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REVIEW: Judas Priest – Angel of Retribution (2004 CD/DVD)

“Sabbath are heavy, but Priest are metal.” – K.K. Downing

JUDAS PRIEST – Angel of Retribution (2004  Sony CD/DVD deluxe set)

Like Iron Maiden before them, Judas Priest pulled off a successful reunion tour before venturing into the studio to record a new album.  When the new music finally came, a deluxe package was made available featuring live videos from the reunion tour.  In this deluxe-sized review, we’ll take a close look at both the CD and DVD content.


The CD

Pure anticipation preceded the arrival of the Angel of Retribution.  Two underwhelming albums with Tim “Ripper” Owens on lead vocals caused Judas Priest’s star to diminish in the 90s and 2000s.  The return of the Metal God, Rob Halford, meant a reunion of the successful 1990-1991 Painkiller lineup.  The new album cover even featured the return of the Painkiller character, now the Angel of Retribution.  But a long time had passed.  Could Priest hope to live up to the hype, and their legacy?

The answer is mixed.  While Angel of Retribution contains enough classic Judas Priest metal to consider it a success, it also has some truly legendary filler, of sub-Ram It Down quality.  Instead of running through the album track by track, let’s break it down in terms of song integrity.

Priest wrote a natural sounding album, with elements from virtually all eras of Priest past.  They say it came about organically, and it does sound that way.  Some of the best material are the songs that sound like variations of classic Priest.

The opening song “Judas Rising” brings it back to 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny with that fade-in opener inspired by “Victim of Changes”.  Then it transforms right into the Painkiller era, with something that sounds like a far more intense “Hell Patrol”.  Solid 5/5.

The slightly psychedelic first single “Revolution” ranks among the better songs, although perhaps it’s actually most similar to “Little Crazy” by Rob Halford’s Fight.  It has flavours of Rocka Rolla and Killing Machine, and is far from what anyone expected Priest to put out for a first single.  Dig that slide guitar bit in the solo!  Solid 5/5.

Worth Fighting For” isn’t a ballad; it’s a little harder edged than that.  It’s the one song that is unique in the Priest catalogue, and remarkably strong.  The riff has a nice chug to it, while Rob ably carries the melody to a higher place.  A special song, and a 5/5.

Demonizer” is Jugulator meets Painkiller, faster than a hellriding devil dog (whatever that is), but “the Painkiller rises again!”   So testifies Halford.  It’s so ridiculously over the top that it can only be worth a solid 5/5.  Likewise the similar “Hellrider” on side two.  Both feature double bass so fast that it’s almost a parody of itself, but both rock so hard you’ll break your neck keeping up.  “Hellrider” is also notable as the song where Rob Halford inexplicably name drops “Megatron”.  Similar songs, both solid 5/5’s.

The ballad “Angel” is a little soft, unexpectedly so on an album with so much heavy metal.  Yet, Priest can do anything.  The acoustic “Angel” could be the quietest ballad since the early days.  “Put sad wings around me now,” sings Rob to the angel, an appropriate callback.  As his voice aged it acquired more depth.  That helps make “Angel” a respectable 4/5.

Deal With the Devil” and “Wheels of Fire” fall in a netherworld of pedestrian Priest.  These both feel like filler from Point of Entry or Ram it Down.  Less explosive, less memorable.  The autobiographical “Deal With the Devil” is amusing for its many lyrical callbacks: “Under blood red skies”, “Took on all the world”, references to razor blades.  Likewise the short one, “Eulogy“, which is really an intro for another song that we’ll get to.  “They remain still as stained class”, “Guarded by the Sentinel”, and so on.  3/5 each.

The worst of all songs is “Loch Ness“, a mess so atrocious that we had to devote an entire entry just to that one song.  Combined with its intro “Eulogy”, it’s over 15 minutes of mire that has no reason to exist.  Many people simply stop the album after “Hellrider” and leave this foul turd to rot unheard.  “Loch Ness” could very well be the worst Judas Priest song of all time.  A flaming turd to extinguish all flaming turds.  The worst of all putrid, rancid filler songs ever foisted upon the faithful.  0/5.

