Two fantastic, historic clips for you today, featuring the “Metal God” himself, Rob Halford of Judas Priest!
First up, from MuchMusic’s news show called FAX, Steve Anthony talks to Rob about the Judas Priest suicide trial. They also talk Priest’s new album Painkiller. (The anchor of the FAX show is Monica Deol.)
Second, and most important: Dan Gallagher visits the Scarborough rehearsal hall where Priest were gearing up for their Painkiller tour! Rob is friendly and engaged for this top-notch interview. Halford co-hosts the Pepsi Power Hour with Dan, and talks about his passion for new heavy bands like Pantera (he’s wearing the shirt), Love/Hate, and Suicidal Tendencies. They also discuss the trial, the drummer change, education, and reading. “I consume books,” says Rob. You’ll be impressed with Rob’s answers especially where the trial is concerned.
Rob picked all the music for the show, and while I didn’t include the music in the VHS Archive, you can at least find out what bands and songs Rob picked! (Hint: heavy bands!)
Also look for a Painkiller tour ad during one of the commercial breaks — I kept that in.
Two things happened in the summer of 1990 that changed my musical trajectory forever.
1. There were too many ballads out! It seemed the only thing rock bands were doing to have hits was write ballads. Some were good, such as the heartfelt “Something to Believe In” by Poison, or “More Than Words” by Extreme . Most faded into a generic, boring ballady backdrop. Remember Alias? With all these rock bands putting out ballads, something had to give. If it wasn’t the ballads, it was limp albums with weak, over-commercial production. I didn’t get into rock music for ballads. I got into it for that rock and roll rush!
2. Judas Priest were currently in court, fighting two families who blamed the band for the deaths of their sons.
It was a high profile case. Raymond Belknap and James Vance were two troubled young men who decided to take a shotgun to a park one night in 1985 and kill themselves. Both were into heavy metal music, but there was far more to the story. Abuse, drugs and alcohol certainly took their tolls on both. James Vance survived, horrifically disfigured.
Vance stated, “I believe that alcohol and heavy-metal music such as Judas Priest led us to be mesmerized.” And so, Priest were taken to court. (Vance did not testify, as he died in hospital in 1988 after a methadone overdose.)
The victims’ families blamed backwards messages on the band’s Stained Class album, which the two boys were listening to some time prior to the suicide attempt. Lawyers claimed there was a backwards “do it” embedded within the Judas Priest song “Better By You, Better Than Me”.
Given the fact that “do it” can mean anything from “do your homework,” to “get a gun out of the basement and shoot yourself,” that argument held little water. In 2015, Miley Cyrus released a single called “Dooo It!” Nobody died.
The band demonstrated in court that if you played another song backwards from the same album, you’d get a completely different message. The chorus of “Exciter” is “Stand back for Exciter, salvation is his task.” Played backwards, Rob could heard singing what sounded like “I asked for her to get a peppermint, I asked for her to get one.”
You could tell from the look on the judge’s face that he knew the backwards messages were hooey.
Another flaw to the plaintiffs legal argument is that there is no scientific evidence that backwards messages in music can be detected by the brain and understood, let alone command you to take actions against your will. Not to mention, as Ozzy Osbourne once observed, killing all your fans with hidden suicide messages isn’t a practical way to make a living as a musician.
That summer, the case made the newspapers daily, not to mention the evening broadcasts. It didn’t seem that Priest were likely to lose, but as a fan, I supported them vigorously. Trying to prove a point, I played the Stained Class album over and over again, without ever having the urge to get one of my father’s guns and put it in my mouth. It was bizarre seeing television broadcasts of Rob Halford wearing a suit jacket, on the stand defending himself. He even had to sing for the judge. The point of this was to demonstrate how exhaling at the end of each sentence creates an audible sound. “Better by you, better than meee-ah.” Of course the band conducted themselves with the professionalism that the situation warranted. None of that changed the headlines. In the year 1990, the words “metal band” and “suicide” did not make for good headlines if you happened to be in one of those metal bands. Being a fan was hard enough already, without seeing this stuff on TV after Cheers.
