Glen Tipton

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Battle Cry (2016)

NEW RELEASE

Scan_20160407JUDAS PRIEST – Battle Cry (2016 Sony)

Woah-ho!  Here comes the Priest with yet another live album!  How many does this make it?  Officially that’s six, not including live discs within deluxe editions, or live DVDs!  Battle Cry is the newest, recorded last year at Wacken (August 1 2015).

Some fans like to moan and complain every time an older band like Priest or Maiden release a live album.  You can see their point, but at the same time, how much longer will Priest be touring?  Don’t you want a live album with all their newest songs?  Priest’s last album, 2014’s Redeemer of Souls, was a triumphant return for the band, who had suffered a major lineup change.  KK Downing was out, and new kid Richie Faulkner was surprisingly able to take his place on the stage, and in the songwriting.  Rather than suffer from this blow, Priest simply kept going full speed ahead.  A live album is compulsory after this much activity.  Three of the new songs are included on the disc, in among a smattering of classics, but nothing from Nostradamus (2008) or Angel of Retribution (2005).  Fear not; you can get some of those songs on the live CD A Touch of Evil.

Here is a handy-dandy chart to show you where these songs originated, not counting intros “Battle Cry” and “The Hellion”.

priest chart

You’ll notice a huge 23 year gap in the music presented.  This isn’t uncommon for rock bands of Priest’s age.  There are so many classics, not to mention new songs to play, but not enough time.  As such, albums from later periods, or “cult” songs, are often overlooked.  The unfortunate effect of this is an unspoken implication that maybe the music between 1990 and 2014 wasn’t very good.  Now granted, Priest did have a lineup change during that period.  From 1997-2004, they were with singer Ripper Owens, and Priest have yet to revisit any of that material.

Proving that nothing has been lost with the departure of Downing, “Dragonaut” opens the show on a fast heavy note.  Faulkner is a perfect fit, acting in unison with Glenn Tipton to produce the same kind of Priest guitarmonies that you’re used to hearing.  “Halls of Valhalla”, another new track, rocks just as hard, but with the complexity of the Priest of yesteryear.  The musical chops of this band often go overlooked, but just listen to them play.  As for Halford?  He ain’t no spring chicken, but his singing style has changed to suit.  Within that framework, the man is a demon.  He can still do things with his voice that few can.  The final new song is “Redeemer of Souls”, a little stiff by comparison but certainly up to snuff.

A few lesser-played songs really spice up the set.   “Devil’s Child” from Screaming For Vengeance is a treat, and “Jawbreaker” from Defenders of the Faith is a nice switch up from “Freewheel Burning”.   Wacken probably would have rioted if songs like “Breaking the Law” and “Metal Gods” were not played, so of course you can count on the hits being represented.  A long guitar solo and instrumental section during “Another Thing Coming” is another surprise.  Halford used to do a long singalong at this point of the show, but that’s been shortened in favour of a pretty damn cool Richie Faulkner guitar solo.   Way to give the spotlight to the new kid — that is really classy.

Because there’s not enough time on a single disc, “Living After Midnight”, the final encore of the show, was axed.  Instead, “Painkiller” ends this CD, certainly an interesting choice for a closer.  This is the only song during which Rob’s voice can’t keep up.  The song is just insane; it always has been, and you can’t fault the guy for not quite getting there.

Battle Cry is yet another in a long string of great live Judas Priest albums.  Shoulda woulda coulda been a double CD.  The only two songs missing from this show are “Turbo Lover” and “Living After Midnight”, but wouldn’t you prefer having them?

3.75/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – British Steel (30th Anniversary Edition, pt. 2)

Yesterday we examined Judas Priest’s British Steel, the original album and first CD of this three disc set.  Today we’ll look at the live stuff and packaging.  If you missed yesterday’s installment, click here.

 

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

You could buy the British Steel 30th Anniversary Edition in several configurations:

  • A CD/DVD set with the album and a live DVD of  British Steel played live in 2009,
  • A 2 CD/DVD set with the live 2009 concert duplicated on CD (minus one song),
  • iTunes download with all the music from both CDs plus the missing song (“Prophecy”).

BRITISH STEEL_0005The 2 CD/DVD edition is beautifully housed in digipack, with lots of photos in a nice booklet with essay. The photos are all from their recent tour; none are vintage, which disappointed me. I would have loved some fly-on-the-wall photos of them recording this album at Ringo Starr’s house, Tittenhurst Park. Maybe no such photos exist?

The second CD, only available in this edition, is packed to the brim.  “Prophecy” wouldn’t have fit or the CD would have run over 80 minutes.  Otherwise, it is a straight stereo mix of the same content on the DVD.  With audio being my primary medium to enjoy, I obviously needed the version that came with the live CD.  The iTunes bonus track was available for separate purchase, so that was easy to add to my files, once ripped.

The third disc of course is the DVD. Backed by a British Steel backdrop, Priest played the album in sequence remarkably well considering their ages! Only drummer Scott Travis wasn’t around for the original album, but he plays the drum parts pretty straight to the original, minus Dave Holland’s robotic coldness.

