Les Binks

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Priest, Live & Rare (1998 Japanese import)

JUDAS PRIEST – Priest, Live & Rare (1998 Sony Japan)

Fun fact:  in 1998, there were three Judas Priest live albums released.  First was the official ’98 Live Meltdown, featuring then-current singer Tim “Ripper” Owens.  There was also Concert Classics, an unauthorised CD from the British Steel tour that the band swiftly took legal action to remove from store shelves.  Finally, a CD called Priest, Live & Rare released by their old label Sony in Japan, featuring a smorgasbord of live B-sides.

Judas Priest’s B-sides don’t garner a lot of attention, but are worth looking in to.  Fortunately, a large assortment of them are collected on this compilation.  Covering a period from 1978 to 1986, Priest released a number of live B-sides (and one remix) that are included here.  Only two (“Starbreaker”, and a version of “Breaking the Law”) were released on CD in the 2004 Metalogy box set.  Because Priest were conscious of giving value to fans, the live B-sides are not the same familiar versions from live albums.

From the “Evening Star” single in 1978 comes “Beyond the Realms of Death”, Judas Priest’s “Stairway to Heaven”, or so some said.  It’s a rather weak comparison, but “Beyond the Realms of Death” does hold special status.  Glen’s solo, though imperfect, drips with the tension that comes from the live performance.  From the same gig, but lifted from the “Take on the World” single comes “White Heat, Red Hot” and “Starbreaker”.  You can hear the life in the songs, from Les Binks’ organic drum work to Rob’s impassioned performance.  The man is in top voice especially on “White Heat, Red Hot”.  Les Binks has an extended energized drum solo on “Starbreaker”.  These are fantastic live versions that need to be in a diehard’s collection.

The next single visited is 1981’s “Hot Rockin'”, with two live B-sides:  “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight” from that year in Holland.  The drum stool has changed hands from Les Binks to Dave Holland, and it is like the band has had a heart transplant.  The difference is notable given that on this CD, Binks went out on a drum solo.  It’s like a pacemaker has been installed and the pulse of the beast has been tamed.  But that’s 80s Priest for you, and with that said, these are two excellent versions of some serious Priest hits.  Refreshing to hear, after the same familiar ones over and over again.

Priest’s set at the 1983 US Festival has not been released on CD yet, but here are some for you.  (The Festival on DVD is not an issue — the deluxe Screaming for Vengeance contains the whole thing.)  Here you get “Green Manalishi”, “Breaking the Law” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”.  “Green Manalishi” is a fantastic version (at least for one with Dave Holland on drums!) and Rob is peak Halford.  These three tracks are sourced from a live 1983 Japanese “Green Manalishi” EP that costs some fair funds on its own.  (This is the version of “Breaking the Law” that you can also find on the Metalogy box set.)

“Private Propety” (originally from 1986’s Turbo) is a rare live take from St. Louis. It was originally released on the “Parental Guidance” 12″ single.  Therefore it’s not the same one from Priest Live, nor the Turbo 30th anniversary set.  This one predates the release of the others and has a nice untampered quality.  Finally, also from the “Parental Guidance” single, is the only disappointing B-side in this collection.  It’s the “Hi-Octane” extended remix of “Turbo Lover”!  Extended remixes were a popular thing in the 80s.  Every mainstream artist did them; for example Def Leppard, Kiss and Aerosmith.  “Turbo Lover” is one of the poorer such examples.  Were any dance clubs likely to play Judas Priest?  No, but the Priest did try.

Unweildy ham-fisted “Turbo Lover” aside, Priest, Live & Rare is a highly recommended collection to get 10 rare Priest B-sides in one fell swoop.  Definitely cheaper than tracking down all those singles.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Unleashed in the East (1979, Remastered)

JUDAS PRIEST – Unleashed in the East (Originally 1979, 2001 Sony reissue)

The best Judas Priest live album isn’t the biggest or the newest.  It’s the first:  the humble Unleashed in the East.  The first Priest album to be produced by Tom Allom, the last with Les Binks on drums…this is a special album for a number of reasons but most important are the songs.  It would not be going out on a limb to suggest that some of these tracks are now the definitive versions.

Like many live albums of the 1970s, it has been questioned how much of Unleashed in the East was redone in the studio.  Rob Halford has maintained that only the vocals were touched up, but it does not matter one iota when the needle hits wax or laser strikes plastic.  The band were at a musical peak in 1979, and with accelerated tempos, they attacked the best of their body of work, although neglecting the bluesier debut Rocka Rolla.

With “Exciter” (from 1978’s Stained Class) opening the set, this collection has more energy by comparison to the somewhat stiffer studio counterparts.  Les Binks has his foot on the pedal and the band is fully energized on this proto-thrash classic.  “Stand back for Exciter” indeed, as Halford has the Tokyo crowd in the palm of his hand, heavy on the echo.  “Running Wild” (1978’s Hell Bent for Leather) is extra caffeinated compared to the in-the-pocket original, giving the album the feel of a race.  KK goes bananas at the end, and then it’s his showpiece:  “Sinner” from 1977’s Sin After Sin.  Finally it sounds like Priest have stopped hurryin’ about.  About half of the track features KK taking his guitar to outer space in a trippy solo segment.

