kk downing

REVIEW: Judas Priest – ’98 Live Meltdown (1998)

JUDAS PRIEST – ’98 Live Meltdown (1998 BMG)

First in a long line of non-essential Priest live albums, here’s ’98 Live Meltdown.  Why did bands at certain points feel the need to add the year to the title?  Warrant – ’96 Belly to Belly – Volume One.  Kind of silly, right?  For fans who know their metal history, 1998 falls in Judas Priest’s Ripper Owens years.  Priest had just released their first album without Rob Halford, Jugulator.  Live Meltdown (let’s leave out that ’98 part for simplicity’s sake) captures the tour that followed, from various uncredited dates.

Fortunately the album is better than its title and awful cover art.  (Shame on you Mark Wilkinson!)  Ripper Owens provided fresh young lungs and with him at the mic, Priest were uber-powerful live.  All the new tunes from Jugulator were better in the live setting too.  “Blood Stained” is devastatingly powerful, and an enthusiastic crowd eats it up.  There are a few extraneous Jugulator tunes.  The world could have lived without “Death Row” and “Abductors”, and maybe the title track could have been thrown in instead.  Fortunately the track list is an otherwise excellent mix of new tracks and old cuts.

Priest deserve points for re-imaging their Joan Baez cover “Diamonds and Rust”.  The acoustic version was completely new for Judas Priest and Ripper could easily handle the heavy and the light.  Even though it’s acoustic, “Diamonds and Rust” represents Sin After Sin on a CD that gives face time to nearly every Priest album.   Rocka Rolla and Ram It Down are shunned as usual, but otherwise the only albums without tracks on this are Turbo and Point of Entry.  There is an emphasis on the classic material from the 70s, solid songs from the early 80s, and four tracks from Painkiller.  It’s a well-rounded album, and by the next live release (2003’s Live in London) they changed it up and added “Turbo” and “Heading Out to the Highway”.

Ripper was a great lead singer for this band during Rob’s absence.  He took one of the hardest jobs in rock and roll and did it with class.  Ripper had the goods.  He could scream the notes.  He added his own slant with guttural growls.  He struggled with “Painkiller” proving he’s a mere mortal but still he got the job done.

Live Meltdown was self-produced by Priest and Sean Lynch, but the guitars are too low in the mix.  The emphasis is on Ripper, but it seems to come at the expense of the volume of the rhythm guitars.  And the packaging is atrocious.  While it is true that most metal bands like Priest found themselves on smaller record labels, this is worse than a 90s indy band.  Fortunately the music and performance justify its existence.

Curious fans are advised to pick up Live Meltdown for the best representation of the Ripper Owens years.  It’s better than Jugulator and Live in London.  Fans are unanimously happy that Rob Halford is back in Judas Priest today, but that shouldn’t be taken as a slight against Ripper.

3.5/5 stars

Advertisements

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.

scan_20161117-2

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

REVIEW: Judas Priest – “Bullet Train” (1998 single)

Scan_20151003JUDAS PRIEST – “Bullet Train” (1998 Zero, from Japan)

I know not why it took Priest until 1998 to release a single from 1997’s Jugulator.  In hindsight, the choice of “Bullet Train” as a single seems a calculated move.  Nu-metal was all the rage with the disaffected youth of the late 90’s.  The new singer (Ripper Owens) was capable of doing any kind of vocal, so why the hell not, I guess?

Whatever kind of metal it is, it seems Priest can play it.  With Scott Travis nailing the double bass like a metronome, “Bullet Train” is an example of razor-sharp precision.  Travis is always a pleasure to listen to just blasting away.  It’s just a shame they didn’t choose a better song for a single.  “Bullet Train” is only about the fourth-best song on Jugulator, an album so atrocious that it’s more accurate to say that “Bullet Train” is only the seventh-worst.

Of course, nobody would order this all the way from Japan unless there were B-sides worth having, and there are.  Much like Iron Maiden did with Bruce Dickinson, Priest decided to re-record some old Priest classics with the new singer.  They picked two incredible songs; timeless metal favourites updated for the period.  From British Steel, it’s “Rapid Fire”!  Neither Owens nor Travis played on the original, so the song is naturally more fierce and aggressive.  Both of them kill it.  Some may object to Ripper’s insertion of addition lyrics:

“Rapid fire, between the eyes,
Rapid fire, terrifies,
Rapid fire, before you die
Rapid fire.”

