mark wilkinson

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls: Live Chapter (2017)

IRON MAIDEN – The Book of Souls: Live Chapter (2017 Universal)

Not many bands can get away with releasing so many live albums so late in their career.  Iron Maiden can.  They can for three main reasons:

1: They still kick enormous amounts of ass.
2: Their setlist changes tour after tour and there will always be songs you won’t get to hear again.
3: See #1.

It doesn’t hurt that their new albums are as acclaimed as their old. Ever since Maiden’s 1999 reunion with Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith, we have been treated to an abnormally solid stream of brilliant records. Deal with the devil, perhaps? Faustian bargain #666?

The atmospheric and shadowy intro to “If Eternity Should Fail” is a perfect way to begin an Iron Maiden concert.  This track is magnificent.  It also serves as a dramatic way to open what is sure to be the greatest live experience on Earth. “Scream for me, Sydney!” yells Bruce to rile up the crowd. Yes, The Book of Souls: Live Chapter is taken from a number of different shows, which is a format Maiden have succeeded with before.

Another thing Maiden do successfully is top-load their live set with new songs.  The first two songs here are the same two as The Book of Souls itself.  Single “Speed of Light” really kicks up the excitement level.  To go from the epic drama of the opener to the taut single immediately causes an energy surge.  From there, we travel back to 1981 with “Wrathchild”.  It’s like a time machine to the London stages that young Maiden once trod upon.  Bruce’s scream is unholy.

Jump cut to Canada and “Children of the Damned”.  Bruce speaks French for the raving Montreal crowd, a nice touch of respect for the province of Quebec.  Maiden never sagged in popularity there.  In Quebec, Maiden’s 1995 album The X Factor (with lead singer Blaze Bayley) went Top 10.  Back to new material, “Death or Glory” is another energetic shorty.   The triple guitar solo slays.   Then it goes to epic, “The Red and the Black”, 13 minutes and the longest track on the album.  Riff overload!  Unabated, we launch into “The Trooper” and “Powerslave”, both old classics that remain as amped up as they were in the 80s.  It is pure joy to listen.  (Only qualm: backing vocals on “Powerslave” sound like tape.)

A pair of top-notch new songs, “The Great Unknown” and “The Book of Souls” kick off the second CD.  These are not short tracks.  In a way this is the “meat” of the set.  It is a run of 17 combined minutes of epic Maiden, and it’s a lot to swallow.  Savour every bite; this is prime stuff.  And will they ever be played live again?  Who can say?

You know the show is drawing to a close when you hear the opening chords to “Fear of the Dark”.  This favourite has been in the set since 1992.  It’s the crowd’s chance to really sing along and be a part of it.  More favourites follow:  “Iron Maiden” and “The Number of the Beast”.  (Absent is “Run to the Hills” which is on plenty of other live Maiden albums of recent vintage.)  “Blood Brothers” from the reunion album Brave New World seems oddly placed in the second-to-last slot.  The crowd at Download festival are thrilled to sing along.  On CD, you can hear Steve on backing vocals clearly, and appreciate how he and Bruce complement each other.  Then finally, it’s a terrific “Wasted Years” from underdog favourite Somewhere in Time.

The mix here is just dandy.  There are variances in sound from track to track and city to city, but these are minor and only natural.  You can clearly pick apart the instruments in the stereo field, and it’s pure delight to do so.  Once again, Iron Maiden have released a quality product.  You cannot go wrong by investing in any version of The Book of Souls: Live Chapter.

4.5/5 stars;

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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

Interview: 1537 Questions

We don’t need no preamble! If you have ever wanted to know how to write the most unique music reviews that this planet has ever seen, then you need to read on as we pick the mind of the one, the only, Mr. 1537 himself. He is one talented music writer that deserves all the praise you can heap.

1537


M: It is a pleasure to speak with you, Mr. 1537.  I understand that anonymity is important to you.  It would matter to me too, if I had any sense.  How would you like us to address you in this interview?

1537:  A simple ‘sir’ would normally suffice, but in order to seem a bit more user-friendly ( I gather the masses tend to like that) you can call me 15 strictly for the duration of this interview.

Actually I sort of ballsed up the whole anonymous thang by using my name as the blog domain; oops, back to spy school for me!   I don’t do any social media at all beyond WordPress and I am basically a needlessly secretive dude.  I admire folk who can bare their souls in their blogs but that’s not me at all, I let bits and pieces of my life seep through the cracks sometimes but not very much.

M: As opposed to me, who built a cottage industry on the minutia of working in a record store.  Now…Lego.  You’ve managed to incorporate Lego in your articles’ artwork, in a simple yet innovative and endlessly entertaining way.  How long have you been a fan of Lego, and is that longer than you’ve been into music?

