judas priest

#597: This is the Painkiller

GETTING MORE TALE #597: This is the Painkiller

Two things happened in the summer of 1990 that changed my musical trajectory forever.

1. There were too many ballads out! It seemed the only thing rock bands were doing to have hits was write ballads. Some were good, such as the heartfelt “Something to Believe In” by Poison, or “More Than Words” by Extreme . Most faded into a generic, boring ballady backdrop. Remember Alias?  With all these rock bands putting out ballads, something had to give. If it wasn’t the ballads, it was limp albums with weak, over-commercial production.  I didn’t get into rock music for ballads.  I got into it for that rock and roll rush!

2. Judas Priest were currently in court, fighting two families who blamed the band for the deaths of their sons.

It was a high profile case.  Raymond Belknap and James Vance were two troubled young men who decided to take a shotgun to a park one night in 1985 and kill themselves. Both were into heavy metal music, but there was far more to the story. Abuse, drugs and alcohol certainly took their tolls on both.  James Vance survived, horrifically disfigured.

Vance stated, “I believe that alcohol and heavy-metal music such as Judas Priest led us to be mesmerized.” And so, Priest were taken to court.  (Vance did not testify, as he died in hospital in 1988 after a methadone overdose.)

The victims’ families blamed backwards messages on the band’s Stained Class album, which the two boys were listening to some time prior to the suicide attempt. Lawyers claimed there was a backwards “do it” embedded within the Judas Priest song “Better By You, Better Than Me”.

Given the fact that “do it” can mean anything from “do your homework,” to “get a gun out of the basement and shoot yourself,” that argument held little water.  In 2015, Miley Cyrus released a single called “Dooo It!”  Nobody died.

The band demonstrated in court that if you played another song backwards from the same album, you’d get a completely different message.  The chorus of “Exciter” is “Stand back for Exciter, salvation is his task.” Played backwards, Rob could heard singing what sounded like “I asked for her to get a peppermint, I asked for her to get one.”

You could tell from the look on the judge’s face that he knew the backwards messages were hooey.

Another flaw to the plaintiffs legal argument is that there is no scientific evidence that backwards messages in music can be detected by the brain and understood, let alone command you to take actions against your will.  Not to mention, as Ozzy Osbourne once observed, killing all your fans with hidden suicide messages isn’t a practical way to make a living as a musician.

That summer, the case made the newspapers daily, not to mention the evening broadcasts. It didn’t seem that Priest were likely to lose, but as a fan, I supported them vigorously. Trying to prove a point, I played the Stained Class album over and over again, without ever having the urge to get one of my father’s guns and put it in my mouth.  It was bizarre seeing television broadcasts of Rob Halford wearing a suit jacket, on the stand defending himself.  He even had to sing for the judge.  The point of this was to demonstrate how exhaling at the end of each sentence creates an audible sound.  “Better by you, better than meee-ah.”  Of course the band conducted themselves with the professionalism that the situation warranted. None of that changed the headlines. In the year 1990, the words “metal band” and “suicide” did not make for good headlines if you happened to be in one of those metal bands.  Being a fan was hard enough already, without seeing this stuff on TV after Cheers.

Arguments were wrapped and the verdict was revealed:  case dismissed.  Judas Priest resumed business as usual.

A week before school returned, Metal Edge magazine did a Priest article with loads of information on the forthcoming Judas Priest album. I bought the issue and devoured the article on my walk home.  I remember running into Trevor the future Security Guard on the way, and we flipped through the pages together.

The Metal Edge article returned the focus back to the music.  I knew that drummer Dave Holland was out, replaced by a guy named Scott Travis from Racer X. Travis was known for his speedy double bass work. The new album promised to be Priest’s heaviest yet. The trial had them seething. Songs like “Between the Hammer and the Anvil” were directly inspired by their court experience. In the interests of change and taking things heavier, long time producer Tom Allom was dropped. He was replaced by Chris Tsangarides who was an engineer on 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny.

