002 when the last original Priest music had been recorded, Rob Halford had yet to rejoin the band and Ripper Owens was still the current singer. The box ends with four Ripper tunes, and not necessarily the best ones. “Jugulator” is an undeniable inclusion, but there is a feeling of anticlimax. Leaving an exciting and unheard track like “Heart of a Lion” for last would have ended set on an up note.  (Perhaps Priest could have included some Ripper-era rarities to add some value and excitement — there were a few songs available.)

METALOGY_0002Judas Priest Live (DVD)

The limited edition DVD, cleverly called Judas Priest Live, has since been released on its own. This is the old Judas Priest Live video, also known as Live Vengeance ’82, from the Screaming for Vengeance tour (Memphis Tennessee).  It’s one of those music videos that you probably remember seeing back in the day. It’s quintessential early 80’s live Priest — all black leather and shiny studs. The setlist leans heavily on Screaming and British Steel, with classics throughout.  The stage is pretty bare, just some girders and a Screaming for Vengeance flag in behind.

This concert has been remixed for DVD, in both stereo and 5.1 surround.  I have read some complaints from fans that guitar overdubs were added to some tracks.  I listened intently but could not conclude one way or the other that any tampering was done.

A pre-recorded “Hellion” acts as intro music; Priest emerge onstage amidst lasers and smoke to play “Electric Eye”.  Halford is  the caricature of himself, bearing a bullwhip, and looking something like the biker from the Village People.  Nevertheless, a young Rob Halford slowly and deliberately commands the stage, powerful voice cracking but getting the job done.  Tipton and Downing are on the flanks, tearing into “Riding on the Wind” next.  The pulse of Ian Hill and Dave Holland, plain is it may be, is metronomically precise.  The video is shot and edited to my taste; lots of closeups although the light flaring is distracting.  (J.J. Abrams did not direct the video though!)  KK Downing makes some of the best “guitar faces” this side of Nigel Tufnel.

“Heading Out to the Highway” brings the speed down from the breakneck pace.  This mid-tempo classic has long been a favourite, although at the time it was only a year old!  Three songs in, and Priest had not yet played anything from British Steel or before!  The confidence in their new material is refreshing.  Rob treats us to some hilarious dancing, but I admit I’d kill for a leather vest like that, with the bird from Screaming emblazoned on the back!  Fear not though, as “Metal Gods”, a British Steel classic, is next.  Rob’s robot dance gets my nod for “favourite moment of the concert”.

Back to new songs, the sharp guitars and robotic pulse of “Bloodstone” gets fists pumping in the air.  The cameras are not wasted on audience shots (I’d rather see the band), but you can see the crowd digging the new material as much as the old.  They really like “Breaking the Law” though, which has a blazing intensity.  Then it’s back to the stone ages:  KK Downing’s guitar showcase “Sinner”.  This killer song loses something with Holland on drums, but it’s more about KK anyway.  His solo is resplendent, but Rob nails the screams!  “Desert Plains” is faster than the Point of Entry version but more powerful.  This is one that Dave Holland is well suited to, and the Hill/Holland pulse is fully apparent.

IMG_20150228_184258Here’s something you don’t hear at Judas Priest concerts anymore: Rob screaming at the crowd, “Are you high?  Sing yeah!”  As a kid, I naively assumed Rob meant high on the music, the adrenaline of the concert, and I’m sure that’s the answer he’d give to the press if asked about it. As a cynical adult, I’m sure he meant “Are you high?” as in “Are you high?”!

All the way back to Sad Wings, “a little Victorian melodrama for you,” it’s “The Ripper”!  Some stage bombs help out with the drama, and Rob sinks his teeth into the words. It’s an absolutely metal-perfect ode to Jack himself.   “Diamonds and Rust” is an unexpected treat, as glimmery as it was on Sin After Sin.

Rob takes a moment to tell the crowd that there are cameras all over the place because they’re making the very first “Judas Priest movie”, and possible live album.  Still waiting on that live album today, Rob!  Back to the new album, it’s “Devil’s Child”, which Rob imbues with a strange monotone during the verses.  This exact version was released as a bonus track on the remastered Screaming For Vengeance.  As such it’s familiar to me and I enjoy the vocal twist.  “Screaming for Vengeance” continues the onslaught of new songs, concluded by the chugging fan favourite “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”.