 


“Reunited” DVD

It’s worth getting a copy of this album with the bonus DVD.  For one, there’s a documentary from the Priest Reunited tour.  Secondly, there are seven uncut live songs here for you to enjoy, and it’s the only official video release from the Reunited tour.  The live footage is something to see, especially if you own the robotic Rising in the East DVD.  In that concert, Rob Halford was a stiff mannequin instead of a frontman.  Here, he comfortably in charge and engaged.  The entire lineup is energized.  “Breaking the Law” sees them powered up and working hard.

But how did the seemingly unlikely reunion begin?  According to the documentary, the band and Halford met to discuss the forthcoming Metalogy box set.  Glenn Tipton states that they decided to reunite later the same day.  It was like they’d never been apart.  Terribly British, says Rob.  “Have a cup of tea, see you later.”  Rob does express regret for his actions (reportedly he gave Judas Priest his notice in 1992 by fax), but it seems all was forgiven over time.

Beware which version you buy.  This CD/DVD combo set contains the documentary plus the full live songs:  “Breaking the Law”, “Metal Gods”, “A Touch of Evil”, “Hell Bent for Leather”, “Eletric Eye:”, “Diamonds & Rust”, and “Living After Midnight”.  The DualDisc version does not; it only includes edited fragments of those tracks.  Which is a shame, because the band sounded fantastic and Rob was in full-lunged form.  This is probably the best live version of “A Touch of Evil” available, for example.  Not everyone likes the acoustic version of “Diamonds & Rust”, but it’s certainly different. The only bonus to DualDisc is that you also get the album in “enhanced stereo”.  Avoid that; get this.


Although Angel of Retribution is overall a very strong Judas Priest album, “Loch Ness” is impossible to ignore.  It does serious damage to an album that was otherwise an impressive listen.  In the included DVD, K.K. Downing says they had to pick and choose from an overabundance of songs.  Can you imagine how bad the leftovers are if “Loch Ness” made the album?

3.5/5 stars

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

JUDAS PRIEST – Trouble Shooters (1989 CBS cassette)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Firepower (2018)

JUDAS PRIEST – Firepower (2018 Sony)

It’s 2018 and the Priest is back.  The excitement for the mighty metal band’s return has been restrained by the knowledge that Glenn Tipton is too ill to tour.  Parkinson’s disease — what a bastard that is.  Co-producer Andy Sneap has stepped up to take over Glenn’s guitar parts on tour.

Meanwhile on album, Glenn’s contributions to Firepower can be heard.  Sneap and classic Priest producer Tom Allom recorded one of the most biting Priest albums to date.  More impressive than the sound they captured are the performances.  Rob Halford in particular is more expressive than he has been in years.

At 14 tracks and almost an hour, Firepower suffers only from too many tracks.  There are a couple that clearly could have been cut and left for B-sides or bonus tracks.  “Flame Thrower” (similar to “Hot For Love” from Turbo), though a cool title, would have been great on a B-side.  On album, I’d rather race ahead to some of the more exciting tracks.

Firepower throws it back to sounds of the past.  Sometimes it’s Painkiller, and sometimes Angel of Retribution.  Rock writer Heavy Metal Overload noticed sonic similarities to Halford’s Resurrection CD.   At other times it’s brand new, because guitarist Richie Faulkner brings new things to the table, such as slide.

There are many highlights among the 14 tracks.  “Evil Never Dies” and “Never the Heroes” both immediately jump out for their melodic mastery.  Rob is sounding better than he has on the last couple, with a few tasty screams to enjoy.  As time goes on, new favourites will replace old.  Perhaps it’ll be “Spectre”, “No Surrender”,  “Children of the Sun”, “Rising From the Ruins” or even “Flame Thrower”!  Another highlight:  mellow album closer “Sea of Red” which bears lyrical similarities to “Blood Red Skies” from 1988’s Ram It Down.  In general, Firepower is about fighting back.

The cover art by Claudio Bergamin is Priest’s new mascot, “Titanicus”.  Silly name aside, this one Priest’s best album cover in decades.  (Mark Wilkinson continues to contribute to the packaging art as well.)  Notice how Bergamin’s lines match up with the style of past Priest albums like Screaming for Vengeance.