15: Well, the Lego came first, my daughter got the Lego DJ figure and on a whim I thought it would look good on the circle of the Flying Lotus LP Cosmogramma, then Sleep Dopesmoker and then I started to look at the possibilities of making relevant figures for relevant LPs.  I had a Blogspot thang where I’d managed three reviews years before, but I gradually realised that if you gave people something to look at they might stop by and read my Mighty Rock Words of Power (MRWoP) too.

It took me a while to hit my stride and then when people actually started reading it … wow, it really is the best feeling.

Oh, Lego.  Yup, I’ve always loved it, way before I was conscious of music – although I grew up in a very music-oriented household.  I used to make elaborate Star Wars games and fantasies up through Lego, way before they had brought out space Lego. You used to have to improvise weapons in those days too, because Lego didn’t believe in promoting weapons as toys for kids.

M: That’s right, you used to have to use the “bullhorns” as guns, until Lego started introducing actual guns in 2005.  You seem to have a Minifigure appropriate for every single album review you do, no matter how bizarre or obscure.  Presently how many figures do you think you own?

15: I have a couple hundred Minifigures, which is not all of them by a long way, I’m not obsessive about collecting them and there are plenty of gaps in my collection.  I love it when they produce a new line and one strikes me as perfect for an LP I haven’t done yet.

A lot of the fun is improvising and putting combos of different figures together.  I’ve also drawn on a couple duplicates I have to make an Alice Cooper, a Scott Ian and a Ziggy Stardust; oh and I have also added cleavage to a figure or two along the way; that’s normal behaviour for a 44 year-old isn’t it?

M: I’m not one to judge.  What drives your review?  Do you start with the text or the visuals? 

15: Always the text.  I think wordaciously, not visually.  I’m a slow writer because I edit it all as I go along, most reviews take me at least 3 hours, with another 40 minutes or so on top for the pictures.  If you add in the demands of family life, a really demanding job, a little socialising and even, hey, listening to music sometimes, it all adds up to why I don’t produce as many as I’d like to.  There are never any ‘in the can’, I tend to write them, hit publish and go straight to bed, as it’s usually 1am by then.  I like waking up to everyone’s comments.

Q: Do you use any fancy-pancy camera or lighting equipment?  The images are always very crisp and vibrant, much better than I’ve been getting with my BlackBerry in my home office.

15: Absolutely not.  Everything I do is done on my iPhone (the model before the last one – 6 is it?), I’m not particularly good at it, I just take a lot of photos.  Shiny, shiny covers are the bane of my life.

What I am pretty good at now, by trial and error, is editing the pictures, I use a Windows App called Fhotoroom and another called KVADPhoto.  I have never ever published a picture I haven’t edited for contrast, colour, or cropped and altered etc.  Some of my favourites have been very boring photos before I have messed them around.

M:  I crop everything, but I wouldn’t know what to do as far as contrast or colour, so kudos to you sir.  A two-part question next:  What are your favourite reviews that you’ve done, both in terms of writing and in terms of photos?

15: In terms of the writing I rather like this comparison between Andrew Marvell, English metaphysical poet and a Rhino Bucket song about oral sex – it’s even got my voice on it:

https://jatstorey.com/2014/12/05/to-his-coy-bitch/

I’m also rather fond of doing interviews, that’s been a whole lot of fun when the right person has been on the other side who is willing to engage properly with the silliness of it all.  It’s also a nice way to get to chat to bands when you go see them live too.  Spencer from MFC Chicken was my first and favourite:

https://jatstorey.com/2014/11/18/spencer-speaks/

I have too many favourite pictures to pick a post, but these two have to come darned close – ‘Hatting’ Isaac Hayes and my take on The Shining:

https://jatstorey.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/hot-buttered-soul-02.jpg

https://jatstorey.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/the-shining.jpg

 

M: Ahh yes, The Shining was a personal favourite of mine too.   I find I often have to listen to an album while I write, and it can’t be the first listen either.  I need a fresh listen in order to capture all my thoughts and pass them on to the weary readers.  Your reviews are very different from mine, and frankly far beyond what I’m capable of writing.  Do you use the “listen as you write” technique or something else?

15: I try to give it a good listen the night before, or on my way to/from work (an hour-long commute doesn’t have to be all bad) and I listen to bits of it as I write, or if I’m happy I know it enough – I might be writing about something I’ve been listening to in heavy rotation for 28 years (Christ, I’m old!), I have an ambient playlist I listen to when I write sometimes.

M: What else do you need to be able to write?  I need to be in my underwear with a cold beverage.  No bevvies and no skivvies means no review.  I suspect you prefer warm slippers and oatmeal.

15: I need quiet, which is ironic given that most of my favourite music involves bellowing and shrieking.  I write at a desktop (hate lap-tops) in the room that also has our biggest TV in and so there can be a certain amount of negotiation involved – it’s often why I write so late into the morning, it’s the only time I can.