In its original form, “The Ripper” (1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny) was thin and stiff by comparison.  Here it is a beast, with Rob Halford fully unleashed and stalking the back-alley streets.  Easiest contender for most definitive version of a song on Unleashed in the East.  “Green Manalishi” also comes close, with this electrifying version containing the full-blown dual solo in fantastic, crisp, live glory in stereo.  Each part of the solo is an essential part of the song, just as “Green Manalishi” is an essential part of the album.  If you own the LP, this is where you flip sides and go straight into an adrenalized “Diamonds and Rust”, keeping the energy moving.  Binks’ double-bass work is fun as hell to listen to, like a kid who can’t stop tapping his feet excitement.

The Priest epic “Victim of Changes” takes its time to unfold, though mightily it does.  The live setting and the unstoppable Les Binks make this another definitive Priest live version.  It is the climax of the album, with the last two tracks “Genocide” and “Tyrant” unable to surpass its mountainous metal spires.  Regardless, both are far more fuelled than their seemingly crippled studio counterparts.  Halford is more expressive and engaging live, while the guitars riff on relentlessly.

This album would be 5/5 stars right here, full stop, no need to elaborate.  The already definitive Priest live album became even more definitive in Japan in 1979, and 2001 in the rest of the world, with additional bonus tracks.  On the 2001 remastered Sony edition, all the tracks blend into one another without fade-outs.

Most of the tracks originated on Hell Bent for Leather, with one from Sin After Sin.  “Rock Forever” and “Delivering the Goods” cook!  Not too dissimilar from the originals, these are nice additions that extend the album without weakening it.  “Hell Bent for Leather” was conspicuous by its absence from the album proper, so its restoration is significant.  Finally the lengthy “Starbreaker” occupies the final slot, including a Binks drum solo.  An odd positioning but a stellar version nonethless.  All said and done, the version of Unleashed with bonus tracks is just over an hour long.  By today’s standards that’s a bit short for a live album, but it certainly does feel more complete.

Though he was indeed a significant source of Judas Priest’s musical power both on stage and in the studio, Les Binks quit the band mid-tour to be replaced by ex-Trapeze drummer Dave Holland for the remainder.  Binks was never made an official member on paper and was dissatisfied.  To be sure, other Priest drummers can sympathise.  The only taint on this otherwise perfect “live” metal album is the absence of the departed drummer on the front cover.

5/5/5 stars

 

JUDAS PRIEST REVIEWS

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Hell Bent for Leather / Killing Machine (1978)

JUDAS PRIEST – Hell Bent for Leather / Killing Machine (Originally, 1978, 2001 Sony reissue)

After producing “Better By You, Better Than Me” on Judas Priest’s Stained Class LP, James Guthrie was hired to do their next album.  This coincided with another step in Judas Priest’s evolution.  In the 1980s they would streamline and simplify their sound, but their earlier albums were darker and more complex.  1978’s Hell Bent for Leather (called Killing Machine in the UK) is the dividing line between the two sides of Priest.

A stuttering riffs opens “Delivering the Goods”, one of the best known tracks from this excellent LP.  A newly upbeat Priest does indeed deliver the goods on this bright rocker.  “Feeling like we’re ready to kick tonight, no hesitating, my bodies aching, looking for some action, satisfaction all right.” This is a far cry from “Saints in Hell” and “Dissident Aggressor”.  Now Priest are uplifting your rock and roll souls.  It’s a heavy, headbanging party track with solid gold riffage.  The outro is a showcase for drummer Les Binks, unfortunately on his final Priest studio album.  His loss would be felt through the entire 1980s.

Another simple hard rock classic, “Rock Forever”, is second in line.  Binks’ double bass work is like an impatient kid anxious to quit school for the day.  Part way through, a multi-tracked Halford turns into a cool choir of Robs.  Further in, “Evening Star” is a bit of a surprise.  Starting as a ballad, it quickly turns into a…rock and roll singalong?  As one of Priest’s most melodic songs, it could have easily swayed new fans onto this band.  It also could have turned off fans who liked their metal heavy.

Two tracks from this album have consistently been in the Priest setlists.  One is “Hell Bent for Leather”.  It has a delightfully dry sound, with guitars cranked and Binks on overdrive.  It was obviously good enough to close Priest’s shows going forward (mostly), with Rob riding out on his Harley.  It’s not Priest’s greatest song, but it is one of their most legendary.

Closing side one is “Take On the World”, sort of a prequel to “United” from British Steel.  With double tracked drums, it has a “We Will Rock You” quality, but done Priest style.  It’s clearly meant to be sung from the stage, to a screaming audience.  “Put yourself in our hands so our voices can be heard, and together we will take on all the world!”  Repeat, rinse, dry.

Side two’s opener is one of Rob’s naughty numbers:  “Burnin’ Up”.  The sexy groove on this one will nail you to your seat.  It’s an album highlight though it might leave you feeling funny, like that time you climbed the rope in gym class.  “You dish the hot stuff up but you keep me waiting, so I’ll play it dirty until your body is breaking.”

