judas priest

#857: Obsessed With Rock

GETTING MORE TALE #857: Obsessed With Rock

As this summer flies by, I’m reminded of seasons past.  My dad always took the same vacations in the summer:  one week in July and two in August.  That means we’d be up at the cottage for that time, and I wanted to be well stocked with music.  Meaning, I had to bring all my music.  All my cassettes, all my vinyl.  Everything.

It was a process, to say the least.  All my tape cases had to be wedged between seats of the car, and I had “a few” tape cases.  Then I took apart my jury-rigged stereo setup and carefully prepared it for transportation.  I taped down the tone arm on the turntable so it wouldn’t fly about.  I packed up all my wires, head cleaners, and record brushes.  My ghetto blaster and record player were loaded onto a seat in the car, with my dad’s old 8-track deck/receiver at the bottom.  I was using it as a pre-amp for the turntable, and it worked after a fashion.

My treasured Kiss cassettes were not in a case.  They occupied a shelf in my bedroom, with two custom ceramic Kiss bookends.  I placed the bookends and tapes into a plastic grocery bag for transport.  Upon arrival at the lake, I set them all up on another shelf, always in chronological order.  It’s funny to think that I didn’t get an obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosis until I was in my 40s.  I was pretty clearly already there in my early teens.

Once I got everything hooked up again at the cottage (stealing extension cords from other rooms), I’d begin blasting the rock.  With OCD firmly in control, I first had to finish listening to whatever tape was in my Walkman during the car trip.  Only then would I choose what I would be listening to that night.

It’s all very clearly obsessive behaviour, but I guess people were not as aware of various mental health issues back then in the 80s.

Then and now, I loved listening to music at the lake.  I liked to blast it, which sometimes earned a noise complaint from the parents.  They were pretty good about it though.  They indulged my musical obsession though never quite understanding it.  I only had one true love and it was rock and roll.

Something else I enjoyed very much was buying new music while on summer vacation at the lake.  There were not many stores that carried anything good.  Don’s Hi-Fi, and Stedman’s were all that was available when I was really young.  They sure didn’t have much.  Still, listening to Priest…Live! when it was brand new, and breaking the seal at the lake was special.  It’s hard to articulate exactly what was special about it.  Your normal listening space is a familiar place.  Most things you hear, you first played in your own home.  When you get to experience an album on less familiar territory for the first few times, it develops a different flavour.  It’s not something you can hear, it’s just something you can feel.  I guess that’s why I always see myself playing darts in the back yard at the lake every time I hear Priest…Live!

Perhaps that is a feeling only a music obsessive gets.

When we returned from vacation, it felt like I would be welcoming my new albums into their new home.  This is where you live now, Priest.  This is where I am going to be experiencing you from now on.

Weird, right?

I never claimed to be normal.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  I’ve often boasted of not just “liking” music, but actually “loving” it deeply.  Maybe the only thing I’m actually boasting about is mental illness!

Whatever.  These are all good memories.  Although I speak fondly of it today, as a kid I would have chosen to stay home if I was old enough.  I missed being away from my friends, my rock magazines, my Pepsi Power Hour and all that stuff.  I missed talking about and listening to music with my best friend Bob.  Truth told, by packing up all music with me and hauling it up to the lake, I was trying to retain one aspect of being at home, which is my music collection.  Today the obsession remains, but I can do the same job with a laptop.  Crazy!  I never would have imagined that as a kid.

There are worse things to be hooked on other than rock and roll.  If it makes you feel so good, can it be so bad?

 

 

 

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.

Unfortunately only four tracks from the DVD are included in CD form, to keep costs down.  Otherwise it would have to be a triple disc set.  (Which is probably coming for a 40th anniversary edition anyway.)  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 the ones 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

#851: Freestylin’ 8 – Back to the Future

GETTING MORE TALE #851: Freestylin’ 8 – Back to the Future

“May you have interesting times.”  Have you heard that saying before?  They call it the “Chinese curse” but there’s no evidence it originated in China.  There is little doubt that today we are living in interesting times.  Historic times, too.  The days we are living through now are the days that your children and grandchildren will be studying in school.  Remember asking your grandparents what World War II was like?  Kids one day will be asking you about the great pandemic of 2020-2021.