Arguments were wrapped and the verdict was revealed: case dismissed. Judas Priest resumed business as usual.
A week before school returned, Metal Edge magazine did a Priest article with loads of information on the forthcoming Judas Priest album. I bought the issue and devoured the article on my walk home. I remember running into Trevor the future Security Guard on the way, and we flipped through the pages together.
The Metal Edge article returned the focus back to the music. I knew that drummer Dave Holland was out, replaced by a guy named Scott Travis from Racer X. Travis was known for his speedy double bass work. The new album promised to be Priest’s heaviest yet. The trial had them seething. Songs like “Between the Hammer and the Anvil” were directly inspired by their court experience. In the interests of change and taking things heavier, long time producer Tom Allom was dropped. He was replaced by Chris Tsangarides who was an engineer on 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny.
It was clear that Judas Priest were intent on turning the ship around. 1986’s Turbodivided the fans with its synth-metal. 1988’s Ram It Down underperformed, with fans slagging the weak songs and sound in general. Ram It Down was not the “return to heavy” that the band promised and the fans craved, though it certainly did have three or four good and heavy songs. They would have to do better to reignite the weary fanbase.
Painkiller was the right album for the right time. While bands like Poison were eager to say, “Our new album is our heaviest yet,” when Priest said it, it actually meant something. Painkiller really did live up to the hype. A magazine ad claimed it was “Awesome! Backwards or forwards.”
MuchMusic debuted the new Judas Priest video “Painkiller” on a fall episode of the Pepsi Power Hour, co-hosted by Michael Wilton and Chris DeGarmo of Queensryche. They were on hand promoting their new album Empire. The Priest video was a rapid-fire assembly of black and chrome images, unholy screams, and the fastest drumming heard yet on a Priest single. When the video concluded, DeGarmo said he had to catch his breath!
I hit rewind, and watched that video over and over again.
Nobody else seemed to get it. My sister, who was a New Kids fan, hated it. She already hated Judas Priest but “Painkiller” took it to a new level. To deserve that kind of hate, Priest must have been on the right track. A lot of my school friends and rocker buddies also disliked the track, preferring the likes of Cinderella and Winger. That too was a good sign. I thought that to stay relevant, Priest needed to stay as far as away from those bands as possible. Priest chose Megadeth and Testament to open for them, both bands supporting new albums (Rust In Peace and Souls of Black). The tour began in Canada, but when they came to the UK they brought with them a band with a big future called Pantera.
The Painkiller cycle ended where it began, in Canada. The final date was on a package called Operation Rock & Roll (the name was a spoof of Operation Desert Storm). The final date was Toronto, August 19 1991. Priest were second on the bill, following Motorhead and opening for Alice Cooper. Something strange happened that night. Rob Halford rode his Harley Davidson motorcycle on stage to start the show, but this time hit his head on a lighting rig. He was knocked out cold, while the band played the newly instrumental “Hell Bent for Leather”! Halford recovered in time for the second song, but it was Rob’s last appearance with the Priest for 13 years. Earlier that day, Rob told MuchMusic’s Michael Williams that Priest were planning a 1992 “greatest hits” album. This hits album would afford a nice well deserved break.
Rob didn’t plan on wasting his time, so he set to work on a new solo project, inspired by the heavy direction that metal was going on. If Painkiller was heavy, his new band Fight was even heavier. That Toronto show was the last time Rob saw his bandmates until the reunion. The solo project led to a management dispute, and ultimately Rob’s resignation.
