ian hill

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Live in London (2003)

JUDAS PRIEST – Live in London (2003 SPV)

A second live album to go with a second Ripper studio album seemed excessive.  Double live albums, both.  ’98 Live Meltdown was a suitable way to get fans familiar with Ripper Owens’ spin on Priest tunes.  With only one new studio album between them, was 2003’s Live in London necessary?

Maybe not “necessary”, but certainly beneficial.  Wisely, Priest avoided double-dipping on many songs.  Eight songs were not on ’98 Live, including old classics like “Desert Plains”, “Heading Out to the Highway” and the rarely played “United”.  Notably, “Turbo Lover” was back in the set for the first time since 1987; no longer an embarrassing pariah but slowly becoming a classic.  It’s also a stronger album sonically than ’98 Live, with guitars more in-your-face.

Ripper is commanding.  On the Live in London DVD, he spoke about his stage attire.  He would come out on stage dressed in the leathers, but after a song or two, changed into a baseball cap.  He was clearly more comfortable just being himself.  And that translates into him sounding comfortable on album.

The new songs from Demolition included are “One On One”, “Feed On Me”, and “Hell Is Home”.  It’s hard to ignore the modern sonic touches like Morello-inspired guitar noises.  All decent enough tunes, but up against the back catalogue of the mighty Priest, they just disappear into the scenery.

One of the most impressive performances is all 10 minutes of “Victim of Changes”, probably the longest jam of the song you are likely to find.  KK’s guitar solo is mental.  “Diamonds and Rust” is the same acoustic version they played on the previous tour, but “Turbo Lover”…oh baby!  It is strange hearing anyone other than Rob Halford singing it, but this Priest is convincing enough.  It is largely stripped clean of the synths, as Priest seemed scared of this part of their history.  “Desert Plains” is also special — Ripper just lets loose a molten scream at the start.  This is the only version available with Ripper, or Scott Travis on drums.  Scott nails the pulse of “Desert Plains”.  Another special song is “Running Wild”, rarely played, from Hell Bent For Leather.  It’s joyful to hear.  Ripper really screams it up.  The oddball anthem “United” is heavier with the guitars amped up, but it’s definitely the one that sticks out like a sore thumb.

So how does Live In London stack up “One On One” against ’98 Live Meltdown?  It’s more well-rounded, and has two more tracks.  That means room for more old rare classics.  Overall the new Jugulator material worked better in concert than the Demolition stuff, which is an element in the favour of ’98 Live.  Both albums are so close to equally enjoyable that’s there’s no point in splitting hairs.  Just hit play and enjoy a “lost” era of Judas Priest that wasn’t bad at all.

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Priest, Live & Rare (1998 Japanese import)

JUDAS PRIEST – Priest, Live & Rare (1998 Sony Japan)

Fun fact:  in 1998, there were three Judas Priest live albums released.  First was the official ’98 Live Meltdown, featuring then-current singer Tim “Ripper” Owens.  There was also Concert Classics, an unauthorised CD from the British Steel tour that the band swiftly took legal action to remove from store shelves.  Finally, a CD called Priest, Live & Rare released by their old label Sony in Japan, featuring a smorgasbord of live B-sides.

Judas Priest’s B-sides don’t garner a lot of attention, but are worth looking in to.  Fortunately, a large assortment of them are collected on this compilation.  Covering a period from 1978 to 1986, Priest released a number of live B-sides (and one remix) that are included here.  Only two (“Starbreaker”, and a version of “Breaking the Law”) were released on CD in the 2004 Metalogy box set.  Because Priest were conscious of giving value to fans, the live B-sides are not the same familiar versions from live albums.

From the “Evening Star” single in 1978 comes “Beyond the Realms of Death”, Judas Priest’s “Stairway to Heaven”, or so some said.  It’s a rather weak comparison, but “Beyond the Realms of Death” does hold special status.  Glen’s solo, though imperfect, drips with the tension that comes from the live performance.  From the same gig, but lifted from the “Take on the World” single comes “White Heat, Red Hot” and “Starbreaker”.  You can hear the life in the songs, from Les Binks’ organic drum work to Rob’s impassioned performance.  The man is in top voice especially on “White Heat, Red Hot”.  Les Binks has an extended energized drum solo on “Starbreaker”.  These are fantastic live versions that need to be in a diehard’s collection.

The next single visited is 1981’s “Hot Rockin'”, with two live B-sides:  “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight” from that year in Holland.  The drum stool has changed hands from Les Binks to Dave Holland, and it is like the band has had a heart transplant.  The difference is notable given that on this CD, Binks went out on a drum solo.  It’s like a pacemaker has been installed and the pulse of the beast has been tamed.  But that’s 80s Priest for you, and with that said, these are two excellent versions of some serious Priest hits.  Refreshing to hear, after the same familiar ones over and over again.

Priest’s set at the 1983 US Festival has not been released on CD yet, but here are some for you.  (The Festival on DVD is not an issue — the deluxe Screaming for Vengeance contains the whole thing.)  Here you get “Green Manalishi”, “Breaking the Law” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”.  “Green Manalishi” is a fantastic version (at least for one with Dave Holland on drums!) and Rob is peak Halford.  These three tracks are sourced from a live 1983 Japanese “Green Manalishi” EP that costs some fair funds on its own.  (This is the version of “Breaking the Law” that you can also find on the Metalogy box set.)

“Private Propety” (originally from 1986’s Turbo) is a rare live take from St. Louis. It was originally released on the “Parental Guidance” 12″ single.  Therefore it’s not the same one from Priest Live, nor the Turbo 30th anniversary set.  This one predates the release of the others and has a nice untampered quality.  Finally, also from the “Parental Guidance” single, is the only disappointing B-side in this collection.  It’s the “Hi-Octane” extended remix of “Turbo Lover”!  Extended remixes were a popular thing in the 80s.  Every mainstream artist did them; for example Def Leppard, Kiss and Aerosmith.  “Turbo Lover” is one of the poorer such examples.  Were any dance clubs likely to play Judas Priest?  No, but the Priest did try.