In recent days we’ve seen some worthwhile attempts to get “back to normal”, specifically with entertainment.  Concerts are a thing again, albeit most of them are different from the ones we remember.  Drive-in concerts could help get us through this period.  Live-streamed concerts have also started.  Bands have used the downtime to jam, write, and record.  It is reported that the Scorpions and the Cult are back in the studio working on new albums.

The landscape has also been devastated.  Venues are closing at a blurry pace, with Rhapsody Barrel Bar being the latest local casualty in a dizzying series.  When this is all over, I believe we will see demand for sports events, movies and concerts as if Covid never happened.  In the meantime, people have to put food on their tables.  There are no easy answers.

I’ll tell you one thing, though:  I’m glad for once that I’m not a parent.  I have enough to deal with.  Talking to my folks the other night, my mom said “I don’t think I would have sent you back to school if this pandemic happened when you were kids.”  I don’t think I would have wanted to go back.  Right now all I can do is cross my fingers, say a prayer and hope that the kids going back now will be safe.  In Canada, we just don’t know yet.  We’ll be finding out soon enough.

It’s true that I have a lot on my plate.  I don’t need to get into the work details — you all have problems, too.  But here we are in late August and I haven’t missed a day (except for scheduled vacations of course).  There were many times I didn’t think I could finish a whole day, but I did it.  But the hard times are relentless.  On August 14, Jen lost her grandfather, a proud Air Force veteran with the wisdom of a sage.  Yet another loss for poor Jen, who nevertheless keeps on getting up and going at it every single day.  This in the same year I lost my Uncle Don.  It’s been hard on our family.  My grandmother turned 96 and is just aching to get out of the house.  She still lives in her own home but can’t go anywhere except out onto the driveway, due to the dangers of Covid when combined with her age.

I’ve talked about this a number of times already, but my 2020 was stressful well before Covid hit our shores and I decided to get some help.  According to my records my first counselling session was February 7.  I’m very lucky that I had good support already setup when lockdown began a little over a month later!  All of this coincided with deep desire to delve back into childhood memories, and music.  I’ve been focused on music I used to enjoy in my teens.  Kiss has dominated.  Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Europe, Frehley’s Comet.  Stuff from happy summers of the past.

It’s incredible how, in the correct mindset, these albums have created aural time travel for me.  I don’t even have to close my eyes, but all the feelings and images and words from that time come back to me like pictures on a screen.  When I listen to The Final Countdown, all I can think of is spring, 1987.  With Frehley’s Comet, suddenly it’s July.  The last time I played Frehley’s Comet, I was at the cottage.  I yelled over to my sister (she’s two lots over to the left), “Hey!  I’m playing the album you gave me for my birthday in 1987.  What is it?”  Without hesitation she yelled back, “Frehley’s Comet!”  She remembered!  That’s pretty cool.

You know what?  These have been interesting times.  I’ve been on my own personal journey, and it probably wouldn’t have taken the same path if it wasn’t for Covid.  As shitty as 2020 has been (and make no mistake, this has been a shit show of a year) I cannot deny that it came with some personal good.  The only thing better than discovering new music for the first time is rediscovering it with fresh eyes, ears and soul.  Take it in anew.  Relive the experience and rejuvenate.

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

RE-REVIEW: Judas Priest – Sad Wings of Destiny (1976)

I was listening to Sad Wings of Destiny recently and wrote up a brand new review before realizing I already reviewed it.  Fortunately, I had lots more to say.  For my original 2015 review, click here.

JUDAS PRIEST – Sad Wings of Destiny (1976 Gull, 1998 Snapper Music)

1974’s Rocka Rolla didn’t set the world on fire, so back to the drawing board for album #2.  Having rid themselves of most of their early bluesy material, Judas Priest went heavier, and more diverse simultaneously.  The resulting album, 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny, is considered an early classic by the band.  Some feel they rarely reached these heights again as they took their metal more mainstream in the 80s.