Closing the set with “Victim of Changes” is a suitably dramatic end.  “Victim” is spot-on, and Rob is as animated as he gets.  Headbanging away, Downing and Tipton are at his sides, while Ian Hill stands bolted to the stage, swaying his bass back and forth hidden behind a cloud of smoke!  This brilliant version has all the twists and turns you expect, and that end scream is so satisfying even if Rob misses the note by several notches.

“The Green Manalishi” rears its leather-studded head in the encores, but not before the big hit, “Living After Midnight”.  And let’s not forgot Rob’s boring “Oh yeah!” chant-along.  Thankfully this version of “Green Manalishi” is a killer (as is the 1981 live version on CD 1 of this box set).  “What you sayin’ Memphis?” screams Rob, before KK and Glenn dig in to their trademark solos.  “Green Manalishi” remains to this day an example of a song improved as a cover version, with all due respect to Peter Green.

It ain’t over ’til the bike comes out, and it does on “Hell Bent for Leather”.  Rob sits reclined on his Harley, bullwhip back in hand, commanding the masses.  After dozens of power chords and crashed cymbals, it’s finally over — 95 minutes of Judas Priest fury, at the height of their 1980’s power.  Not bad for a little bonus DVD (video quality issues aside), and worth picking up separately if you feel so inclined.

In closing

Review the track list yourself, see what you have and what you want, amd buy accordingly. I can tell you that this set was worth it for me for “Heart of a Lion” and the unreleased live material.  The DVD was gravy.

4/5 stars

* foreshadowing!

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Concert Classics (also known as Live in Concert)

CONCERT CLASSICS_0001JUDAS PRIEST – Concert Classics (1998 RME, recorded 6/25/1980)

I was surprised to see this album was reissued in 2007 as Live in Concert. When I got it back in 1998, the record label was immediately served with a “cease and desist” because Priest had just released their own official ’98 Live Meltdown album, and this one isn’t authorized by the band. It’s a radio broadcast from 1980, the British Steel tour.  It doesn’t even have the right drummer pictured on the back!  The album was swiftly deleted and disappeared from store shelves, and most fans didn’t know it had come and gone. (Also, at the exact same time, Sony issued another compilation called Priest Live and Rare, further muddifying the clarification.)  After it was deleted, I acquired this CD from Tom who had just opened his own branch of the Record Store.  I paid $19.99, used.

As an unofficial part of the Priest discography, In Concert is worth picking up. Although Priest had released the live Unleashed in the East in 1979, Concert Classics was recorded in 1980 after British Steel.  Therefore, a lot of crucial future Priest classics had been added to the set.  You can’t argue with the tunes inside. Recorded live in Denver (you can tell this when Halford yells, “What you say, Denver!” right before the guitar solo in “Green Manalishi”), some of these tracks are lost gems. It’s nice to have the CD alongside Unleashed, as a companion.

CONCERT CLASSICS_0003The sound quality is OK, it’s not up to the standards of Unleashed (obviously). The vocals are not mixed loud enough.  The bass on the other hand is mixed way too loud, and Ian Hill is not that interesting as a bassist.  The band is also not the same lineup as the year before, due to the replacement of Les Binks by Dave Holland. Holland is a very blocky, robotic drummer. Play “Green Manalishi” for an idea of how the two drummers differ.  Priest with Holland was that much weaker for it.  I don’t think anyone would argue the point that Priest sound better without Dave Holland on drums.

Having said that, the rest of the band are playing great, and Halford’s voice was in fine, peak shape. He was able to hit all the notes in “The Ripper”.  He didn’t quite nail the one on “Victim of Changes”, but he was close!  This doesn’t sound like there were any overdubs or other assorted mess-arounds. Which is the way I like it.

Other notables:  No “Metal Gods” (although the concert opens with the metal hammering sound from that song).  “You Don’t Have to be Old to be Wise” is a nice surprise, and it sounds great live!  There are plenty of tunes from Sad Wings and British Steel, a trio from Hell Bent, and samplings from Sin After Sin and Stained Class.  The set list is well rounded.

3/5 stars. Somewhat collectible, since Priest would probably like this CD to be buried. Good tunes, and an important era of Priest history documented on CD for the metal historian.

CONCERT CLASSICS_0002

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Painkiller (1990)

PAINKILLER_0001JUDAS PRIEST – Painkiller (Remastered, 1990 Sony)

In the late 80’s, after the robotic Priest…Live! and the false start that was Ram It Down, a lot of metal fans wrote off Judas Priest as a vital metal band.