Unweildy ham-fisted “Turbo Lover” aside, Priest, Live & Rare is a highly recommended collection to get 10 rare Priest B-sides in one fell swoop.  Definitely cheaper than tracking down all those singles.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Defenders of the Faith – Part Two – Special 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition and 2001 Remaster

For yesterday’s review of the original album, click here.  

JUDAS PRIEST – Defenders of the Faith (2001 Sony reissue, 2014 Special 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

Let’s start this review by taking a quick look at the bonus tracks that were added to the 2001 Sony remastered CD.  The first is an acoustic ballad called “Turn On Your Light”.  With lead guitars overdubbed later on, this spare acoustic ballad would have been a sharp left turn for the band had it come out on the next album (Turbo).  It’s very light, even more so than the material that made the album.  On the other hand, given the musical climate of the era, maybe it could have been a hit that propelled Priest to heights previously unseen.  We’ll never know.  The second bonus track comes from Long Beach on the Defenders tour.  It is the duo of “Heavy Duty” and “Defenders of the Faith”, but we’ll get into it later as it’s also included (albeit remixed) in the 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition we’re about to discuss.  Important to note:  the 30th Anniversary does not include “Turn On Your Light”.  If you want to get that song, you have to get the 2001 version.

When I was a kid, around the time of Defenders of the Faith, I can remember listening to a live Priest concert with the next door neighbour George.  We were on his picnic table in the side yard, listening to it on the radio.  That must have been Long Beach, May 5 1984, the show included in the Anniversary Deluxe set.  Spread over two discs, it’s a full Priest show with nine of the ten new songs played.  Only the controversial “Eat Me Alive” was not played.

“Love Bites” is an unusual set opener, but of course they did use “Out in the Cold” on the following tour too.  The mix is bass-heavy with Ian Hill up front for some reason.  Barking Rob spits out the words like bullets.  Sticking with new material, it’s “Jawbreaker”, the second track on Defenders, performed at light speed.  Rob says hello to 13,000 heavy metal maniacs and then dives into the oldies.  Three well-received number from British Steel in a row:  “Grinder”, “Metal Gods”, and “Breaking the Law”.  Though robotic in tempo these songs were and still are landmarks for the band.  “Breaking the Law” is the most lively, with Rob acting as the cheerleader in concert.

They reach way back for “Sinner”, which again suffers from the Dave Holland treatment on drums.  It’s too fast and stiff.  Fortunately, Halford belts out the chorus in scream-form with earnest.  “Desert Plains” comes next, a song for which there are few live versions available.  It’s a bit too fast, with pulse of the original song lost, but strong nonetheless.

Another batch of new songs follow, all awesome in their own right:  “Some Heads are Gonna Roll”, “The Sentinel”, “Hard Hard Ride Free” and “Night Comes Down”.  It speaks to the strength and popularity of the album that the set looks like this.  These are ably performed, though Rob’s voice sounds very raw on “The Sentinel”.  The crowd goes completely nuts when, before “Rock Hard Ride Free”, he announces that five million people are listening live on the radio!  Unfortunately due to his sore-sounding voice, the version on Priest…Live makes for better listening.  “Night Comes Down” (issued in an alternate live mix on the Ram It Down 2001 remaster) is one of Priest’s most unsung triumphs, a ballad of sorts set in the dusk.  Try listening to it when the sun is going down some time.

Strangely, “Electric Eye” is the first song from the previous hit album Screaming For Vengeance, an album that is largely ignored here in favour of the new one.  Next it’s a last gasp of new songs in the form of “Freewheel Burning” and the anthemic duo “Heavy Duty” and “Defenders of the Faith”.  These are a treat.  Rob uses “Defenders” to get the crowd to do a singalong.  “Freewheel” is pretty manic, and then it’s into the set-ending classics.

“Victim of Changes” can’t help but be the centrepiece of the set.  It’s a serious Priest epic and isn’t rushed through like other songs.  This version is just a little bit different.  “Green Manalishi” is dutifully tough, though every version with Dave Holland is intrinsically and unfortunately inferior to the one with Les Binks.  The guitar solos are note perfect and full of sparks.  Moving on to “Living After Midnight”, it’s big blockheaded fun.  “Hell Bent for Leather” is a high speed thrill as always, and then Priest finally end it on “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” and the inevitable and annoying “Oh-oo-oh-oo-oh-yeah” crowd singalong.

The 30th Deluxe has a booklet with several live pictures — none of former drummer Dave Holland however.  (If you don’t know why, Google him and guess.)  The remastering of the album itself may be new, but the real emphasis is on the complete concert.  The fact that the setlist contained almost all the new album makes it unique among Priest releases.  It’s a show worth returning to and playing again.  If Rob’s voice was less rugged that night, it might have been a live album in its own right.

3.5/5 stars

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Defenders of the Faith (1984) Part One – Vinyl

JUDAS PRIEST – Defenders of the Faith (1984 Columbia)

If memory serves, in contemporary times, Defenders of the Faith was considered good but not as good as Screaming for Vengeance.  It was a down-ratchet in terms of tempo and intensity.  With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that both albums are near-equals in quality.

It begins with a bang.  “Freewheel Burning” is borderline thrash, with the kind of high octane tempos they do so well.  Racing metaphors are paired with a lightspeed lead Rob Halford vocal, syllables flowing so fast that only a seasoned rapper could keep up with his flow.

Look before you leap has never been the way we keep, our road is free.
Charging to the top and never give in never stop’s the way to be.
Hold on to the lead with all your will and not concede,
You’ll find there’s life with victory on high.