“Victim of Changes”, which opens the album, introduced the world to the high notes that Rob Halford was able to hit.  “Whiskey woman don’t you know that you are driving me insaaaaaaaaaaaaaane!”  Yet that note is nothing compared with Rob’s final shrieks.  This track combines an earlier unreleased Priest song titled “Whiskey Woman” written by original singer Al Atkins with a track called “Red Light Lady” brought in by Halford from his old band Hiroshima.  You can hear the moment the two songs are welded together at around the 4:45 mark.  Together at almost eight minutes they form a complex, classic Priest track that represents a high water mark.  Twisting from a metal groove into ballady territor-y and back again, this is drama the way Priest do it.  And they never do it better.

“The Ripper” boasts similar high notes but it’s almost a parody.  This riff-based shorty (2:51) is from the perspective of Jack the Ripper (or if you like, Jack the Knife).  With a galloping beat from new drummer Alan Moore (who was eventually replaced by the far superior Les Binks), “The Ripper” is as metal as things got in 1976.  Its placement as second track is perfect because the next two, “Dreamer Deceiver” and “Deceiver” form a single 8:34 epic.  “Dreamer Deceiver”, which forms the majority of the song, is an epic ballad about a supernatural being who tempts those below.

“Saw a figure floating, ‘neath the willow trees.
Asked us if we were happy, we said we didn’t know.
Took us by the hand and up we go.”

They follow the dreamer through the purple hazy clouds into the cosmos.  The intricate acoustic guitars let Rob Halford dominate with his story.  Though the track is haunting, it seems the people in the song find “complete contentment” and live without worries.  But as the song builds, adding piano, Rob’s vocals become more urgent (and high).  Though it seems like a heavenly paradise, the second part “Deceiver” changes the mood considerably.

“Solar winds are blowing, neutron star controlling.
All is lost, doomed and tossed, at what cost forever?”

There is always a price when temptations seem too good to be true.  This song brings another heavy gallop, the kind which Iron Maiden would later perfect.  Solos blast, as Halford warns us all of the “Deceiver”!  This is the kind of metal that people associate with Judas Priest, though its’ far more impressive if you consider it part of a larger composition.

Side one can be viewed as just three songs:  two epics and a hard rocker.  Side two has more to offer, though it opens in epic enough quality.  Glenn Tipton’s piano piece “Prelude” is foreboding.  As a Sabbath-like instrumental, it serves to set the scene for “Tyrant” (though “Tyrant” is always performed live without “Prelude”).  Overdubbed vocals make for a cool chorus, but this one is just a molten metal burner.  It wastes no time in laying waste, with guitar solos galore, in both single and dual formations.

“Genocide” is a slower, cooler groove that doesn’t seem to match its violent title.  But this is from the perspective of a survivor.  “Save me, my people have died, total genocide.”  This is the song that gave us the next album title, Sin After Sin:  “Sin after sin, I have endured, but the wounds I bear are the wounds of love.”  Cool track and a necessary one to give the album balance.  Songs of this tempo and style would make up the bulk for Priest albums in the future, yet it’s not simple or blockheaded like some 80s Priest tended to be.  It retains some complexity and traverses multiple musical landscapes through its length.

Next:  a complete left turn.  “Epitaph” (written by Tipton) is a piano-based funeral dirge that sounds a heck of a lot like Queen.  It’s beautiful though.  With Halford’s vocals layered as a choir, it’s a daring change of pace even though Queen were pretty much the biggest band in the world in 1976.

“Epitaph” fades directly into the final track “Island of Domination”, another metal chug but with an apocalyptic bent.  Rob’s lyrics are unusually styled with archaic sounding lines like “‘Twas as if all hell had broke loose on this night.”  This could be Rob’s first BDSM-themed song with lines like “Lashings of strappings with beatings competing to win.”  If not, then it’s just a brutal battle set to the tune of speedy Priest metal.

