fight

#597: This is the Painkiller

GETTING MORE TALE #597: This is the Painkiller

Two things happened in the summer of 1990 that changed my musical trajectory forever.

1. There were too many ballads out! It seemed the only thing rock bands were doing to have hits was write ballads. Some were good, such as the heartfelt “Something to Believe In” by Poison, or “More Than Words” by Extreme . Most faded into a generic, boring ballady backdrop. Remember Alias?  With all these rock bands putting out ballads, something had to give. If it wasn’t the ballads, it was limp albums with weak, over-commercial production.  I didn’t get into rock music for ballads.  I got into it for that rock and roll rush!

2. Judas Priest were currently in court, fighting two families who blamed the band for the deaths of their sons.

It was a high profile case.  Raymond Belknap and James Vance were two troubled young men who decided to take a shotgun to a park one night in 1985 and kill themselves. Both were into heavy metal music, but there was far more to the story. Abuse, drugs and alcohol certainly took their tolls on both.  James Vance survived, horrifically disfigured.

Vance stated, “I believe that alcohol and heavy-metal music such as Judas Priest led us to be mesmerized.” And so, Priest were taken to court.  (Vance did not testify, as he died in hospital in 1988 after a methadone overdose.)

The victims’ families blamed backwards messages on the band’s Stained Class album, which the two boys were listening to some time prior to the suicide attempt. Lawyers claimed there was a backwards “do it” embedded within the Judas Priest song “Better By You, Better Than Me”.

Given the fact that “do it” can mean anything from “do your homework,” to “get a gun out of the basement and shoot yourself,” that argument held little water.  In 2015, Miley Cyrus released a single called “Dooo It!”  Nobody died.

The band demonstrated in court that if you played another song backwards from the same album, you’d get a completely different message.  The chorus of “Exciter” is “Stand back for Exciter, salvation is his task.” Played backwards, Rob could heard singing what sounded like “I asked for her to get a peppermint, I asked for her to get one.”

You could tell from the look on the judge’s face that he knew the backwards messages were hooey.

Another flaw to the plaintiffs legal argument is that there is no scientific evidence that backwards messages in music can be detected by the brain and understood, let alone command you to take actions against your will.  Not to mention, as Ozzy Osbourne once observed, killing all your fans with hidden suicide messages isn’t a practical way to make a living as a musician.

That summer, the case made the newspapers daily, not to mention the evening broadcasts. It didn’t seem that Priest were likely to lose, but as a fan, I supported them vigorously. Trying to prove a point, I played the Stained Class album over and over again, without ever having the urge to get one of my father’s guns and put it in my mouth.  It was bizarre seeing television broadcasts of Rob Halford wearing a suit jacket, on the stand defending himself.  He even had to sing for the judge.  The point of this was to demonstrate how exhaling at the end of each sentence creates an audible sound.  “Better by you, better than meee-ah.”  Of course the band conducted themselves with the professionalism that the situation warranted. None of that changed the headlines. In the year 1990, the words “metal band” and “suicide” did not make for good headlines if you happened to be in one of those metal bands.  Being a fan was hard enough already, without seeing this stuff on TV after Cheers.

Arguments were wrapped and the verdict was revealed:  case dismissed.  Judas Priest resumed business as usual.

A week before school returned, Metal Edge magazine did a Priest article with loads of information on the forthcoming Judas Priest album. I bought the issue and devoured the article on my walk home.  I remember running into Trevor the future Security Guard on the way, and we flipped through the pages together.

The Metal Edge article returned the focus back to the music.  I knew that drummer Dave Holland was out, replaced by a guy named Scott Travis from Racer X. Travis was known for his speedy double bass work. The new album promised to be Priest’s heaviest yet. The trial had them seething. Songs like “Between the Hammer and the Anvil” were directly inspired by their court experience. In the interests of change and taking things heavier, long time producer Tom Allom was dropped. He was replaced by Chris Tsangarides who was an engineer on 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny.

It was clear that Judas Priest were intent on turning the ship around. 1986’s Turbo divided the fans with its synth-metal. 1988’s Ram It Down underperformed, with fans slagging the weak songs and sound in general. Ram It Down was not the “return to heavy” that the band promised and the fans craved, though it certainly did have three or four good and heavy songs. They would have to do better to reignite the weary fanbase.