Other than that my needs are simple, I prefer non-restrictive trouser ware and that’s it.  You really write in your undies?

M: Hey, who’s conducting the interview here? I ask the questions! Is there any one band you really really hope reads your stuff?

15: Nah, although there is a fair chance of some artists tuning in because a lot of the LPs I bought in the late 80’s seem to have only sold one copy, to me – I always try to be pleasant because, you just should be.  If I can’t write anything too complimentary I always add in my caveat along the lines of ‘These guys made a far better record than I ever have I’m just a loser boy sat behind a keyboard’.

Larry Miller from Uncle Sam stopping by was wonderful (I own an LP he signed and bit for me back in ’91) and we’re still in touch – I even helped get their debut LP re-released, that was a real buzz.

https://jatstorey.com/2013/07/20/i-lost-more-friends-than-youll-ever-have/

Oh and (coughs) Mark Wilkinson may have stopped by once too …

https://jatstorey.com/2014/01/19/smiling-vinyl-whores/

M: Do you have any particular influences in terms of writing?  I’ve made no secret that in my early years, I was definitely trying to be Martin Popoff, Jr.  Your style is unlike anyone I’ve read, but surely that didn’t happen in a vacuum?

stan-lee15: I had to really think about this one.  In terms of the character I write in, the tone of it, a lot of it comes from Stan Lee in those 1960’s Marvel comics – they knocked me for 6 when I first read my parent’s copies as a kid, the jokey references to himself and his fellow writers and artists in ‘the bullpen’; it was very playful and irreverent, that stuck with me.

You could maybe chuck in a bit of Harry Harrison and Douglas Adams, they were and are still, the only humorous writers I truly like and I do try to amuse.

Other than that there were all those fabulous late 80’s Kerrang! journalists, who were informative and, again, playful in the way they wrote – lots of irreverence and in-jokes, they painted their own little world and made it seem like the coolest place in the world to work.  I met Phil Wilding at a gig once and was more excited about that than the band (Dangerous Toys).

Oh and I hope there’s enough self-deprecation in there to show I do write in character and I’m not really a megalomaniac with an omnipotence delusion.

M: Sure, sure.  I knew that.  Anyway, do you ever worry you will run out of things to say about music?  Or do you see “1537” as a long-term project?

15: No, mostly because of the format I’ve set up for myself, my blog runs on rails to an extent – jokey title (usually), review of record(s), review count at the end, Lego images.  I have enough of the little vinyl buggers that I don’t have to write about the same artist too often, which would fox me – the closest I ever came to a series, like you, Geoff and Aaron do so well, was spending a month writing about artists beginning with a ‘B’ – I found that really tough.

Anyway I’ve got 809 more records to review.  Not sure where I’ll take it after that, because the whole point of the blog, apart from being an extended diary for myself, was to make sure I took time out to listen to everything I own properly – I have a horror of having stuff I haven’t heard, it makes me feel gluttonous and despicable.

M: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview.  The agent who set this up didn’t want me to ask this last question.  But the interview is going well enough so I think I’m going to ask it.  You’re a Lego man — this is clear.  Meanwhile I’m into things that turn into little robots.  With all due respect, I think we both know that robots > bricks, but that is neither here nor there.  If you could transform into something, what would it be, and why?

I know the only reason you feel safe enough to ask me that is that I am currently orbiting earth at a crucial velocity on my space station, so I shall overlook your mortal impertinence this once.  I always wanted to be a farmer when I was little and was totally obsessed with tractors, it was all I ever drew apart from digital watches (they were new then).  So the obvious answer is a digital watch which transforms into a big kick-ass Ford County 1164 tractor (I always loved their colour scheme).

tractor

TRACTOR-TRON 1537 Lego/Transformers crossover set coming soon


Thanks again to 1537 for the chat.  We’ll leave you with a suitable music video…”Rockin’ is Ma Business”…and business is good!

 

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: Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls (2015)

NEW RELEASE

IRON MAIDEN – The Book of Souls (2015 Parlophone, collector’s book edition)

I have a new hero.  His name is Bruce Dickinson.

Bruce has not only beaten cancer back to that dark hole from which it came, but he takes command on Iron Maiden’s new opus The Book of Souls.

Even though he only has writing credits on four of the 11 tracks here, his impact is massive.  With lungs of iron, Bruce propels everything.  For the first time (possibly) ever, I feel that the most important band member is not leader Steve Harris, but the singer himself.

Right from the opener “If Eternity Should Fail”, Bruce is center stage.  He wrote this complex number himself.  It boasts one of Maiden’s most memorable choruses yet, and musical twists and turns that return us to Powerslave.  Meanwhile, there is a hook that reminds me of Bruce’s solo song “The Ghost of Cain”, from Accident of Birth.