Doesn’t bother me.

“Green Manalishi” is updated in an interesting way.  Unexpectedly it is slowed down.  Live, they always tended to play it just a hair faster than the mid-tempo original.  On this studio re-take, they’ve gone the opposite direction, closer to the original 1970 Fleetwood Mac tempo.  This is just a one-off, they did not perform it live in this slow guise.  Live, it was faster than ever.  Given that this is ultimately just an alternate slant on an obscure single, it lives on as an interesting side road.  The tempo naturally extends the song, giving you even more Priestly goodness!  The star of the show is the singer.  Ripper takes one final scream at the end there that seals the deal:  he was definitely good enough for Judas Priest.

Not a bad little single here.  The two B-sides were later re-released on a limited edition digipack version of their next album, Demolition.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Jugulator (1997)

Scan_20151003JUDAS PRIEST – Jugulator (1997 BMG)

One of the most anticipated, but frustratingly bad albums that I have ever looked forward to was Judas Priest’s big return on Jugulator.  Seven whole years had passed.  Rob Halford split, taking drummer Scott Travis with him, and had an entire career with the modern metal band Fight, before they split in ’96.  Travis returned to Priest, who had found their new singer in Tim “Ripper” Owens, a young man with incredible pipes.  Owens came from a Priest tribute band, and this was considered an interesting enough story to warrant an entire movie loosely based on him (Rock Star).

The resultant album, the heavy-as-fuck Jugulator, was a disappointment from the first note.  Opening with over a minute of looped samples (of clanking metal) and drony guitars, the album takes way too long to really start.  Only at 1:45 into the title track does Ripper finally let out a scream (a blood-curdling one at that).  The riffs finally take over, turning the song into “Painkiller, Part II” for all intents and purposes.  That’s fine — “Painkiller” is a high water mark of intensity and speed.  But when I put “Jugulator” on a mix CD, I edit out the first 1:45 because it’s just a waste of space.

The fact that “Jugulator” sounds uncomfortable like “Painkiller” shouldn’t come a surprise.  Just look at the cover art.  Mark Wilkinson created a Painkiller Jr. for the album cover, including a modernized Priest “tuning fork” logo in his forehead.  Musically (and intro aside), “Jugulator” is one fine metal assault, even if it is just a second cousin to “Painkiller”.  Lyrically, “Jugulator” is among the worst crimes Priest have foisted upon us.  With Rob Halford gone, Glenn Tipton was left to write the lyrics.   The words he eventually produced are such a pale imitation of past Priest that I cringe to hear them.

“Exterminator, you are dead.
Mu-til-ate.
Sharpened razor, takes your head.
Jugulator.”

I do like the word Glenn invented in one line, “Predit-hater”.  I like one word in the whole song!

“Blood Stained” is fierce, and was even better live (such on ’98 Live Meltdown).   It’s obvious from the cranked bass, detuned instruments, noisy guitar anti-solos, and driving groove that Priest were trying to emulate nu-metal.  Quite a few fans were turned off by the modern twists in songs like “Blood Stained”, including grunted vocals.  There is enough of the core Priest sound, including screams, riffs and standard solos that “Blood Stained” is really more of an amalgam of old and nu-metal.  Ripper is certainly a capable singer, and should shoulder none of the blame if you don’t like it.  Blame Glenn and K.K., not the vocalist.

It’s not until the third song, the creatively titled “Dead Meat”, that I lose interest.  Until now, the songs had been good enough.  “Dead Meat” is not.  The violent, bloody lyrics are starting to wear thin.  There are always individual moments of brilliance, such as the solos, drum patterns, and high-pitched wails.  This is not enough to carry a song.  One of the more nu-metal tracks is “Death Row”, which is even worse, especially when it comes to the prose.  “Oh no, I won’t go!  You’ll never get me down to death row.”  Priest have shed no light whatsoever on the issue of capital punishment, only written a boring cartoon song about the subject.  Even worse, there is dialogue in the intro to the song that is so poor that I’m embarrassed for them.  Sticking to a theme that already wore out its welcome, “Decapitate” is about the guillotine!  “Your head, you will lose it.  Severed, when executed”.  That’s the opening line!  The atonal nu-metal guitars have also worn thin.