It must be said that Sad Wings has a striking album cover, with the angel depicted burning in hell.  School teachers worldwide would have loved this cover back in 1976.  The angel character would return 14 years later as the Painkilller.  The “devil’s tuning fork” necklace that the angel is wearing would become Priest’s symbol on later albums as well.

Though Sad Wings is an essential album for a serious metal collection, and stuffed full with riff after riff of majesty, it is frustrating hard to find good versions on CD.  Priest’s albums on Gull records have never been officially reissued by the band.  The 1998 CD release by Snapper music is usually rated fairly well.  If you’re unsure then get an original Gull vinyl copy.  But do get Sad Wings of Destiny and prepare to hear a young, vital and daring Judas Priest just beginning to learn what they can do.

5/5 stars

#840: 40 Years in Photos

GETTING MORE TALE #840: 40 Years in Photos

According to Ye Olde Photo Album, we began building the cottage in the summer of 1980.  Until then we stayed in a log cabin down the road with Grandma and Grandpa.  It was a tight squeeze.  Grampa had a bunk house out back where he spent the night.  Grandma had a bedroom where Little Baby Kathryn Ladano slept in a crib.  My mom and dad had a room.  That left me to sleep on a cot in the living room.

Many of my memories of that cabin are Star Wars memories.  The Empire Strikes Back had just come out.  I remember reading the comic book and the collector’s cards by the little front windows.  My mom bought a whole box of Empire Dixie cups for the lake.  Our action figures were always there with us.  I didn’t have a Boba Fett yet, so in the meantime I used a Micronaut with missile-firing backpack.  The cabin had structural support cables running from front to back, and they were great for hanging Star Wars figures in precarious adventurous positions.

There wasn’t much room in that little log cabin so eventually we needed to get a place of our own.  My parents bought a vacant lot nearby and began clearing the land.  We had no phone, no cable TV, nothing other than what we brought with us.  That was usually our Star Wars guys and sometimes a little Fisher-Price tape recorder to play cassettes.  But all my Star Wars soundtracks were on vinyl.  My grandfather had a record player at the cottage but we didn’t play Star Wars records.  Just country!

The land was cleared, a foundation was poured, and flooring laid.  Insulation was installed under the floors and that’s when it rained.  Insulation had to be re-done, a messy job.  The construction attracted attention from local cottagers and a curious little boy named Cyril became my first cottage friend.

Cyril was not only my first cottage friend, and not only my first black friend, but also the first black kid I’d ever met in my life.  Growing up in Catholic schools in Kitchener Ontario was a very white experience.  I’d never even see a black kid before that wasn’t on television.  The picture of Cyril checking out the brand new window delivery was typical.  That was as exciting as things got.  There were always trucks dropping off mountains of lumber.  Like all other little boys in 1980, Cyril was a Star Wars fan.  We got our figures together and played.  I remember freezing Han Solo in a glass of water.  It was the best way to make a “frozen Han” back then!

Funny thing about Cyril.  He had an older step-brother.  Eight years after meeting Cyril, his older brother was my science teacher:  the legendary Mr. Marrow, one of the greatest teachers I ever had, and a guest star in my “Nothing But A Good Time” music video.  He played – surprise surprise – the teacher!  And he nailed it!

I’m not sure what happened to Cyril or Mr. Marrow as their family sold the cottage long ago.  I did see Cyril once as an adult.  He towered over me, and apparently developed a love of Phil Collins!

By 1981 we had a space we could live in.  The interior was not finished, and we used an old folding table in the kitchen.  The back yard was nothing but dirt and stones.  My mom’s ashtray and cigarettes sat on the kitchen table.  It took years to finish the inside, room by room.  The wall slats went up and the ceiling was eventually finished too.  Soon, front and back decks went on.