At this point, the US version of the album breaks into what I will call the greatest song Judas Priest have ever done.  It’s the second one that has remained in setlists.  And it’s not even one of theirs.  It’s Fleetwood Mac’s “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)”.  Rarely does a band make a cover song their own like Priest did with “Green Manalishi”.  Everything on this is perfect, from the impeccable tempo, to the immaculately composed solos, to the flawless riff.  Les Binks is right in the pocket, and it’s very telling that live versions with Dave Holland on drums were stiffer.  If you only ever get to hear one Judas Priest song in your whole life, make sure that it’s “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)”.

You could put a fork in the album at this point and call it “done”, but there’s still plenty of awesome to go.

A funky Priest groove goes down on “Killing Machine”.  A menacing Halford warns, “I got a contract on you,”  backed by trademark Priest riff.  The middle section with the solo is a whole different beast.  A faster song,  “Running Wild”, pumps the adrenaline with chugging guitars.  “I take on all comers, they back up or they fall,” sings Rob with a challenge in his voice.  At this point I’m convinced that this guy could take on the world for real.  “I rebel but I worked hard, and I demand respect,” he sings with earnest.

There’s a respite here before the end, with a ballad:  “Before the Dawn”, which reminds of softer moments from Sad Wings of Destiny.  The guitar solo is legendary, but Rob Halford is the star on this melancholy masterpiece.  Finally, Priest go dirty again with “Evil Fantasies”.  Lock up your kinks, or just go with it!  It’s another sexy groove.  Rob knew how to write lyrics appropriate to the music.  “You pout, I snarl, you whimper.”  It’s like a Romulan having sex with a Klingon.  It shouldn’t be, but it is, and it’s cool!

Sony tacked on two completely unrelated bonus tracks, but review them we must.

“Fight For Your Life” is a demo of “Rock Hard, Ride Free” from Defenders of the Faith, almost identical except for some of the lyrics, and solo section.  Great bonus material for that album, but not this one.  Also unrelated is a live version of “Riding on the Wind” originally from Screaming for Vengeance.  This blitzkrieg is from the legendary US festival.

Bonus tracks quibbles aside, Hell Bent for Leather (with “Green Manalishi”) is essential metal.  Period.

5/5 stars

* The lyrics on the Japanese version were poorly translated:  “Feeling rock queers, ready to kick tonight.”

JUDAS PRIEST REVIEWS

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Stained Class (1978, Remastered)

JUDAS PRIEST – Stained Class (Orignally 1978, 2001 Sony reissue)

I always considered Stained Class to be the “lost” Judas Priest album.  I rarely saw its name in a print magazine, and never saw a copy in a store.  Not until 1989.  As it turns out, I only needed one Priest tape to complete my collection.  There it sat, at Zellers at the mall.  My dad got out his wallet and bought it for me.  I could tell that he was not as impressed as I was that I had finally completed my Priest cassette library.

A year later after I bought it, Stained Class became world famous.  In 1990, Priest were taken to court over “Better By You, Better Than Me”, a song from the album.  Lawyers in Nevada argued that Priest had embedded backwards “do it!” messages within the song, prompting James Vance and Raymond Belknap to attempt suicide by shotgun.  Belknap succeeded, but Vance survived, horrifically disfigured.  In the summer of 1990, everybody knew the name Judas Priest.  But there were no backwards “do its!” embedded in the music.  Even if there were, what does “do it” even mean?  And why would a rock band want to kill off their source of income?

In short, I’m telling you that it’s perfectly safe to listen to Stained Class.  As one of the finer Priest albums, your life will be better for it, not worse.

Nine tracks.  New drummer.  The smouldering odor of quenched steel.  Stained Class.

Fall to your knees and repent if you please, and be sure to stand back for “Exciter”!  Though the production of the 1970s robs it of its potential thunder, “Exciter” does not fail.  Judas Priest had mastered the art of the speedy riff, and Halford coloured them with vibrant wordy imagery.  “When he leaps amidst us, with combustive dance, all shall bear the branding of his thermal lance.”  While it could have come from a comic book, it’s certainly a more challenging lyric than “Rock hard, ride free, all day, all night.”

Fire imagery continues on “White Heat, Red Hot”, a Glenn Tipton number with one of those mid-tempo guitar grooves that Priest specialize in.  The new kid, Les Binks, lends it a relentless heavy beat.  Yet it’s a cover tune, the aforementioned “Better By You, Better Than Me” (Spooky Tooth) that knocks me out.  That groove!  The record company suggested the tune, to balance an otherwise pretty heavy album.  It was a good idea.  While it’s not as notable as “Diamonds and Rust” or “Green Manalishi”, Priest put their own spin on it.  Headbangingly so!  Rob Halford’s vocal performance is top notch.

Side one ends with the closing duo “Stained Class” and “Invader”.  Halford duets with himself on the title track, a pretty cool effect for a metallic midtempo stomper.  Enjoy some nice guitar harmonies from the duo of Tipton and Downing.  Its gleaming chorus upholds a great song.  “Invader” has a similarly burnished chorus hook and a victorious tone.

The album’s second side is more challenging to the uninitiated.  A tantalizing riff leads in to the doomy “Saints In Hell”.  Shrieking, Rob agonizes over going “down into the fire”, but the real heat is coming from churning guitars.  Next, “Savage” is just that.  Time changes with tricky drum work, dualing solos, and screamin’ Rob is what you will get.  “What have we done to deserve such injustice?” pleads Halford, giving 110%.

