judas priest

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Firepower (2018)

JUDAS PRIEST – Firepower (2018 Sony)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5/5 stars

 

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#661: Cancer Chronicles 10: The “Firepower” of Positivity

Only good news today. Mrs. LeBrain just met with Dr. Sugimoto, for what is likely to be the very last time. “Dr. Sugi” inspected her incision and is very happy not only with how it’s looking, but how well Jen has managed since her surgery almost two months ago. She’s been out and about every day for the last few weeks, sometimes even by herself. She’s getting stronger. Personally I think she’s stronger now than she was before the surgery.

“Dr. Sugi” says we don’t have to come to London anymore.  He is satisfied that Jen has kicked cancer’s ass.  No more trips to London, and sadly, no more Dr. Sugimoto.  It’s been an emotional time and we’ve grown very attached to him.  It’s weird to say, but we will all miss him.

The drive down to London was a piece of cake. Rush’s A Farewell to Kings was the soundtrack. I don’t know how it’s possible but she fell asleep during “Cygnus X-1”. For the trip home, I chose All The World’s A Stage. She was blown away by Peart’s legendary drum solo.

Remaining positive in the face of adversity is not easy, But Jen has managed to do it. She gets up each day and kicks ass, and looks forward to doing it again the next day. We still struggle knowing we cannot have kids, but being alive and healthy is so much more important than that. It really is. Her positive attitude through this has been inspiring. I hope readers have gained that much from her.

We had one errand to run on the way home.  As you hopefully already know, March 9 is the release date of Judas Priest’s brand new Firepower album!  I ran in and out of the mall in less than five minutes — I am the man!  The deluxe edition of Firepower is in my happy hands.  Rock journalist Mitch Lafon says it’s already his #1 album of 2018.  Time to put Firepower to the test!

#652: Evolution ’80s: Music and Gaming

#652: Evolution ’80s: Music and Gaming

We had a big old IBM PC with dual 5 1/4″ floppy disk drives.  That meant you could copy disks from your friends much faster and easier, and so we did.  It wasn’t very powerful and we only had a monochrome monitor, but back then you had virtually unlimited access to free software.  Copy protection usually took the form of the game asking you for information that can only be found in the game manual.  So, you would just go to the library and photocopy the manual from your friend.

My dad worked at the bank at the mall, and he had a number of customers who did him cool favours over the years.  One such friend was a fellow named Scully.  Every once in a while, he’d come to my dad with a list of video game titles.  Dad would bring it home, give it to us, and say “Circle any games you want.”  My dad would buy a pack of 5 1/4″ floppy discs, and a week or two later they’d come back full of games.  “Flight Simulator” (version 1.0), “King’s Quest”, “Alleycat”, “Sierra Championship Boxing”, “Lode Runner”, “Executive Suite”, “Rogue”, “Janitor Joe”, “Decathlon”, and “Evolution” were some of the game titles written on the floppy discs that returned.

Best friend Bob, who was without a computer in his house, came often to play the new games.  Back then, a PC was a luxury.  Only a few families on the street had them.  My dad’s was subsidised via work.  And by the way, when families on the street had computers, that meant more access to free games.

Bob and I shared a mutual love of music, and so music was usually playing when we were gaming.  Mom and dad were tolerate a little noise once in a while, and damn, we had such a good time.

One game that we played to an endless soundtrack of Iron Maiden (Live After Death predominantly) is unfortunately a title long forgotten.  It was a grid-based shooting game, and the controls were so complex.  You had four keys for moving, and four keys for shooting — one for each direction.  Keyboards are not designed for that kind of gaming, and so playing alone was all but impossible as you mashed your fingers together trying to quickly move and shoot using eight keys.

Bob figured out how to play the game:  as a team!  He manned the firing keys and I moved the ship through this grid.  It was about an 8×8 grid, approximated by hand below.  As these alien things started moving around their rows and columns, I had to dodge blasts while setting Bob up for shots.  You had to kill each alien twice.  It required co-ordination, all enhanced by the steely bass of Steve Harris combined with the precision percussion that Nicko McBrain provides.

Mystery 80s DOS game (approximation)

Another game that required coordination was “Decathlon“, which unfortunately drowned out any music we could play.  My dad  hated “Decathlon”.  During the racing events, you “ran” by hammering on two keys as if you were running with your fingers.  Bob and I discovered the best way to do it was two-handed — both pointer fingers at full speed.  The clacking sound was a cacophony and my dad complained every time we played.  The point of the game was to beat Bruce Jenner, so we had to do it.  My dad hated Bruce Jenner because of that game.

