Nostradamus

REVIEW: Judas Priest – A Touch of Evil – Live (2009 Japanese and iTunes versions)

JUDAS PRIEST – A Touch of Evil – Live (2009)

A Touch of Evil is, depending on how you count, either Priest’s 5th or 7th live album.  Regardless, it’s their first official live album since the Rob Halford reunion. The goal here was to give fans versions of songs never before released live on CD. However, when Priest claim that, they’re not counting the live albums they did with “Ripper” Owens on vocals, or the live songs released on remasters and box sets.

This is a great CD, and it’s very well recorded and mixed. Tom Allom came back to the mixing board after a 21 year break from the Priest. The guitars are driving, the drums are loud & clear but not overwhelming. Allom has done a great job. You can’t hear any obvious tampering or overdubbing (even though, let’s be honest, you know on every live album released today there must be some).

Rob Halford’s voice really struggles on “Painkiller” but absolutely shreds on “Hellrider”. “Hellrider”, in fact, is even better than its 2005 studio version. Halford is now singing in a lower register and saving his screams for special moments in the songs. Don’t forget, he has been screaming for 35 years by this album. He tends to be stronger on more recent material. The rest of the band show no signs of slowing down at all, especially Scott Travis on the drums.

It is absolutely great to hear two songs from the Nostradamus CD recorded live. “Prophecy” is one of my favourites from that album and I hope the band get to play the whole album live one day. It is also fantastic to hear “Dissident Aggressor” which was originally released on Sin After Sin in 1977. It is still heavy and powerful, although Rob has changed the vocal melodies a bit, out of necessity. “Beyond The Realms Of Death” is another great one to have with Rob singing, from 1978’s Stained Class. For a while in 1990 I thought they’d never play it live again, after the band’s “suicide trial”, even though they emerged victorious.

Japanese bonus tracks are “Worth Fighting For” and “Deal With The Devil” both from 2005’s Angel Of Retribution. I think these (and “Hellrider) are the same versions as the Rising In The East DVD. “Worth Fighting For” is one of my favourite recent Priest tunes.  It’s a great mid-tempo burner.  The iTunes bonus track is “Breaking The Law”, the only song absolutely positively undeniably released before on an official Priest-with-Rob live CD (Priest…Live!). This version of “Breaking” is faster than the studio version, and very enjoyable for the sheer glee that emanates from it.

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The artwork for this CD, sadly, sucks. Mark Wilkinson has done some great covers for Priest (see: Painkiller), Iron Maiden, and Marillion. Here there’s a picture of the world on fire, or something. A comment on global warming? You decide. The liner notes also, sadly, suck. There are no indications as to which shows these songs were taken from, or even which tour (the CD culls from 2005 and 2008 tours). There is a brief note from the band about how awesome they are, as they have done on previous live albums. There are some cool pictures, but little else (the Japanese version has lyrics).

I don’t think this CD is essential to anybody but Priest fans. Newcomers would be wiser to buy Unleashed In The East first, and maybe even Priest…Live! before buying this. Priest fans will enjoy hearing live versions of these songs, because they already own “Another Thing Coming” and “Living After Midnight” elsewhere. So, if you are a Priest fan, pick it up and enjoy the sonic blast of metal fury as only Priest can deliver!

4/5 stars

*Note: There is supposedly a Russian version with another bonus track, also taken from the Rising in the East DVD: “Angel”. I question whether this is an official release or not.

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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