It is Les Binks that is credited with writing the guitar part to the album’s epic.  Says KK:  “Our drummer at the time, Les Binks, was left handed.  One day he walked into the studio and picked up one of the guitars.  It must have been mine, because Glenn would guard his with his life!  Anyway Les picked it up, turned it upside down, and played that riff.”  They built “Beyond the Realms of Death” around the guitar part.  Downing adds that he’d never seen Binks play anything on guitar before or since!  Like “Victim of Changes” before, it has distinct sections and builds up on itself.  “It’s a bit like our ‘Stairway to Heaven’!” said Rob; or perhaps to hell?  The centerpiece of the album.

Closing on “Heroes End”, Priest go out with a serious rocker and a couple more cool riffs for your collection.  An extended outro solo is one of its main features.

But that’s not all folks, because Sony added two bonus tracks on this 2001 CD edition!  And hey, I have nothing against “Fire Burns Below”, but this Turbo / Ram It Down outtake should have been added to a different album, not Stained Class.  The synth and programmed drums are jarring.  The back cover states it was recorded during “the earlier years of our career”.  This is obviously not true.  Too bad, as it’s a cool track although Priest probably didn’t need any more ballads at that point.  They already had “Out in the Cold” and “Blood Red Skies”, not to mention “Red, White and Blue”.  Decent ballad, but on the wrong CD altogether.  A live take of “Better By You, Better Than Me” has more relevance.  This is from the Painkiller tour in 1990, when the song was resurrected in their set after a long absence.  A middle finger to the lawsuit.  For that reason, this live version is important for the collector.

It’s a real shame this album was so rare when I was a kid.  Stained Class is Priest at one of their many peaks.  This was them at peak curiosity: willing to take chances, play with tempo and riff changes, and to challenge themselves.  By the next album they were starting to hone in on a commercially viable sound.  Cover tune aside, that’s not a consideration on Stained Class.

4.5/5 stars

 

JUDAS PRIEST REVIEWS

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Sin After Sin (1977)

JUDAS PRIEST – Sin After Sin (Originally 1977, 2001 Sony reissue)

“SIN AFTER SIN, I have endured, but the wounds I bear are the wounds of love.”

This lyric from “Genocide” on 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny would have been little more than a throwaway, if Priest didn’t recycle the words “sin after sin” for their next album title.  Though the song may have appeared to be the same, much had actually changed.  For the first time, they had a producer that understood that kind of aggressive rock that the young band were trying to create:  Roger Glover, ex-Deep Purple, who had already recorded several albums for Elf, Ian Gillan and Nazareth.  Perhaps even more significantly, for the first time they had a serious drummer creating the beats:  the not-yet-legendary Simon Phillips, who had still already played on a Jack Bruce album.  This was just a session for Phillips, but it enabled Priest to break the shackles of rhythm and really start exploring.

Opener “Sinner” might have been the same kind of tempos that Priest were working with before, but there is a new slickness to the drums; an effortless drive with increasingly interesting accents.  With a solid backing, Priest sound more vicious.  “Demonic vultures stalking, drawn by the smell of war and pain.”  The apocalypse has never sounded cooler.  As Phillips drops sonic bombs left and right, KK Downing goes to town on what would become his live showcase solo.  His growls and trills sound like a beast inflicting wounds on a struggling combatant.  At almost seven minutes, “Sinner” is the album epic, and it’s the opening track!

Priest previously recorded a cover of Joan Baez’ “Diamonds and Rust” for Gull records; that early version can be acquired on The Best of Judas Priest or Hero, Hero.  The Glover-produced track is the more famous and better of the two.  Radio play for “Diamonds and Rust” helped push the album to eventually sell 500,000 copies.  Rob Halford’s high pitched harmonies gleam like polished silver.

Ironic observation:  I hope by now we all know a light year is a measurement of distance, not time.  It is the amount of distance that light can travel in one year (9.46 trillion kilometres).  So, really really far.  Joan Baez playfully used it as a melodramatic measure of time in “Diamonds and Rust”.  (“A couple of light years ago”.)  On the next track “Starbreaker”, Halford refers to “light year miles away”, a crudely worded hyperbole for distance.  So with Sin After Sin, you get it both ways.  Regardless of scientific accuracy (or not) “Starbreaker” is a good track with a slightly flat riff.  Though Phillips is brilliant, it could just use a little more pep.

Like with Sad Wings of Destiny, you gotta have a ballad in there somewhere, and on side one that’s “Last Rose of Summer”.  This softie isn’t bad, though Priest have done and will do better.  Using a ballad to close a side isn’t always wise either, but on CD nobody really notices except us nerds.

“Let Us Prey/Call For the Priest” is a pretty epic side two opener, with harmony guitars playing an opening instrumental anthem.  Then a choir of Halfords joins in, and the band break in to what could be their fastest song yet.  From the wickedly fast dual guitar solos to the powerful rhythm, this song is a blitzkrieg of metal trademarks.  It’s relentless and all over the board, something that 80s Priest rarely was.