Back to the teamwork:  there were some events I could do well, while others only Bob could do, and one that required both of us hammering keys in unison.  That was the pole vault.  It began with someone doing the run-hammering with their pointer fingers on two keys.  The other person had to use four keys to 1) plant the pole in the ground, 2) jump, 3) pull a handstand on the pole, and 4) release.  Music didn’t help with the pole vault — you were fucked if you weren’t focused completely on your little digital man.

Some days I played solo.  Bob was a couple years older and had a part time job at Harvey’s.  There were a few games we had for playing against the computer.  I obsessed over Sierra “Championship Boxing” one summer:  1988.  Ace Frehley had a new album out, Second Sighting, and he happened to have a boxing related track called “The Acorn in Spinning”. The game allowed you to create all kinds of your own custom boxers, so I created a whole storyline about one I built called Acorn.

One of the aforementioned games, “Evolution“, was a lot harder without Bob.  I picked it because one night, watching TV with my parents back in the early 80s, there was a story on about a new Canadian software company called Distinctive Software, based out of British Columbia.  They were being spotlighted for a new and very original video game they released:  “Evolution”.  Through a series of levels, you had to evolve from a single-celled organism to an amphibian to mammal and up the ladder to humanity.  It was praised for being different from the average computer game.  The whole premise was so cool, and the actual gameplay so awful…not to mention, even as kids, we knew that humans didn’t evolve from beavers.

Level 1: the amoeba.  You’re an amoeba floating around and trying to eat all the little edible blue dots around you, while trying to avoid a weird spinny eyeball looking thing that launches little purple spiky things at you.  You can also, like, electrify your amoeba for a little while to protect yourself.  You have five lives, but I used to typically burn three or even all five on this first level.

Level 2:  the tadpole.  A little easier this time.  Just move side to side and jump to avoid fish, and to catch food.  The simplicity of the controls meant you could make it through, losing minimal lives.

Level 3: the rodent.  Dig little mouse tunnels and drop poisonous mouse poops behind you to block it again.  Avoid being eaten by the snakes.  Be careful you don’t use up all your poops too soon.

Level 4: the beaver, yes, a fucking beaver.  Avoid the alligators while retrieving five pieces of wood to build your dam.  A surprisingly easy level.

Level 5: gorilla.  Humans didn’t evolve from gorillas, but we do share long distant ancestors, closer than beavers anyway.  In this strange level, you have to throw oranges at monkeys who are stealing your shit.  Aiming those oranges was purely just a matter of luck.  Game over here.  If you ever make it to this level, congrats, but you’re done now.  Only once, maybe twice over the years did I hit all the damn monkeys and move on to:

Level 6: human instant death.  As soon as your little fully-evolved human ejects from his neat space car, he is dead meat.  Numerous robots and aliens enter immediately after, from every direction, and being shooting.  You will have no chance, so just accept your fate instead of wishing you were still a gorilla.  And you thought those monkeys were bad.

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I love/hated that game so much.  I wanted so bad to get to that final human level, and with Bob, we worked as a team to finally get there only for it to last a couple seconds at best.

Perhaps 1982’s “Evolution” had a deeper message. We climb the hill to the very top of the food chain on this world, only to be squashed immediately by whatever is waiting for us out there.  It’s a classic science fiction dystopian theme.

Can we find a suitable heavy metal song to go with this doomed fate of alien or robotic annihilation?  Of course we can!  From 1988’s Ram It Down, another album I obsessed over during this period, it’s the apocalyptic “Blood Red Skies”.

Whatever your gaming soundtrack, I hope your memories are as good as mine.

As the sun goes down, I move around,
Keeping to the shadows,
Life, hangs by a thread,
And I’ve heard it said, that I’ll not see tomorrow.
If that’s my destiny, it’ll have to be,
So I’ll face the future,
Running out of time,
I’m on the line,
But I’ll go down fighting.
 
Felt the hand of justice,
Telling wrong from right,
Threw me out upon the street in the middle of the night,
Cybernetic heartbeat,
Digital precise,
Pneumatic fingers nearly had me in their vice.
Not begging you,
I’m telling you.
 
You won’t break me,
You won’t make me,
You won’t take me,
Under blood red skies.
You won’t break me,
You won’t take me,
I’ll fight you under,
Blood red skies.
 