We took a good look at the lead single, “Speed of Light” a couple weeks back.  Maiden often write a fast, heavy blazer to go with a new album, and that’s “Speed of Light”.  Even though it is the single, it is far from the strongest song.  Written by Bruce and Adrian Smith, it is certainly a good Iron Maiden track, but in comparison to the monuments of metal that surround it, “Speed of Light” feels like a brief diversion from the epic metal moments at hand.  Adrian’s solo, however, is delicious.

“The Great Unknown” (Smith/Harris) opens softly, but even so there is a menacing tone to Bruce’s voice and the underlying instruments.  With a slow, thrusting riff, “The Great Unknown” soon lurches forth, a killer metal march for the ages.  Bruce pushes his voice to the very limits, giving it all and then some.  As with many of the songs on The Books of Souls, I hear hints and echoes of past Maiden epics.  This is not a lack of originality, more like a signature — familiar but always different.  “The Great Unknown” ends on the soft note with which it began.

What is an Iron Maiden album without a Steve Harris bass intro?  He and producer Kevin Shirley captured a wonderful bass sound on this album.  “The Red and the Black”, another epic, is the only Harris solo writing credit.  It has a riff that takes me all the way back to Killers, but then it is gone, and it’s onto another riff…and another…and another.  At 13 minutes in length, this is one of those trademark Harris songs.  Time changes galore, loaded with hooks.  You can draw parallels to many epics from the past, but to do so takes away from this one.  “The Red and the Black” is a proud achievement, a passionate metal song as only Iron Maiden can really do.  Adrian Smith handles one of the guitar solos with a huge splash of wah-wah, and that is simply a thing of beauty.  In sum, if you took a little bit of everything that makes Iron Maiden great and unique, then all those ingredients are in “The Red and the Black”.  Bass outro, and that’s that.

A semi-shorty (5:52) is in the next slot, a fast riffer called “When the River Runs Deep” written by Steve and Adrian.  This one is hard to compare to any past Maiden tracks, as it occupies a space all its own.  Adrian Smith sometimes brings in riffs that sound like something other than Iron Maiden, and I think that’s “When the River Runs Deep”.  Adrian takes another wah-wah solo, but not to be outdone is Janick Gers who throws down an edgy solo of his own.  As far as Iron Maiden goes, this song is guitar solo nirvana.

A 10 minute epic always makes a good closer when you’re Iron Maiden, so the title track “The Book of Souls” (Gers/Harris) is last for disc one.  Gentle acoustic guitars and keyboards emulating pipes tell us that this is previously uncharted territory.  Then “The Book of Souls” trudges forth, with a beat not unlike “Mother Russia” from No Prayer for the Dying.  There’s far more to the song than that, however. Soaring lead vocals (Bruce only seems stronger!) just ice the cake.  All three Maiden guitarists shine on this, but Janick and Adrian have some solos that just play off each other so well. You want those trademark Maiden guitar melodies?  How about galloping riffs?  Nicko McBrain killing it on the drums?  Maiden deliver, in top notch style, everything and then some more.

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Bruce and Adrian co-wrote “Death or Glory”, opening side two with frenetic drums and riffing.  Going for the throat, The Book of Souls has more fast riffs per minute than any Maiden album in decades.  In five brief minutes, you are blasted against the wall, bounced off the floor, and nailed to the ceiling.  Don’t hurt your neck from all the headbanging.  This time, the guitar spotlight is on Dave Murray for an intense, dramatic solo.

“Shadows of the Valley” (Gers/Harris) sounds a lot like “Wasted Years” at first, but only briefly.  If anything, “Shadows of the Valley” recalls Dance of Death-era Iron Maiden.  Although this song is not as powerful or memorable as others on the album, it does contain some seriously incredible instrumental moments.

One of the most heartfelt and powerful songs on the album is the shortest.  “Tears of a Clown” is a thoughtful moment about Robin Williams.  The poignant lyrics are to the point:

All alone in a crowded room,
He tries to force a smile,
The smile it beamed or so it seemed,
But never reached the eyes, disguise,
Masquerading as the funny man do they despise.

I found this to be one of the compelling songs.  Of all the bands to commemorate Robin Williams, I did not expect it to be Iron Maiden.  But they did it in such a way that it completely fits.

Dave Murray and Steve Harris might not have known that Bruce already has a solo song called “Man of Sorrows”, but it doesn’t matter much since Maiden’s song is called “The Man of Sorrows”.  Musically this sounds much like X Factor-era Maiden.  Bruce takes it to a higher level than that.  Dave himself has a nice slow bluesy solo at the end that is just pure gravy.