The next photos come from Easter of 1986, an occasion I’ve written extensively about.  Easter fell in March that year, and we spent it at the lake.  The water was still partly frozen, but a few leads opened up in the ice and we took out the canoe for a trip.  You can see my little sister hunkered down in the middle while my uncle and dad paddled.  Later on in the back yard, I could be found playing air guitar on my favourite weapon – a badminton racquet.  If there was a tape deck on the back porch, it would have been playing “Turbo Lover” by Judas Priest.  The video had just come out and I recorded it to tape so I could listen to it whenever I wanted.  Naturally “Turbo Lover” was followed by “Locked In”.  I wouldn’t get the album itself until September.

One of the most interesting things to me about the older photos is the lack of puppies.  The first Schnauzers arrived in August of ’86.  We had two to choose from – Gentle Ben and Crystal Belle.  I connected with little Ben as the photos show.  I thought he might like to listen to some Triumph on my earphones.  But we chose Crystal (I was outvoted 3-1), and she was our puppy for the next many years.  I’ll be honest and admit that the stories you’ve heard were true.  At the time, I did not want a dog.  I didn’t want a dog because my sister did, and I didn’t want her to have her way.

In a photo from fall of 1987, she can be seen looking for cookie scraps as we lounged on a hammock.  I was wearing an Iron Maiden “Trooper” shirt that I don’t even remember owning at that age.  Later that fall we went on a big hike, following the lake north.  Shortly after, I painted that black vest with flames, and it became part of my Alice Cooper Halloween costume.

During the school years, I stayed home more often.  I didn’t want to miss any WWF wresting, or Much Music Power Hour music videos.  The absence of cable TV and a telephone made it feel like you were really out of contact with the outside world.  Of course, that was the point, but when you’re in your teens that’s not a point you really feel like making.

In the winter, my parents would go for day trips while I would stay home and get into mischief with Bob Schipper.  A photo was snapped of my dad shooting one of his guns on one such trip.  I stayed home to make cardboard guitars with Bob.

Time flew – and so did we!  My dad had a good friend named Jack, who was an airline pilot.  Because of Jack, any time we were going on a flight, he could made arrangements with the pilot to let us come up to the cockpit.  I felt like the kid in the movie Airplane!, meeting Captain Oveur.  Jack was a customer of my dad’s at the bank and that’s how they met.

Jack also had a small plane over his own.  When he came to the cottage for a visit, he didn’t drive.  He flew.  Summer after summer we always looked forward to his visits.  He’d take us all up two at a time if we wanted to.  It was pretty wild being able to see the cottage from the sky.  Too bad we didn’t think to take pictures from the air.

The 80s turned into the 90s.  I’ve written extensively about the summer of 1991, and the photos show change!  The old brown back deck was never meant to be a permanent fixture.  In ’91 we designed and built a bigger and better deck.  It was my job to cut out holes for the trees to grow through and you can see this in the photos.  Or at least you can see me goofing around for the cameras in my beloved Jon Bon Jovi Blaze of Glory T-shirt.  I bought that album there, on cassette the previous year.  The “bloody” scene was caused by a bottle of ketchup, cropped out of the photo (but left in on the original print).  Neon pink was in at the time, by the way.

1991 was a special summer because it was the last summer that Bob came to stay, and the first one that my buddy Peter came for.

Seasons passed and hair grew.  I had pretty good long hair when my Aunt came to visit in 1992.  You can tell it was 1992 by the Wayne’s World shirt.  I just had to have one.  Wayne’s World was everything in 1992.  I started talking like Wayne, using words like “spew” and “not”!  The tape deck that summer was loaded with Queen, Iron Maiden, and my favourite band Kiss who was out for Revenge.  We still have those old plastic deck chairs too!

What is really amazing to me is how quickly the time has gone by, especially those early years.  It felt like ages to finish the cottage.  It seemed like the unpanelled walls and temporary furniture was forever.  Even into the 1990s, our closets were not finished.  You could find the words KISS and NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK inked into the wooden 2x4s framing our closets.  Archaeologists will be able to determine whose room was whose based on hidden graffiti.