Through a shattered city, watched by laser eyes,
Overhead the night squad glides,
The decaying paradise.
Automatic sniper,
With computer sights,
Scans the bleak horizon for its victim of the night.
They’re closing in,
They’ll never win.
 
You won’t break me,
You won’t make me,
You won’t take me,
Under blood red skies.
You won’t break me,
You won’t take me,
I’ll fight you under,
Blood red skies.
 
As the end is drawing near,
Standing proud, I won’t give in to fear,
As I die a legend will be born,
I will stand. I will fight,
You’ll never take me alive.
I’ll stand my ground,
I won’t go down.
  
You’ll never take me alive,
I’m telling you, hands of justice,
I will stand, I will fight,
As the sun goes down,
I won’t give in to fear.

NEWS: Glenn Tipton has Parkinson’s Disease

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

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

Tipton’s statement reads in part:

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

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

#648: “The Mall”

GETTING MORE TALE #648:  “The Mall”

For the first 23 or 24 years of my life, Stanley Park Mall was my epicenter. If I said “Mom, I’m going to the mall!” she knew where I meant. It wasn’t the biggest mall, and certainly not the best. But it was my mall.

This very typical mall, on Ottawa Street in Kitchener, opened in 1969. It was nothing special. There was nowhere to buy music, until it expanded with a Zellers store circa 1973. As small children, we weren’t interested in music yet. Instead it was Zellers’ toy section that had us enthralled.

In 1977 my mother took me to Stanley Park to look for a birthday present for a neighbor named John Schipper, older brother of my best friend Bob. “Look mom! The movie we just saw!” I exclaimed as I laid eyes on my first Star Wars figures. My mom bought C3P0 for John, and R2D2 for me, so we could play together. Little did she know what she got me into, by buying my first Star Wars figure at that Zellers store. But to be fair, who could have known?

The mall also had a bank, and my dad soon transferred there as its manager. I used to feel like such a big shot, strolling into my dad’s office. He’d let us sit at his desk and play with his calculator and telephone. I can even remember helping him with spelling on an internal memo!  Once, when my sister was sitting in his chair, she pushed the button for the silent alarm. “Hmmm, this doesn’t do anything,” she thought. After she left, the cops arrived in force to answer the alarm. My dad realised what happened too late!

With my dad working there, plus the Zellers store, it was our main destination for shopping or just being kids. It was walking distance from home. When I was old enough to cross streets by myself, my friends and I made regular trips on our bikes. The Little Short Stop store was our main hangout. We would buy candy, pop, chips, comic books, and Star Wars or Indiana Jones cards. I managed to get a full set of The Empire Strikes Back, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I got them slowly, pack by pack, and by trading with friends. There was a neighbor who had the one Indiana Jones card I still needed called “I Hate Snakes”. A trade was made and I completed my set. I wish I knew what happened to all the doubles and triples of those cards.

When I was older, that Little Short Stop was my store for amassing a huge collection of rock and wrestling magazines. Hit Parader was my main title and I had a complete set of every issue from 1987-1990.

The mall was also right close to our grade school. Many of my friends would “cut through” the mall as a short cut to get home. One fellow, Chris, tells me he was sometimes chased around by mall security.  Naughty kid.

I remember there was a short-lived video store there. My dad refused to rent the Twisted Sister Stay Hungry video for me. He didn’t like the look of the “guy with the ham bone” on the front cover.

In 1987, something remarkable happened. Stanley Park Mall got its first actual record store: A&A Records and Tapes. Suddenly I had close access to all kinds of music, including 12” singles. I remember flipping through their Aerosmith and Europe singles, thinking “Woah, there are songs here I have never heard of.”

We still checked Zellers, but A&A became the place for us. In fact there were even A&A coupons on the back of every box of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. $1.00 off tapes! We sure cashed in a lot of A&A coupons that year. I loved checking out their front charts too. Vinyl was still happening, and the front chart was a big huge display of records. Much larger and more eye catching than a CD chart. I remember rejoicing when Judas Priest’s Ram It Down was on it.

I have clear memories of Bob Schipper and I walking to the mall in early April of 1988 to pick up a new release. Two copies of course; one for each of us. Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son was an album we had been looking forward to, and we both got it on that cold Saturday in April 1988.  (It took a while to adjust to the new Maiden sound, but Bob’s immediate favourite was “Infinite Dreams”.)