The main question people have when discussing Priest live is, “What was Halford’s voice like?” It is true that he is an older man today and has to restrain himself and change arrangements in order to sing the songs. This is no exception, but man, when he screams, he still has it! He just screams less, which makes sense. The vocal melodies of some songs have been re-arranged, which may or may not be to your taste. Surely, the vocal melody is such an important part of each song. Halford sings what sounds like harmony parts to the original melodies in order to sneak around certain high parts. It is what it is. And, as per many concerts, the audience sings some choruses on their own when it comes to the big hits.

I was pretty impressed with the live stuff after British Steel. This is surely one of the best live versions of “Victim of Changes”. Halford nails that angry end scream perfectly, I thought his head would explode. “Hell Patrol” was a nice touch. “Freewheel Burning” stumbles a bit. “Prophecy” was excellent, and I’m glad a Nostradamus track was included. Halford seems to relish spitting out the words.  Satisfyingly, “Diamonds and Rust” is done in its electric version. An excellent surprise. The album ends, predictably, with Halford’s “audience participation” thing, and “Another Thing Coming” which I could probably do without at this point.

One thing I’m starting to notice, is that Priest are sort of nerdy live. From Rob’s audience participation thing (“Yeah, yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah YEAH yeah!”), to the stage moves, to Scott Travis’ weird drum stick thing on “United”, this is the concert equivalent of a Star Trek convention in some ways. But Priest have never been trendy, and they’ve always seemed oblivious to it. I guess that’s what makes them cool.

The DVD is rounded out by 30 minutes of interviews with Rob, KK, Glenn and Ian (no Scott).  This is the kind of thing most people would probably only watch once, especially when the Classic Albums series already released a full DVD of the making of British Steel.

Now to the British Steel 30th Anniversary set as whole:  As good a package as this is, I wish there was less emphasis on the “today” portion and more attention paid to the 30th anniversary of the original album. There is at least one unofficial full concert CD from the 1980 tour out there (live in Denver), released unofficially. Surely Priest could have included some vintage live recordings as well?.

4/5 stars. Despite my beefs, this is a great collection for your collection!

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)

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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.

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.

METAL WORKS_0003

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…

IMG_20140215_063851_edit_edit

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: Judas Priest – Rocka Rolla (1974)

PRIEST WEEK

Welcome to PRIEST WEEK!  It’s all Judas Priest, all week.  Let’s go!


JUDAS PRIEST – Rocka Rolla (1974 Gull Records)

Years before the glory of Sad Wings of Destiny, Judas Priest was just another Birmingham bar band playing their version of the blues. Original lead singer and founder Al Atkins wrote a lot of the early material, with a variety of lineups.  Atkins quit the band in the early 1970’s and “Bob” Halford was brought in, along with second guitarist Glen Tipton.  Judas Priest as we know it was born.

I remember the next door neighbor George played me the song “Rocka Rolla” and I immediately loved it.  It had a cool riff and a hypnotic chorus.  Years later (1989) I walked into Sam the Record Man and bought my LP copy off the near-legendary Al King. Finding a copy on cassette was nigh on impossible so I bought an LP.  Little did I realize that was a good move.  I can still play the LP and it sounds great, whereas a cassette would be in a Thunder Bay landfill by now.

Unfortunately Rocka Rolla disappointed me.  I didn’t like it when I got it in ’89 and I still find it kinda dull.  The band wrote a lot of songs with Al Atkins, largely blues-based rock, and that’s what Rocka Rolla is: Leftovers from the Atkins era, slow blues jammers meandering along at a leisurely pace.  There is precious little heavy metal here. “Run of the Mill” and the “Winter” suite, for example, run the gamut from hippy-dippy flower power love to amateur British bar blues. Yet, Jethro Tull these guys were not, and Rocka Rolla is strictly second rate.  The drummer on Rocka Rolla was John Hinch, a musician that Tipton described as “inadequate” to play Priest’s more challenging material.  Maybe that is one reason that Rocka Rolla lacks power.

There are a couple decent moments that keep this album from being a 1-star stinker. The title track is a fun proto-metal number, with a neat classic sounding riff. There is also the outro to “Dying to Meet You”, known as the “Hero, Hero” section which actually has some spark. “Never Satisfied” has some powerful moments.  “One For the Road” is a good song.  The rest is basically a band trying to find its direction, not sure whether it’s a jam band, a blues band, or a rock band, and excelling at none of those sounds.

There’s a bonus track on some CD versions, tacked-on but unrelated. This is the version of “Diamonds & Rust” from the Best Of album. Great song and great version, sounding totally out of place here.  Also of note, there are two album covers.  I prefer the soda bottle cap much more than that weird football player bomber guy.

Two years later, Judas Priest laid down one of my all-time favourite metal classics Sad Wings of Destiny.  How they turned the ship around so drastically is beyond me. New songs, new chemistry?  Let’s be grateful they did turn it around, for if this band failed to do so you never would have heard of them.

2/5 stars

More PRIEST at mikeladano.com:

JUDAS PRIEST – Nostradamus  (2008 Sony deluxe edition)
JUDAS PRIEST – Rising In The East (2005 DVD, live in Japan)
JUDAS PRIEST – Turbo (1986)