If this were an LP, that would be the side closer.  The second half of the CD is heralded in by “Burn in Hell”; a little bit better song than the previous three in a row.  It seems a little more effort went into the melody this time, although “Burn in Hell” is just as heavy as everything else.  It builds and has some dynamics to it, which you cannot say for most of Jugulator.  It’s too long at 6:41.  Unfortunately much of this album is just too long.

“Brain Dead” is yet another stunningly creative song title.  This slow chug has no character, it’s just a senseless march into oblivion.  I feel “Brain Dead”, listening to it drone on and on.  Thematically it’s just Judas Priest stealing “One” by Metallica and calling it something else.  For my money, Jugulator can end right here (only seven songs in), because I’ve checked out.  My brain is turning to mush; that’s how it feels.  Then “Abductors” should have been a winner for me, a UFO buff.  The opportunity for a cool song is blown on yet another nu-metal sludge-fest with shite for lyrics:  “They come at night and they infiltrate you, they paralyse and they mentally rape you.”  The only redeeming quality is the likeable Ripper Owens.  He rolls his R’s like Halford used to, and you have to give the guy credit for doing the best he could with the material he was given to sing.

The single was “Bullet Train”, which I have on Japanese import (of course).  This isn’t a bad tune.  It drives like a perpetual motion dynamo.  It’s more nu than old metal, which may be why it was chosen as a single, compared to a better song like “Blood Stained”.  Finally, the lyrics are about something other than death or maiming.  It’s still not sunshine and puppy dogs, as the words seem to about someone suffering from Siderodromophobia, or fear of trains, while riding on a train!  Fun!  Let’s be clear: this is an improvement.

The final song offers a little redemption.  “Cathedral Spires” (over nine minutes!) is in the mold of old Priest classics such as “Beyond the Realm of Death”.  A slow, mellow opening with dramatic lead vocals invites you in, and it’s a due respite from all the nu-metal bombardment.  Ripper really sinks his teeth into the singing, and I think it was quite clear that he loved his job.  The classy intro eventually degenerates into another sound-alike chug, but once again redemption is ahead.  The chorus is great: pure traditional Priest drama with the nu-metal grunts in moderation.

I’ve listened to Jugulator many, many times over the years.  I desperately want the next listen to be the one where I finally “get it”.  That has yet to happen, and it almost certainly never will.  Thankfully Judas Priest realized they needed to diversify their sound next time around.  2001’s Demolition was a marked improvement.

2/5 stars

In tomorrow’s review, we’ll take a look at the B-sides on the Japanese CD single for “Bullet Train”.

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.

Scan_20150930 (3)

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

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Greatest Hits (2008 Sony Steel Box)

 

Welcome back to GREATEST HITS WEEK! This week we are looking at different, interesting hits albums from various bands. Today we re- visit the Mighty Priest, for the second of a Priest double-shot!

Monday:  EXTREME – The Best of Extreme: An Accidental Collication of Atoms? (1997)
Tuesday: JUDAS PRIEST – The Best of Judas Priest (1978/2000 Insight Series)


JUDAS PRIEST – Greatest Hits (2008 Sony/BMG Steel Box Collection)

Ever buy a CD for no real good reason?  I have all these songs, because I already own every song Priest has ever released.  I saw this Judas Priest compilation, from the “Sony Steel Box” collection, at my local Best Buy for a few measly dollars.  There are a few artists who have hits albums in this collection, such as Aerosmith.  I just wanted one of the steel boxes, so I chose Priest.  I chose Priest because of the brief, but interesting track listing.  There are some odd choices for a greatest hits disc:  “Rock Hard Ride Free”, and “Rock You All Around the World”, for example, instead of “Heading Out to the Highway”, “A Touch of Evil”, “Painkiller”,  or other better know singles.  Hell, where’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” or any song from Screaming?  You do get two “new” songs from Angel of Retribution.  Needless to say, for a 10-track hits CD, it was an interesting selection of songs, so I chose this one.  I have only played it once, so it’s time to revisit and assign a rating.