It was clear that Judas Priest were intent on turning the ship around. 1986’s Turbo divided the fans with its synth-metal. 1988’s Ram It Down underperformed, with fans slagging the weak songs and sound in general. Ram It Down was not the “return to heavy” that the band promised and the fans craved, though it certainly did have three or four good and heavy songs. They would have to do better to reignite the weary fanbase.

Painkiller was the right album for the right time. While bands like Poison were eager to say, “Our new album is our heaviest yet,” when Priest said it, it actually meant something. Painkiller really did live up to the hype. A magazine ad claimed it was “Awesome! Backwards or forwards.”

MuchMusic debuted the new Judas Priest video “Painkiller” on a fall episode of the Pepsi Power Hour, co-hosted by Michael Wilton and Chris DeGarmo of Queensryche. They were on hand promoting their new album Empire. The Priest video was a rapid-fire assembly of black and chrome images, unholy screams, and the fastest drumming heard yet on a Priest single. When the video concluded, DeGarmo said he had to catch his breath!

I hit rewind, and watched that video over and over again.

Nobody else seemed to get it. My sister, who was a New Kids fan, hated it. She already hated Judas Priest but “Painkiller” took it to a new level. To deserve that kind of hate, Priest must have been on the right track. A lot of my school friends and rocker buddies also disliked the track, preferring the likes of Cinderella and Winger. That too was a good sign. I thought that to stay relevant, Priest needed to stay as far as away from those bands as possible. Priest chose Megadeth and Testament to open for them, both bands supporting new albums (Rust In Peace and Souls of Black). The tour began in Canada, but when they came to the UK they brought with them a band with a big future called Pantera.

The Painkiller cycle ended where it began, in Canada. The final date was on a package called Operation Rock & Roll (the name was a spoof of Operation Desert Storm).  The final date was Toronto, August 19 1991. Priest were second on the bill, following Motorhead and opening for Alice Cooper. Something strange happened that night. Rob Halford rode his Harley Davidson motorcycle on stage to start the show, but this time hit his head on a lighting rig. He was knocked out cold, while the band played the newly instrumental “Hell Bent for Leather”! Halford recovered in time for the second song, but it was Rob’s last appearance with the Priest for 13 years.  Earlier that day, Rob told MuchMusic’s Michael Williams that Priest were planning a 1992 “greatest hits” album.  This hits album would afford a nice well deserved break.

Rob didn’t plan on wasting his time, so he set to work on a new solo project, inspired by the heavy direction that metal was going on. If Painkiller was heavy, his new band Fight was even heavier. That Toronto show was the last time Rob saw his bandmates until the reunion.  The solo project led to a management dispute, and ultimately Rob’s resignation.

As Priest fractured, my own musical life blossomed, thanks to the fallout from Painkiller. Priest cracked open a heavy, iron door. Thrash bands like Testament had the metal goods that was the exact opposite of the wimpy music that I was getting sick of. Grunge came soon after, with a new kind of heavy. I ignored new releases by Enuff Z’Nuff, Trixter, Danger Danger, and even The Cult.  They weren’t going heavy like Priest did, and in some cases they went backwards. Other bands, like Skid Row, knew which way the wind was blowing and turned up the volume.

The 1990-1991 period of Priest history is one of the most interesting of their entire career. It featured a trial that could have had real freedom of speech consequences, if the verdict had gone the other way. The same time period introduced their longest serving drummer in Scott Travis, and Priest have since never recorded nor toured without him. Their music took a turn away from hard rock and back towards heavy metal, permanently. They toured with Megadeth (who were also on a roll musically), gave Pantera some exposure in Europe, and shared the stage with the legendary Alice Cooper. And it ended with a split that nobody saw coming; just one of many splits in 1992 that changed the face of metal for an entire decade.  Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, Judas Priest….

My own personal history was intertwined with Priest’s. It might be safe to say that in highschool, Judas Priest were my favourite band.  Their turn back towards heavy in 1990 changed everything for me. It was exactly what I wanted, by the exact band that I wanted to deliver it. Perfect simpatico!