I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane and can imagine what it was like to be a kid at the lake, playing Star Wars, and later rocking the air guitar badminton racquet to “Turbo Lover”.  Maybe next time there I will break out the racquet for another go.

 

 

Live Stream – Harrison and LeBrain talk Judas Priest’s “Nigel Tufnel Top Ten”

Please welcome Harrison to the Saturday live stream! With only minor technical glitches, the Mad Metal Man himself joined me from the other side of the world today.

Today’s subject: A solid “Nigel Tufnel Top Ten” list on the might Judas Priest. Harrison was armed with an addition list by Holen! We ended with an announcement. Link to the Mad Metal Man’s own new website below!

THE MAD METAL MAN – Reviews and Rambles

#833: This Is Me in Grade 9 (Part Five of the 1986 Saga)

GETTING MORE TALE #833: This Is Me in Grade 9

(Part Five of the 1986 Saga)

“If you’re going to keep sitting next to me, never sing again,” said Steve Vanderveen.  It was the first day of grade 9, the first day of highschool, the first day of my new life.  And I fucked it up!  In Catholic school, we had to sing “O Canada” and we had to sing it like we meant it.  Little did I know, in public school, they didn’t sing.  They just stood at attention.  But on that first day of school, it was me and only me singing, without even realizing it.

What a winner.

I managed to recover from this embarrassment, and make a go of highschool.  Without all the loser baggage I carried from the grade school days, it was a fresh start.  The bullies were gone.  I was making new friends!  There was Rob Daniels and his buddy “Gumby”, there was Danesh and Anand, and I had never seen such diversity in a classroom before.  As strange is this sounds, in all the years from kindergarten up, I never had a black kid in my class before.  And now here was Carlton, a popular kid who loved to talk about how beautiful Jamaica was.  I don’t think I knew anyone who’d even been to Jamaica before.  I wanted to be his friend!  And of course there was Peter Cavan, who absolutely was not my friend in grade 9!  I ratted him out for eating liquorice in Geography class, so you can understand why it took him a few years to warm up to me.  By the end of highschool, we were best friends.

And the girls?  I had never seen so many in one place before.  I developed many secret crushes.  They never knew, because I never quite figured out how to talk to them!  But they were there, lots of them, and I thought maybe I’d have a shot.

The first week of school, I bought some new music:  Turbo, by Judas Priest.  I did my homework on the back porch, with that cassette on the boom box.  I only had three Priest albums:  Screaming, Defenders, and TurboTurbo was easily my favourite.  While not as heavy as the other two (and let’s face it, Screaming for Vengeance can rip heads clean off), Turbo was more the kind of music that I was into.  It was melodic, with hook after hook, and possibly even female appeal.

But soon after, something monumental happened.  Monolithic.  Youth-defining.

Iron Maiden came out with a new video.

“So, understand!” sang Bruce Dickinson in what was, quite honestly, the best video we’d ever seen.  “Don’t waste your time always searching for those wasted years!”  A bit of a word salad.  If a certain president said something like this today, we’d consider it another sign of his declining mental faculties.  But even to us as kids, it was obviously a road song.  A song about the loneliness of touring.  Many of the new Maiden songs were darker and introspective.  This was not lost on us.  Nor was the lack of Dickinson writing credits on Somewhere In Time.  It was clear to us that some of the rumours were true, and Maiden were starting to burn out a bit.  That they put out an album as awesome as Somewhere In Time is remarkable, but I recall an air of disappointment in the press.  Certainly, after the triumvirate of Beast, Piece of Mind, and Powerslave, it had a lot to follow.

My best friend Bob and I sat in the basement, watching my recording of “Wasted Years” over and over again, pausing to catch every single Eddie painting.  The video was a combination of black & white performance, with still photos and album artwork edited in quick flashes.  The kind of thing two kids should be obsessively pausing and analysing!  Eventually we both got the album and naturally gravitated to the same songs.  I used the lyrics for “Alexander the Great” as a calligraphy project in art class.