This is where we run into the flaw with these Sony steel boxes — the front cover and back cover art is just a sticker, that wraps around the case.  When you open the case, it damages the sticker where it covers the hinge, digging huge creases all over the spine.  I’ve opened my copy a couple of times and see what it looks like already?  That’s me being careful.

IMG_20150809_081711

“Breaking the Law” has always worked well in the opening position.  Off with a bang (literally; the first sound is a snare drum), we are now off to the races.  This Greatest Hits concentrates almost entirely on material from British Steel and after, collecting a lot of Priest music from their simple, straightforward metal period of the 1980’s.  There is nothing wrong with that of course, but it lacks the balance that earlier more complex tracks like “Victim of Changes” would have brought to the table.  “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight”, both classics culled from British Steel, get the job done on a hit laden note.  The sound is fine, as it appears these were lifted from the Priest remasters.

I’m not sure the logic in choosing “Out of the Cold”, a synth-laden slow crawler from Turbo.  There is nothing wrong with it of course, it was and remains a stormy fan classic.  That’s just it though, it’s a fan classic, not a well known hit that the band play in concert.  On a 10 song CD, it seems an odd choice, but it leads well into the dark “Love Bites”.  I went through a period of about three days in grade 8 of being completely obsessed with this song.  The things I liked about it, such as the choppy rhythms and hypnotic vocals, are still striking today.  It also flows perfectly into “Rock You All Around the World”, which unfortunately is pretty much just filler that should have been donated to the Scorpions.

I still think it terms of albums having “sides”, and I wonder if whoever sequenced this CD had the same thought?  “Rock You All Around the World” is a great side closer, as it filled that slot on Turbo.  Then the next track is the very different “Diamonds and Rust” (live version from Unleashed in the East).  It’s as if you have started a new side.  Another track from Defenders of the Faith (“Rock Hard Ride Free”) brings the listener back to the 80’s.  Although it was not a single, it was good enough to be one.  Back to the Turbo album for the third time, “Turbo Lover” is a song that still gets occasional radio airplay.  It’s funny how this robotic and very dated song is still loved today.  I wouldn’t have predicted that.

“Turbo Lover” is the last of the golden oldies, since the last two tracks are off Angel of Retribution, Priest’s glorious reunion album with Rob Halford after a long solo career.  Strange though that the single “Revolution” is not one of these tracks.  “Deal With the Devil” was an OK tune, a good heavy album tune that was of the same quality as similar songs from Painkiller.  “Worth Fighting For” was excellent – a midtempo quiet rocker that almost borders on ballad territory.  This song was a triumph, a really excellent song worth of the Priest canon.  Unfortunately in this case, a quiet midtempo near-ballad does not work to close a Priest compilation.  It works as a song to build into another song, but here it just leaves you hanging.  Sloppy sequencing.

Rating the steel book CD is not a reflection on the songs or the band, just the CD itself.  There are too many serious omissions (“Metal Gods:, “Freewheel Burning”, hello!) for it to rate highly.  The flawed packaging design is the final nail in the steel box.

2/5 stars

JUDAS PRIEST GREATEST HITS 2008Thanks to Geoff over at the 1001 Albums in 10 Years for the “Excel”lent inspiration!

 

 

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – The Best of Judas Priest (Insight Series reissue)

Welcome back to GREATEST HITS WEEK! This week we are looking at different, interesting hits albums from various bands. Today we visit the Mighty Priest!

Monday:  Extreme – The Best of Extreme: An Accidental Collication of Atoms? (1997)


 

Scan_20150808JUDAS PRIEST – The Best of Judas Priest (1978 Gull, 2000 Koch Insight Series reissue)

The abbreviated story:  Judas Priests’s first two albums, Rocka Rolla and Sad Wings of Destiny, were released on Gull records.  Priest’s first album for Columbia was Sin After Sin in 1977.  When they made the move to the bigger label, they lost all rights for their first albums to Gull.  The label proceeded to issue and reissue unauthorized compilations of those songs.  They even had Rocka Rolla remixed in its entirety by Rodger Bain and reissued in 1981 as part of the double album Hero, Hero.