Side two keeps getting better with the groove of “Raw Deal”, which was Rob’s real “coming out” to fans in the know.  Today he calls it a “heavy metal gay rights song”.  It’s actually one of Halford’s best lyrics.  Instead of mashing together science fiction words and singing about battlefields, this time Halford paints a hazy picture of what is probably a gay club in Fire Island, New York.  It’s vivid but vague:  “The mirror on the wall was collecting and reflecting, all the heavy bodies ducking, stealing eager for some action.”  It’s also backed by some seriously cool Priest music, almost funky but always heavy.  “The true free expression I demand is human rights – right?”  It was all there in the lyrics all along.

A second ballad, the dirge “Here Comes the Tears” brings a cloudier mood.  An ode to loneliness, “Here Comes the Tears” is the one to play when you just can’t take it anymore.  When Halford starts givin’ ‘er at the end with the wildest screams in history, it sounds like an exorcism.  The guitars howl, a hint of piano can be heard, and there is an underlying choir of Robs singing sadly in unison.  Finally “Dissident Aggressor”, famously covered by Slayer, concludes the album on a violently fast note.  “Stab!  Fall!  Punch!  Crawl!”  This song is not for amateurs and might be the heaviest thing Priest have ever done.  There are plenty of contenders, but “Dissident Aggressor” must be in the Top Five Heaviest Priest Songs Ever.  But that being said, they still have the balls to end the song with another multi-layered harmony of Halfords.

The 2001 Sony remastered CD has two bonus tracks, and the first is the best in the entire series:  “Race With the Devil”, a cover of a track by The Gun.  This version, recorded for the next album Stained Class (Les Binks on drums) could easily have been a B-side all this time.  Why it went unreleased until 2001 is unknown.  Perhaps it was lost, but now that it has gotten a proper mastering job it is available on CD.  This is un-retouched, which cannot be said for other unreleased tracks in the Priest Remasters series.  “Run With the Devil” is raw, riffy, fast, and wicked.  All it really needed to make it album quality is a better guitar solo.  The second bonus track is a live “Jawbreaker” (Dave Holland on drums) from the Defenders of the Faith tour.  Out of place, but an excellent song regardless.

Incidentally, Sin After Sin is the last album before Priest adopted the first version of their current logo design.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Trouble Shooters (1989 CBS cassette)

JUDAS PRIEST – Trouble Shooters (1989 CBS cassette)

Readers understand that I’m pretty anti-cassette.  For most of my life, I had shitty equipment and shitty tapes so my memories of fiddling with tapes are not happy ones.  You do tend to find oddities on cassette that don’t exist on any other media, which is one reason I’ll always need a tape deck.

Here’s one from my personal collection that I bought in early 1990.

Bob Schipper knew my favourite band in 1989/1990 was the mighty Priest.  He told me of a cassette I didn’t have called Trouble Shooters.  The one detail I can’t recall is what store he saw it in, but I gave him some money and he got me the tape.

I was disappointed that it was a cheap tape with nothing on the inlay, but I now had a Priest tape I didn’t own before.  I spied the release date:  1989.  It looked odd sitting in my tape cases filed as the “newest” Judas Priest release, with Les Binks on the front cover.  Trouble Shooters was in fact a bargain bin compilation made up of songs from Sin After Sin, Stained Class, Hell Bent for Leather, Point of Entry, British Steel, and Defenders of the Faith.  Another thing that looked strange:  the uber-metal Priest logo on the front.  Turning it up to 11, it’s rendered as the insane-o looking Jüdäs Priést.

The running order on these tapes is usually pretty random, but side one of Trouble Shooters goes down really well.  “Let Us Prey/Call For the Priest” is a pretty cool way to open a tape, with that low hum of instruments before the regal guitarmonies enter.  (Note that the second part of the title isn’t printed anywhere.)  “Let Us Prey” is suited to commence a Priest tape that is heavier than the average.  Its proto-thrash pacing represents Judas Priest at an early peak.  Then, sensibly, Trouble Shooters gets the “hit single” out of the way early, in this case “Living After Midnight”.  Casual music buyers picked up these tapes in discount bins, so you have to put on the hit early; the second slot working best.

I appreciated that they included two songs from Point of Entry as that has always been a personal favourite.  The title track is parsed wrong as “Trouble Shooters” when it should be all one word.  Still a good song, with Priest taking a simple sassy 4/4 time stance.  “Turning Circles” from the same album is lesser known but possesses a slower groove that works just as well as the fast ones.  The secret seems to be Rob Halford, who twists and turns every word for maximum expression.

Side One is granted an epic quality thanks to “The Green Manalishi”, my favourite Priest song of all time and certainly a crowd pleaser too.  (Yeah, yeah, I know it’s a Fleetwood Mac cover.)  You just can’t find a better closer for a Side One anywhere else in the Priest canon.

Continuing the excellent sequencing is a song heralding the arrivals of “Metal Gods” on Side Two.  Then “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll”, the most recent song from 1984’s Defenders of the Faith.  Nothing from Turbo or Ram It Down.  I wonder if there were rules about what could and couldn’t go on these budget compilations.  Maybe they were limited to music five years old or more.  Back to the tape, “Some Heads” follows a similar sonic mood as “Metal Gods”, though the production is less sleek and more muddled.  It’s still apocalyptic metal for breakfast.