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#589: Metal 101 – Learning the Basics in the Original School of Rock (Circa 1984-86)

GETTING MORE TALE #589:
Metal 101 – Learning the Basics in the Original School of Rock (Circa 1984-86)

I started getting really serious about rock and roll in the mid-80s. I was 12. Much Music had arrived. I had instant access to so many great bands. Thanks to the Power Hour, I had an hour dedicated to heavy metal every week.  I also had friends like Bob and George who were willing to let me tape things from their collections.  I started buying rock magazines.  But there was a learning curve.

Take Van Halen, for example.  All I knew of them were a couple singles from 1984.  I had seen the video for “Jump”.  I had also learned from my friends that Eddie Van Halen was the greatest guitar player alive.  Since I didn’t know the difference between a guitar and a bass, I assumed Michael Anthony was Eddie Van Halen.  I don’t know why I assumed that, except I probably liked Michael’s beard.  Bob and George corrected me, but I wondered, “How can you tell a guitar from a bass guitar?”

“A bass only has four strings”, they told me.  And you could tell the number of strings by the tuning pegs.  I got it!  Soon I was able to start piecing the rest together.  George bought a bass a few months later.  There is a local musical legend that lived on our street named Rob Szabo.  He is a very talented player, singer and songwriter.  He was starting to put together his own band, and all he needed was a bassist.  George was adamant that he was that bassist.  He decided this before he even bought a bass.  Rob was too nice a guy to tell George that they wanted someone else with more experience.  He didn’t expect George to buy a bass because of the vacancy in the band.  To his horror, that is exactly what George did.  I think he jammed with them once or twice before they let him go.  Maybe not even once.

Undeterred, George learned the instrument by playing along to records.  He put together a couple bands of his own, like Asylum and Zephyr.  His singing was shit, but his bass playing wasn’t bad at all.  He got pretty good at it.  But sadly, in our neighborhood, George might be best remembered for his attempts at singing.

George’s bedroom window was right next to our front step where I hung out a lot as a kid.  Bob and I would be up there listening to music, or even playing GI Joes on the lawn.  Sometimes we’d sit there in just listen to George.  You’d hear him put on a record, start playing along on bass, and when he got singing you’d think a cat was being tortured up there.  It was horrendous, but he seemed to have no idea how awful his singing really was.

George worked at Long John Silver’s which was about a 20 or 30 minute walk.  In the early hours of the morning, I saw George walking down the street alone with his headphones on, heading for work.  Suddenly he burst out:  “ALRIGHT! LOVE GUN!”  Then came the barely recognizable chorus of one of my favourite Kiss songs.  It was the kind of scene that you’d make sure you got on video today.  Another time, he was singing Judas Priest.  We ran into him that time and asked him what’s up?  “It’s Priest Week,” he answered.  He was only listening to Judas Priest that week, it seems.

One time George was over playing his bass, and he asked me if I knew how to pick out a bass line in a song.  I actually did, and I learned it by hearing him play bass along with his records.

Besides Kiss, Priest, and Van Halen, I was learning about bands such as Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath.  Bob had a Black Sabbath tape with a baby devil on the cover.  He brought it over one time, raving about a song called “Zero the Hero”.  We listened to it and it was cool.  I especially liked the spooky music between songs.  That was my first taste of Black Sabbath.  I knew who Ozzy Osbourne was, but I didn’t know he was in Black Sabbath before.  All I knew was the singer of Black Sabbath had long black hair and looked really evil.  Ian Gillan was my first Black Sabbath singer.

George was really cool about letting me tape his stuff, to the point that he’d bring his VCR over so I could even record his videos.  We did this on about two or three occasions, as he had quite a collection of taped videos.  I was interested in getting some more Dio.  I had heard “Holy Diver” and wanted some more, so I got the video for “The Last in Line”.  The clip was a trip to a hellish underworld of monsters and musical vigilantes.  A bit later, we got to a Black Sabbath video for “Neon Nights”.  I recognized the two moustache guys.  But who was that singer?

I timidly asked George, “Hey…did Dio ever have anything to do with Black Sabbath?”

“Yeah, that’s him.”