As Priest fractured, my own musical life blossomed, thanks to the fallout from Painkiller. Priest cracked open a heavy, iron door. Thrash bands like Testament had the metal goods that was the exact opposite of the wimpy music that I was getting sick of. Grunge came soon after, with a new kind of heavy. I ignored new releases by Enuff Z’Nuff, Trixter, Danger Danger, and even The Cult. They weren’t going heavy like Priest did, and in some cases they went backwards. Other bands, like Skid Row, knew which way the wind was blowing and turned up the volume.
The 1990-1991 period of Priest history is one of the most interesting of their entire career. It featured a trial that could have had real freedom of speech consequences, if the verdict had gone the other way. The same time period introduced their longest serving drummer in Scott Travis, and Priest have since never recorded nor toured without him. Their music took a turn away from hard rock and back towards heavy metal, permanently. They toured with Megadeth (who were also on a roll musically), gave Pantera some exposure in Europe, and shared the stage with the legendary Alice Cooper. And it ended with a split that nobody saw coming; just one of many splits in 1992 that changed the face of metal for an entire decade. Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, Judas Priest….
My own personal history was intertwined with Priest’s. It might be safe to say that in highschool, Judas Priest were my favourite band. Their turn back towards heavy in 1990 changed everything for me. It was exactly what I wanted, by the exact band that I wanted to deliver it. Perfect simpatico!
RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale #386: ‘The Mighty Priest’ – A Mix CD
In January of 2009, I determined to make another mix CD for my best friend Peter. He really enjoyed them and wanted some more tunes from the LeBrain Library. The theme this time was Judas Priest. We had both been playing the video game Rock Band a lot, and I enjoyed singing lead on the song “Painkiller”, so we played that one frequently. Peter decided that he wanted to check out some Priest, so I worked very hard to make a CD suited to his own personal needs. I set out five constraints to my Mighty Priest mix:
1. Peter only knew three Priest songs: “Painkiller”, “Breaking The Law”, and “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”.
2. Peter generally hates slow songs. Therefore, unfortunately, I could not include classics like “Dreamer Deceiver”.
3. I always try to include a variety of tracks from as many albums as I can.
4.Must be limited to a single CD.
5. One rare track – my trademark is always sneaking in a rarity.
So I whittled down the 50 songs I started with to the nice and cozy 79 minutes you see below. Keeping in mind my self-imposed constraints, what would you have done differently?
I sought feedback, and I received feedback. My ever faithful rock compatriots had these words:
Uncle Meat: Well…Michael…valiant effort. It is a good mix of new and old Priest. But…no “Electric Eye”? What is wrong with you? I cant even believe you would make this list without including it. That “Turbo Lover” is on here…and not “Electric Eye”…kinda makes me feel dirty…unloved. And?!?!?! No “Freewheel Burning”? . I’m getting mighty confused Mr. Ladano. No “Sinner”? “Heading out to the Highway”? I know their catalogue is extensive…but the omission of “Electric Eye” especially is very disturbing….
Sarge: No “Metal Gods”? Actually I only ever owned British Steel, so I cant comment on anything. “Metal Gods” was always my favourite on that album.
Andy: I’m going to have to register an alternate opinion entirely, and that is, with any band that’s been around as long as Priest has, and has done as many albums as they have, simply cannot be captured in a “best of” that is only one CD. You just can’t do it – there’s too much good stuff, even disqualifying the “slow” songs like you did. I tried it with Manowar, and ended up with a full CD after their first four albums. I’ll be doing my personal The Best of Manowar, Volume II sometime soon….
So what I would have done differently is this: Go in chronological order, and put in all of the absolute “must have” songs from each album (remembering the rules for your friend, of course). Don’t overlap songs from one album on more than one CD, so you might have to juggle the playlist a little. Then, when CD #1 is full, move on to Volume 2. Eventually, hand over your two (or in the case of Priest, maybe 3!) CDs to your friend, apologizing that you simply couldn’t fit it all onto 1.
Johnny Sixx: What I would have done is include their track “Love Bites”…it’s a gem.