Without a lyric sheet, there was no way you were able to follow the words.

After an adrenaline rush like that, Priest wisely shifted the throttle back a few gears with “Jawbreaker”.  Though not slow, it’s also not mental like “Freewheel Burning”.  The pace is determined.  It would not be controversial to say that Dave Holland isn’t as complex a drummer as Les Binks was.  Still he and Ian Hill do lay down a pulsing, robotic metal beat.

Third in line and backed by regal guitars, “Rock Hard Ride Free” sounds like an anthem.  “Rock hard with a purpose, got a mind that won’t bend.  Die hard resolution that is true to the end.”  For context, in the 1980s, being a metal fan was like choosing to be a neighbourhood pariah.  Many of us appreciated upbeat, encouraging messages like “Rock Hard Ride Free”.  We believed in something, and it wasn’t what the teachers and preachers thought it was.  That’s what “Rock Hard Ride Free” is about.

The first side closes on “The Sentinel”, a mini epic.  A street battle is taking place in a shattered apocalyptic landscape.  It could very well be the same world inhabited in “Blood Red Skies” or “Painkiller”.

Amidst the upturned burned-out cars,
The challengers await,
And in their fists clutch iron bars,
With which to seal his fate.
Across his chest in scabbards rest,
The rows of throwing knives,
Whose razor points in challenged tests,
Have finished many lives.

A multi-parted dual guitar solo animates what the rumble must look like.  Rob tells the story with the necessary urgency.  In the end it’s a scream-laden metal triumph.

Ominous echoing bass notes ring as soon as the needle drops on Side Two.  “Love Bites” was a single, an unusual song with a very spare riff.  Its simplicity is its weapon as it bores its way into your brain.  Halford sounds absolutely menacing.  Then they go turn on the afterburners for the very naughty “Eat Me Alive”, a song which got them a bit of trouble in the 1980s.  It  was one of 15 songs the Parents Music Resource Center wanted stickered for “explicit content” . “I’m gonna force you at gunpoint to eat me alive” sings dirty Rob, as the parents of America weep in their Cheerios.  Not an album highlight, except in terms of pure aggression.

Much more interesting is the slower, menacing “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll”.  A great deep cut.  Dave Holland could have been a drum machine for what it’s worth, but this song is a champion.  Interestingly they followed it with the even slower “Night Comes Down” which might be the album ballad (albeit a heavy one).  Great pulsing bassline by Ian Hill on this track.  It’s a more sensitive, thoughtful side of Rob.  “Call me and I’ll wait till summer.  You never understood that I would wait forever, for love that’s only good.”

The album closes on a dual track:  “Heavy Duty” / “Defenders of the Faith”.  “Defenders” itself is an epic outro with “Heavy Duty” being the main part of the song.  As it implies, this is a heavy duty stomp.  The highly processed drums are accompanied by a repeating riff until Rob breaks into the outro.  Though “Defenders” itself is only a minute and a half in length, it’s among the best minutes on the album.

Not a perfect album, but even though this is a simpler Judas Priest for the 1980s, it still commands respect.  Defenders of the Faith is undoubtedly an 80s album.  It’s aimed at a wider demographic that wouldn’t necessarily get their earlier more complex material.  Defenders does it well, with some truly timeless riffs, and great song after great song.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Unleashed in the East (1979, Remastered)

JUDAS PRIEST – Unleashed in the East (Originally 1979, 2001 Sony reissue)

The best Judas Priest live album isn’t the biggest or the newest.  It’s the first:  the humble Unleashed in the East.  The first Priest album to be produced by Tom Allom, the last with Les Binks on drums…this is a special album for a number of reasons but most important are the songs.  It would not be going out on a limb to suggest that some of these tracks are now the definitive versions.

Like many live albums of the 1970s, it has been questioned how much of Unleashed in the East was redone in the studio.  Rob Halford has maintained that only the vocals were touched up, but it does not matter one iota when the needle hits wax or laser strikes plastic.  The band were at a musical peak in 1979, and with accelerated tempos, they attacked the best of their body of work, although neglecting the bluesier debut Rocka Rolla.

With “Exciter” (from 1978’s Stained Class) opening the set, this collection has more energy by comparison to the somewhat stiffer studio counterparts.  Les Binks has his foot on the pedal and the band is fully energized on this proto-thrash classic.  “Stand back for Exciter” indeed, as Halford has the Tokyo crowd in the palm of his hand, heavy on the echo.  “Running Wild” (1978’s Hell Bent for Leather) is extra caffeinated compared to the in-the-pocket original, giving the album the feel of a race.  KK goes bananas at the end, and then it’s his showpiece:  “Sinner” from 1977’s Sin After Sin.  Finally it sounds like Priest have stopped hurryin’ about.  About half of the track features KK taking his guitar to outer space in a trippy solo segment.

In its original form, “The Ripper” (1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny) was thin and stiff by comparison.  Here it is a beast, with Rob Halford fully unleashed and stalking the back-alley streets.  Easiest contender for most definitive version of a song on Unleashed in the East.  “Green Manalishi” also comes close, with this electrifying version containing the full-blown dual solo in fantastic, crisp, live glory in stereo.  Each part of the solo is an essential part of the song, just as “Green Manalishi” is an essential part of the album.  If you own the LP, this is where you flip sides and go straight into an adrenalized “Diamonds and Rust”, keeping the energy moving.  Binks’ double-bass work is fun as hell to listen to, like a kid who can’t stop tapping his feet excitement.

The Priest epic “Victim of Changes” takes its time to unfold, though mightily it does.  The live setting and the unstoppable Les Binks make this another definitive Priest live version.  It is the climax of the album, with the last two tracks “Genocide” and “Tyrant” unable to surpass its mountainous metal spires.  Regardless, both are far more fuelled than their seemingly crippled studio counterparts.  Halford is more expressive and engaging live, while the guitars riff on relentlessly.