The Best of Judas Priest was the first exploitive release by Gull, in 1978.  It would have been frustrating for the band to be out there promoting the new album, Stained Class (1978) when the unauthorized Best of hit the shelves.  Whenever asked about it, Priest have discouraged fans from spending their money on these Gull releases.  That was especially true when Best of Judas Priest was reissued again in 2000 by Koch records as part of the “Insight Series”.  They even placed a disclaimer on the official Judas Priest site advising fans to stay away from this CD in particular.  What really seemed to chap their collective ass was that the “Insight Series” contained a lengthy interview with former drummer John Hinch, who was really in the band for only a short time and was fired due to “lack of ability” (their words).

We at LeBrain HQ have acquired a copy for research purposes!

The Best of opens with 10 minutes of slow sludge from Rocka Rolla in the form of “Dying to Meet You” and “Never Satisfied”.  Poor sequencing aside, it is surprising that the up-tempo “One for the Road” is nowhere to be found.  Some heat is finally in the kitchen on Joan Baez’ “Diamonds and Rust”, an early unreleased version.  This too must have peeved the Priest.  This was recorded during the Sad Wings of Destiny sessions, but ultimately left off the album.  Not wanting to let the arrangement go to waste, it was re-recorded for Sin After Sin with Roger Glover producing. This earlier version, out the following year, probably confused a few fans who bought both albums.  The Sad Wings version is of high quality.  It lacks the crispness of the Glover recording, but should be absolutely essential to collectors today.  It can be found on a number of releases including Hero, Hero.

“Victim of Changes” was and is a high water mark.  It’s actually an amalgam of part of a song Rob Halford wrote (“Red Light Lady”) with a song by original Priest singer and founder, Al Atkins (“Whiskey Woman”).  To this day, has Halford ever used his scream more effectively?  “Victim of Changes” is nothing less than a desert island classic.  “Victim”, and the rest of the songs, all come of Priest’s immortal second album Sad Wings of Destiny.

“Island of Domination” is not a place you want to visit:  “We gotta get, we gotta get, we gotta get out of this place.  There’s a man with a needle who’s pleading to get to my face.”  The speedy metal delight keeps you there anyway.  “The Ripper” is a brief but undeniable classic, another highpoint from the Gull years.  Finally, “Deceiver” is separated from its first chapter, “Dreamer Deceiver”.  It does sound odd without its companion, but for a brief and explosive rock song to end a side of vinyl, it is certainly more than up to the task.

Finally there is the infamous 18 minute John Hinch interview that so upset the Priest camp upon its release.  Hinch discusses his history with the band, going back to forming a band with Rob Halford called Hiroshima.  Perhaps the guys in Priest were peeved when Hinch recalls playing on the same bill as Judas Priest, who he says were “horrible”.  His description of KK Downing as a “strutting lead guitarist [with] long blonde hair,” isn’t complimentary.  Ian Hill invited Rob and Hinch to join the band to replace Al Atkins, and their drummer Chris “Congo” Campbell.  According to Hinch, they did so reluctantly and with a desire to change the name.  This critique turns to praise, especially after Glenn Tipton joined the band to fill out the sound.  Perhaps his recollections don’t match those of the band, but it is otherwise impossible to find any other interviews with the drummer from Priest’s first album.  If you want a perspective from the drum stool in 1974, here it is.  What’s missing is any comment on why he was let go.

Ultimately it is up to the fan to decide where to draw the line on what to buy, and what not to buy.  Since the early “Diamonds and Rust” is also on Hero, Hero, one could choose to only buy that release, if they decide they don’t need the Hinch interview.  One could even buy both, or neither.  Personally speaking, I would have bought this anyway if only for the unique cover art.  It is your decision, but The Best of Judas Priest is a decent listen.

3/5 stars