Painkiller was the right album for the right time. While bands like Poison were eager to say, “Our new album is our heaviest yet,” when Priest said it, it actually meant something. Painkiller really did live up to the hype. A magazine ad claimed it was “Awesome! Backwards or forwards.”

MuchMusic debuted the new Judas Priest video “Painkiller” on a fall episode of the Pepsi Power Hour, co-hosted by Michael Wilton and Chris DeGarmo of Queensryche. They were on hand promoting their new album Empire. The Priest video was a rapid-fire assembly of black and chrome images, unholy screams, and the fastest drumming heard yet on a Priest single. When the video concluded, DeGarmo said he had to catch his breath!

I hit rewind, and watched that video over and over again.

Nobody else seemed to get it. My sister, who was a New Kids fan, hated it. She already hated Judas Priest but “Painkiller” took it to a new level. To deserve that kind of hate, Priest must have been on the right track. A lot of my school friends and rocker buddies also disliked the track, preferring the likes of Cinderella and Winger. That too was a good sign. I thought that to stay relevant, Priest needed to stay as far as away from those bands as possible. Priest chose Megadeth and Testament to open for them, both bands supporting new albums (Rust In Peace and Souls of Black). The tour began in Canada, but when they came to the UK they brought with them a band with a big future called Pantera.

The Painkiller cycle ended where it began, in Canada. The final date was on a package called Operation Rock & Roll (the name was a spoof of Operation Desert Storm).  The final date was Toronto, August 19 1991. Priest were second on the bill, following Motorhead and opening for Alice Cooper. Something strange happened that night. Rob Halford rode his Harley Davidson motorcycle on stage to start the show, but this time hit his head on a lighting rig. He was knocked out cold, while the band played the newly instrumental “Hell Bent for Leather”! Halford recovered in time for the second song, but it was Rob’s last appearance with the Priest for 13 years.  Earlier that day, Rob told MuchMusic’s Michael Williams that Priest were planning a 1992 “greatest hits” album.  This hits album would afford a nice well deserved break.

Rob didn’t plan on wasting his time, so he set to work on a new solo project, inspired by the heavy direction that metal was going on. If Painkiller was heavy, his new band Fight was even heavier. That Toronto show was the last time Rob saw his bandmates until the reunion.  The solo project led to a management dispute, and ultimately Rob’s resignation.

As Priest fractured, my own musical life blossomed, thanks to the fallout from Painkiller. Priest cracked open a heavy, iron door. Thrash bands like Testament had the metal goods that was the exact opposite of the wimpy music that I was getting sick of. Grunge came soon after, with a new kind of heavy. I ignored new releases by Enuff Z’Nuff, Trixter, Danger Danger, and even The Cult.  They weren’t going heavy like Priest did, and in some cases they went backwards. Other bands, like Skid Row, knew which way the wind was blowing and turned up the volume.

The 1990-1991 period of Priest history is one of the most interesting of their entire career. It featured a trial that could have had real freedom of speech consequences, if the verdict had gone the other way. The same time period introduced their longest serving drummer in Scott Travis, and Priest have since never recorded nor toured without him. Their music took a turn away from hard rock and back towards heavy metal, permanently. They toured with Megadeth (who were also on a roll musically), gave Pantera some exposure in Europe, and shared the stage with the legendary Alice Cooper. And it ended with a split that nobody saw coming; just one of many splits in 1992 that changed the face of metal for an entire decade.  Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, Judas Priest….

My own personal history was intertwined with Priest’s. It might be safe to say that in highschool, Judas Priest were my favourite band.  Their turn back towards heavy in 1990 changed everything for me. It was exactly what I wanted, by the exact band that I wanted to deliver it. Perfect simpatico!

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REVIEW: Fight – “Christmas Ride” (1994 single)

1db1835968cbc23429860145ff5 (1)FIGHT“Christmas Ride” (1994 single, 2009 free download reissue)

Some people think Halford III: Winter Songs was Rob’s first Christmas release.  Truth be told, I don’t even own Winter Songs.  Christmas music is barely just above tolerable for me.  The completist in me wants to own everything; the music lover in me doesn’t really care for Christmas tunes, metal or otherwise.  Besides, in 2009 Rob’s website was offering a limited time free download of “Christmas Ride”, a song Rob recorded in 1994 with Fight!  20 years ago!  Unreal.