My friendship with Bob was the cornerstone of my youth, and as much as I looked up to and emulated him, there were times he did me no good whatsover.

One night we were throwing a ball around the park, and one of us (probably me) threw it over someone’s hedge.  Steve Pushcar’s hedge, as it turned out.  Bob jumped the fence to retrieve it, and got yelled at by Steve’s mom.  Bob said he was only getting his ball back, but this quickly degenerated into an argument.  Bob always was a bit cocky.  Whatever he said that night, Steve Pushcar went at me for the next two months.

Me?  Why me?  I was just the sidekick!  I just stood there?  I didn’t say one word!  Why me?  Because Pushcar couldn’t get at Bob, and he’d have been flattened if he tried.

Pushcar was in my art class.  First he stole my pencil case and returned it to me completely empty.  Then he stole my art.  He was a fucking asshole.  The shitty thing was, he did all this anonymously.  I didn’t even know he had a grudge against me.  Not until a mutual friend told me.  That’s the kind of coward he was.  But his campaign only lasted a couple months, and highschool was actually pretty uneventful after that.

As the year went on, I discovered two “new” bands:  Bon Jovi, and Europe. Neither were really new; they were both on their third albums.  But the teen magazines pitted them as rivals:  heartthrob vs heartthrob, Jon vs. Joey.  Who would win?  (Jon.)  Really, all they had in common musically was the use of a full time keyboardist.

Partway through the year, who should show up but Steve Hartman, my old nemesis from Catholic school.  He had transferred from wherever the hell he was.  But he couldn’t get to me.  I was in the “advanced” program and he was in the “general” level.  We had no classes together, and I think he only lasted half a year.  I do remember him showing up in our gym class, wearing his shirt over his face so the teacher wouldn’t realize he had an extra student.  We were doing ball hockey, and the teacher Mr. Paull was too spun to figure it out.  I had a malingering wrist injury that I really milked so I could stay on the benches.  As if Mr. Paull would even notice.

At the end of the year, it was obvious where my talents did not lie.  My two worst classes were French, and typing,  66% in each.  Typing?  I know, right?  I type all day.  It’s all I do.  And I still fucking suck at it.  I was never good at proper form, and today type using only four fingers.  Funny thing.  The French and typing teachers were married.  Monsieur and Madame Euler.  They were fantastic teachers, just because I was a disappointment doesn’t reflect on them.  It reflects on me absolutely sucking at languages other than English, and my lack of physical coordination.  I mean, the following year I tried to play guitar.  The same problem followed me from keyboard to strings:  I can’t make my extremities go exactly where I want them to.  I’m sloppy and clumsy and have no timing.  Madame Euler wasn’t going to be able to fix that in a grade 9 typing class.

I didn’t get any girls to talk to me, but I had a good year.  For what might have been the first time, I really had a good year.  They’d only get better.  I was heading into a summer full of great music.  Stuff like Priest Live, Frehley’s Comet, and Love Is For Suckers.  Even then, I could not believe how much my life had changed for the better.  I succeeded — I escaped.

The future was bright.  Bob and I went on to have many adventures and a few “Crazy, Crazy Nights”.  But that’s another story.

 

 

THE 1986 SAGA

#833: Flag Boy (Part Two of the 1986 Saga)

STOPARRETPotentially triggering material ahead.

 

 

GETTING MORE TALE #833: Flag Boy

Part Two of the 1986 Saga

One of the many recurring themes here has been the awful experiences of being a metalhead in Catholic school.  A story that has somehow escaped being told until now is the one where those bastard kids gave me the name “Fag Boy” for a whole school year.

Grade 8, the 1985-86 year, had to be the worst.  It was kicked off by a huge fight with the school bully Steve Hartman, a total piece of shit, but at least I won.  Not that it helped.  I was teased relentlessly all year for my love of Kiss and Judas Priest.  Then I had mono.  Incidentally, Catholic school bullies are the worst and the teachers didn’t give a fuck.  When one kid, Ian Johnson, got into a fight with another bully, the teachers made them walk around the schoolyard together hand in hand.  What was that supposed to do?