The biggest surprise, the biggest song, and the biggest challenge has to be “Empire of the Clouds”.  Written solely by Bruce and coming in at almost 20 minutes, it is unprecedented in the Maiden canon.  Never before have the credits “Bruce Dickinson – vocals, piano” been written inside one of their albums.  For the first time ever, the piano is a part of Iron Maiden’s makeup.  Maiden have used orchestras before, and the strings return as well.  “Empire of the Clouds” is a peak accomplishment, something that they (and Bruce) can proudly proclaim, “we did that”.  The piano is a natural fit, in the way it is used to make an epic song even more dramatic.  Aviation has been one of Bruce’s favourite lyrical subjects for a long time, but “Empire of the Clouds” might be his first song about airships.  You can trust him to instill it with all the drama and heaviness that you expect from Iron Maiden.

Even though 92 minutes have elapsed, The Book of Souls does not particularly feel longer than A Matter of Life and Death or The Final Frontier.  Like those two previous records, The Book of Souls is going to have to be digested long-term, returned to again and again to fully absorb and appreciate.  This is an album in the true sense:  best appreciated in sequence, as a single work.  There’s an intermission in the middle for you to change CDs and take a break, but I recommend diving right back in once again.

With Bruce’s very serious health scare, and the increasing age of the band, there is always the chance that this could be the last Iron Maiden album.  Of course, some said that about The Final Frontier as well.  It seems that ever since Brave New World in 2000, Iron Maiden have set to top the previous album each time.  The cumulative effect of that is that they had a hell of a lot to live up to on The Book of Souls.

Mission accomplished.

5/5 stars

Disc 1
1. If Eternity Should Fail (Dickinson) 8:28
2. Speed Of Light (Smith/ Dickinson) 5:01
3. The Great Unknown (Smith/ Harris) 6:37
4. The Red And The Black (Harris) 13:33
5. When The River Runs Deep (Smith/ Harris) 5:52
6. The Book Of Souls (Gers/ Harris) 10:27

Disc 2
7. Death Or Glory (Smith/ Dickinson) 5:13
8. Shadows Of The Valley (Gers/ Harris) 7:32
9. Tears Of A Clown (Smith/ Harris) 4:59
10. The Man Of Sorrows (Murray/ Harris) 6:28
11. Empire Of The Clouds (Dickinson) 18:01

For the official KeepsMeAlive review by Aaron, click here!

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls (2014 deluxe edition – Disc 2)

NEW RELEASE

Part 2 of 2: Yesterday I reviewed disc 1 of Redeemer of Souls.  Today, the bonus disc!

JUDAS PRIEST – Redeemer of Souls (2014 deluxe edition)

Sometimes a bonus CD is made up of obvious castaways.  Other times, such as with the most recent Black Sabbath album, the bonus disc contains some serious gems.  I don’t know why everybody wouldn’t just go and buy the “deluxe” editions to get the bonus CDs, relatively cheap as they are.   For whatever reason, deluxe editions with bonus CDs flood the stores today.  Thankfully, Judas Priest put just as much effort and passion into these five songs as they did the 13 on disc 1 of Redeemer of Souls.

JPROS_0002“Snakebite” inhabits an 80’s-like Priest vibe.  Dare I say it?  This would have sounded at home on Ram It Down, but it’s better than that.  “Tears of Blood” on the other hand reminds me of “The Sentinel”.  This is one of my favourite songs on the whole Redeemer of Souls set.   There’s no reason a song like this shouldn’t be a single.  I don’t know how songs like this are selected for a bonus CD on a deluxe edition.  Granted, disc 1 of Redeemer is topped to the brim in quality.

Still in an 80’s Priest mold, “Creatures” boasts a catchy chorus within a heavy song.  (The title “Creatures” is short for “Creatures of the Night”, so I’m pretty sure they shortened it to avert lawsuits by G. Simmons.)  What is it that has injected this youthful rediscovery of classic Priest melodies and riffs?  Has Richie Faulkner re-ignitied the passion for writing those kinds of songs?

“Bring It On” is quite different from the other songs on Redeemer, but it certainly shares classic metal traits with them.  I could imagine a song like this going over quite well live.  Once again I ask, how does a strong contender like this get sent to the bonus CD?  “Bring It On” is a fist-pumper, pure and simple.  It’s uncomplicated by flourishes or production.

Finally, as if “Beginning of the End” wasn’t a proper album closer, comes “Never Forget”.  This quiet ballad is lyrically a poignant open letter of thanks to the fans:

We’ll play on to the end,
It’s not over, not over my friends,
We are together tonight,
Reunited for all our lives,
And we thank you all for it,
We will never forget.

Truthfully, this song gives me chills.  I think Priest get their point across.

JPROS_0003Before making closing arguments, I just want to briefly talk about the packaging and production.  I’m on record as being a fan of Mark Wilkinson, and his work here is primo.  Drawing on past characters as the Angel, Painkiller, and even Marillion’s Torch, here comes the Redeemer of Souls.  The art looks great on the embossed, metallic-looking outer cover.