It’s hard to imagine a better album this late in their career.  Priest have done it again.  Firepower lives up to its name.

4.5/5 stars

 

NEWS: Glenn Tipton has Parkinson’s Disease

Bad news after bad news after bad news.  Such is 2018.  Last week, Pat Torpey of Mr. Big died due to complications from Parkinson’s disease.  This week, Glenn Tipton from Judas Priest announced he is suffering from the same illness.

In fact he was diagnosed 10 years ago, but it has now gotten to the point where it will affect his guitar playing.  Glenn Tipton will be unable to tour as usual behind their forthcoming new album, Firepower.  His onstage guitar role will be filled by co-producer Andy Sneap.

Tipton’s statement reads in part:

“I want everyone to know that it’s vital that the Judas Priest tour go ahead and that I am not leaving the band – it’s simply that my role has changed. I don’t rule out the chance to go on stage as and when I feel able to blast out some Priest!”

We wish Glenn Tipton all the best in his fight against Parkinson’s.  Priest’s new album Firepower will be out March 9 2018.

REVIEW: Judas Priest – ’98 Live Meltdown (1998)

JUDAS PRIEST – ’98 Live Meltdown (1998 BMG)

First in a long line of non-essential Priest live albums, here’s ’98 Live Meltdown.  Why did bands at certain points feel the need to add the year to the title?  Warrant – ’96 Belly to Belly – Volume One.  Kind of silly, right?  For fans who know their metal history, 1998 falls in Judas Priest’s Ripper Owens years.  Priest had just released their first album without Rob Halford, Jugulator.  Live Meltdown (let’s leave out that ’98 part for simplicity’s sake) captures the tour that followed, from various uncredited dates.

Fortunately the album is better than its title and awful cover art.  (Shame on you Mark Wilkinson!)  Ripper Owens provided fresh young lungs and with him at the mic, Priest were uber-powerful live.  All the new tunes from Jugulator were better in the live setting too.  “Blood Stained” is devastatingly powerful, and an enthusiastic crowd eats it up.  There are a few extraneous Jugulator tunes.  The world could have lived without “Death Row” and “Abductors”, and maybe the title track could have been thrown in instead.  Fortunately the track list is an otherwise excellent mix of new tracks and old cuts.

Priest deserve points for re-imaging their Joan Baez cover “Diamonds and Rust”.  The acoustic version was completely new for Judas Priest and Ripper could easily handle the heavy and the light.  Even though it’s acoustic, “Diamonds and Rust” represents Sin After Sin on a CD that gives face time to nearly every Priest album.   Rocka Rolla and Ram It Down are shunned as usual, but otherwise the only albums without tracks on this are Turbo and Point of Entry.  There is an emphasis on the classic material from the 70s, solid songs from the early 80s, and four tracks from Painkiller.  It’s a well-rounded album, and by the next live release (2003’s Live in London) they changed it up and added “Turbo” and “Heading Out to the Highway”.

Ripper was a great lead singer for this band during Rob’s absence.  He took one of the hardest jobs in rock and roll and did it with class.  Ripper had the goods.  He could scream the notes.  He added his own slant with guttural growls.  He struggled with “Painkiller” proving he’s a mere mortal but still he got the job done.

Live Meltdown was self-produced by Priest and Sean Lynch, but the guitars are too low in the mix.  The emphasis is on Ripper, but it seems to come at the expense of the volume of the rhythm guitars.  And the packaging is atrocious.  While it is true that most metal bands like Priest found themselves on smaller record labels, this is worse than a 90s indy band.  Fortunately the music and performance justify its existence.

Curious fans are advised to pick up Live Meltdown for the best representation of the Ripper Owens years.  It’s better than Jugulator and Live in London.  Fans are unanimously happy that Rob Halford is back in Judas Priest today, but that shouldn’t be taken as a slight against Ripper.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Hero, Hero (1981)

JUDAS PRIEST – Hero, Hero (1981 Gull)

It’s true:  By all measurements, Hero, Hero is an exploitive compilation of Judas Priest material.  Their first record label, Gull, was prone to do this.  However this is no typical “hits” set; this one is of interest to collectors and die hard fans.