All of them made excellent points, and I think it must be concluded that a truly great single disc Judas Priest collection cannot be made. As Uncle Meat said, I think I made a valiant effort, but 80 minutes is simply not enough time for the Mighty Priest. The next time I attempted to do something like this, I went with Andy’s advice in the back of my head…
Do you have any artists or songs that just drive you insane upon mere mention of their names? Sure you do. Don’t lie to me. You can’t hide that Hatorade deep inside! Like my buddy Aaron I thought I’d create a list of five.
1.“Fancy” – Iggy Azalea. I don’t hear much in the way of music, or songcraft on this repetitive juvenile rap. I hear people calling Iggy Azalea “talented”. What exactly is her talent? Hiding her Australian accent?
2. “Hello Kitty” – Avril Lavigne. So terrible, on so many levels. This has nothing to do with rock and roll, a genre that Avril claims to be a part of. No, this is unabashed brass-ring grabbing novelty crapola.
3. “Porn Star Dancing” – My Darkest Days. Somehow, this Canadian post-grunge bunch of posers got Zakk Wylde to play on this track. I don’t know how they did that, except perhaps promising him a lifetime supply of Jack? This awful, stinky excuse for a rock song also features Chad Kroeger on vocals. Giddy up, horse-face.
4. “Painkiller” – Three Days Grace. There are two soundalike Canadian bands with the word “Days” in their names. And now, both of them even have the same singer. Double the pain!
5.“Michael” – Franz Ferdinand. I absolutely despise this song. They listened to it in the Record Store during my miserable final days there. “Indi rock” was popular with certain groups of individuals and of all the songs I endured, this one I hated most. Sitting at work, listening to the dude from Franz Ferdinand singing “So come and dance with me Michael, so sexy, I’m sexy,” was not my cup of tea at all.
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)
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.
The 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.
1973 to 1993? But didn’t the first album (Rocka Rolla, which has no songs on this CD) come out in 1974? Doesn’t this CD only actually include music from 1977-1990? And didn’t Al Atkins form the original Judas Priest in 1969? 1973 was the year that Atkins left to be replaced by Rob Halford, who himself quit in 1992. So, 1973-1993? OK, I guess I’ll play along.
Due to complications and conflicts with Gull Records, Metal Works 1973-1993 contains no songs from the first two albums (the aforementioned Rocka Rolla and Sad Wings of Destiny). Instead, a live version (from Unleashed in the East) of “Victim of Changes” is subbed in to represent the early period of the Priest. After that, every album is given a look-see.
Aside from the songs that couldn’t be included for legal reasons, it is hard to argue with most of this track list. It is a near-perfect representation of pre-Ripper Priest, with the odd tune I’d swap out for another, but more or less awesome all the way through. Personally I think “Night Crawler” is and pretty much always has been an excessively cheesy song…like sharp cheddar. I would have put on something else from Painkiller, like “Between The Hammer and the Anvil” or the battering “Hell Patrol”.
Most conspicuous by its absence is “Green Manalishi”. Maybe the band decided not to include a cover (Fleetwood Mac), even if it’s one of the best things that Priest have ever recorded. I think “Green Manalishi” today is equally associated with Priest than Fleetwood Mac, if not more so by a hair. It may as well be their own song.
Many longtime personal faves are included: I love “Bloodstone”, “Desert Plains”, “Night Comes Down”, and “Blood Red Skies”. These are songs that weren’t necessarily “hits”, but were huge hits with my teenage self. There’s one inclusion that bugs me, and that’s “Heading Out to the Highway”. I love that song, but unfortunately somebody chose to use the Priest…Live! version over the original Point of Entry track. Furthermore, none of the live substitutions are listed as such on the back cover. There is no indication on the back that any songs are anything but the original. I consider that dishonest.
