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REVIEW: Judas Priest – Painkiller (1990)

PAINKILLER_0001JUDAS PRIEST – Painkiller (Remastered, 1990 Sony)

In the late 80’s, after the robotic Priest…Live! and the false start that was Ram It Down, a lot of metal fans wrote off Judas Priest as a vital metal band.

They were a tad premature.

Perhaps it was Halford inking a few too many tattoos into his noggin, perhaps it was the long overdue departure of Dave Holland on drums, or maybe they were just pissed off. The band had spent the summer of 1990 defending themselves in the United States against accusations of murder. Not directly, but through “backwards messages” supposedly embedded on the ancient Stained Class album.* It was a show trial designed to blame bad parenting on someone else. But the band triumphed, and came back meaner and angrier than ever before.

Having written songs with a drum machine, Priest now needed a new drummer.  They selected Scott Travis of Racer X, the band that also spawned Paul Gilbert among others.  Travis, an American, was on board and the band bunked down in the studio with veteran producer Chris Tsangarides.  What resulted from this potent mix was the best record they’d done since at least Defenders, if not far earlier. Decks had been cleared, the band meant business. Travis threw down the double bass, a thrash metal sound previously unexplored by Judas Priest.  While looking forward, the album also distilled the sounds of Priest over the last 10 years.  It  put the turntable from 33 1/3 all the way up to 45 rpm.

PAINKILLER_0002This is over-the-top metal, shiny and mean. Halford’s screaming higher and harder than any time before, almost to the point of caricature, but not quite. This chrome plated beast blew away all reasonable expectations. Tipton and Downing still thought they were interesting enough guitar players to do lead break credits on every album, but it’s a touch I like. Tipton is the more experimental one and Downing the fast and reckless one. As a combo it works; the solos are interesting, adrenaline packed and suitable to the songs.

PAINKILLER_0004The production is loud and clear; at the time I felt this was one of the best produced metal albums I’d ever heard. The drums are so loud and clear that it hurts.  Travis is doing some serious steppin’ on the double bass. To steal a phrase from Halford, this is “primo thrash metal”. More accurately, speed metal.

Almost every song is worthy. Only a few fall flat. Painkiller was more about the overall direction than individual songs,  Yes, the lyrics are cartoony, but “Nightcrawler” takes it too far and is too repetitive with a spoken word section that should have been chopped. Also embarassing is “Metal Meltdown”, a speed metal blaster that tries but fails to be as dramatic as “Painkiller” itself.  On the positive side are the incendiary title track (still classic today), the ballad “A Touch of Evil”, and the riff-by-riff metal of “Leather Rebel”, “Hell Patrol” and “All Guns Blazing”.  You wouldn’t expect an album like Painkiller to have a lot of melody, but some of these tracks may surprise you.

Bonus tracks are the out-of-place “Living Bad Dreams” (a ballad which spoils the record) and an inferior live cut of “Leather Rebel”.

Still, quite the album!.  It really gets the blood pumping, even today. I wish it came with a DVD with the insane video of the title track. Check that out if you want to have a sweat.   A mighty if imperfect return.

4.5/5 stars

* The song in question, “Better By You, Better Than Me”, was pointedly re-released as a B-side on Priest’s next single, “Painkiller”.

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REVIEW: Spacewalk – A Salute to Ace Frehley (1996)

Part 5 in a series on Ace Frehley!  Missed the last part, Trouble Walkin’?  Click here!

Spacewalk – A Salute to Ace Frehley (1996 DeRock/Triage)

Just in time for the massive Kiss reunion tour came this tribute CD.  There were several versions of this.  I have the second-coolest of the three:

  • Least cool:  Regular domestic 10 track CD.
  • Second coolest:  Import CD (Europe?) with brand new bonus track by Ace Frehley himself, called “Take Me To the City”
  • Most cool:  Japanese import CD with that and Sebastian Bach’s “Save Your Love”

This is one of those tributes made up of a mish-mash of metal musicians, no real “bands” so to speak, although all are great musicians.  Scott Travis plays drums on most of it (lending an awkward Priest-like vibe to the drums), Charlie Benate plays with Scott Ian on “Rip It Out”, and Vinnie Paul of course plays with Dimebag Darrel on “Fractured Mirror”.  (This site has all the information and credits for the CD.  Enjoy!  You’ll notice the backing band is basically Racer X on most tracks.)