This album would be 5/5 stars right here, full stop, no need to elaborate.  The already definitive Priest live album became even more definitive in Japan in 1979, and 2001 in the rest of the world, with additional bonus tracks.  On the 2001 remastered Sony edition, all the tracks blend into one another without fade-outs.

Most of the tracks originated on Hell Bent for Leather, with one from Sin After Sin.  “Rock Forever” and “Delivering the Goods” cook!  Not too dissimilar from the originals, these are nice additions that extend the album without weakening it.  “Hell Bent for Leather” was conspicuous by its absence from the album proper, so its restoration is significant.  Finally the lengthy “Starbreaker” occupies the final slot, including a Binks drum solo.  An odd positioning but a stellar version nonethless.  All said and done, the version of Unleashed with bonus tracks is just over an hour long.  By today’s standards that’s a bit short for a live album, but it certainly does feel more complete.

Though he was indeed a significant source of Judas Priest’s musical power both on stage and in the studio, Les Binks quit the band mid-tour to be replaced by ex-Trapeze drummer Dave Holland for the remainder.  Binks was never made an official member on paper and was dissatisfied.  To be sure, other Priest drummers can sympathise.  The only taint on this otherwise perfect “live” metal album is the absence of the departed drummer on the front cover.

5/5/5 stars

 

JUDAS PRIEST REVIEWS

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Hell Bent for Leather / Killing Machine (1978)

JUDAS PRIEST – Hell Bent for Leather / Killing Machine (Originally, 1978, 2001 Sony reissue)

After producing “Better By You, Better Than Me” on Judas Priest’s Stained Class LP, James Guthrie was hired to do their next album.  This coincided with another step in Judas Priest’s evolution.  In the 1980s they would streamline and simplify their sound, but their earlier albums were darker and more complex.  1978’s Hell Bent for Leather (called Killing Machine in the UK) is the dividing line between the two sides of Priest.

A stuttering riffs opens “Delivering the Goods”, one of the best known tracks from this excellent LP.  A newly upbeat Priest does indeed deliver the goods on this bright rocker.  “Feeling like we’re ready to kick tonight, no hesitating, my bodies aching, looking for some action, satisfaction all right.” This is a far cry from “Saints in Hell” and “Dissident Aggressor”.  Now Priest are uplifting your rock and roll souls.  It’s a heavy, headbanging party track with solid gold riffage.  The outro is a showcase for drummer Les Binks, unfortunately on his final Priest studio album.  His loss would be felt through the entire 1980s.

Another simple hard rock classic, “Rock Forever”, is second in line.  Binks’ double bass work is like an impatient kid anxious to quit school for the day.  Part way through, a multi-tracked Halford turns into a cool choir of Robs.  Further in, “Evening Star” is a bit of a surprise.  Starting as a ballad, it quickly turns into a…rock and roll singalong?  As one of Priest’s most melodic songs, it could have easily swayed new fans onto this band.  It also could have turned off fans who liked their metal heavy.

Two tracks from this album have consistently been in the Priest setlists.  One is “Hell Bent for Leather”.  It has a delightfully dry sound, with guitars cranked and Binks on overdrive.  It was obviously good enough to close Priest’s shows going forward (mostly), with Rob riding out on his Harley.  It’s not Priest’s greatest song, but it is one of their most legendary.

Closing side one is “Take On the World”, sort of a prequel to “United” from British Steel.  With double tracked drums, it has a “We Will Rock You” quality, but done Priest style.  It’s clearly meant to be sung from the stage, to a screaming audience.  “Put yourself in our hands so our voices can be heard, and together we will take on all the world!”  Repeat, rinse, dry.

Side two’s opener is one of Rob’s naughty numbers:  “Burnin’ Up”.  The sexy groove on this one will nail you to your seat.  It’s an album highlight though it might leave you feeling funny, like that time you climbed the rope in gym class.  “You dish the hot stuff up but you keep me waiting, so I’ll play it dirty until your body is breaking.”

At this point, the US version of the album breaks into what I will call the greatest song Judas Priest have ever done.  It’s the second one that has remained in setlists.  And it’s not even one of theirs.  It’s Fleetwood Mac’s “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)”.  Rarely does a band make a cover song their own like Priest did with “Green Manalishi”.  Everything on this is perfect, from the impeccable tempo, to the immaculately composed solos, to the flawless riff.  Les Binks is right in the pocket, and it’s very telling that live versions with Dave Holland on drums were stiffer.  If you only ever get to hear one Judas Priest song in your whole life, make sure that it’s “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)”.

You could put a fork in the album at this point and call it “done”, but there’s still plenty of awesome to go.

A funky Priest groove goes down on “Killing Machine”.  A menacing Halford warns, “I got a contract on you,”  backed by trademark Priest riff.  The middle section with the solo is a whole different beast.  A faster song,  “Running Wild”, pumps the adrenaline with chugging guitars.  “I take on all comers, they back up or they fall,” sings Rob with a challenge in his voice.  At this point I’m convinced that this guy could take on the world for real.  “I rebel but I worked hard, and I demand respect,” he sings with earnest.

There’s a respite here before the end, with a ballad:  “Before the Dawn”, which reminds of softer moments from Sad Wings of Destiny.  The guitar solo is legendary, but Rob Halford is the star on this melancholy masterpiece.  Finally, Priest go dirty again with “Evil Fantasies”.  Lock up your kinks, or just go with it!  It’s another sexy groove.  Rob knew how to write lyrics appropriate to the music.  “You pout, I snarl, you whimper.”  It’s like a Romulan having sex with a Klingon.  It shouldn’t be, but it is, and it’s cool!