The liner notes are interesting for a quick read; tales from four of Judas Priest’s members (Rob, Ian, KK and Glenn) for each of the songs. Nothing earth shattering, just some fun brief stories. It’s interesting, however, how Priest completely glossed over Rob’s departure in the liner notes. Indeed, by reading, one would have no idea he was gone. A little misleading to the metal mongers of the time, especially with Rob about to debut his new band Fight a couple months later….
This 2 CD set is polished off with some fine artwork from Mark Wilkinson, tying in the “metal works” theme with a nod to Birmingham with some iconic characters and images from Priest covers past. The Painkiller does battle with the bird of prey from Screaming For Vengeance, with lots going on in the background.
The summer of ’93 was loaded with expensive sets for metal fans to buy. Ozzy Osbourne put out the double Live & Loud. Van Halen released Live: Right Here, Right Now, also a 2 CD set. Iron Maiden had twoseparate single disc live albums, followed by a double live in the fall. That right there is a lot of cash to be spent, and that’s just a handful of essential purchases that fans had to choose from. There was a ton of new music to buy, not including the grunge bands vying for our dollars that year. Priest failed to deliver in terms of value. Metal Works 73-93 was an expensive collection featuring no music fans didn’t have, and those darned live tracks. It felt tossed off.
HALFORD – Resurrection (2000 Japanese edition, 2008 remastered edition)
Note: There have been several versions of this CD. The original CD and Japanese import versions had a certain tracklisting, but the track order was changed up a bit for the Remastered edition (see tracklists at bottom). Since that’s the version that’s out right now, that’s what I’ve decided to review. I got mine in a combo pack with the DVD, Resurrection World Tour Live at Rock in Rio III. Rob has also retroactively started to number his solo albums; as such the remastered version is technically Halford 1: Resurrection.
Voyeurs by Two was not a mega seller regardless of the association with Trent Reznor and Nothing Records. Rob needed to return to heavy metal or risk alienating his fanbase.
I think pretty much everyone was enthused by the title track and lead off single, “Resurrection”. This wasn’t techno wizardry with whispery vocals. This was heavy metal, with screams! Although Rob was already headed in that direction at the end of Two, while working with Bob Marlette, it is Roy Z that drives this one single home. Yes, Roy Z, the Roy Z that Bruce Dickinson utilized to collaborate on manya greatsoloalbum. With Halford now drinking at the well of riffage that is Roy Z, “Resurrection” was bound to smoke. And it does. Take the sound of classic Judas Priest circa Painkiller, adjust for 10 years of sonic trends, stir in Roy Z, and you have “Resurrection”. Rob makes sure you know he’s serious from the very opening, screaming as only he can.
What I dislike are the lyrics. “I walked alone into a Fight”? Rob, you weren’t alone, you had Scott Travis with you! “I tried to look too far ahead, and saw the road lead to my past instead.” In other words, sorry about the Two album, this is what I really want to be doing.
The first three tracks totally smoke, all falling somewhere in a Defenders/Painkiller vibe of Priestly goodness. At first I didn’t like “Night Fall”, the fourth track, too much. Its redeeming value is a great chorus, totally in the Defenders mold.
“Silent Screams” is one of the songs that Rob was working on with Marlette at the end of Two. Rob was especially proud of this lengthy number, and he released a demo version of it for free on his official website. The demo version is an evolution from Two. It has screams (appropriately enough) and heavy guitar riffs. The album version has a more emotional lead vocal and tones down the keyboards. The song is a bit slow and ploddy to start with but it is epic in quality and it sure does rock by the halfway point!
The big gimmick on the album was the duet with Bruce Dickinson, “The One You Love to Hate”. The connection is Roy Z, but obviously a matchup like this would generate much hype. Arguably the two best singers in metal, together at last. Bruce sounds great, holding his own against the Metal God, who sounds vintage 80’s. I have to say I enjoyed this one a lot. Shortly thereafter, there were rumours of a coming supergroup called the Three Tremors – Rob, Bruce, and Geoff Tate of Queensryche. All three artists were touring together at the time, but this idea was never meant to be taken seriously.