Finally it’s back to the start with a couple epics from the early days.  For me, I think I would have ended the tape on “Sinner”, but it comes before “Saints In Hell” here.  Much like “Let Us Prey” on Side One, these songs show off the early savage side of Judas Priest, ripping meat from the bone raw and ugly.  It’s barbaric metal with sharply precise moves.

I don’t know why I hung on to this tape when so many of them ended up in a Thunder Bay landfill.  I’m glad I did:  this was a fun cassette to review.

3.5/5 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.

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“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 – Metalogy (2004 box set)

Would you care for an Epic Review with your morning tea?

JUDAS PRIEST – Metalogy (2004 Sony 4CD/1DVD limited edition box set)

Q: Who would release a box set dressed up in faux-leather and studs?
A: Who else? PRIEST!

This five disc set (4 CD/1 DVD) compiles a generous sampling of Judas Priest’s music over the decades, from Rocka Rolla (1974) to Demolition (2002). While the tracklist is far from perfect in my eyes (where’s “Rocka Rolla”, “One For the Road”, the studio version of “Victim Of Changes”, “The Ripper”, etc?) it does provide some previously unreleased live versions (both B-sides and never-before-released) and a completely unreleased demo. It’s not a bad set. Just not the one I would have made personally given the opportunity.*

IMG_20150301_071946With insanely great fortune, I got this box set (a limited edition by the way; reissues lack the DVD) in mint condition but used at my own store! One of my favourite sellers, a customer named Conrad sold it to me only a short time after release.  I don’t know why and I don’t care.  I was just glad to have it affordably.  I loved the packaging and there was that unreleased demo that I was eager to finally hear.    Also, Metalogy was the first anthology style box set from Priest and I wanted to hear how it played out.

The unreleased song is the awesome hard rock track “Heart of a Lion”, demoed for Turbo back in ’85. You may have heard this one in re-recorded form on Halford’s live album Insurrection. It was also recorded back in the 80’s by a young band called Racer X, starring Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big) on guitar, and a drummer by the name of Scott Travis! It was a surprise to me that “Heart of a Lion” was not released on the Priest Re-masters series; obviously they were deviously saving it for something later, like this box set.

Some of the live versions are exclusive to this set. Two newly released versions included a 1981 radio broadcast of “Green Manalishi” (unfortunately, meaning the studio track isn’t on here). There is also an unreleased broadcast version of “Love Bites” from ’86.  In addition to these, there are a few live tracks taken from old single B-sides. Unfortunately I already have all Priest’s B-sides, on a Japanese compilation called Priest Live & Rare.

The biggest weakness with this box set is that it tragically loses steam right at the end. In 2002 when the last original Priest music had been recorded, Rob Halford had yet to rejoin the band and Ripper Owens was still the current singer. The box ends with four Ripper tunes, and not necessarily the best ones. “Jugulator” is an undeniable inclusion, but there is a feeling of anticlimax. Leaving an exciting and unheard track like “Heart of a Lion” for last would have ended set on an up note.  (Perhaps Priest could have included some Ripper-era rarities to add some value and excitement — there were a few songs available.)

METALOGY_0002Judas Priest Live (DVD)

The limited edition DVD, cleverly called Judas Priest Live, has since been released on its own. This is the old Judas Priest Live video, also known as Live Vengeance ’82, from the Screaming for Vengeance tour (Memphis Tennessee).  It’s one of those music videos that you probably remember seeing back in the day. It’s quintessential early 80’s live Priest — all black leather and shiny studs. The setlist leans heavily on Screaming and British Steel, with classics throughout.  The stage is pretty bare, just some girders and a Screaming for Vengeance flag in behind.

This concert has been remixed for DVD, in both stereo and 5.1 surround.  I have read some complaints from fans that guitar overdubs were added to some tracks.  I listened intently but could not conclude one way or the other that any tampering was done.

A pre-recorded “Hellion” acts as intro music; Priest emerge onstage amidst lasers and smoke to play “Electric Eye”.  Halford is  the caricature of himself, bearing a bullwhip, and looking something like the biker from the Village People.  Nevertheless, a young Rob Halford slowly and deliberately commands the stage, powerful voice cracking but getting the job done.  Tipton and Downing are on the flanks, tearing into “Riding on the Wind” next.  The pulse of Ian Hill and Dave Holland, plain is it may be, is metronomically precise.  The video is shot and edited to my taste; lots of closeups although the light flaring is distracting.  (J.J. Abrams did not direct the video though!)  KK Downing makes some of the best “guitar faces” this side of Nigel Tufnel.

“Heading Out to the Highway” brings the speed down from the breakneck pace.  This mid-tempo classic has long been a favourite, although at the time it was only a year old!  Three songs in, and Priest had not yet played anything from British Steel or before!  The confidence in their new material is refreshing.  Rob treats us to some hilarious dancing, but I admit I’d kill for a leather vest like that, with the bird from Screaming emblazoned on the back!  Fear not though, as “Metal Gods”, a British Steel classic, is next.  Rob’s robot dance gets my nod for “favourite moment of the concert”.

