Defenders of the Faith

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)

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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.

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REVIEW: Judas Priest – Metal Works 73-93

PRIEST WEEK

Its PRIEST WEEK!  
Monday:  Rocka Rolla (1974)
Tuesday: Priest…Live! (1987)

JUDAS PRIEST – Metal Works 73-93 (1993)

1973 to 1993? But didn’t the first album (Rocka Rolla, which has no songs on this CD) come out in 1974? Doesn’t this CD only actually include music from 1977-1990?  And didn’t Al Atkins form the original Judas Priest in 1969?  1973 was the year that Atkins left to be replaced by Rob Halford, who himself quit in 1992. So, 1973-1993? OK, I guess I’ll play along.

METAL WORKS_0005Due to complications and conflicts with Gull Records, Metal Works 1973-1993 contains no songs from the first two albums (the aforementioned Rocka Rolla and Sad Wings of Destiny). Instead, a live version (from Unleashed in the East) of “Victim of Changes” is subbed in to represent the early period of the Priest. After that, every album is given a look-see.

Aside from the tracks that couldn’t be included for legal reasons, it is hard to argue with most of this track list. It is a near-perfect representation of pre-Ripper Priest, with the odd track I’d swap out for another, but more or less awesome all the way through. Personally I think “Night Crawler” is and pretty much always has been an excessively cheesy song…like sharp cheddar. I would have put on something else from Painkiller, like “Between The Hammer and the Anvil” or the battering “Hell Patrol”.  

Most conspicuous by its absence is “Green Manalishi”. Maybe the band decided not to include a cover (Fleetwood Mac), even if it’s one of the best things that Priest have ever recorded.   I think “Green Manalishi” today is equally associated with Priest than Fleetwood Mac, if not more so by a hair.  It may as well be their own song.

Many longtime personal faves are included: I love “Bloodstone”, “Desert Plains”, “Night Comes Down”, and “Blood Red Skies”.  These are songs that weren’t necessarily “hits”, but were huge hits with my teenage self.  There’s one inclusion that bugs me, and that’s “Headed Out to the Highway”.  I love that song, but unfortunately somebody chose to use the Priest…Live! version over the original Point of Entry track.  Furthermore, none of the live substitutions are listed as such on the back cover.  There is no indication on the back that any songs are anything but the original.  I consider that dishonest.

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The liner notes are interesting for a quick read; tales from four of Judas Priest’s members (Rob, Ian, KK and Glenn) for each of the songs. Nothing earth shattering, just some fun brief stories. It’s interesting, however, how Priest completely glossed over Rob’s departure in the liner notes. Indeed, by reading, one would have no idea he was gone. A little misleading to the metal mongers of the time, especially with Rob about to debut his new band Fight a couple months later….

This 2 CD set is polished off with some fine artwork from Mark Wilkinson, tying in the “metal works” theme with a nod to Birmingham with some iconic characters and images from Priest covers past.  The Painkiller does battle with the bird of prey from Screaming For Vengeance, with lots going on in the background.

The summer of ’93 was loaded with expensive sets for metal fans to buy.  Ozzy Osbourne put out the double Live & Loud.  Van Halen released Live: Right Here, Right Now, also a 2 CD set.  Iron Maiden had two separate single disc live albums, followed by a double live in the fall.  That right there is a lot of cash to be spent, and that’s just a handful of essential purchases that fans had to choose from.   There was a ton of new music to buy, not including the grunge bands vying for our dollars that year.   Priest failed to deliver in terms of value.  Metal Works 73-93 was an expensive collection featuring no music fans didn’t have, and those darned live tracks.  It felt tossed off.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Priest…Live! (1987)

PRIEST WEEK

Its PRIEST WEEK!  Yesterday’s installment:  Rocka Rolla (1974).

JUDAS PRIEST – Priest…Live! (1987, 2001 Sony 2 CD remastered edition)

I have a long history with Priest…Live!  My cassette was originally bought at Stedman’s in Kincardine Ontario, July 1987.  An LP copy was sold to me by a co-worker named Chris from his own collection about a decade later.  Finally I bought a 2 CD remaster which is the last version I hope I’ll need.

Priest…Live!was my first Priest live album. I got the albums out of order: Defenders, Screaming, Turbo, Priest Live. Then, after discovering the pre-Screaming songs for the first time, I slowly began expanding backwards: Point of Entry, British Steel, Unleashed, Rocka Rolla, Sad Wings…

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Because of this album’s crucial role of introducing me to “old Priest”, I have a really hard time being critical about it. I will say this: This version of “Metal Gods” with the really melodic chorus is awesome. It’s my favourite version of this song, by a fair bit. I don’t know if that was live or overdubs or backing tapes or whatever. It sounds really cool.