Sony tacked on two completely unrelated bonus tracks, but review them we must.

“Fight For Your Life” is a demo of “Rock Hard, Ride Free” from Defenders of the Faith, almost identical except for some of the lyrics, and solo section.  Great bonus material for that album, but not this one.  Also unrelated is a live version of “Riding on the Wind” originally from Screaming for Vengeance.  This blitzkrieg is from the legendary US festival.

Bonus tracks quibbles aside, Hell Bent for Leather (with “Green Manalishi”) is essential metal.  Period.

5/5 stars

* The lyrics on the Japanese version were poorly translated:  “Feeling rock queers, ready to kick tonight.”

JUDAS PRIEST REVIEWS

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Stained Class (1978, Remastered)

JUDAS PRIEST – Stained Class (Orignally 1978, 2001 Sony reissue)

I always considered Stained Class to be the “lost” Judas Priest album.  I rarely saw its name in a print magazine, and never saw a copy in a store.  Not until 1989.  As it turns out, I only needed one Priest tape to complete my collection.  There it sat, at Zellers at the mall.  My dad got out his wallet and bought it for me.  I could tell that he was not as impressed as I was that I had finally completed my Priest cassette library.

A year later after I bought it, Stained Class became world famous.  In 1990, Priest were taken to court over “Better By You, Better Than Me”, a song from the album.  Lawyers in Nevada argued that Priest had embedded backwards “do it!” messages within the song, prompting James Vance and Raymond Belknap to attempt suicide by shotgun.  Belknap succeeded, but Vance survived, horrifically disfigured.  In the summer of 1990, everybody knew the name Judas Priest.  But there were no backwards “do its!” embedded in the music.  Even if there were, what does “do it” even mean?  And why would a rock band want to kill off their source of income?

In short, I’m telling you that it’s perfectly safe to listen to Stained Class.  As one of the finer Priest albums, your life will be better for it, not worse.

Nine tracks.  New drummer.  The smouldering odor of quenched steel.  Stained Class.

Fall to your knees and repent if you please, and be sure to stand back for “Exciter”!  Though the production of the 1970s robs it of its potential thunder, “Exciter” does not fail.  Judas Priest had mastered the art of the speedy riff, and Halford coloured them with vibrant wordy imagery.  “When he leaps amidst us, with combustive dance, all shall bear the branding of his thermal lance.”  While it could have come from a comic book, it’s certainly a more challenging lyric than “Rock hard, ride free, all day, all night.”

Fire imagery continues on “White Heat, Red Hot”, a Glenn Tipton number with one of those mid-tempo guitar grooves that Priest specialize in.  The new kid, Les Binks, lends it a relentless heavy beat.  Yet it’s a cover tune, the aforementioned “Better By You, Better Than Me” (Spooky Tooth) that knocks me out.  That groove!  The record company suggested the tune, to balance an otherwise pretty heavy album.  It was a good idea.  While it’s not as notable as “Diamonds and Rust” or “Green Manalishi”, Priest put their own spin on it.  Headbangingly so!  Rob Halford’s vocal performance is top notch.

Side one ends with the closing duo “Stained Class” and “Invader”.  Halford duets with himself on the title track, a pretty cool effect for a metallic midtempo stomper.  Enjoy some nice guitar harmonies from the duo of Tipton and Downing.  Its gleaming chorus upholds a great song.  “Invader” has a similarly burnished chorus hook and a victorious tone.

The album’s second side is more challenging to the uninitiated.  A tantalizing riff leads in to the doomy “Saints In Hell”.  Shrieking, Rob agonizes over going “down into the fire”, but the real heat is coming from churning guitars.  Next, “Savage” is just that.  Time changes with tricky drum work, dualing solos, and screamin’ Rob is what you will get.  “What have we done to deserve such injustice?” pleads Halford, giving 110%.

It is Les Binks that is credited with writing the guitar part to the album’s epic.  Says KK:  “Our drummer at the time, Les Binks, was left handed.  One day he walked into the studio and picked up one of the guitars.  It must have been mine, because Glenn would guard his with his life!  Anyway Les picked it up, turned it upside down, and played that riff.”  They built “Beyond the Realms of Death” around the guitar part.  Downing adds that he’d never seen Binks play anything on guitar before or since!  Like “Victim of Changes” before, it has distinct sections and builds up on itself.  “It’s a bit like our ‘Stairway to Heaven’!” said Rob; or perhaps to hell?  The centerpiece of the album.

Closing on “Heroes End”, Priest go out with a serious rocker and a couple more cool riffs for your collection.  An extended outro solo is one of its main features.

But that’s not all folks, because Sony added two bonus tracks on this 2001 CD edition!  And hey, I have nothing against “Fire Burns Below”, but this Turbo / Ram It Down outtake should have been added to a different album, not Stained Class.  The synth and programmed drums are jarring.  The back cover states it was recorded during “the earlier years of our career”.  This is obviously not true.  Too bad, as it’s a cool track although Priest probably didn’t need any more ballads at that point.  They already had “Out in the Cold” and “Blood Red Skies”, not to mention “Red, White and Blue”.  Decent ballad, but on the wrong CD altogether.  A live take of “Better By You, Better Than Me” has more relevance.  This is from the Painkiller tour in 1990, when the song was resurrected in their set after a long absence.  A middle finger to the lawsuit.  For that reason, this live version is important for the collector.

It’s a real shame this album was so rare when I was a kid.  Stained Class is Priest at one of their many peaks.  This was them at peak curiosity: willing to take chances, play with tempo and riff changes, and to challenge themselves.  By the next album they were starting to hone in on a commercially viable sound.  Cover tune aside, that’s not a consideration on Stained Class.

