Jay Jay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Fight – A Small Deadly Space (1995)

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

FIGHT – A Small Deadly Space (1995 Epic)

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

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

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

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

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

For now?

2.8/5 stars

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REVIEW: Fight – Mutations (1994)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Fight – War of Words (1993)

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Part 1 of a miniseries on Rob Halford’s solo career!

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FIGHT – War of Words (1993 Sony)

I was devastated when Rob Halford left Priest.  I was so heavily invested emotionally in the excellent Painkiller album, I couldn’t believe it was over!  Last I had heard, the band were going to be working on two new songs for a greatest hits album (Metal Works) and then Rob would take a break to do a solo album.  Instead, the band split completely!  Halford and drummer extraordinaire Scott Travis formed Fight with guitarists Russ Parish and Brian Tilse, and the bass player from hell, Jay Jay.   (Today, Parish goes by the name “Satchel” when he plays with Steel Panther!)  Regarding Jay Jay, Halford says that he did a number of Rob’s own tattoos.  Rob figured if he could play bass as well he he tattooed, he was in.  Jay Jay also does the grunt-metal backing vocals.

The resulting album, War of Words, is a Pantera-esque thrash-fest, one of the heaviest things Rob had ever done (until Halford’s Crucible album), undeniable brutal, scream-laden, and punishing from start to finish.  Halford had cleverly assembled two shredding guitar players with differing styles too:  Tilse specialized in the noisy speedy solos, while Parrish played the more melodic and traditional speedy solos!  War of Words is solo nirvana for fans of Rob and Priest.  And Rob wrote every single song by himself.

The twin openers, “Into the Pit” and “Nailed to the Gun”, are two of a kind:  they are rip-yer-head-off thrashers with Rob’s patented glass-breaking screams.  The song structures on War of Words are simpler than what we heard with Priest, no doubt since Rob composed the songs by himself.  This simplicity serves to make the album feel even heavier and more relentless.

The lyrics, just as simple and aggressive.  “Into the Pit” doesn’t feature much in the way of poetry:

Conspiring, for sation
Malfeasance, on high
Obstruction, of duty
Disorder, will rise

Rob takes the pace back a bit on the third track, “Life in Black” which I don’t think you can fairly call a ballad, to me it’s more Dio-era Sabbath with a very vintage-Dio sounding solo.  (Rob had just helped out Sabbath live after Dio left, singing lead for two shows while opening for Ozzy Osbourne.)  Meanwhile “Immortal Sin” bears a slow groove with a melodic chorus, downtuned but a bright spot in the proceedings.

The title track opens with the American First Amendment (Rob was living in Phoenix).  It’s another aural assault with Rob keeping his vocals in the upper register.  Travis’ incredible drumming punctuates every venomous word.  Considering that less than three years prior, Rob (with Priest) was in court defending his band during the infamous “suicide trial”, the words are apt.

Dream Deceivers, directed by David Van Taylor, the excellent documentary on the Judas Priest trial

It’s back to dark haunting territory next:  “Laid to Rest” ended the first side of the album.  I find this one to contain one of Rob’s best vocal performances of the album.  It’s reminiscent of “A Touch of Evil” by Priest, but downtuned and slightly exotic.

Side Two’s opener, “For All Eternity” is really the final reprieve.  It is most definitely a power ballad in vintage Priest vibe, but again with the modern downtuned guitars.  A song like this really proved Rob’s songwriting chops.  He’s capable of writing emotive, catchy powerful music completely on his own, and the song is an achievement.  The bridge around 2:25 is just awesomeness, but Tilse’s guitar solo completes the picture.  As if that wasn’t enough, Rob returns to full on scream mode for the end.

“Little Crazy” was a critically acclaimed heavy metal blues, and the second single/video.  I’m struggling to describe it beyond “heavy metal blues”, but this song is definitely a highlight.  Rob puts everything he has into the slinky lead vocal, while band fuse the blues feel with heavy metal’s precision.  I recall reviews of the time saying, “If Rob wanted to drop metal and go full-on blues, he could.”  Now that would be interesting.

The rest of the album is no-holds-barred.  The triple threat of “Contortion”, “Kill It”, and “Vicious” is almost too much.  Each song strips everything down to the basics:  simple riffs, violent words, relentless drums, without much in terms of melody.  This is the most difficult part of the album to penetrate.  In time the three songs grow.  “Contortion” protests what we are doing to the Earth with angry frustration.  “Kill It” is about TV preachers (whom I’m sure had their opinions on Priest during the trial).  “Vicious” was always my favourite of the trio:

You cheating, lying, mother-fucking son of a bitch..

Vicious, vicious,
Fucker, fucker!

I was going through an angry phase at the time!

Rob saved the best track for last.  “Reality: A New Beginning” is a weighty epic, a perfect closer, slightly exotic and successfully combining Fight’s heavy side with Rob’s ability to write great melodies.  This is simply an incredible song, a jewel in Halford’s crown, and a song which definitely deserves another look.  The lyrics seem to be autobiographical:

This time, when I’m leaving,
Who cares where I’ll go?

There was a hidden CD bonus track (not on cassette) after a five minute silence, a jokey song called “Jesus Saves”.  Rob’s voice is electronically manipulated to sound…well, not sure what he’s supposed to sound like.  An angry elf, I guess.

4.75/5 stars

There are some supplementary releases available:

1. This one is on my wishlist, I don’t own a physical copy:  In 1994 Fight released a Christmas CD single called “Christmas Ride” with a message from Rob!  They later reissued this as a free download from Rob’s site, but that is no longer around.

2. The live/remix EP, Mutations (next up in this series of reviews).

3. In 2007, a demo album called K5: The War of Words Demos was released.  This featured demo versions of most of the album, plus five more.  These include four new songs, and “Psycho Suicide” which was later remade for the second Fight album, A Small Deadly Space.   The demos reveal that a much more conventional-sounding metal album was initially planned.  (“The Beast Denies” is a very different version of “Reality: A New Beginning”.)

4. The 2008 Fight box set Into the Pit contains remixed versions of War of Words (again without “Jesus Saves”) and A Small Deadly Space.  But the cool thing it contains is a DVD, Fight Live In Phoenix.  The band rips through the entire album, in sequence (no “Jesus Saves”!) and then Rob’s solo track, “Light Comes Out of Black” (from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie soundtrack).

5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer original motion picture soundtrack.  This is the only place you can get the studio version of “Light Comes Out of Black”, featuring his backing band…Pantera.  All of Pantera.

I like “Light Comes Out of Black”, but it’s a lot easier to swallow than Fight is on first listen.  I remember a M.E.A.T Magazine interview with Glenn Tipton and KK Downing, where they trashed it.  “If it were on Painkiller, it would be one of the weaker songs, if not the weakest,” said KK.

KK might have been right about that to a certain extent, but only because Painkiller consists of 10 awesome songs!