Don’t let the jingle bells throw you.  That soon turns into revving engines, and a chugging Fight riff not too dissimilar from the stuff they did on War of Words.  This was, however, probably recorded during the Small Deadly Space sessions, because Mark Chaussee is credited on guitar, even though Russ Parrish appears on the cover.

Either way, it’s purely metal.  Rob is screaming in his upper register for all but the choruses, for which he howls.  There’s absolutely nothing Christmas-y about the music (which is fine) but I just can’t get into the chorus of “Christmas ride!”  The lyrics are funny enough.  Fight have paid tribute to Santa this time: “The fat man’s coming and he knows no fear, He’s a big red rebel with some mean reindeer.”  There’s even a reference to breakin’ the law: “Cruising ’round town breaking every law, He’ll come back next year to crank it up some more.”

I’m assuming Rob is referring to the crime of break & enter.  He may also be breaking various aviation laws, but I don’t know how that works.  I’ve never read about any charges being pressed, or warrants being issued, so I’m assuming that these minor infringements have been overlooked because of all the gift giving and so on.

But OK, it’s an alright song.  Nothing special, though it does quote the “Nailed to the Gun” riff at one moment.  It was released as a promo-only fanclub release in 1994, which I have never laid eyes upon.  The free download offer was a legal way for me to get the tune.  It also came with “Rob Halford’s Holiday Greeting” (11 seconds)! “Hey everybody, this is Rob Halford from Fight, wishing you all a crazy heavy metal Christmas and an insane, wild manic New Year!”  There I spoiled it for you.

Would love a physical copy of this, for the collection.  This is for fans only.  Grandma will not dig it if you play this at your Christmas dinner this year.

3/5 stars

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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

WTF Search Terms: More Rock and Roll edition

WTF Search Terms XII: More Rock and Roll edition

“Here We Go Again” with more WTF Search Terms!  Everything seen below is an actual search term, that a real person clicked to somehow get here to mikeladano.com.  As David Coverdale might say, “Here’s some rock and roll for ya!”

  1. jon mikl thor arnold the beatles greatness (One of these things is not like the other)
  2. russ parish is god (Good, yes, God, no.)
  3. buyers for kiss albulms (What you got?)
  4. taking the rush blu ray disc out of moving pictures deluxe edition (It’s not that difficult, guy.)
  5. queensryche take hold of the flame cheap trick lyrics (Again these things are not the same.)
  6. used t-120 vhs recording tapes for kids sing along (OK…)
  7. cherone nice good guy (I wouldn’t know?)
  8. marilyn manson sucks himself (No!  How many fucking times do I have to tell you!)
  9. iron maiden gone too soft (Bullshit.)
  10. the demon code prevents me from declining a rock off challenge lyrics (ACCEPTED!)

If you enjoyed this and would like to read more WTF Search Terms, please click here!

DEMON GROHL

REVIEW: Spacewalk – A Salute to Ace Frehley (1996)

Part 5 in a series on Ace Frehley!  Missed the last part, Trouble Walkin’?  Click here!

Spacewalk – A Salute to Ace Frehley (1996 DeRock/Triage)

Just in time for the massive Kiss reunion tour came this tribute CD.  There were several versions of this.  I have the second-coolest of the three:

  • Least cool:  Regular domestic 10 track CD.
  • Second coolest:  Import CD (Europe?) with brand new bonus track by Ace Frehley himself, called “Take Me To the City”
  • Most cool:  Japanese import CD with that and Sebastian Bach’s “Save Your Love”

This is one of those tributes made up of a mish-mash of metal musicians, no real “bands” so to speak, although all are great musicians.  Scott Travis plays drums on most of it (lending an awkward Priest-like vibe to the drums), Charlie Benate plays with Scott Ian on “Rip It Out”, and Vinnie Paul of course plays with Dimebag Darrel on “Fractured Mirror”.  (This site has all the information and credits for the CD.  Enjoy!  You’ll notice the backing band is basically Racer X on most tracks.)