“Cyber World” is fast and heavy but unfortunately also boring and skip-worthy. Likewise, the groovier “Slow Down”. Dull title, dull song. I tend to think of Resurrection as losing steam on side 2. I guess that’s why the remastered edition inserts the Japanese bonus track “Hell’s Last Survivor” right here. Sounding something of a Screaming for Vengeance outtake, I think this was placed here to compensate for some of the weaker tracks.
“Temptation” is a little on the boring side, so two new tracks are inserted at this point for the remastered edition: “God Bringer of Death” and “Fetish”. In my opinion it doesn’t sound like they belong here. Rob’s voice had changed a lot in the 8 years since, and the sound is more like later Halford albums. Neither song is particularly notable.
On the other hand, “Sad Wings”, which was previously only on the Japanese version, is awesome. It has a sharp riff and a chorus that is designed to remind you what band he was the singer of. This is followed by “Twist” which sounds like maybe it had its origins in Two, but I like it a lot. “Drive” is also pretty decent, and the album ends with “Saviour” which has an anthemic chorus.
Bottom line: Pretty decent if a bit safe comeback. Rob wasn’t treading any new ground here musically, but Roy Z never fails to class up any album he’s on. His tasteful and blistering solo work is just marvelous.
Part 1 of a miniseries on Rob Halford’s solo career!
FIGHT – War of Words (1993 Sony)
I was devastated when Rob Halford left Priest. I was so heavily invested emotionally in the excellent Painkiller album, I couldn’t believe it was over! Last I had heard, the band were going to be working on two new songs for a greatest hits album (Metal Works) and then Rob would take a break to do a solo album. Instead, the band split completely! Halford and drummer extraordinaire Scott Travis formed Fight with guitarists Russ Parish and Brian Tilse, and the bass player from hell, Jay Jay. (Today, Parish goes by the name “Satchel” when he plays with Steel Panther!) Regarding Jay Jay, Halford says that he did a number of Rob’s own tattoos. Rob figured if he could play bass as well he he tattooed, he was in. Jay Jay also does the grunt-metal backing vocals.
The resulting album, War of Words, is a Pantera-esque thrash-fest, one of the heaviest things Rob had ever done (until Halford’s Crucible album), undeniable brutal, scream-laden, and punishing from start to finish. Halford had cleverly assembled two shredding guitar players with differing styles too: Tilse specialized in the noisy speedy solos, while Parrish played the more melodic and traditional speedy solos! War of Words is solo nirvana for fans of Rob and Priest. And Rob wrote every single song by himself.
The twin openers, “Into the Pit” and “Nailed to the Gun”, are two of a kind: they are rip-yer-head-off thrashers with Rob’s patented glass-breaking screams. The song structures on War of Words are simpler than what we heard with Priest, no doubt since Rob composed the songs by himself. This simplicity serves to make the album feel even heavier and more relentless.
The lyrics, just as simple and aggressive. “Into the Pit” doesn’t feature much in the way of poetry:
Conspiring, for sation Malfeasance, on high Obstruction, of duty Disorder, will rise
Rob takes the pace back a bit on the third track, “Life in Black” which I don’t think you can fairly call a ballad, to me it’s more Dio-era Sabbath with a very vintage-Dio sounding solo. (Rob had just helped out Sabbath live after Dio left, singing lead for two shows while opening for Ozzy Osbourne.) Meanwhile “Immortal Sin” bears a slow groove with a melodic chorus, downtuned but a bright spot in the proceedings.
The title track opens with the American First Amendment (Rob was living in Phoenix). It’s another aural assault with Rob keeping his vocals in the upper register. Travis’ incredible drumming punctuates every venomous word. Considering that less than three years prior, Rob (with Priest) was in court defending his band during the infamous “suicide trial”, the words are apt.