Regardless of how I feel about “Metal Gods”, I can tell you that Priest Live covers pretty most all of the critical post-Unleashed numbers from 1980 (British Steel) to 1986 (Turbo). You get all the tracks you’d expect from the 1980’s: “Freewheel Burning”, “Turbo Lover”, “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”, “Living After Midnight”, “Heading Out To The Highway”. Clearly the concept here is to have no songs that overlap with the band’s previous live album, Unleashed in the East, a tactic used by other bands such as Kiss, on records like Kiss Alive II. While being fair to the fans economically speaking, as a live concert experience that means you’re missing out on “Green Manalishi”.

Luckily this remaster is now expanded to two CDs, and decked out with three bonus tracks including the crucial “Hell Bent For Leather”, but this remains the only holdover from the pre-1980 period.  While the home video/DVD version of Priest Live contains “Green Manalishi”, that video was taken from just one show (Dallas, Texas) while the CD has songs from an Atlanta concert as well.  Essentially the CD and DVD versions are two different things.  In addition to “Green Manalishi”, the DVD also has “Locked In” and “Desert Plains”.  Live versions of these songs do exist on Priest remasters, but they are different versions, not the Dallas recordings.

Live in Dallas, but not the version on the album.

I enjoy the running order.  To begin the concert with the mellow and dramatic “Out In the Cold” was a really cool, daring move.  It sets the stage for a dramatic concert.  From there it’s pedal to the metal:  “Heading Out to the Highway”, “Metal Gods”, “Breaking the Law”…

I know from an old Guitar World interview that KK and Glenn felt the album could have been mixed better, that too much time was spent “fixing it” in the mix. Sure enough the crowd noise sounds artificially enhanced and there are backing vocals that I am certain are not live. Otherwise, the record sounds pretty good!  But that could just be the nostalgia talking. The guitars could have had more teeth; it was the 80’s though. Dave Holland’s snare sound is in the annoyingly high range, but these are not major concerns. Halford’s interaction with the crowd is more friendly than usual, which is nice especially after viewing something like the Rising in the East DVD. He does do a couple annoying sing-alongs, with the crowd…I’m sure it was fun to be there, they’re not fun to listen to on headphones.

One more nostalgic point: I remember buying this back in that summer of the 1987 and thinking, “Why did Priest change their logo?” I loved the old logo. I never really thought this was a good album cover.  Very plain, which seemed to be the fashion in the late 80’s, a decade that Priest Live embraces without shame.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Halford – Resurrection (2000)

Part 5 in a miniseries on Rob Halford’s solo career!  Missed the last part?  Click here!

HALFORD – Resurrection (2000 Japanese edition, 2008 remastered edition)

Note:  There have been several versions of this CD.  The original CD and Japanese import versions had a certain tracklisting, but the track order was changed up a bit for the Remastered edition (see tracklists at bottom).  Since that’s the version that’s out right now, that’s what I’ve decided to review.  I got mine in a combo pack with the DVD, Resurrection World Tour Live at Rock in Rio III.  Rob has also retroactively started to number his solo albums; as such the remastered version is technically Halford 1: Resurrection.

Voyeurs by Two was not a mega seller regardless of the association with Trent Reznor and Nothing Records.  Rob needed to return to heavy metal or risk alienating his fanbase.

RESURRECTION_0005I think pretty much everyone was enthused by the title track and lead off single, “Resurrection”.  This wasn’t techno wizardry with whispery vocals.  This was heavy metal, with screams!  Although Rob was already headed in that direction at the end of Two, while working with Bob Marlette, it is Roy Z that drives this one single home.  Yes, Roy Z, the Roy Z that Bruce Dickinson utilized to collaborate on many a great solo album.  With Halford now drinking at the well of riffage that is Roy Z, “Resurrection” was bound to smoke.  And it does.  Take the sound of classic Judas Priest circa Painkiller, adjust for 10 years of sonic trends, stir in Roy Z, and you have “Resurrection”.  Rob makes sure you know he’s serious from the very opening, screaming as only he can.

What I dislike are the lyrics.  “I walked alone into a Fight”?  Rob, you weren’t alone, you had Scott Travis with you!  “I tried to look too far ahead, and saw the road lead to my past instead.”  In other words, sorry about the Two album, this is what I really want to be doing.

The first three tracks totally smoke, all falling somewhere in a Defenders/Painkiller vibe of Priestly goodness.  At first I didn’t like “Night Fall”, the fourth track, too much.  Its redeeming value is a great chorus, totally in the Defenders mold.

“Silent Screams” is one of the songs that Rob was working on with Marlette at the end of Two.  Rob was especially proud of this lengthy number, and he released a demo version of it for free on his official website.  The demo version is an evolution from Two.  It has screams (appropriately enough) and heavy guitar riffs.  The album version has a more emotional lead vocal and tones down the keyboards.  The song is a bit slow and ploddy to start with but it is epic in quality and it sure does rock by the halfway point!