Glenn Tipton and Mike Exeter produced Redeemer of Souls, and by and large I think they did a fantastic job of capturing all that is good about Judas Priest.  I find the mix to sound muddy.  Maybe the CD was mixed too loudly, or perhaps I’m just not playing it loud enough.  All I know is that I have a hard time hearing subtleties.

If Redeemer of Souls goes down as the final Judas Priest studio album, let it be known that it is a dignified statement.  The band clearly worked hard on it (not that they didn’t for Nostradamus).  Early feedback from fans is that they are by and large very happy with it.  This was in spite of some uninspiring early song previews.  When you listen to Redeemer of Souls, you will understand that it is not about individual songs so much as about the entire body of songs.  All 13 (or 18) tracks are part of a whole that is best enjoyed whole.

4.75/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls (2014 deluxe edition – Disc 1)

NEW RELEASE

Part 1 of 2:  Today, the album, tomorrow the bonus CD!

JUDAS PRIEST – Redeemer of Souls (2014 deluxe edition)

Whenever a classic metal band loses a key original member this late in the game, fans would be forgiven for being skeptical.  When KK Downing quit in 2011, the shockwaves could be felt on every metal message board in the world.  KK said, “There were at least 21 reasons why I decided to quit,” and you have to respect the man’s wishes.  It was hard to be optimistic about the future of Judas Priest (if there was to be any), but the band responded by hiring young Richie Faulkner (ex-Lauren Harris) who proceeded to inject a fresh bolt of electricity.

Filling a role on stage is one thing, and Faulkner did that ably (as proven on the band’s live Epitaph blu-ray).  He also brought his own sound to the table.  Creating new music is much harder to do.  Faulkner has a writing credit (with Rob Halford and Glenn Tipton) on every track of Judas Priest’s new album Redeemer of Souls, and the result is possibly Priest’s strongest since Painkiller in 1990.  Those who felt indifferent to 2008’s double Nostradamus CD should find plenty to like here.

JPROS_0007“Dragonaut” opens the album with a track almost reminiscent of  Rob’s solo band Halford.  For me the most important thing about this song is the classic sounding Priest guitar solos.  It’s almost like they said, “Do you doubt us?  Check out the new kid.”  The solo break has a harmony section similar to “Freewheel Burning”, but both shredders (Tipton and Faulkner) have plenty of time to burn.  “Dragonaut” is a good track, but compared with others on the album, it’s just one of many.

The title track is not that dissimilar to Nostradamus, sounding pretty much as latter-day Priest are expected to sound.  Perhaps that’s why it didn’t blow me away when it was first previewed a while ago.  Now that it has had time to grow on me, I consider it a favourite.  It has a chorus, a riff, and a beat you can bang your head to.  What more do you want?  More solos?  OK, no problem.  Sounds like Glenn has that under control!

If you missed the classic sound of Priest of old, then “Halls of Valhalla” may please you, as it sounds as if it could have been written for Painkiller (think “Hell Patrol”).  Faulkner nails the classic Priest vibe, but it’s the riffs here that truly feel classic.  Regardless of past experiments in sound and direction, there are certain guitar parts that simply sound Priest-ish, and Redeemer of Souls is loaded with them.  Halford throws in a couple screams, while Scott Travis and Ian Hill create the patented Judas Priest back beat.  “Halls of Valhalla” is the strongest song thus far.

“Sword of Damocles” is rhythmically different; the band slow it down a bit to let the song stomp.  The chorus here is top-notch, and the track has a lot of light and shade to it.  Even though it’s only five minutes in length, I’m inclined to use the word “epic” to describe it.  Meanwhile “March of the Damned” has a bit of a groove to it, something not always associated with Judas Priest.  The riff has some “Metal Gods” in its DNA, but melodically I’m thinking of Ozzy.  Regardless, it’s a great mid-tempo groover that would be an obvious single.  Then a really nice guitar harmony introduces “Down in Flames”, which is nothing like its intro.  Judas Priest can do heavy music of every type, and “Down in Flames” is Priest doing hard rock.  It’s the heavy side of hard rock, but the catchy chorus leaves no doubt.  Richie and Glenn trade off solos just like KK used to do, and I’m glad Priest have discovered some new chemistry guitar-wise.

At the midway point of the album comes “Hell and Back”.  A ballady intro is merely a fake-out, soon one of those grinding British Steel riffs takes over.  This one doesn’t boast one of the best choruses, but luckily the riffs and groove are entertaining enough.  It definitely sounds like classic Judas Priest in style.  It also has a killer outro.

JPROS_0005“Cold Blooded” might be considered the “power ballad”.  This one took the longest to grow on me, due to a similarity to some of the slower material on the Demolition CD.  I like it more now; the verses and choruses are really strong.  I think there will be a lot of people who pick this song as a favourite.  The solos absolutely smoke.