4.5/5 stars

 

JUDAS PRIEST REVIEWS

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Screaming For Vengeance (30th Anniversary Edition)

JUDAS PRIEST – Screaming For Vengeance (Originally 1982, 2012 Sony 30th Anniversary Edition)

While people recognize British Steel as a platinum Judas Priest landmark, it was Screaming For Vengeance that went double platinum.  It introduced Priest to the MTV generation and opened them up to bigger American audiences.  But before we get to Screaming For Vengeance itself, a cornerstone Judas Priest album in anyone’s books, the “Special 30th Anniversary Edition” must first be addressed.  The extra content is a full concert DVD, and four bonus audio live tracks from the same DVD.

To have Priest live at the US Festival is a wish fulfilled for many.  The daylight show with full classic costumes (Rob decked in silver) is a nostalgia blowout.  The band look lethal although drummer Dave Holland appears overwhelmed by the demanding tunes.  The setlist isn’t half bad, with “Green Manalishi”, “Diamonds and Rust”, and “Victim of Changes” being highlights and filling the need for old classics.  The bulk of the set is made up of more recent material from the three 1980s Priest albums thus far.  Tempos are fast, cowbells are in the air, and Rob is at his confident shrieking best.  The audio is great and the video is well reproduced.  Owning this edition of Screaming really is a must since it’s the only official release of this show on DVD.

The re-imagined cover art is nice, fitting in with other Priest deluxe reissues (see images at bottom).  In an unfortunate oversight, the clean and sharp original artwork is included nowhere inside this set.  They did include the two bonus tracks from the previous remastered CD release, which we’ll get to after we discuss the album in full.

Screaming For Vengeance was a sudden change of style for the Priest, after two rather soundalike albums.  Similarly the next album Defenders of the Faith would be cast from the same mold as Screaming.  All these albums were produced by Tom Allom.  Tempos were turned up, guitars sharpened, and as per the title, Rob Halford screamed.  A lot.  The refined 80s Priest was evident on the opening duo “The Hellion/Electric Eye”.  The guitars are sleeker, the vocals processed and robotic.  The riffs are just as sharp.  Priest were going for the throat.  This opening one-two punch was more punishing than any music I ever heard at that time.  Though you could not claim it’s heavier than a Priest oldie like “Saints In Hell”, the production is louder and more in your face than ever before.

Drummer Dave Holland sprays a bloodbath of bashes at the start of “Riding on the Wind”, Priest speeding on the highway once again.  With Rob in high register, this catchy tune is perfect for keeping the wind in your face.  The first respite in terms of tempo is “Bloodstone”, though its glorious riffs need no accelerant.  Halford’s scatting at the end is classic and a rare reappearance of his old sassy self from Hell Bent for Leather.

“(Take These) Chains” is one of the most immediately accessible tracks, a mid-tempo delight as Priest do so well.  They end the side with a slow metal grind called “Pain and Pleasure”, drums soaked in echo.  Rob alludes to an interest in BDSM again, but with music this heavy most people just headbanged and ignored.  (In another sad oversight, the lyrics are not contained within this edition, but were reproduced on the previous CD remaster.)  Don’t assume that because it’s a slow one it’s weak.  “Pain and Pleasure” is a resounding an d memorable side-ender.

The second side opens with the sudden shock blitzkrieg of the title track.  Speed metal turned up to 11, “Screaming For Vengeance” is over the top and almost self-parody.  It’s one of Priest’s most overdriven blasts of might, but it also verges on mindlessness if not for a spirited solo section in the middle.  But then in another jarring shift, the sleek mid-tempo groove of “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” rears its familiar head.  When I was a kid, there was no question this was Priest’s “big hit”.  It was the song everyone knew, and the music video was on constant rotation.  Classic clip.  The man pursuing Priest is meant to represent the tax man.  When Rob essentially yells at him “no tax man, you will not take my money,” his head blows up.  They used a little too much TNT on the mannequin, and so the tax man’s pants fell down in an added humiliation.  Such is the power of heavy metal, folks.  Got tax problems?  Rock and roll right in that tax man’s face.  Eventually his head will blow up.  If you’re lucky the pants might also fall.  This is what Priest have given the world!

“Another Thing Comin'” is a brilliant song.  Radio super-saturation cannot dull its simply-constructed hooks.  Its placement (second song, side two) is odd but that didn’t stop it to #4 on the US Billboard rock chart, nor did it impede the album rising to #17 on the Billboard 200.

The album begins drawing to a close, with an echoey tremolo effect on “Fever”, one of the album’s best cuts.  Then the echo ends, and a clean guitar accompanies a plaintive Rob.  Mid-tempo, powerfully built and loaded with hooks, “Fever” is a late-album winner.  Then, three quarters in, Halford turns on the high voice and the song transforms into something else equally cool.  Finally the echo-guitar returns to help bring the song to its dramatic end.

“Devil’s Child” is the last hurrah, a fun and heavy indictment of an ex-lover who’s “so damn wicked” and “smashed and grabbed all I had”.  The album ends as suddenly as it begins; jarring transitions being a sonic theme on Screaming For Vengeance.

Tom Allom’s production is often maligned as inferior to the more raw and loose sounds of Priest on their 70s albums, and there’s certainly an argument to be made there.  Screaming For Vengeance is not a warm album.  It is cold, sharp and steely.  It has a precise, digital undertone.  But it’s also heavy, considerably more so than Point of Entry which preceded it.  The cover art indicated that we were entering a new phase for Judas Priest; a simpler streamlined 80s phase but still deadly enough for the old fans.