No way!  My brain expanded about six levels that afternoon.

Sabbath had a singer before the long black haired guy.  Unreal.  George told me that guy (Ian Gillan) was the singer from Deep Purple.  Holy shit!

A few months after that, we were in the park listening to Sabbath’s Paranoid on cassette.  “That’s Ozzy singing!” shouted Bob above the music.  I simply could not believe it.  And not long after that, I was watching Much Music again when they debuted a brand new Sabbath video with yet another singer!  A bearded guy!  Some guy named Glenn Hughes?  Never heard of him before.  He had a beard and a suit.  Not really very rock and roll.  Could you imagine my reaction if I knew at that time that Glenn Hughes was also a singer in Deep Purple?

The circle was becoming complete.  This kind of trivia was like candy to me.  I ate it up, every last morsel that I could absorb.  Band “A” led me to Band “B” and Band “C” via these kinds of connections.  Ozzy even connected back to Quiet Riot, the first “metal” tape I ever bought, via original guitarist Randy Rhoads.  He was about the only guy who could rival Eddie Van Halen in the guitar stakes, according to my friends.  But there was a new up-and-comer that Much Music kept talking about, named Yngwie Malmsteen.

Much was an advantage my neighbors didn’t have.  Neither Bob, nor George, nor Rob Szabo had the channel.  I began growing and developing tastes of my own, though still heavily influenced by my friends.  On my own, I found White Wolf, Sammy Hagar, Savatage, Queensryche, Aerosmith…and Spinal Tap.

Yes, Spinal Tap.  “Hell Hole” became one of my favourite songs during the summer of ’86.  My sister liked it.  She hated her Catholic school, and as we’d drive by, she’d sing “Don’t wanna stay in this Hell Hole!”  That school was a indeed a “hell hole”.  Shitty teachers and shittier bullies who did not like heavy metal.

It’s true that the teachers gave me hell for wearing a Judas Priest T-shirt.  It is also true that we went to a retreat for a week, where music T-shirts and players were forbidden.  I have always been drawn to music since my earliest memories.  What did these teachers have against music?  I knew.  It was the old myth that these groups were “Satanic” and would drive us to all do drugs and die.  What those teachers didn’t know was that the music made me feel good without drugs.  I was even expanding my vocabulary.  Bands like Judas Priest and Black Sabbath were not simplistic with their lyrics.  I learned words such as “pyre” and “pneumatic”.  Through Iron Maiden, I was learning about literature and history.  I knew stuff that they weren’t even teaching in school, about Alexander the Great, the Gordian Knot, and the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  How could that be bad?

Fuck ’em.  I trusted myself.  I was smart enough to know better than they did.

I look back at these early days, and I’m not surprised that it’s these bands that the core of my tastes are built around today.  Long live rock and roll.

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Hero, Hero (1981)

JUDAS PRIEST – Hero, Hero (1981 Gull)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Ram It Down (Remastered)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2/5 stars

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5/5 stars

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

REVIEW: Al Atkins – Victim of Changes (1998)

scan_20161117AL ATKINS – Victim of Changes (1998 Pulse)

Al Atkins was the original lead singer in Judas Priest, before “Bob” Halford was invited to join. You’ll find a number of Atkins credits on the first two Priest albums, even though he was out of the band by that time. In fact, Atkins formed a band called Judas Priest in 1969. The band were named by bassist Bruno Stapenhill. They split in 1970, and Atkins went looking for a new band. He found them in Ken “KK” Downing and Ian “Skull” Hill, who were looking for a singer. With Atkins and drummer John Ellis, they eventually settled on the name Judas Priest, same as Atkins’ prior band. And yes, that means that Ian Hill is actually the only remaining original member of Judas Priest.

Atkins wrote and co-wrote much of Priest’s earliest material. Before he left, he wrote a song called “Whiskey Woman”. Rob Halford used that song and merged it with one of his called “Red Light Lady”. The result was “Victim of Changes”, the first and perhaps greatest of Judas Priest’s epics. Two other songs he wrote in Priest were “Mind Conception” and “Holy is the Man” which were demoed but never released.