Back to new songs, the sharp guitars and robotic pulse of “Bloodstone” gets fists pumping in the air.  The cameras are not wasted on audience shots (I’d rather see the band), but you can see the crowd digging the new material as much as the old.  They really like “Breaking the Law” though, which has a blazing intensity.  Then it’s back to the stone ages:  KK Downing’s guitar showcase “Sinner”.  This killer song loses something with Holland on drums, but it’s more about KK anyway.  His solo is resplendent, but Rob nails the screams!  “Desert Plains” is faster than the Point of Entry version but more powerful.  This is one that Dave Holland is well suited to, and the Hill/Holland pulse is fully apparent.

IMG_20150228_184258Here’s something you don’t hear at Judas Priest concerts anymore: Rob screaming at the crowd, “Are you high?  Sing yeah!”  As a kid, I naively assumed Rob meant high on the music, the adrenaline of the concert, and I’m sure that’s the answer he’d give to the press if asked about it. As a cynical adult, I’m sure he meant “Are you high?” as in “Are you high?”!

All the way back to Sad Wings, “a little Victorian melodrama for you,” it’s “The Ripper”!  Some stage bombs help out with the drama, and Rob sinks his teeth into the words. It’s an absolutely metal-perfect ode to Jack himself.   “Diamonds and Rust” is an unexpected treat, as glimmery as it was on Sin After Sin.

Rob takes a moment to tell the crowd that there are cameras all over the place because they’re making the very first “Judas Priest movie”, and possible live album.  Still waiting on that live album today, Rob!  Back to the new album, it’s “Devil’s Child”, which Rob imbues with a strange monotone during the verses.  This exact version was released as a bonus track on the remastered Screaming For Vengeance.  As such it’s familiar to me and I enjoy the vocal twist.  “Screaming for Vengeance” continues the onslaught of new songs, concluded by the chugging fan favourite “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”.

Closing the set with “Victim of Changes” is a suitably dramatic end.  “Victim” is spot-on, and Rob is as animated as he gets.  Headbanging away, Downing and Tipton are at his sides, while Ian Hill stands bolted to the stage, swaying his bass back and forth hidden behind a cloud of smoke!  This brilliant version has all the twists and turns you expect, and that end scream is so satisfying even if Rob misses the note by several notches.

“The Green Manalishi” rears its leather-studded head in the encores, but not before the big hit, “Living After Midnight”.  And let’s not forgot Rob’s boring “Oh yeah!” chant-along.  Thankfully this version of “Green Manalishi” is a killer (as is the 1981 live version on CD 1 of this box set).  “What you sayin’ Memphis?” screams Rob, before KK and Glenn dig in to their trademark solos.  “Green Manalishi” remains to this day an example of a song improved as a cover version, with all due respect to Peter Green.

It ain’t over ’til the bike comes out, and it does on “Hell Bent for Leather”.  Rob sits reclined on his Harley, bullwhip back in hand, commanding the masses.  After dozens of power chords and crashed cymbals, it’s finally over — 95 minutes of Judas Priest fury, at the height of their 1980’s power.  Not bad for a little bonus DVD (video quality issues aside), and worth picking up separately if you feel so inclined.

In closing

Review the track list yourself, see what you have and what you want, amd buy accordingly. I can tell you that this set was worth it for me for “Heart of a Lion” and the unreleased live material.  The DVD was gravy.

4/5 stars

* foreshadowing!

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Concert Classics (also known as Live in Concert)

CONCERT CLASSICS_0001JUDAS PRIEST – Concert Classics (1998 RME, recorded 6/25/1980)

I was surprised to see this album was reissued in 2007 as Live in Concert. When I got it back in 1998, the record label was immediately served with a “cease and desist” because Priest had just released their own official ’98 Live Meltdown album, and this one isn’t authorized by the band. It’s a radio broadcast from 1980, the British Steel tour.  It doesn’t even have the right drummer pictured on the back!  The album was swiftly deleted and disappeared from store shelves, and most fans didn’t know it had come and gone. (Also, at the exact same time, Sony issued another compilation called Priest Live and Rare, further muddifying the clarification.)  After it was deleted, I acquired this CD from Tom who had just opened his own branch of the Record Store.  I paid $19.99, used.

As an unofficial part of the Priest discography, In Concert is worth picking up. Although Priest had released the live Unleashed in the East in 1979, Concert Classics was recorded in 1980 after British Steel.  Therefore, a lot of crucial future Priest classics had been added to the set.  You can’t argue with the tunes inside. Recorded live in Denver (you can tell this when Halford yells, “What you say, Denver!” right before the guitar solo in “Green Manalishi”), some of these tracks are lost gems. It’s nice to have the CD alongside Unleashed, as a companion.

CONCERT CLASSICS_0003The sound quality is OK, it’s not up to the standards of Unleashed (obviously). The vocals are not mixed loud enough.  The bass on the other hand is mixed way too loud, and Ian Hill is not that interesting as a bassist.  The band is also not the same lineup as the year before, due to the replacement of Les Binks by Dave Holland. Holland is a very blocky, robotic drummer. Play “Green Manalishi” for an idea of how the two drummers differ.  Priest with Holland was that much weaker for it.  I don’t think anyone would argue the point that Priest sound better without Dave Holland on drums.