The live bonus tracks included on the CD were not chosen willy-nilly.  Instead of including the best hits from the US Festival DVD, they use tracks from a different show in San Antonio, and all from Screaming For Vengeance:  “Electric Eye”, “Riding On the Wind”, “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” and “Screaming” itself.  Watch out for the squealing feedback!  Finally the original bonus tracks from the 2001 CD are edition are tacked on so you don’t have to own two copies.  These include a raspy, smoking “Devil’s Child” live from another concert, and a demo from the 1985-86 Twin Turbos sessions called “Prisoner of Your Eyes”.  I hate when Priest use bonus tracks from the wrong era, but the Screaming For Vengeance reissues are the only place you can get this song.  In a stylistic shift, this slick ballad sounds more like “A Touch of Evil” from Painkiller, but far tamer.  (The guitar solos were overdubbed and tracks finished in 2001.)

Good special edition, but not great.  As these things go I’m sure we can expect a better 40 anniversary edition.  It won’t be long now.

5/5 stars for the album

3.5/5 stars for the 30th Anniversary edition

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Point of Entry (1981, Remastered)

JUDAS PRIEST – Point of Entry (1981, 2001 Sony remaster)

Point of Entry will always be one of those “other” Judas Priest albums. It wasn’t a ground breaker and wasn’t a massive seller. It will always just be “the album that came after British Steel” or “the one that came before Screaming for Vengeance“.  It did fine (500,000 US sales) and spawned a killer single called “Heading Out to the Highway”, but it didn’t make history like the other two records.

Coming after British Steel, Priest continued with producer Tom Allom and drummer Dave Holland, and it doesn’t sound like they were overly interested in taking chances.  Sonically Point of Entry is a carbon copy, though with less impactful songs.  In 2001, it was issued remastered by Sony with two bonus tracks.

For me, Point of Entry occupies an interesting space.  Listening to it on a recent road trip took me back to 1987 or 88, when I was in the midst of seriously trying to collect “all the Priest”.  From the perspective of a kid in 1988, Point of Entry was what I thought 1981 must have sounded like, though it wasn’t that long before.  So Point of Entry takes me back not to the early 80s, but the late 80s.  And in the late 80s, it sounded good.

Sure, I was aware that it sounded a lot like British Steel before, but without the massive landmark tracks like “Metal Gods”.  But what about “Desert Plains”?  Why wasn’t it as important as “Metal Gods”?

To this day, I don’t know.

Point of Entry does boast a few songs that could go toe-to-toe with any on British Steel.  Certainly “Desert Plains” and “Heading Out to the Highway” can stand up to the prior album.  “Highway” has one of those riffs so classic that I sometimes find myself humming it in a grocery line wondering what song was in my head.  As a mid-tempo road song, it does the job.  One could argue it’s just a sequel to “Living After Midnight”, but you just try and resist this one.

“Heading Out to the Highway” was made into an unintentionally funny video, mixing on-set with on-location footage in an obvious way.  Worse though were the two videos that followed:  “Don’t Go” and “Hot Rockin'”.  “Don’t Go” features the band playing trapped inside a small room, with a door that leads various impossible locations including outer space.  Fortunately the song is better:  slow and plaintive, yet with that solid rocking beat and a killer guitar solo.  “Hot Rockin'” is high-speed but tends to be forgotten because Priest have better material at this tempo.  The video is situated in a sauna, and then a concert stage where Rob’s flaming feet light fire to his microphone, and the microphone to a couple guitars.  Funny to look at, but I think it’s one of those cases where we’re laughing at the band, not with them.

“Turning Circles”, and a lot of the rest of the album, fall into various categories.  This one fits alongside “Don’t Go” as a slow but hard track.  “We’ve all got somethin’ wrong to say,” sings Rob in this song that seems to be about ending a relationship.  The “ah ha, ah ha” break in the middle is an album highlight, and to me it sounds exactly like my bedroom in 1987.

It’s “Desert Plains” that really brings it home.  There is a pulse to this song, created by Dave Holland and Ian Hill.  You don’t associate those two guys with awesome rock beats often, but here it is.  “Desert Plains” is an instant classic, and it’s alive with movement.  From the verses, to the choruses, to Holland’s drum “sound effects” (like “wild mountain thunder”), this is a Priest classic and shall forever remain so.  This side one closer should have been a video way before “Hot Rockin'”.

The second side opens with “Solar Angels”, another track with an interesting rhythm (slow drums, fast guitar chug).  The song feels like it could use some more substance, but it’s still enjoyable albeit in a “Metal Gods” knock-off kind of way.  Though heaviness is always celebrated, who doesn’t enjoy when Rob Halford gets sassy?  That’s “You Say Yes”, an outstanding shoulda-been hit.  The verses verge on punk rock as Rob spits out the words as only he can.  Then the airy “what I do, what I do, what I do” middle section goes right to heaven — or my room in ’87, I’m not sure which.

Point of Entry ends on three decent but unremarkable mid-tempo tracks, which perhaps always served to weaken the album’s impressions.  “All the Way” might be an attempt to rewrite “Living After Midnight”, and although it’s a cool track we all know Priest have better stuff in this vein.  “Troubleshooter” might even be more of a rewrite, with that opening drum beat sounding a little familiar.  But Rob’s vocals kill it.  Finally “On the Run” is a screamy album closer where Rob is once again the star.

As with previous CDs in this Priest remasters series, there are two bonus tracks, one of which has nothing to do with Point of Entry.  “Thunder Road” sounds a lot like Ram It Down era Priest, so you can safely assume it’s from those sessions in the late 80s.  Clearly outtake quality, almost like a prototype for “Johnny B Goode”.  Then there is a live version of “Desert Plains” from what sounds like the 1987 tour judging by the big echoey drums and Rob’s added screams.  It’s much faster than the album cut, all but destroying the pulse of the original.  Yet the song still kills!  Somehow it didn’t make it onto the Priest…Live! album, which was already stuffed full.