Atkins worked a 9-5 job after Priest, but got back into music again in short order. His fourth solo album, Victim of Changes, was essentially a tribute to his Judas Priest years. It is a collection of new recordings of (mostly) a lot of numbers that Priest played live during the Atkins era.  As a gimmick, he had Priest’s drummer from the 1980s, Dave Holland, on this album.

Atkins and Halford couldn’t sound less alike.  Rob is known for his high-pitched operatics.  Atkins has a gutsier, grittier sound, somewhat like a Paul Di’anno meeting Blaze Bayley.  There is no question that Rob is the right singer for Judas Priest, so it is really only a matter of curiosity to hear these tunes with Atkins singing.  The tunes are at least good.

The unreleased “Mind Conception” commences the disc, re-recorded and very modern sounding especially in the guitars.  It is difficult to know exactly what the original “Mind Conception” sounded like, but it’s very safe to say it would not have sounded like this.  In the liner notes, Atkins states the original demos were recorded stoned and with a sore throat.  “Holy is the Man” has a slower groove to it, and would work very nicely as a modern Priest track.  As the only representation of these unreleased tracks available, die-hard Priest collectors will want to hear them.  Another track of interest is the cover of Quatermass’ “Black Sheep of the Family” which Priest played live at their earliest gigs (along with Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic”).  Rainbow’s recording is still the one to beat.

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The familiar Priest tracks are actually anything but.  They are probably arranged more like the way Priest used to play them in the early days.  “Never Satisfied” is extended with a tough bluesy acoustic intro.  The heavy parts have a Zeppelin-y beat, due to Holland’s straightforward style.  Same with “Winter”.  Then there is “Caviar and Meths” which is a whopping 7:12 long.  According to Atkins, this song was their big finale live, but never recorded in full in the studio.  This version is the full-length arrangement that they used to close with live.  And it’s brilliant.  Finally there is “Victim of Changes” itself, and Atkins has some help from a backup singer for the high parts that Rob does.

There are a couple tracks that could be considered filler, since they have nothing to do with Judas Priest.  These are the instrumentals “The Melt Down” and “Metanoia”, written by guitarist Paul May.  They are excellent tracks, however, and should not be ignored.  (“Metanoia” serves as a postscript to “Winter” on the CD.) They are European sounding heavy metal tracks, loaded with guitar drama and ferocity.

Check out Victim of Changes for a glance at what Priest might have sounded like with Al Atkins singing lead.  One can hope for those unreleased demos to surface, but one can also wish for the moon.

3/5 stars

#530: Sauna

GETTING MORE TALE #530: Sauna

Anyone who has ever shared a workspace, a home, or a car with another human has probably had this experience:  It is sometimes very difficult to get two people to agree on what temperature it should be inside!

I walked into work recently on a cold November morn’.  We were blessed with a mild fall, but now winter has come, so bundle up.  I work in an office in an old building.  I’m as far away from the furnace as you can get.  I’m often very cold in the winter, and too warm in the summer, but certainly not always.  The best way for me to control the temperature in my office is by putting a big 500 ream of 8.5″ x 11″ paper on top of the vent.  I had to use the vent method to prevent my office from becoming a sauna.

The previous day, somebody cranked the heat up on the office thermostat.  Whoever did cranked it way, way up.  For whatever reason, all the heat seemed to be concentrated in my office.  I could feel it in the hallway, which was warm, but my office was sweltering!  Every surface in my office was hot:  my desk, my filing cabinet, the walls, my computer…even the window was warm!  Meanwhile, it was -2°C outside. It really had to be hot inside to warm up the window that much. I covered the vent blasting all that hot air. Then I removed my winter coat, and my dress shirt leaving only my Iron Maiden T-shirt beneath. I was still sweating. I had to crack open an outside door just to get some relief.

Whatever happened, it took a few hours for the room to cool down once the thermostat had been reset. The Maiden shirt was a hit; it was suggested I wear it to the office Christmas luncheon. I was able to work comfortably (and fully shirted) the rest of the day.