They were a tad premature.

Perhaps it was Halford inking a few too many tattoos into his noggin, perhaps it was the long overdue departure of Dave Holland on drums, or maybe they were just pissed off. The band had spent the summer of 1990 defending themselves in the United States against accusations of murder. Not directly, but through “backwards messages” supposedly embedded on the ancient Stained Class album.* It was a show trial designed to blame bad parenting on someone else. But the band triumphed, and came back meaner and angrier than ever before.

Having written songs with a drum machine, Priest now needed a new drummer.  They selected Scott Travis of Racer X, the band that also spawned Paul Gilbert among others.  Travis, an American, was on board and the band bunked down in the studio with veteran producer Chris Tsangarides.  What resulted from this potent mix was the best record they’d done since at least Defenders, if not far earlier. Decks had been cleared, the band meant business. Travis threw down the double bass, a thrash metal sound previously unexplored by Judas Priest.  While looking forward, the album also distilled the sounds of Priest over the last 10 years.  It  put the turntable from 33 1/3 all the way up to 45 rpm.

PAINKILLER_0002This is over-the-top metal, shiny and mean. Halford’s screaming higher and harder than any time before, almost to the point of caricature, but not quite. This chrome plated beast blew away all reasonable expectations. Tipton and Downing still thought they were interesting enough guitar players to do lead break credits on every album, but it’s a touch I like. Tipton is the more experimental one and Downing the fast and reckless one. As a combo it works; the solos are interesting, adrenaline packed and suitable to the songs.

PAINKILLER_0004The production is loud and clear; at the time I felt this was one of the best produced metal albums I’d ever heard. The drums are so loud and clear that it hurts.  Travis is doing some serious steppin’ on the double bass. To steal a phrase from Halford, this is “primo thrash metal”. More accurately, speed metal.

Almost every song is worthy. Only a few fall flat. Painkiller was more about the overall direction than individual songs,  Yes, the lyrics are cartoony, but “Nightcrawler” takes it too far and is too repetitive with a spoken word section that should have been chopped. Also embarassing is “Metal Meltdown”, a speed metal blaster that tries but fails to be as dramatic as “Painkiller” itself.  On the positive side are the incendiary title track (still classic today), the ballad “A Touch of Evil”, and the riff-by-riff metal of “Leather Rebel”, “Hell Patrol” and “All Guns Blazing”.  You wouldn’t expect an album like Painkiller to have a lot of melody, but some of these tracks may surprise you.

Bonus tracks are the out-of-place “Living Bad Dreams” (a ballad which spoils the record) and an inferior live cut of “Leather Rebel”.

Still, quite the album!.  It really gets the blood pumping, even today. I wish it came with a DVD with the insane video of the title track. Check that out if you want to have a sweat.   A mighty if imperfect return.

4.5/5 stars

* The song in question, “Better By You, Better Than Me”, was pointedly re-released as a B-side on Priest’s next single, “Painkiller”.

REVIEW: Judas Priest – British Steel (30th Anniversary Edition, pt. 1)

Part one of two.  Today we’ll be looking at Judas Priest’s landmark album British Steel.  Tomorrow, the second and third discs of the 30th Anniversary Edition:  British Steel live!

JUDAS PRIEST – British Steel (30th Anniversary Edition, 2010 Sony)

Man, does this make me feel old. Back in my highschool days when I first got serious collecting music, British Steel was a must-have. It was considered the quintessential Priest platter, and even back then when it was only in the recent past, it still had all the makings of a classic. Then, on its 30th (!) anniversary in 2010, it was given the treatment it deserves, perhaps not the exact treatment we dreamed of, but it is certainly satisfying enough.

I’ve bought British Steel five times now. First was my original cassette back in highschool. Then I picked up a used vinyl, probably from a co-worker named Chris that was purging all his metal (for shame, but I got a lot of Priest from him). I bought the remastered CD (with bonus tracks) when it came out in 2001, then a 180 gram vinyl reissue a couple years ago. Let’s just say I’ll be really pissed off if Priest decide to do a 35th anniversary edition.