In the late 90s, a guy sold a used copy of this on CD to me, but he left something inside.  Something I wish I’d kept because it was so bizarre and funny.  The back cover features five white boxes in the desert.  The guy left a little white piece of note paper inside, explaining what he thought the back cover was about.   “Maybe they are graves,” said part of it.  I wish I could remember the rest.  (I always thought the five boxes represented the five band members, with the large one in the back being Dave Holland and the drum kit.)  And speaking of the cover, this album does look better on vinyl.  I have vinyl for almost all the Priest up to Ram It Down, and they all look better on vinyl.

Although Point of Entry will always live in the shadows of the towering albums that came before and after, it still leaves a glow behind.

3.75/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Sin After Sin (1977)

JUDAS PRIEST – Sin After Sin (Originally 1977, 2001 Sony reissue)

“SIN AFTER SIN, I have endured, but the wounds I bear are the wounds of love.”

This lyric from “Genocide” on 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny would have been little more than a throwaway, if Priest didn’t recycle the words “sin after sin” for their next album title.  Though the song may have appeared to be the same, much had actually changed.  For the first time, they had a producer that understood that kind of aggressive rock that the young band were trying to create:  Roger Glover, ex-Deep Purple, who had already recorded several albums for Elf, Ian Gillan and Nazareth.  Perhaps even more significantly, for the first time they had a serious drummer creating the beats:  the not-yet-legendary Simon Phillips, who had still already played on a Jack Bruce album.  This was just a session for Phillips, but it enabled Priest to break the shackles of rhythm and really start exploring.

Opener “Sinner” might have been the same kind of tempos that Priest were working with before, but there is a new slickness to the drums; an effortless drive with increasingly interesting accents.  With a solid backing, Priest sound more vicious.  “Demonic vultures stalking, drawn by the smell of war and pain.”  The apocalypse has never sounded cooler.  As Phillips drops sonic bombs left and right, KK Downing goes to town on what would become his live showcase solo.  His growls and trills sound like a beast inflicting wounds on a struggling combatant.  At almost seven minutes, “Sinner” is the album epic, and it’s the opening track!

Priest previously recorded a cover of Joan Baez’ “Diamonds and Rust” for Gull records; that early version can be acquired on The Best of Judas Priest or Hero, Hero.  The Glover-produced track is the more famous and better of the two.  Radio play for “Diamonds and Rust” helped push the album to eventually sell 500,000 copies.  Rob Halford’s high pitched harmonies gleam like polished silver.

Ironic observation:  I hope by now we all know a light year is a measurement of distance, not time.  It is the amount of distance that light can travel in one year (9.46 trillion kilometres).  So, really really far.  Joan Baez playfully used it as a melodramatic measure of time in “Diamonds and Rust”.  (“A couple of light years ago”.)  On the next track “Starbreaker”, Halford refers to “light year miles away”, a crudely worded hyperbole for distance.  So with Sin After Sin, you get it both ways.  Regardless of scientific accuracy (or not) “Starbreaker” is a good track with a slightly flat riff.  Though Phillips is brilliant, it could just use a little more pep.

Like with Sad Wings of Destiny, you gotta have a ballad in there somewhere, and on side one that’s “Last Rose of Summer”.  This softie isn’t bad, though Priest have done and will do better.  Using a ballad to close a side isn’t always wise either, but on CD nobody really notices except us nerds.

“Let Us Prey/Call For the Priest” is a pretty epic side two opener, with harmony guitars playing an opening instrumental anthem.  Then a choir of Halfords joins in, and the band break in to what could be their fastest song yet.  From the wickedly fast dual guitar solos to the powerful rhythm, this song is a blitzkrieg of metal trademarks.  It’s relentless and all over the board, something that 80s Priest rarely was.

Side two keeps getting better with the groove of “Raw Deal”, which was Rob’s real “coming out” to fans in the know.  Today he calls it a “heavy metal gay rights song”.  It’s actually one of Halford’s best lyrics.  Instead of mashing together science fiction words and singing about battlefields, this time Halford paints a hazy picture of what is probably a gay club in Fire Island, New York.  It’s vivid but vague:  “The mirror on the wall was collecting and reflecting, all the heavy bodies ducking, stealing eager for some action.”  It’s also backed by some seriously cool Priest music, almost funky but always heavy.  “The true free expression I demand is human rights – right?”  It was all there in the lyrics all along.

A second ballad, the dirge “Here Comes the Tears” brings a cloudier mood.  An ode to loneliness, “Here Comes the Tears” is the one to play when you just can’t take it anymore.  When Halford starts givin’ ‘er at the end with the wildest screams in history, it sounds like an exorcism.  The guitars howl, a hint of piano can be heard, and there is an underlying choir of Robs singing sadly in unison.  Finally “Dissident Aggressor”, famously covered by Slayer, concludes the album on a violently fast note.  “Stab!  Fall!  Punch!  Crawl!”  This song is not for amateurs and might be the heaviest thing Priest have ever done.  There are plenty of contenders, but “Dissident Aggressor” must be in the Top Five Heaviest Priest Songs Ever.  But that being said, they still have the balls to end the song with another multi-layered harmony of Halfords.

The 2001 Sony remastered CD has two bonus tracks, and the first is the best in the entire series:  “Race With the Devil”, a cover of a track by The Gun.  This version, recorded for the next album Stained Class (Les Binks on drums) could easily have been a B-side all this time.  Why it went unreleased until 2001 is unknown.  Perhaps it was lost, but now that it has gotten a proper mastering job it is available on CD.  This is un-retouched, which cannot be said for other unreleased tracks in the Priest Remasters series.  “Run With the Devil” is raw, riffy, fast, and wicked.  All it really needed to make it album quality is a better guitar solo.  The second bonus track is a live “Jawbreaker” (Dave Holland on drums) from the Defenders of the Faith tour.  Out of place, but an excellent song regardless.

Incidentally, Sin After Sin is the last album before Priest adopted the first version of their current logo design.

4/5 stars