Priest usually like to lay down one or two breakneck speed metal workouts.  “Metalizer” is one of those fast tracks, like “Painkiller” or “Demonizer”.  This requires a couple Halford screams, and Rob delivers, insomuch as his voice will allow.   Think Rob sucks now?  Let’s hear you scream at age 62!  Then, “Crossfire” also has a classic Priest vibe, but I’ll be damned if the “quiet” guitar lick in the song isn’t eerily similar to “I” by Black Sabbath.  Who sang for Black Sabbath on the last two dates of their Dehumanizer tour?  Rob Halford.

Regal riffing opens “Secrets of the Dead” which is yet another outstanding track.  This one reminds me of “Laid to Rest”, off the first album by Rob Halford’s Fight.  It doesn’t sound like Fight; it sounds like Judas Priest, but there is a clear similarity to the earlier song.  I also hear a little bit of “Night Comes Down”, from Defenders of the Faith.  Then, what better to follow a slow track than something fast and metallic?  “Battle Cry” is pure, classic metal.   There is nothing that sucks about “Battle Cry”; it lays waste to the landscape and features one of Rob’s best vocals on the album.

The land has been scorched.  Nothing remains but the fires and ashes of the past — so “Beginning of the End” is a perfect end to this CD.  It is a slow and mellow epic with texture.  I firmly believe that an album should feel like a journey with a beginning, middle and end.  A song like this feels like an album closer by destiny.

After 13 tracks of timeless heavy metal, it is understandable if you’re exhausted by the sheer power of it all.  It’s over an hour of pretty much non-stop quality metal, so it is hard to believe that there’s yet more!  On the deluxe edition, that is.  Five more to be exact and we’ll be taking a close look at them tomorrow.

As for the basic version of Redeemer of Souls?

4.75/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Demolition (2001 Japanese version)

PRIEST WEEK

Its PRIEST WEEK!  
Monday:  Rocka Rolla (1974)
Tuesday: Priest…Live! (1987)

Wednesday: Metal Works 73-93 (1993)


JUDAS PRIEST – Demolition (2001 Victor Japan)

1997:  Judas Priest thudded back into stores with Jugulator, their first without Halford.  It underwhelmed me, and I had to wait four more years for Judas Priest with Tim “Ripper” Owens to finally return again in 2001 with Demolition.  Jugulator was a mixed bag and I hoped for more on the lineup’s second album.  I was excited; according to my journal I played my copy three times in the first 24 hours.  It doesn’t indicate how many of those plays happened in the record store!

As a die hard fan, I had a lot riding on the first album with Ripper, Jugulator. It was a let down, probably even more so since the new singer was so damn good!  The live album that followed, ’98 Live Meltdown, won me over in a big way, the Jugulator songs being much better live.  Ripper had an amazing voice with power to spare, but the lyrics (which he did not write) were juvenile and the music was a tad monotonous. Demolition is marginally better lyrically, and much improved musically.

The winner of Worst Lyric Award 2001 was “Cyberface”.  As I have stated before, I generally do not like songs about the internet! “Don’t access the site/or beware his megabyte/no virus scan/detects the man”.  I’m guessing Glenn just got high-speed at his house or something.  This is a low point, but on some tracks we’re getting back to respectability!

The sound and production of the album was still too 1990’s in style. The guitars are good and chunky, the bass, usually lacking on Priest albums, is in your face, and Scott Travis is seriously kickin’ it on the drum kit. The guitars and vocals sound a tad too processed, though. A little too much tinkering with the effects racks. Ripper’s not screaming as much as he used to. I imagine his voice was already starting to wear, considering the great job he did on tour. Still, he rips it out for a couple tracks and it’s very welcome.

Songwriting-wise, the band are coming up with much more interesting riffs and songs than last time.  Perhaps Jugulator suffered from lack of variety.  On Demolition we run the gamut from fast thrash (“Machine Man”) to groove (“One on One”) to ballads (“Close to You”).  At 13 songs, I think Demolition could have stood for some editing.  Lose “Cyberface” and “Feed on Me”.  What you’d be left with would have been a strong collection of songs.  The truth is that a handful of tunes, like “Bloodsuckers” and “Metal Messiah” could have been on a Halford-era album.

PRIEST_0004Elsewhere there are still the modern nu-metal touches that I never liked too much.  The guitar part in “Devil Digger” is a good example, as is the rap-like delivery of Owens on certain parts of certain songs.  But Ripper didn’t write the songs.  Don’t blame him.