Hero, Hero (named for a lyric from the song “Dying to Meet You”) was originally released in 1981 to take advantage of Priest’s rising star. The original two releases on Gull records, Rocka Rolla and Sad Wings Of Destiny, had been exploited previously in a compilation called The Best Of Judas Priest, which was a single record. Hero, Hero was a double record which included all of Rocka Rolla and most of Sad Wings, as well as the crucial Joan Baez cover, “Diamonds and Rust”, in an alternate take (previously heard on Best Of).

So, if you have all that material already, why is this album required at all?  Cover art aside, of course.  That cover (a pre-existing painting) is brilliant.  There is also a Kiss bootleg called Barbarize with the same cover.

The reason is revealed in the liner notes. All of Rocka Rolla had been remixed for this release. Why is unknown, as that record sounded just fine for what it is. The remixes are, in general, not even all that different. The major changes are made during “Cheater”, the “Winter” suite, and “Rocka Rolla” itself, during which major portions of the songs are noticeably shifted around. “Rocka Rolla” has its verses rearranged, and there’s a burst of harmonica in “Cheater” where there never was before.

The remix done to Rocka Rolla doesn’t really add or subtract anything from the album, which makes it that much harder to understand why it was done.  Why Gull records spent the money to remix these tracks is unknown, and the names of the engineers involved are a mystery.  But there it is:  Rocka Rolla remixed in its entirety but not in order, here on the Hero, Hero album.  Because they’re less familiar to the ear, they sound fresh, but in many cases you’d struggle to point out differences.  A little reverb here, a little echo there.

Highlights including a bluesy “Cheater” and the flanged chug of “Diamonds and Rust”.  The six tracks from Sad Wings of Destiny are brilliant.  “Dreamer Deceiver” and “Deceiver” are used to open this CD, but that is not the original running order.  Normally the album begins with “Prelude” and “Tyrant”, also from Sad Wings.  The original Canadian cassette version on Attic maintained the original running order with “Prelude” at the start.  Essentially, the Connoisseur Collection CD has side one and side two flipped.

Fair warning to CD buyers:  There are some shoddy reissues of this album that don’t have the remixed tracks.  Transluxe is one such version.  To make your life easier you might just want to look for an original 1981 LP.  The pictured CD from Connoisseur Collection (1995) does have the remixes, so you’re good to go if you spot one.

3/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Ram It Down (Remastered)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Turbo 30 (2017 deluxe 3 CD set)

JUDAS PRIEST – Turbo 30 (2017 Sony Legacy 3 CD set)

It is sheer delight to see Judas Priest’s once maligned Turbo to finally see some vindication.  There was a time this album was shied away from completely.  They played no tracks from it on the 1990-91 Painkiller tour.  In 1990, Priest finally pulled themselves out of a slide into dangerously commercial territory.  For a long time, Turbo was considered a musical detour that did more harm than good.  However the frost thawed quickly and Priest began to put the title track back into the set around 2001 for their Demolition tour with Tim “Ripper” Owens.  Today there is no longer any shame in cranking Turbo while hoisting a tall cool one.

The 30th anniversary edition of Turbo contains a freshly remastered edition and two live discs.  The sound is greatly improved from the 2001 version from the Priest Re-masters series.  As you can see by the waveform below, the 2001 version at bottom was a victim of the “loudness wars”, and much of the dynamic range was lost by pushing it to overdrive.  The 2017 version at top has more peaks and valleys.  The new version wins for overall for having more warmth.

What the 2017 version does not have are the two bonus tracks included on the Priest Re-masters version.  They were a live version of “Locked In” (which would be somewhat redundant here) and an unreleased studio track called “All Fired Up” which sounds like a Ram It Down outtake.  For a complete review of Turbo and these bonus tracks, please refer to our review of the Turbo 2001 CD edition.  The rest of this review will focus on the two live CDs inside Turbo 30.

The Fuel For Life tour that followed Turbo was one of Priest’s biggest.  Their stage featured a riser that “transformed” from a race car to a robot that would lift Glenn Tipton and KK Downing in the air with its claws.  It was commemorated by an album (Priest…Live!) and a separate home video from a concert in Dallas, Texas.  This new double live comes from a show in Kansas on May 22 1986.  It is 100% superior to Priest…Live! by every measure and could supplant that 30 year old album in your collection.