The only thing that made life easier that year was beating Hartman in September of ’85.  That kept him off my back for the school year, although there were other bullies waiting in the wings.  Jeff Brooks, who stuffed snow down my jacket every Thursday after shop class.  Kevin Kirby, who copied my homework.  Towards the end even Hartman was campaigning for a “rematch”.

My sister used to call that school the “Hell Hole”.  She would sing Spinal Tap’s “Hell Hole” when we drove by.  This is a little kid in grade 4 calling her school that name.

At the start of the eighth grade, to learn social responsibility, we all had to volunteer for something.  There were a limited selection of slots for each role we were offered.  I cannot remember all of the duties that were set out on our menu of options.  Volunteering at the church was definitely among them, but I volunteered for the one I thought would be the most interesting:  security!  On a regular basis, we were to walk around the school when it was closed to make sure all was well.  Keep an eye out for anything wrong, like vandalism.  It was perfect because I was always biking around that direction anyway.  It was really the most appealing of all the options to me.

I’m sure you have already guessed they didn’t give me the security assignment.  No, I was given something that was supposed to be better, but was actually far worse.  It was such a dubious honour.  I was Flag Boy.

I wasn’t athletic, I was a skinny kid who openly listened to Judas Priest.  No way were they putting me on security.  They gave the two open positions to a couple of the athletic kids.  I don’t think either of them did any security that year.

As Flag Boy, I was responsible for putting out and bringing in the Maple Leaf at the start and end of every day for the year. It was worst at the start of the day.  When announcements were about to commence, I had to get out of my seat and leave the class, which always seemed to amuse them.  Then I had to walk down the hallway past the other grade 8 classroom, who always mocked and laughed and pointed at me as I went.  They called me “Fag Boy” from day one.  What made it even worse were my boots.  My dad gave them to me.  I thought they were so cool.  They didn’t have laces, they had dual zippers.  The boots only made me more a “Fag Boy”.

When the first pair of boots wore out, my dad gave me his second identical backup pair.  Ironically those boots would be considered so retro and stylish today.

The abuse that year was pretty bad and I faked sick a lot.  I faked sick mostly on Thursdays, which was shop class.  They bussed us to another school, St. Joseph, which had a woodworking shop.  The supervision was minimal and the bus rides were all but intolerable.  At one point or another I just decided I couldn’t take it anymore and faked sick as many Thursdays as I could.  By the time I got sick with mono for real, I had several incomplete projects in woodworking.  I was home for the rest of the term, and I never had to worry about those Thursday bus trips again.

Having mono sucked a lot, but Thursdays on the bus were far worse.  I considered it more than a fair trade.

While sick at home for real, I absorbed as many Pepsi Power Hours as I could.  I heard Hear N’ Aid for the first time.  I became addicted to “Rough Boy” by ZZ Top because of that damn music video.  (I guess I learned from an early age that I’m really a leg man.)  My heavy metal credentials grew by leaps and bounds and I listened to more and more songs:  “Metal on Metal”, “Never Surrender”, “Turbo Lover”, “Rock and Roll Children”.  To this day, I associate those songs with my sick time in 1986.  Especially Dio’s “Rock and Roll Children”.  The surreal music video suited the way I felt physically.  It didn’t look like the real world and I didn’t feel like myself.

My association of heavy metal music with relief from the outside world was cemented that year.  I had always come home to the comfort of a few Kiss tapes.  In 1986, sick with mono, I was safe from the school and surrounded not by bullies but by Ronnie James Dio, Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Halford, and Bruce Dickinson.  They didn’t call me “Fag Boy”, in fact their lyrics encouraged me to dig for strength.  Recovering from my illness, I had built this wall of metal around me.  It would be my armour for life.

I don’t know if those kids remember calling me “Fag Boy”, or if they would admit it.  I know I wouldn’t recognize Hartman if I saw him today.  They used to talk about forgiveness a lot in Catholic school.  You can forgive, but you never forget.