Dream Deceivers, directed by David Van Taylor, the excellent documentary on the Judas Priest trial
It’s back to dark haunting territory next: “Laid to Rest” ended the first side of the album. I find this one to contain one of Rob’s best vocal performances of the album. It’s reminiscent of “A Touch of Evil” by Priest, but downtuned and slightly exotic.
Side Two’s opener, “For All Eternity” is really the final reprieve. It is most definitely a power ballad in vintage Priest vibe, but again with the modern downtuned guitars. A song like this really proved Rob’s songwriting chops. He’s capable of writing emotive, catchy powerful music completely on his own, and the song is an achievement. The bridge around 2:25 is just awesomeness, but Tilse’s guitar solo completes the picture. As if that wasn’t enough, Rob returns to full on scream mode for the end.
“Little Crazy” was a critically acclaimed heavy metal blues, and the second single/video. I’m struggling to describe it beyond “heavy metal blues”, but this song is definitely a highlight. Rob puts everything he has into the slinky lead vocal, while band fuse the blues feel with heavy metal’s precision. I recall reviews of the time saying, “If Rob wanted to drop metal and go full-on blues, he could.” Now that would be interesting.
The rest of the album is no-holds-barred. The triple threat of “Contortion”, “Kill It”, and “Vicious” is almost too much. Each song strips everything down to the basics: simple riffs, violent words, relentless drums, without much in terms of melody. This is the most difficult part of the album to penetrate. In time the three songs grow. “Contortion” protests what we are doing to the Earth with angry frustration. “Kill It” is about TV preachers (whom I’m sure had their opinions on Priest during the trial). “Vicious” was always my favourite of the trio:
You cheating, lying, mother-fucking son of a bitch..
Vicious, vicious, Fucker, fucker!
I was going through an angry phase at the time!
Rob saved the best track for last. “Reality: A New Beginning” is a weighty epic, a perfect closer, slightly exotic and successfully combining Fight’s heavy side with Rob’s ability to write great melodies. This is simply an incredible song, a jewel in Halford’s crown, and a song which definitely deserves another look. The lyrics seem to be autobiographical:
This time, when I’m leaving, Who cares where I’ll go?
There was a hidden CD bonus track (not on cassette) after a five minute silence, a jokey song called “Jesus Saves”. Rob’s voice is electronically manipulated to sound…well, not sure what he’s supposed to sound like. An angry elf, I guess.
There are some supplementary releases available:
1. This one is on my wishlist, I don’t own a physical copy: In 1994 Fight released a Christmas CD single called “Christmas Ride” with a message from Rob! They later reissued this as a free download from Rob’s site, but that is no longer around.
2. The live/remix EP, Mutations (next up in this series of reviews).
3. In 2007, a demo album called K5: The War of Words Demos was released. This featured demo versions of most of the album, plus five more. These include four new songs, and “Psycho Suicide” which was later remade for the second Fight album, A Small Deadly Space. The demos reveal that a much more conventional-sounding metal album was initially planned. (“The Beast Denies” is a very different version of “Reality: A New Beginning”.)
4. The 2008 Fight box set Into the Pit contains remixed versions of War of Words (again without “Jesus Saves”) and A Small Deadly Space. But the cool thing it contains is a DVD, Fight Live In Phoenix. The band rips through the entire album, in sequence (no “Jesus Saves”!) and then Rob’s solo track, “Light Comes Out of Black” (from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie soundtrack).
5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer original motion picture soundtrack. This is the only place you can get the studio version of “Light Comes Out of Black”, featuring his backing band…Pantera. All of Pantera.
I like “Light Comes Out of Black”, but it’s a lot easier to swallow than Fight is on first listen. I remember a M.E.A.T Magazine interview with Glenn Tipton and KK Downing, where they trashed it. “If it were on Painkiller, it would be one of the weaker songs, if not the weakest,” said KK.
KK might have been right about that to a certain extent, but only because Painkiller consists of 10 awesome songs!