The set list varies a little from Priest…Live! but hits the same key tracks.  The ballsy synth ballad “Out of the Cold” still opens the set, a brave move even in 1986.  It is certainly the most unexpected of all Priest’s openers, so bravo.  “Locked In” is restored to its spot in the set; it was not on Priest…Live!  A version from an unknown concert (the liner notes are vague) was on the prior edition of Turbo as a bonus track.  “Locked In” isn’t a major track but still important due to its place as part of the “Turbo Lover” music video duology.  This live version is the best yet, loaded heavy with plenty of guitar thrills not present on the studio original.  From there it’s on to “Heading Out to the Highway”, nicely in the pocket.  Rob Halford’s screams are ferocious.  Next is the march of the “Metal Gods”, another version far more lively than the one on Priest…Live!  Seems there is much less mucking around with the recordings this time.

“Breaking the what?  Breaking the what?  Breaking the what?”  It’s that silly yet tried and true song intro.  Post-British Steel, you just can’t have a Priest live concert without “Breaking the Law”.  But always remember, that in the dead of night, “Love Bites”.  From 1984’s Defenders of the Faith, “Love Bites” was very different for Priest but still a set highlight.  (Incidentally, British Steel and Defenders of the Faith are the other Priest albums that had recent triple disc deluxe editions with live albums.)  Then more from Defenders:  Two killers in a row, “Some Heads are Gonna Roll” and “The Sentinel”.  Two songs that fans never tire of, and some credit must be given to the mighty guitar duo of Tipton and Downing.  Their trade-offs are sublime, and Halford curdles the blood.

Back into new material, “Private Property” was one of Priest’s more obvious grasps for a hit.  It’s far from a must-have, but better at least than the version on Priest…Live!  A mere five minutes later you will be transported to the “Desert Plains”, a Point of Entry deep cut that was excluded from Priest…Live!  It is far faster live and stay tuned for a long voice-shredding breakdown by Halford.  (Rob was clean at this point in his life.  Rob Halford recommends vocal rest between shows, menthol eucalyptus gum, and herbal tea to maintain a strong voice.)  A frantic “Rock You All Around the World” from Turbo ends the first disc with a filler track that is again better here than on the prior live album.

Screaming for Vengeance brings the fury for disc two, “The Hellion” (taped intro) and “Electric Eye” bring the focus clearly back to heavy metal, just in time to go for a spin with “Turbo Lover”.  This song is now a beloved classic, finally appreciated for its sharp songwriting and adventurous production.  Downing and Tipton pushed synths into heavy metal in a big way, but with integrity and ingenuity.  Better run for cover indeed, and fast…for next is “Freewheel Burning”, a natural for keeping with the theme of turbos and the like.

As the disc roars to its close, we are treated to some serious historic Priest.  The oldest track is “Victim of Changes”, from the immortal Sad Wings of Destiny (1976).  This most dramatic of Priest compositions is always welcome in the set, yet was not on Priest…Live! probably to avoid overlap with 1979’s Unleashed in the East live album.  This one boasts a blazing hot guitar solo and some of Rob’s most impassioned wailing.  This stretches out for nearly nine minutes of pure metal brilliance at its most vintage.  But the vintage metal gift-giving is not over, because “The Green Manalishi” (1979’s Hell Bent for Leather, via Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac) delivers the greatest of all riffs.

It’s nothing but the hits from there:  “Living After Midnight”, “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”, and “Hell Bent for Leather”, the standards that everyone knows.  “Another Thing Coming” is stretched out with Rob’s annoying back-and-forth with the crowd, but it is what it is.  “Heavy metal communication”, he calls it.  Nobody is buying this CD for another version of that song anyway.

“You don’t know what it’s like!”  So get this package, the triple CD set, and you will!