I’m good with every track on here except one:  Bruce Bouillet’s version of “New York Groove”.  I’m not into drum loops in general, and although the track has a funky groove to it, it’s just not my bag.  On the other hand, Scott Ian’s cover of “Rip It Out” is Anthrax-worthy.  Frankie Bello’s on bass, and somebody named Zach Throne sings it with Scott.  Zach nails an authentic Ace-like vocal, while Charlie’s relentless on the drums.  The Anton Fig drum solo is almost exact note-for-note.  As is the signature guitar solo.

Gilby Clarke’s “Shock Me” is one of the better tracks. I don’t usually think of Gilby as a soloist, since in GN’R he didn’t solo.  His soloing style is unlike Ace’s, but he performs an original solo of his own that is appropriate to song.  On the other hand I wouldn’t count “Deuce” by Marty Friedman (ex-Megadeth) as a favourite.  The vocal (by somebody called Tom Gattis) is a tad overwrought.   Another “blah” tune is “Snowblind”, performed in a too-modern metally sound by Jason McMaster (Dangerous Toys) and Snake Sabo from Skid Row.

Ron Young (Little Caesar, the Four Horsemen) has a soulful but southern sound on “Hard Luck Woman”, an odd choice for a Frehley tribute.  Written by Paul and sung by Peter, the original was created for Rod Stewart to sing!  But it’s as good a cover as any, and I don’t have a lot of other stuff of Ron’s, so I’m cool with this.  Jeff Watson (Night Ranger) is on guitar.

We all knew Sebastian Bach would knock it out of the park on “Rock Bottom”, and he does.  “Rock Bottom” wasn’t written by Ace, but he did write the intro, performed here by Russ Parish of Fight/Steel Panther.  Baz is obviously a huge Kiss fan and the song is in great hands, although the solo’s way too modern.  Still, I wish I had “Save Your Love” too.

IMG_00000627Tracii Guns is passable on “Parasite”, but again I think the song is done in a style too contemporary.  Up next is John Norum of Europe, with “Cold Gin”!  (Hey, two songs in a row written by Ace!)  McMaster is back on lead vocals, not my fave singer in the world.  John is a great guitarist, and this version of “Cold Gin” is heavy with fills.  Some go with the song, some miss the mark.

Dime’s “Fractured Mirror” is perfect, even the production and sound of the acoustic guitar is eerily similar to Ace’s original.  Dime may well have been the biggest Ace Frehley fan in the world. Darrell does throw some of his own personality into the song, but I think foremost on his mind was probably playing the song the way he remembered it.  And he does.

Lastly, “Take Me To the City” is performed by Ace himself, with his crack band:  Steve Werner on drums, Karl Cochran on bass, Richie Scarlet on guitar and backing vocals, and…Sebastian Bach is there too at the end!  This Ace rarity is the best of all reasons to track down this CD.  This is Ace back to a hard rocking Frehley’s Comet sound, with an anthemic chorus.  When Baz shows up at the end, it’s icing on the cake (although you need to turn it ^UP^ to catch him in the fade).

I don’t really buy tribute albums anymore, because I find these mish-mashes of somewhat related artists to be a bit tedious.  Still, it’s pretty solid, and definitely worthwhile to fans of bands like Pantera, Skid Row, or Anthrax.  The Ace bonus track is pretty much a compulsory purchase.

3/5 stars

Soon, we’ll also be talking about another quality tribute album with some surprising guests and alumni.  Stay tuned.

SPACEWALK_0003

GUEST REVIEW: Steel Panther – Balls Out & Feel the Steel

LeBrain will always be straight with you when he doesn’t know something.  I have had a few requests for a write up on Steel Panther.  The problem is, I’ve never actually listened to Steel Panther.  Maybe I should change that.

So I asked the infamous T-Rev, aka Trevor from the Record Store Tales to see if he could do a review. He could, and he did. Enjoy.