There’s only one tune that Ripper had a writing credit on, which is the Japanese bonus track “What’s My Name”.  This is the only song in Priest history with a Ripper Owens writing credit. Live, Mr. Owens often introduced the Priest classic “The Ripper” by inciting the crowd to yell his name.  “What’s my name?” Ripper would ask the crowd.  That’s where the title comes from, and it’s a pretty good song.  This is one I’d been hunting for, for years.  I’ve bought Demoltion three times now.   First was the regular CD, then a European digipack with two B-sides*, and finally this Japanese edition.

The worst thing about Demolition is the nondescript cover.  Mark Wilkinson must have been too busy drawing new Eddies for the reunited Iron Maiden or something, because this cover is by L-Space design instead.  And it sucks.  Not that Judas Priest have always had the greatest album covers (Stained Class, anyone?) but this sucks.  At least the Japanese version came with a sticker sheet of the new Priest logo.

Anyhow, I really do like this album.  The Ripper era of Priest was uneven, and although Demolition is overly long it does contain enough Priest metal to salve the soul.

3.5/5 stars

PRIEST_0001* The two B-sides were the ’98 re-recordings of “Rapid Fire”, and “Green Manalishi”.  “Rapid Fire” is thrashed up with additional lyrics, and “Green Manalishi” is slowed down to a grind.  These were both originally released on the 1998 Japanese CD single for “Bullet Train”, which I already have.  Therefore my digipack version of Demolition will be passed on to another rock fan.

Digipack version of Demolition

Digipack version of Demolition

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Nostradamus (deluxe edition)

NOSTRADAMUS_0001JUDAS PRIEST – Nostradamus (2008 Sony deluxe edition)

I was really worried about this album. I started reading some of the early bad reviews and was a little shocked as to how much some people hated Nostradamus. Even more worrisome were the mixed reviews, often coming from long-time Priest fans. Many liked it, but they were far from blown away.

I’m strongly in the “like” category with this CD. I get completely why some fans don’t like it. Most of the terrible bad reviews I read came from dyed-in-the-wool metal fans, and yeah, you’re not going to love it if all you eat, breathe, and sleep is metal. I’m not meaning to be condescending here. People who don’t love just metal, but also progressive rock, classical, and even opera, are more likely to love Nostradamus.

The production is OK (self produced this one is), but the drums are oddly buried in the mix. Maybe Scott Travis isn’t even the right drummer to be playing these kind of grooves (plods?), I don’t know. He sure does wail on “Persecution” though, among others. Still, it’s like a weird 80’s drum sound from a Leatherwolf album or something.

KK Downing and Glenn Tipton — awesome as ever.  At least KK went out of Priest on a high note.  He got to stretch his wings out a bit on this, as did Glenn.  There is everything a guitar lover could want on Nostradamus. Lots of natural guitar tones, distortion, crazy riffs and spastic solos, even a bloody flamenco! Mental solos – unbelievable.

Halford — awesome. On some songs he’s really reaching back to his love of opera, no doubt of that. Buddy sings in Italian on one song! Kind of jarring, but it suits the whole epic nature of the music. Yes, there are screams. He’s learned to make the screams more effective by using them sparingly, more strategically. At the same time a lot of fans want to hear him scream at the top of his lungs again, like he did on Painkiller, and I can understand that. Fact is, maybe the guy can’t do it like that anymore. Is that his fault? Of course not. His singing is very much like it was on Angel Of Retribution. Mature’s a good word. I miss the screaming too, but if he can’t do it like he used to, it can’t be helped. It is what it is.

Regarding bassist Ian Hill, I can’t hear the bass guitar, most of the time. I guess that’s kind of expected in Priest, right?  They’re not really known for bass.  Don Airey of Deep Purple played keyboards, and he’s great. As always. Lots of dramatic piano, circa vintage Sad Wings era Priest.  Very different from what he does currently in Deep Purple.

There are also real strings, so don’t fret. Lots of guitar synths as well, but not on a “Turbo Lover” sort of scale. I didn’t find the synth too intrusive for the most part. In a lot of cases the string and synths combined make it sound like a massive Michael Kamen score. You’ll know what I mean when you hear it.  It’s very big and bombastic and some don’t find that kind of string arrangement to their tastes.  Some find it very one-dimensional.  Personally I think it had to be this way on Nostradamus, since the strings need to be heard among the guitars.

This “Deluxe Edition” comes in a nice hardcover book. It’s roughly DVD sized. Very nice package even if you have to slide the CD out of a cardboard sleeve (again!). Worth the extra cash to you? Well, that’s up to you. I’m not sure it’s worth it to me or not, but I bought it, so there you go.

I wonder if Nostradamus will go down as the most controverial Priest album ever?  Even more so than Turbo, Point Of Entry, or Jugulator?  Certainly some of the initial reaction on the usual sites was pretty harsh.  Priest have always been a diverse metal band, and if you love Priest’s entire history including all the nooks and crannies, you’ll love Nostradamus. If you only like British Steel, you are probably going to hate Nostradamus!

4/5 stars