It reminded me of the constant thermostat battles at the Record Store. In the store I worked, there was a retail storefront and an office in the back. The office people would be constantly fiddling with the thermostat while the people up front doing the real work had to sweat it out. It wasn’t a winnable battle so I didn’t even fight. With hot lights beating down on the counter, I’d sometimes have to turn them off to stay cool. At night when the office people went home, we could at least control the temperature again. But if we failed to leave the heat on overnight in winter, there would be hell to pay! Though few people worry about it, temperatures under 20°C could theoretically do damage to a computer’s hard drive. Employees would constantly be warned of the penalties.

“Mike! Your employees forgot to leave the heat on last night! I could see my own breath this morning! Remind them if those computers break down they’ll be paying to replace them!”

A hard drive costs less than a hundred bucks. Heating a large store…that’s expensive. But I didn’t make the rules, and nobody asked my opinion!

As we Canadians hunker down for yet another winter, get ready for the temperature arguments.  Fighting about tunes in the car will be replaced by “turn up/down the heat, I’m freezing/boiling!”  Best of all are those days where you don’t know if you’re warm or cold.  All perspective is lost on those days.  You can’t even tell if you’re comfortable anymore.  Join me in celebrating this joyful time of year, as some freeze and others work in a room hot as a sauna!

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Battle Cry (2016)

NEW RELEASE

Scan_20160407JUDAS PRIEST – Battle Cry (2016 Sony)

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

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

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

priest chart

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

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

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

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

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

3.75/5 stars

 

 

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

Welcome to PRIEST WEEKEND! It’s a long Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, and…

Well, here’s the truth of it. I had three Judas Priest reviews lined up and needed a spot to schedule them. A three day weekend worked. That’s how much thought went into the scheduling of this Thanksgiving theme.

Enjoy PRIEST WEEKEND starting with their immortal second album…

Scan_20150930JUDAS PRIEST – Sad Wings of Destiny (1976 Gull)

It’s quite a shame that Judas Priest haven’t regained the rights to their first and second albums.  Too many fly-by-night labels have done shoddy or half-arsed reissues of the albums and Sad Wings is no exception.  This one, on Snapper, isn’t too objectionable.  It’s funny to see “digitally mastered” on the front sticker, as if this is some kind of selling feature.  All CDs are digitally mastered!  Remember that old AAD, ADD, DDD logo that used to appear on CDs?  The A and D refers to analog or digital processes: recording, mixing, and mastering.  Every CD is at least AAD.  The “informative liner notes” (by somebody called “Krusher”) is just a blubbering general history essay on the band.

Fortunately, no matter how it’s packaged, the music is exceptional.

“Victim of Changes” defines “epic”, and probably remains Judas Priest’s definitive word on the epic song.  This is actually a mashup of two earlier songs called “Red Light Lady”, written by Rob Halford, and “Whiskey Woman” by original singer and founder, Al Atkins.  That’s how it came to be that Halford shares a writing credit with his predecessor, an unusual circumstance indeed!   The finished song “Victim of Changes” has everything: the concrete heavy riffs, the drama, the melody and the unearthly screams!  It takes its time, but it simply lays waste to the landscape.  By the time Rob nails his final scream, you may find yourself hard of hearing.  As if that wasn’t enough, “The Ripper” (a shorty) contains even more screams-per-minute than “Victim”.  Priest seemed to take a turn away from blues, towards metal on Sad Wings of Destiny.  The first two songs are as sharp and devastating as anything else in the Priest canon.

Although they are often separated on compilations and whatnot, “Dreamer Deceiver” and “Deceiver” are more or less one song.  One sounds incomplete without the other.  “Dreamer Deceiver” is an airy, acoustic number about some sort of ethereal being.  It is as entrancing as its title character:

“We followed the Dreamer through the purple hazy clouds,
He could control our sense of time.
We thought were lost but, no matter how we tried,
Everyone was in peace of mind.”