STEEL PANTHER:  Feel the Steel (2009) & Balls Out (2011)

  

Steel Panther: Your New Favourite Band, by T-Rev

Michael Starr, Satchel, Lexxi Foxx, and Stix Zadinia are Steel Panther. The X-rated, Spinal Tap-esque modern day Hair band.  Intent on bringing back Heavy Metal , with a sound that will impress any fan of the “hair” genre.   Formed with ex-members of various metal bands in the 1990’s ( Rob Halford’s Fight, Paul Gilbert’s Racer X, and L.A. Guns!) originally as Metal Skool (yes…Metal’s Cool) in the early 2000’s, and a brief stint as Danger Kitty (getting some recognition on MTV and the Drew Carey Show).   Feel the Steel, the first album as Steel Panther, stands out because of its period-correct guitar assaults, its bandana wearing 4-armed drummer and the spandex covered, lipstick sporting, teased hair bass player, (reminding me of Warrant circa Cherry Pie mixed with some early Motley Crue attitude!) and of course, its lyrics!

Feel the Steel has it all, killer riffs  (often mimicking classic tunes of the past like “Fuck All Night, Party All Day’s” intentional resemblance to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer”)  Hilariously refreshing lyrics (like the first time you ever heard “Fuck Her Gently” by the D) throw in some top notch guest star clout (Justin Hawkins duets with Michael Starr) and top it off with manufactured “rock star” personas (a la Spinal Tap), and you’ve got all the best parts of what a hair metal band should be…SEX & DRUGS & ROCK ‘N’ ROLL!  Crazy stories of sex with asian hookers, sex with fat girls, sex with neighbours, and copious amounts of “blow”, all done in a way you’d never expect…even though it feels strangely familiar.   Sounding like it came from 1989, but containing enough modern relevance to remind you it’s current.   After about the first verse, I knew I was a fan for good.  “Eminem can suck it, so can Dr. Dre, or they can suck each other…just because they’re gay” screams Starr on “Death To All But Metal”.  “Two in the pink, one in the stink”describes the “Shocker” to newcomers.  And “You’re the only girl that I like to screw…when I’m not on the road,” Michael reassures his girl on “Community Property”

Balls Out, their sophomore effort, continues where F.T.S. left off.  A lot of the same sexual scenarios, but the music seems to have picked up another gear, with more focus on riffage (bigger, faster, louder).   The lyrics, however, are lacking the furious onslaught they had on F.T.S.   Perhaps because the initial shock is over, now I expect it!  There is more celebrity name-dropping than before…mentioning that Charlie Sheen “is winning in the bedroom upstairs”, and that Tiger Woods thinks “3 holes are better than a hole in one”.    A good album upon first listen…just didn’t have the impact that Feel the Steel did on me.  Having said that, this album grows on you…big time!  Like any good album…it takes a while for their sauce to mix with yours!

I should also discuss Starr’s instrument…this guys voice is classic, vintage, powerful, cheesy, awesome, hilarious, and adaptive!  Vocal range that would bring a tear to Dio’s eye, heartfelt (x-rated), ballads on par with anything Bon Jovi or Poison ever did, rockers that could have appeared on stage with the great Bon Scott!   I don’t mean to come across as though I consider this band “flawless”, but, these guys are PRO’s!   Certainly impressive musically…sometimes though, they sway over the cheese line a bit, and even take the lyrics too far, but all in all, I do love these albums.  Afterall, isn’t it the cheese that we now love about 80’s metal? 

You really get the feeling that these guys are true fans of metal, not just cashing in on the novelty of wearing spandex and makeup.  Much like the ribbing the Darkness took during their invasion, some people misunderstood the flattery for ridicule.  True fans see past the hair and hear the talent in the music…every time I listen to them, they get better!  Like a drug that you can’t get enough of…you want to hear it again and again.   In a world where Justin Beiber and Nickelback win music awards, this is a welcome addiction.   A perfect mix of metal and comedy!  Destined to become a staple at everyone’s annual “sausagefest”

Feel the Steel    5/5

Balls Out              4/5