Disc one appears to be the same audio as the 2001 remaster. The credits are not clear, but that would be logical since the CD is identical down to the two included bonus tracks. These are a live version of “Grinder” from an unknown tour, and the completely unrelated “Red, White & Blue”. This song has no place on the album as it was written and recorded for the Turbo/Ram It Down sessions in the late 80’s. I’m not sure why it was retained for this 30th anniversary edition; it seems sloppy to leave it.

My original cassette edition of British Steel had a different track order. “Breaking the Law” commenced the set, so it is still shocking to me to hear British Steel open with “Rapid Fire”. Beginning with your heaviest guns can be a big gamble. “Rapid Fire” was borderline thrash metal, before that term had really been coined. The brutal lyrics are among Halford’s most enjoyable to listen to due to clever internal rhymes:

“Wielding the axe comes the one culmination
That’s always seemed certain to bring down the curtain on greed
Sifting the good from the bad it’s the age for the rage
Of the dogs which must fall to the just and be free.”

Unfortunately “Rapid Fire” also introduces the big problem with British Steel and every Judas Priest album for the next decade: The robotic combination of producer Tom Allom and new drummer Dave Holland (ex-Trapeze). Where Priest had enjoyed the lyrical swing from great drummers such as Simon Phillips and Les Binks, they had chosen Holland to usher in the 1980’s. Coming from a funk rock band such as Trapeze, I’m still not sure how Priest arrived at Holland. His style is certainly not to my taste. While he is known for some simple but tasty fills from time to time, as far as I’m concerned a drum machine could have done the same job.

The second track is the classic “Metal Gods”, complete with the banging of silverware on Ringo Starr’s kitchen countertops to simulate the marching of a robot army. On a track like this, Holland’s robotic rhythm works perfectly. “Breaking the Law”, made immortal by Beavis and Butthead, is a song every metal fan should know. Though heavy, it was simpler and more accessible than much of the music Priest had recorded before.

Some of Priest’s worst lyrics can be found on “Grinder”. It’s too bad because “Grinder” has a cool relentless beat. But I just can’t sing along to “Grinder, looking for meat. Grinder, wants you to eat.” On the other hand, I do love lines like, “Got no use for routine, I shiver at the thought. Open skies are my scene, this boy won’t get caught.”

“United” is a cool slow anthem, marked by Dave Holland’s echoey drums. I always considered it a brother song to “Take On All the World” from Killing Machine. It has a similar vibe and direction. On the original LP, it appropriately closed side one.

Side two was introduced by “You Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise”. You gotta love that title. This is a pretty standard hard rocker, catchy and strong. It also fits with the more accessible direction of British Steel in general. Following it is the ultimate Priest single “Living After Midnight”. I still enjoy this song. I enjoyed it when I was a kid, and it was the theme song for the WWF tag team, the Mightnight Rockers (later The Rockers: Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty)! It’s one of those songs that everybody knows.

“The Rage” was estimated by bassist Ian Hill as one of only two bass intros he got to play. It’s a slow groove, angry musically and lyrically. The guitar solos absolutely complete this song as the classic that it is. From slow to fast, “Steeler” is next, the final song of the original nine. KK and Glen throw down some serious guitars on top of this scorcher. Lyrically, the title seems to be quite blunt as to what this song is about. Sounds like Priest are pissed off about being robbed, as so many bands were:

“Check for decoys, stay sharp edged,
Double crossers get your head,
Carpet baggers bluff and strike,
Kiss of Judas, spider like.”

What a statement to end an album like British Steel on, as it crashes to a close on one final power chord.

…Only to be followed by “Red, White & Blue” which sounds absolutely silly and out of place by comparison. I don’t think it would have been a good song if it were included on Turbo or Ram It Down where it belonged, and it’s definitely not a good song on British Steel. I don’t know how to describe it but to say it’s definitely of outtake quality.

Then from Long Beach, California comes “Grinder” live. This is probably from 1984, Defenders of the Faith tour. It’s interesting to compare the live versions on discs one and two, since it’s so many years later. There is no question Rob’s voice has changed, but that’s stating the obvious.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the live portion of this 30th anniversary set. Be sure to come back then, or better yet subscribe! As for British Steel?