Having said that, the rest of the band are playing great, and Halford’s voice was in fine, peak shape. He was able to hit all the notes in “The Ripper”.  He didn’t quite nail the one on “Victim of Changes”, but he was close!  This doesn’t sound like there were any overdubs or other assorted mess-arounds. Which is the way I like it.

Other notables:  No “Metal Gods” (although the concert opens with the metal hammering sound from that song).  “You Don’t Have to be Old to be Wise” is a nice surprise, and it sounds great live!  There are plenty of tunes from Sad Wings and British Steel, a trio from Hell Bent, and samplings from Sin After Sin and Stained Class.  The set list is well rounded.

3/5 stars. Somewhat collectible, since Priest would probably like this CD to be buried. Good tunes, and an important era of Priest history documented on CD for the metal historian.

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Part 272: Priest Week – The Re-Masters

PRIEST WEEK

It’s the end of PRIEST WEEK! It was all Judas Priest all week, and what better way to end it then with a 12 CD remastered box set?
Monday:  Rocka Rolla (1974)
Tuesday: Priest…Live! (1987)

Wednesday: Metal Works 73-93 (1993)
Thursday: Demolition (2001 Japanese version)

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RECORD STORE TALES Part 272:  PRIEST WEEK – The Re-Masters

When Judas Priest began reissuing their albums in 2001 (in three waves of four CDs each), of course I had to have all 12.  I’ve been a fan of the band since I was a kid, and my complete Judas Priest collection has always brought me much joy.  Priest’s “Re-masters” series included all the studio and live albums from 1977’s Sin After Sin to 1990’s Painkiller.  Each was expanded with two bonus tracks, with the exception of the live albums.  Unleashed in the East contained the four bonus tracks from the Japanese Priest in the East release (which I already had) and Priest…Live had three extra songs.  (Today, there is a new budget box set that collects the entire Halford era into one box called The Complete Albums Collection.)

In late 2001, local record store legend Al “the King” dropped into my store to sell some discs.  Nimble-minded readers will recall that on day 1 of Priest Week, Al King sold me my vinyl copy of Rocka Rolla in 1989!  Al now worked at another store in town called Encore Records.  Al’s a good guy.  He didn’t see us so much as competition, because really we catered to different groups of people.  There were certain discs that Al couldn’t sell at Encore (pop and mainstream stuff), and he knew I would give him the fairest prices in town, so he came to me.  It was a good mutually beneficial arrangement.  I wanted his stock and he wanted the money!

On this afternoon, I chatted with Al while going through his discs, and he informed me of a forthcoming Priest collectible.

“It’s expensive,” he began, “but it does look cool.  It’s a UK import.  I sold one to this really excited guy, but Mark’s trying to order another one in.  If you want it no problem, but fair warning, it’s not cheap.”

“Tell me more!” I said to Al.

PRIEST WORKINGThe details were scant.  The box set was titled The Re-Masters, and it contained four CDs with room for the other eight, sold separately.  The CDs included with the box were the first four of the Columbia years:  Sin After Sin, Stained Class, Killing Machine (Hell Bent for Leather) and Unleashed in the East.  It was an attractive box, printed to look like it is held together by metal rivets.  There was also supposed to be a booklet included.  At the time, I was obsessed with collecting the “best” versions of anything.  This meant having all the songs, and the best packaging available.  I asked Al to hold the box for me.  At various points in the conversation, I felt like Al was trying to talk me out of buying it due to the price!  What Al didn’t understand was my deep obsession for this band.

A few days later I headed down to Encore and bought my treasure.  I eagerly opened it up and discovered one little additional bonus!  Nothing major, but cool enough for me:  the four CDs included had embossed silver logos on both front and back covers, instead of the regular printed ones.  This differentiated the discs from the versions I could buy separately at retail.  Also, Hell Bent for Leather was indeed included under the UK name Killing Machine, something I hadn’t seen on CD before. Finally, once all 12 discs were collected, together the CD spines read JUDAS PRIEST and depicted their “devil’s tuning fork” logo.  The spaces for the 8 discs sold separately were taken up by individual foam spacers.

Back covers with silver embossed “tuning fork” logo, and without.

The bonus tracks were a mixed bag of live and demo songs from all over Priest history, but some, such as “Race With the Devil” (The Gun cover) were incredible and classic.  One by one, I added to the set.  Some discs came in used rather quickly:  Point of Entry was one such disc.  Others I had to order via Amazon, or buy in-store at Encore, such as Turbo and Painkiller.  But I did get them all, and my complete Priest Re-Masters set has served me well for over a decade now.  Although I have since bought the newer deluxe editions of Screaming for Vengeance and British Steel (with bonus DVDs) I have felt no need to replace this box set with anything else.  Having to buy the discs individually and complete it myself makes it rare to find, not to mention the box was made only in small numbers.  Some fans expected more out of the box set, and some were upset that the Gull Records and Ripper Owens years are not represented inside, even though Ripper was still the current singer.  My attitude was and is, “Who cares?”  It’s a great looking set and it comprises a complete era of Priest.  I like it a lot and according to Al King I’m one of two guys in town that own it.  Cool.