I’m good with every track on here except one:  Bruce Bouillet’s version of “New York Groove”.  I’m not into drum loops in general, and although the track has a funky groove to it, it’s just not my bag.  On the other hand, Scott Ian’s cover of “Rip It Out” is Anthrax-worthy.  Frankie Bello’s on bass, and somebody named Zach Throne sings it with Scott.  Zach nails an authentic Ace-like vocal, while Charlie’s relentless on the drums.  The Anton Fig drum solo is almost exact note-for-note.  As is the signature guitar solo.

Gilby Clarke’s “Shock Me” is one of the better tracks. I don’t usually think of Gilby as a soloist, since in GN’R he didn’t solo.  His soloing style is unlike Ace’s, but he performs an original solo of his own that is appropriate to song.  On the other hand I wouldn’t count “Deuce” by Marty Friedman (ex-Megadeth) as a favourite.  The vocal (by somebody called Tom Gattis) is a tad overwrought.   Another “blah” tune is “Snowblind”, performed in a too-modern metally sound by Jason McMaster (Dangerous Toys) and Snake Sabo from Skid Row.

Ron Young (Little Caesar, the Four Horsemen) has a soulful but southern sound on “Hard Luck Woman”, an odd choice for a Frehley tribute.  Written by Paul and sung by Peter, the original was created for Rod Stewart to sing!  But it’s as good a cover as any, and I don’t have a lot of other stuff of Ron’s, so I’m cool with this.  Jeff Watson (Night Ranger) is on guitar.

We all knew Sebastian Bach would knock it out of the park on “Rock Bottom”, and he does.  “Rock Bottom” wasn’t written by Ace, but he did write the intro, performed here by Russ Parish of Fight/Steel Panther.  Baz is obviously a huge Kiss fan and the song is in great hands, although the solo’s way too modern.  Still, I wish I had “Save Your Love” too.

IMG_00000627Tracii Guns is passable on “Parasite”, but again I think the song is done in a style too contemporary.  Up next is John Norum of Europe, with “Cold Gin”!  (Hey, two songs in a row written by Ace!)  McMaster is back on lead vocals, not my fave singer in the world.  John is a great guitarist, and this version of “Cold Gin” is heavy with fills.  Some go with the song, some miss the mark.

Dime’s “Fractured Mirror” is perfect, even the production and sound of the acoustic guitar is eerily similar to Ace’s original.  Dime may well have been the biggest Ace Frehley fan in the world. Darrell does throw some of his own personality into the song, but I think foremost on his mind was probably playing the song the way he remembered it.  And he does.

Lastly, “Take Me To the City” is performed by Ace himself, with his crack band:  Steve Werner on drums, Karl Cochran on bass, Richie Scarlet on guitar and backing vocals, and…Sebastian Bach is there too at the end!  This Ace rarity is the best of all reasons to track down this CD.  This is Ace back to a hard rocking Frehley’s Comet sound, with an anthemic chorus.  When Baz shows up at the end, it’s icing on the cake (although you need to turn it ^UP^ to catch him in the fade).

I don’t really buy tribute albums anymore, because I find these mish-mashes of somewhat related artists to be a bit tedious.  Still, it’s pretty solid, and definitely worthwhile to fans of bands like Pantera, Skid Row, or Anthrax.  The Ace bonus track is pretty much a compulsory purchase.

3/5 stars

Soon, we’ll also be talking about another quality tribute album with some surprising guests and alumni.  Stay tuned.

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REVIEW: Halford – Live Insurrection (2002 Japanese Import)

“Part 6 in a miniseries of reviews on Rob Halford’s solo career!  If you missed the last part, click here!”  That was a rhyme, that ain’t no crime…Breaking the Law!  Breaking the Law!

HALFORD – Live Insurrection (2002 Japanese Import)

Having a wealth of solo and Priest material to draw from, this seems like a good place for a double live album to drop.  And so it was; Live Insurrection, Rob’s first full-fledged live solo outing.  For me personally, this is the peak.  This Rob’s home run of solo projects.