In 1989 I got my first real job, and it was at that very mall. The grocery store Zehrs was my first pay cheque. I cut my hair short for that job and was teased for it at school. Not only that, but suddenly I also needed glasses!  It was a pretty drastic image change.  But it was a cool work experience. Not only was I working at Zehrs with my best friend Bob, but my dad was still working in the mall too. All three of us in one place!

I was pretty loyal to A&A during those years at the mall, but in 1990 they went under. The last thing I ever bought at an A&A (though a different location) was a CD of Steve Vai’s Flex-Able and some blank tapes.

Yet every cloud has a silver lining. A former employee of A&A Records at our mall location decided to open a business of his own. Guess who he went to for the bank loan?  My dad!  Six months after A&A closed, he opened his own record store in that mall. The rest is history. The store that I now call “The Record Store” hired me on in July of 1994. And he’s still in business in 2018, albeit not in that mall anymore which suffered a slow and steady decline in the 90s.

There are no record stores in the mall anymore. Zellers went under, and Walmart took over. Their tiny little entertainment section is the only place to buy a CD. The bank is still there, and so is the grocery store, but my Little Short Shop is long gone. There isn’t much left. No Baskin Robbins, no 31 flavors.  Bargain shops and discount stores have replaced all the places I used to frequent as a kid. Sad, but not unexpected.

The strange thing is, as much as the mall has changed, I still get a huge shot of nostalgia when I walk into that Walmart that used to be my Zellers. Like a déjà vu, suddenly I am hit with the memory of finding a rare GI Joe, or flipping through Judas Priest tapes. The mall I knew from long ago is no longer the same, but the memory remains.

#641: Farmer’s Market Tapes

GETTING MORE TALE returns! You have spoken — you like the series and you like the numbering system.  Therefore we aren’t changing a thing.  Here’s chapter 641!

GETTING MORE TALE #641: Farmer’s Market Tapes

Much of my highschool downtime was spent trying to build a complete Judas Priest collection.  While I was still in grade school, my first Priest was Screaming for Vengeance in 1985.  Defenders of the Faith was taped off my buddy Bob.  Then came highschool.  I bought Turbo at Zellers in 1986.  It was followed Priest…Live! in 1987, cementing my love for the band, for real.  Collecting began in earnest.

The local Zellers store always had a number of Priest tapes in stock.  Adding British Steel, Point of Entry, and Hell Bent for Leather to the collection was just a matter of time and allowance money.  Anything before Hell Bent was much harder to find, at least on tape, which was my format in the 80s.

We are fortunate in Kitchener to have two excellent farmer’s markets.  The one downtown is cool, but just a little to the north is the big one in St. Jacobs.  In the summer, my mom would take my sister and I to the market.  Sometimes Grandma would come with us.  You could buy anything at the St. Jacobs market.  There have always been music dealers with tables there.

July of 1989, I thought I struck rock solid gold at the market.  One vendor had a bunch of Priest I’d never seen on tape before, ever.  Tapes were $8 each, no tax.

Sad Wings of Destiny and The Best of Judas Priest came home with me that day.  I didn’t really know any of the songs, except one:  “Rocka Rolla”.  Earlier that summer, I bought the Rocka Rolla album on vinyl from Sam the Record Man, figuring I’d never find the tape.  The market had Rocka Rolla on tape, and then some!  For good measure, I also bought Unleashed in the East that day.

It was wonderful being inundated with fresh Priest.  So many tunes I’d never heard before!  “The Ripper” and “Victim of Changes” immediately blew me away.  “Diamonds and Rust” kicked my ass some more.  But something was wrong with two of the tapes.

Sad Wings and Best Of were both originally released on Gull records, and then reissued and reissued and reissued again, often very cheaply.  The two farmer’s market cassettes had very nicely printed cover art, but the tapes were utter garbage.  They were so shitty that there was only music in one channel.  The left side was fine, but there was nothing but a faint echo on the right.  Unleashed in the East, released on CBS, was fine.  Sad Wings and Best Of were awful.  After a few listens, I just couldn’t take it anymore.  It was heartbreaking because I was enjoying the songs, but listening to those tapes was horrendous.  I eventually replaced them with better copies, and stuck the cover art to a school binder.

Buyer beware!  Tapes and their quality issues are no longer really a problem today, but if you’ve never heard of the issuing label, you might want to do your research.

 

#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!

#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