5/5 stars

For Superdeke’s amazing review including some tidbits about who the drummer(s) on this live album really is (are), check it out:  superdekes.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/judas-priestlive-in-kansas-city1986

REVIEW: Judas Priest – “Bullet Train” (1998 single)

Scan_20151003JUDAS PRIEST – “Bullet Train” (1998 Zero, from Japan)

I know not why it took Priest until 1998 to release a single from 1997’s Jugulator.  In hindsight, the choice of “Bullet Train” as a single seems a calculated move.  Nu-metal was all the rage with the disaffected youth of the late 90’s.  The new singer (Ripper Owens) was capable of doing any kind of vocal, so why the hell not, I guess?

Whatever kind of metal it is, it seems Priest can play it.  With Scott Travis nailing the double bass like a metronome, “Bullet Train” is an example of razor-sharp precision.  Travis is always a pleasure to listen to just blasting away.  It’s just a shame they didn’t choose a better song for a single.  “Bullet Train” is only about the fourth-best song on Jugulator, an album so atrocious that it’s more accurate to say that “Bullet Train” is only the seventh-worst.

Of course, nobody would order this all the way from Japan unless there were B-sides worth having, and there are.  Much like Iron Maiden did with Bruce Dickinson, Priest decided to re-record some old Priest classics with the new singer.  They picked two incredible songs; timeless metal favourites updated for the period.  From British Steel, it’s “Rapid Fire”!  Neither Owens nor Travis played on the original, so the song is naturally more fierce and aggressive.  Both of them kill it.  Some may object to Ripper’s insertion of addition lyrics:

“Rapid fire, between the eyes,
Rapid fire, terrifies,
Rapid fire, before you die
Rapid fire.”

Doesn’t bother me.

“Green Manalishi” is updated in an interesting way.  Unexpectedly it is slowed down.  Live, they always tended to play it just a hair faster than the mid-tempo original.  On this studio re-take, they’ve gone the opposite direction, closer to the original 1970 Fleetwood Mac tempo.  This is just a one-off, they did not perform it live in this slow guise.  Live, it was faster than ever.  Given that this is ultimately just an alternate slant on an obscure single, it lives on as an interesting side road.  The tempo naturally extends the song, giving you even more Priestly goodness!  The star of the show is the singer.  Ripper takes one final scream at the end there that seals the deal:  he was definitely good enough for Judas Priest.

Not a bad little single here.  The two B-sides were later re-released on a limited edition digipack version of their next album, Demolition.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Jugulator (1997)

Scan_20151003JUDAS PRIEST – Jugulator (1997 BMG)

One of the most anticipated, but frustratingly bad albums that I have ever looked forward to was Judas Priest’s big return on Jugulator.  Seven whole years had passed.  Rob Halford split, taking drummer Scott Travis with him, and had an entire career with the modern metal band Fight, before they split in ’96.  Travis returned to Priest, who had found their new singer in Tim “Ripper” Owens, a young man with incredible pipes.  Owens came from a Priest tribute band, and this was considered an interesting enough story to warrant an entire movie loosely based on him (Rock Star).

The resultant album, the heavy-as-fuck Jugulator, was a disappointment from the first note.  Opening with over a minute of looped samples (of clanking metal) and drony guitars, the album takes way too long to really start.  Only at 1:45 into the title track does Ripper finally let out a scream (a blood-curdling one at that).  The riffs finally take over, turning the song into “Painkiller, Part II” for all intents and purposes.  That’s fine — “Painkiller” is a high water mark of intensity and speed.  But when I put “Jugulator” on a mix CD, I edit out the first 1:45 because it’s just a waste of space.

The fact that “Jugulator” sounds uncomfortable like “Painkiller” shouldn’t come a surprise.  Just look at the cover art.  Mark Wilkinson created a Painkiller Jr. for the album cover, including a modernized Priest “tuning fork” logo in his forehead.  Musically (and intro aside), “Jugulator” is one fine metal assault, even if it is just a second cousin to “Painkiller”.  Lyrically, “Jugulator” is among the worst crimes Priest have foisted upon us.  With Rob Halford gone, Glenn Tipton was left to write the lyrics.   The words he eventually produced are such a pale imitation of past Priest that I cringe to hear them.

“Exterminator, you are dead.
Mu-til-ate.
Sharpened razor, takes your head.
Jugulator.”