Admittedly, there is a certain sense of Rob trying to bury parts of his recent past.  There are no songs from Two, and the set is Priest-heavier than prior tours.  I found the Halford band to be kind of faceless, a little devoid of personality.  They’re absolute pros and there is no question of them cutting it.  That’s not the issue, it’s just one of…I can’t hear the different personalities of the players, compared to Fight.

On the other hand, the setlist is so much richer than Fight used to do.  The songs are culled from the Halford album Resurrection, the Judas Priest back catologue, and the first Fight album, with a lot of added surprises.

These surprises include three studio tracks, two of which are tracks written by Judas Priest, but never released at the time! You also get Rob’s duet with Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, “live” (recorded during rehearsal I believe), and the two bonus tracks from the Japanese version of the Halford album, once again performed live. Rob even sings his first-ever solo track, “Light Comes Out Of Black” which was originally on the Buffy The Vampire Slayer soundtrack back in 1992. The Priest material is a great mix: old obscure stuff from Sad Wings and Stained Class, as well as more obvious stuff from Hell Bent and Screaming. Rob’s voice is in fine form, doing justice to the Priest and Fight material.

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Rob’s so hardcore, he stapled his fuckin’ forehead!

The Japanese bonus track is “Blackout”. Yes, the old Scorpions tune, and recorded here with a Scorpion: Rudolph Schenker! Halford easily handles Klaus Meine’s vocal part. It’s a great bonus track, easily worth the extra cash that I spent on this import version.  I got this from Amazon.com in 2002.

They give you lots of great packaging with this live album. Decent liner notes, lots of pictures, plenty to look at while you spend a couple hours listening to this platter of metal perfection.  Enjoy the feast.

5/5 stars

I’ll be taking a summer break from this series.  I’m a bit burned out on Halford albums now, and there are so many new arrivals to listen to!  But fear not.  I’ll be following this review with Crucible, another Japanese release, a box set, and more.

INSURRECTION_0003

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: Two – Voyeurs (1998)

Part 4 in a miniseries on Rob Halford’s solo career!  Missed the last part?  Click here for Fight – A Small Deadly Space.

TWO – Voyeurs (1998 Nothing)

Fight was kaput.  Rob had a new band, a photo of whom appeared in Metal Edge magazine.  The band was called Halford, and although that would change, Rob used his surname for another band later on.  I remember a weird looking blonde dude wearing a silver skin tight suit of some kind (more on him later), and I thought, “Well, OK then.  This is going to be different.”  Soon after the Metal Edge photo, the name had changed from Halford, to Two.

I had a buddy, Nathan, who was really into Nine Inch Nails.  This Halford project was on his radar as well, due to Rob’s collaboration with Trent Reznor.  At the time, Rob Halford insisted that the resulting album, an industrial/rock hybrid, was the sound he was going for all along when he quit Priest in ’92 and formed Fight.

I don’t believe that, but they did come close on the Mutations EP. I think Fight was exactly what he wanted to do at that time. When the second Fight album fizzled I think Rob questioned his musical direction, hooked up with Trent, and did this experimental record.

Two (stylized as 2wo) were experimental by Halford’s standards, but not by industrial music standards in general. Voyeurs has all the expected bells and whistles, including but not limited to:  distorted vocals, the word “pig” in a song title, thumpy bass, ticky-ticky sounds, bloops, bleeps, and other stuff that sounds like broken machinery.

What does make this album special is that the band was “Two”, not “One”…meaning there is a second guy involved here, and what a talent he was. That guy was guitar player John 5. This was his breakthrough release. After this he hooked up with David Lee Roth, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, et al. John 5’s involvement means there is some wicked guitar work here, including “I Am A Pig” which features a solo that sounds like a mashup of Morello and Satriani.

Highlight songs include “I Am A Pig” (Reznor sure loves his pig imagery), “Stutter Kiss”, “Hey Sha La La”, “Water’s Leaking”, and the epic closer “Bed of Rust”.  “Bed of Rust” could have made a pretty cool Fight track.  I would say in fact that there are no throwaway songs here.  All of them have something worthwhile to offer.  Just don’t think too much about the lyrics.  Halford’s delivery is understated and, at times, whispery. No screams. At Reznor’s suggestion,  instead Rob explored other aspects of his voice.