The big gimmick on the album was the duet with Bruce Dickinson, “The One You Love to Hate”.  The connection is Roy Z, but obviously a matchup like this would generate much hype.  Arguably the two best singers in metal, together at last.  Bruce sounds great, holding his own against the Metal God, who sounds vintage 80’s.  I have to say I enjoyed this one a lot.  Shortly thereafter, there were rumours of a coming supergroup called the Three Tremors – Rob, Bruce, and Geoff Tate of Queensryche.  All three artists were touring together at the time, but this idea was never meant to be taken seriously.

RESURRECTION_0002“Cyber World” is fast and heavy but unfortunately also boring and skip-worthy.  Likewise, the groovier “Slow Down”.  Dull title, dull song.  I tend to think of Resurrection as losing steam on side 2.  I guess that’s why the remastered edition inserts the Japanese bonus track “Hell’s Last Survivor” right here.  Sounding something of a Screaming for Vengeance outtake, I think this was placed here to compensate for some of the weaker tracks.

“Temptation” is a little on the boring side, so two new tracks are inserted at this point for the remastered edition:  “God Bringer of Death” and “Fetish”.  In my opinion it doesn’t sound like they belong here.  Rob’s voice had changed a lot in the 8 years since, and the sound is more like later Halford albums.  Neither song is particularly notable.

On the other hand, “Sad Wings”, which was previously only on the Japanese version, is awesome.  It has a sharp riff and a chorus that is designed to remind you what band he was the singer of.  This is followed by “Twist” which sounds like maybe it had its origins in Two, but I like it a lot.  “Drive” is also pretty decent, and the album ends with “Saviour” which has an anthemic chorus.

Bottom line:  Pretty decent if a bit safe comeback.  Rob wasn’t treading any new ground here musically, but Roy Z never fails to class up any album he’s on.  His tasteful and blistering solo work is just marvelous.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Fight – Mutations (1994)

Part 2 of a miniseries on Rob Halford’s solo career!  If you missed Part 1, War of Words, then click here.

FIGHT – Mutations (1994 Epic collector’s edition, 2008 Metal God Entertainment reissue)

Released in late 1994, Mutations (subtitled “collector’s edition“, which really means nothing) was a live/remix CD to follow War of Words.  I seem to remember this being marketed as some sort of “extended EP” or some kind of not-album, which again is kind of meaningless.  The original release was 45 minutes, a full length album by most measures.

Live Fight!  Shame it was only four songs, as they absolutely kick ass.  Rob Halford was still in peak voice in 1994, and every high scream is present on opener “Into the Pit”.  Fight as a live band were less stiff than on the first album.  They were no less precise, and each song is just as ferocious as its album counterpart.  On “Nailed to the Gun”, bassist Jay Jay does the low death metal growls while Rob howls like a mad dog.

I was surprised that Rob put “Freewheel Burning” on the album, as he seemed to be trying to distance himself from his past at this time.  Its the only Priest song and I don’t think they played many Priest songs on the tour at all (but I know they did cover Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf”).  Surprisingly it’s here that Rob’s voice falters, struggling with the demanding song.  He redeems himself on the bluesy single “Little Crazy”.

I enjoy hearing live recordings from bands with two distinct lead guitar players trading off.  Russ Parrish and Brian Tilse were both very different stylistically, and the contrast is awesome.    The pace is aggressive, and these guys keep chugging on.  (Note:  Russ Parrish is not credited on this album.  He had left the band by the time of release, but there is no question that he did play on all these tracks.  Why he was not credited is a mystery, but he does appear on the remastered version cover art.)

FIGHT_0008I believe I am well on record as not being a fan of remixes in general.  There are exceptions but so many remixes add techno-crapola that often serves to reduce the songs to repetitive mockeries of themselves.  On a track like “War of Words” , they remove Scott Travis’ drums from sections, and replace him electronic beats.  At the time I thought, “Why would you want to replace Scott Travis with a drum machine?”  Today, it still bugs me.  But hey, those who doubted the sincerity of Rob’s industrial work with Trent Reznor in Two should remember these remixes!

FIGHT_0006I’ll be honest, I struggle getting through the remix side in one sitting.  There are some cool moments, such as the chance to hear isolated instruments and solos.  “Vicious” is an example of a remix that works for me.  It’s weird, it has an opera singer and dance beats added, but it’s pretty heavy and cool.   But in general, the Fight songs were simple and repetitive to begin with.  Making them simpler and more repetitive didn’t work for me.  Sure, I own some Nine Inch Nails albums, but this sound isn’t where my heart lies.

Goodie-goodie-gosh, Mutations was reissued as part of the Into the Pit box set, with two bonus tracks.  And these bonus tracks are (you guessed it) remixes.   More versions of “Kill It” and “War of Words”.  At least the “Culture of Corruption Mix” of “War of Words” is about half as long as the regular “Bloody Tongue Mix”.

Incidentally, why do remixes always have cliche sounding names?  “Bloody Tongue Mix”!  Raahhrr!  Why not…”Toothpaste Mix”.  Something original.  I think remixers should strive to be more original in the naming of their work.  Something nobody’s used yet.  “I’m Rob Halford and I Endorsed This Mix Mix”.

2/5 stars