Rob’s vocal performance on this one ranges from the deep and dramatic, to the wails that Priest fans crave.  It is the blueprint for similar early Iron Maiden tracks such as “Remember Tomorrow”.  Even the guitar solo is a well-composed piece of music, but this is just the beginning.  Morphing into “Deceiver”, the acoustic plucking has changed to an electric chug.  This time the guitar solo blazes rather than cries.  “Deceiver” burns out quick, ending the first side.

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Side two begins, as it obviously should, with a piano instrumental!  Glenn Tipton wrote and performed “Prelude” which is really just another track meant for you to let your guard down…before being ploughed over by the evil “Tyrant”!  He is the destructor, and every man shall fall!  The way Rob screams it, you believe it.  This is straight up the alley of prior tunes, like “Ripper” and “Deceiver”:  fast, lean, and heavy as balls!

“Genocide” is a change of pace, a leaning towards the mid-tempo ground that Priest would find great success with later.  There is a Priest stamp to it: a simple 4/4 beat, a couple of cool riffs, verses, chorus and solo…but I like the slow middle section best.  “Sin after sin…I have endured, but the wounds I bear, are the wounds of love.”  Sin After Sin was used as the next Priest album title.  Then, another surprise.  “Epitaph” is a piano ballad with Rob singing with a Queen-like backdrop of vocals.  Only piano and vocals, that is it.  Once again this is a Glenn Tipton song, and even though Priest let on that they had quiet tendencies, this is still a bit of a shocker.  “Pretty” is an appropriate word.  It is a tour de force for Rob, who performed some very intricate singing.

Chugging off to into the horizon, “Island of Domination” is the final track on a purely excellent heavy metal album.  Multi-layered Halford screams usher in the final assault.  Rocking both heavily and intelligently, the mighty Priest finished the album with a blitzkrieg, taking no prisoners.  From gallop to groove, “Island of Domination” has a bit of everything Priest did well.

What an album.  Do you like heavy metal music?  Then you need Sad Wings.  Period.  Exclamation point!

5/5 stars

#433.5: Top 15 on the 15th (by Uncle Meat)

Getting More Tale #433.5 presents: A worldwide online event!
THE TOP 15 ON THE 15th – Guest shot by Uncle Meat

This is an event spanning many sites and writers in the World Wide Web.  I will link to as many as possible; my own Top 15 can be found here.  A few months ago, the challenge was thrown down to all comers:  List your top 15 albums of all time!  The date September 15 was chosen for the deadline.

Uncle Meat laboured hard on his Top 15, eventually whittling it down from a list of 31 great records*.  Without any commentary, here they are.  His only requirement:  No live albums.

RUST15. Rust in Peace – Megadeth

SCREAMING14. Screaming For Vengeance – Judas Priest

EARTHQUAKES13. Little Earthquakes – Tori Amos

CLOSE12. Close to the Edge – Yes

CONSOLERS11. Consolers of the Lonely – The Raconteurs

CLUTCHING10. Clutching at Straws – Marillion

REIGN9. Reign in Blood – Slayer

MINDCRIME8. Operation: Mindcrime – Queensryche

WHALE7. Whale Music – The Rheostatics

MISPLACED6. Misplaced Childhood – Marillion

MOVING5. Moving Pictures – Rush

ROXY4. Roxy and Elsewhere – Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention

PET3. Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys

HEMISPHERES2. Hemispheres – Rush

CORAZON1. El Corazón – Steve Earle

* For shits and giggles, here are the rest of The Meat’s albums that didn’t make the final cut.

  • White Pepper – Ween
  • Sky Valley – Kyuss
  • Harvest – Neil Young
  • Heaven and Hell – Black Sabbath
  • Fireball – Deep Purple
  • Somewhere in Time – Iron Maiden
  • Tenacious D – Tenacious D
  • Queens of the Stone Age – Queens of the Stone Age
  • Dogman – King’s X
  • American II: Unchained – Johnny Cash
  • Sheer Heart Attack – Queen
  • Noisy Nights – Uzeb
  • White City – Pete Townsend
  • Van Halen – Van Halen
  • Let There Be Rock – AC/DC
  • Kristopherson – Kris Kristopherson