Other notable names:  Bob Marlette plays bass and produces.  Dave “Rave” Ogilvie does some production work.  Trent Reznor “executive produced”.  I always wondered what that means.  I picture it meaning that Trent gives the project either a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down” when the real work is done.

JOAQIN

Of course many Priest fans didn’t get it, although a chunk of the Reznor fans (who at the time would buy anything on Nothing records) accepted and enjoyed the album for what it is.  I think if this was a release by a more popular band, like say Nine Inch Nails or KMFDM, it could have spawned two or three singles.

Japan had a bonus track called “In My Head” which is absolutely impossible to find, so good luck. I’ve never heard it.

3.5/5 stars

Postscript:

It was during this period, promoting the Two album, that Rob Halford came out.  People joked for a good number of years that Rob’s sexuality was the worst kept secret in rock.  That can’t negate the courage that it took for Rob to come out in a musical genre that isn’t always kind to anyone who’s “different” (hello, Blabbermouth!).

“I think it’s difficult for everybody, you know, in making the decision to come forward and be who you are, based on peer pressure, especially if you’re a teenager,” Halford said. “That’s where a lot of the anxiety begins, and so maybe people like myself and others that do step in front of a camera and let the world know, maybe it’s of some help, where there’s an individual that’s been successful, that’s been able to achieve dreams and visions and goals in life and not let the issue of sexuality be something to hold them back, so I think it’s an important thing.”

More:

LGTBICONS:  Rob Halford – Angel of Retribution

MTV News – Rob Halford Discusses Sexuality Publicly For The First Time

REVIEW: Fight – A Small Deadly Space (1995)

Part 3 of a miniseries on Rob Halford’s solo career!  Missed the last part, Mutations?  Click here!

FIGHT – A Small Deadly Space (1995 Epic)

Russ Parrish was out, and in came youngster Mark Chaussee.   This change negated one thing I loved about Fight, which was the interplay between two different guitar players.  Chausee and Tilse are too similar in tone, and so the followup album A Small Deadly Space renders me deaf if I try to listen to it in one sitting.  The mix on this album bothers me, it has so much bottom end, but then not enough on top to balance it.  I don’t like the vocal effects that reduce the power of Rob’s voice.   Halford doesn’t scream much on A Small Deadly Space.

The songs are powerful enough, and this time Rob is writing with his bandmates.  The opener “I Am Alive” is slow and massive, unlike anything on War of Words.  “Mouthpiece” is different yet again, with a slippery riff and an accelerated pace.  “Blowout in the Radio Room” is actually psychedelic metal.  Halford sings about how music gets him high, and goes for a tripping druggy sonic assault.  The guitar solos are straight out of the Hendrixian Book of Knowledge, it’s just great.  “Never Again” is one of the few moments of Halford screams, and it’s like an injection of adrenaline!  This is a Priest-quality album track.

SMALL DEADLY_0003I still think of CDs in terms of being albums, of having a “side one” and a “side two”, and to me this sounds like a natural break between two album sides.  I like side one, but side two wears on me.   The title track has a wicked wicked cool sounding guitar solo, but it’s just one lick that repeats four times.  Typical 90’s simplicity.  Then there’s “Gretna Greene”.  The lyrical matter is that of abuse, but unfortunately this very important subject is relegated to the back seat by the title of the song.  Yes, it’s an O.J. Simpson trial reference.  That wouldn’t matter so much if the music stood up, but this song is pretty boring.  They stay that way until “Human Crate”, which is slower but a really cool song with powerful vocals.  The album ends with a ballad, “In A World of My Own Making”.  For the first two minutes it’s just a piano, and Rob.  It’s a side of Halford rarely heard.  Then the band comes in, and it becomes a slant on “Beyond the Realms of Death”.  Except…with flat sounding drums and brittle guitars.

But that’s not all, there’s also the super hard to find secret bonus track, “Psycho Suicide”.  It’s noisy and tuneless, but it sure is heavy, and I kinda like it.

So, I think I’ve been clear that I’m not a fan of the mix of this CD.  A Small Deadly Space was remixed as part of the 2008 Into the Pit box set.  As I get along in this series of reviews, I’ll revisit that box set and see if this album makes a new impression on me.

For now?

2.8/5 stars

SMALL DEADLY_0004

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