4/5 stars

1. “Rapid Fire”
2. “Metal Gods”
3. “Breaking the Law”
4. “Grinder”
5. “United”
6. “You Don’t Have to Be Old to Be Wise”
7. “Living After Midnight”
8. “The Rage”
9. “Steeler”
2001 bonus tracks
10. “Red, White & Blue”
11. “Grinder”

BRITISH 30

Part 272: Priest Week – The Re-Masters

PRIEST WEEK

It’s the end of PRIEST WEEK! It was all Judas Priest all week, and what better way to end it then with a 12 CD remastered box set?
Monday:  Rocka Rolla (1974)
Tuesday: Priest…Live! (1987)

Wednesday: Metal Works 73-93 (1993)
Thursday: Demolition (2001 Japanese version)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

RECORD STORE TALES Part 272:  PRIEST WEEK – The Re-Masters

When Judas Priest began reissuing their albums in 2001 (in three waves of four CDs each), of course I had to have all 12.  I’ve been a fan of the band since I was a kid, and my complete Judas Priest collection has always brought me much joy.  Priest’s “Re-masters” series included all the studio and live albums from 1977’s Sin After Sin to 1990’s Painkiller.  Each was expanded with two bonus tracks, with the exception of the live albums.  Unleashed in the East contained the four bonus tracks from the Japanese Priest in the East release (which I already had) and Priest…Live had three extra songs.  (Today, there is a new budget box set that collects the entire Halford era into one box called The Complete Albums Collection.)

In late 2001, local record store legend Al “the King” dropped into my store to sell some discs.  Nimble-minded readers will recall that on day 1 of Priest Week, Al King sold me my vinyl copy of Rocka Rolla in 1989!  Al now worked at another store in town called Encore Records.  Al’s a good guy.  He didn’t see us so much as competition, because really we catered to different groups of people.  There were certain discs that Al couldn’t sell at Encore (pop and mainstream stuff), and he knew I would give him the fairest prices in town, so he came to me.  It was a good mutually beneficial arrangement.  I wanted his stock and he wanted the money!

On this afternoon, I chatted with Al while going through his discs, and he informed me of a forthcoming Priest collectible.

“It’s expensive,” he began, “but it does look cool.  It’s a UK import.  I sold one to this really excited guy, but Mark’s trying to order another one in.  If you want it no problem, but fair warning, it’s not cheap.”

“Tell me more!” I said to Al.

PRIEST WORKINGThe details were scant.  The box set was titled The Re-Masters, and it contained four CDs with room for the other eight, sold separately.  The CDs included with the box were the first four of the Columbia years:  Sin After Sin, Stained Class, Killing Machine (Hell Bent for Leather) and Unleashed in the East.  It was an attractive box, printed to look like it is held together by metal rivets.  There was also supposed to be a booklet included.  At the time, I was obsessed with collecting the “best” versions of anything.  This meant having all the songs, and the best packaging available.  I asked Al to hold the box for me.  At various points in the conversation, I felt like Al was trying to talk me out of buying it due to the price!  What Al didn’t understand was my deep obsession for this band.

A few days later I headed down to Encore and bought my treasure.  I eagerly opened it up and discovered one little additional bonus!  Nothing major, but cool enough for me:  the four CDs included had embossed silver logos on both front and back covers, instead of the regular printed ones.  This differentiated the discs from the versions I could buy separately at retail.  Also, Hell Bent for Leather was indeed included under the UK name Killing Machine, something I hadn’t seen on CD before. Finally, once all 12 discs were collected, together the CD spines read JUDAS PRIEST and depicted their “devil’s tuning fork” logo.  The spaces for the 8 discs sold separately were taken up by individual foam spacers.

Back covers with silver embossed “tuning fork” logo, and without.

The bonus tracks were a mixed bag of live and demo songs from all over Priest history, but some, such as “Race With the Devil” (The Gun cover) were incredible and classic.  One by one, I added to the set.  Some discs came in used rather quickly:  Point of Entry was one such disc.  Others I had to order via Amazon, or buy in-store at Encore, such as Turbo and Painkiller.  But I did get them all, and my complete Priest Re-Masters set has served me well for over a decade now.  Although I have since bought the newer deluxe editions of Screaming for Vengeance and British Steel (with bonus DVDs) I have felt no need to replace this box set with anything else.  Having to buy the discs individually and complete it myself makes it rare to find, not to mention the box was made only in small numbers.  Some fans expected more out of the box set, and some were upset that the Gull Records and Ripper Owens years are not represented inside, even though Ripper was still the current singer.  My attitude was and is, “Who cares?”  It’s a great looking set and it comprises a complete era of Priest.  I like it a lot and according to Al King I’m one of two guys in town that own it.  Cool.