I do like the word Glenn invented in one line, “Predit-hater”.  I like one word in the whole song!

“Blood Stained” is fierce, and was even better live (such on ’98 Live Meltdown).   It’s obvious from the cranked bass, detuned instruments, noisy guitar anti-solos, and driving groove that Priest were trying to emulate nu-metal.  Quite a few fans were turned off by the modern twists in songs like “Blood Stained”, including grunted vocals.  There is enough of the core Priest sound, including screams, riffs and standard solos that “Blood Stained” is really more of an amalgam of old and nu-metal.  Ripper is certainly a capable singer, and should shoulder none of the blame if you don’t like it.  Blame Glenn and K.K., not the vocalist.

It’s not until the third song, the creatively titled “Dead Meat”, that I lose interest.  Until now, the songs had been good enough.  “Dead Meat” is not.  The violent, bloody lyrics are starting to wear thin.  There are always individual moments of brilliance, such as the solos, drum patterns, and high-pitched wails.  This is not enough to carry a song.  One of the more nu-metal tracks is “Death Row”, which is even worse, especially when it comes to the prose.  “Oh no, I won’t go!  You’ll never get me down to death row.”  Priest have shed no light whatsoever on the issue of capital punishment, only written a boring cartoon song about the subject.  Even worse, there is dialogue in the intro to the song that is so poor that I’m embarrassed for them.  Sticking to a theme that already wore out its welcome, “Decapitate” is about the guillotine!  “Your head, you will lose it.  Severed, when executed”.  That’s the opening line!  The atonal nu-metal guitars have also worn thin.

If this were an LP, that would be the side closer.  The second half of the CD is heralded in by “Burn in Hell”; a little bit better song than the previous three in a row.  It seems a little more effort went into the melody this time, although “Burn in Hell” is just as heavy as everything else.  It builds and has some dynamics to it, which you cannot say for most of Jugulator.  It’s too long at 6:41.  Unfortunately much of this album is just too long.

“Brain Dead” is yet another stunningly creative song title.  This slow chug has no character, it’s just a senseless march into oblivion.  I feel “Brain Dead”, listening to it drone on and on.  Thematically it’s just Judas Priest stealing “One” by Metallica and calling it something else.  For my money, Jugulator can end right here (only seven songs in), because I’ve checked out.  My brain is turning to mush; that’s how it feels.  Then “Abductors” should have been a winner for me, a UFO buff.  The opportunity for a cool song is blown on yet another nu-metal sludge-fest with shite for lyrics:  “They come at night and they infiltrate you, they paralyse and they mentally rape you.”  The only redeeming quality is the likeable Ripper Owens.  He rolls his R’s like Halford used to, and you have to give the guy credit for doing the best he could with the material he was given to sing.

The single was “Bullet Train”, which I have on Japanese import (of course).  This isn’t a bad tune.  It drives like a perpetual motion dynamo.  It’s more nu than old metal, which may be why it was chosen as a single, compared to a better song like “Blood Stained”.  Finally, the lyrics are about something other than death or maiming.  It’s still not sunshine and puppy dogs, as the words seem to about someone suffering from Siderodromophobia, or fear of trains, while riding on a train!  Fun!  Let’s be clear: this is an improvement.

The final song offers a little redemption.  “Cathedral Spires” (over nine minutes!) is in the mold of old Priest classics such as “Beyond the Realm of Death”.  A slow, mellow opening with dramatic lead vocals invites you in, and it’s a due respite from all the nu-metal bombardment.  Ripper really sinks his teeth into the singing, and I think it was quite clear that he loved his job.  The classy intro eventually degenerates into another sound-alike chug, but once again redemption is ahead.  The chorus is great: pure traditional Priest drama with the nu-metal grunts in moderation.

I’ve listened to Jugulator many, many times over the years.  I desperately want the next listen to be the one where I finally “get it”.  That has yet to happen, and it almost certainly never will.  Thankfully Judas Priest realized they needed to diversify their sound next time around.  2001’s Demolition was a marked improvement.

2/5 stars

In tomorrow’s review, we’ll take a look at the B-sides on the Japanese CD single for “Bullet Train”.