Ram It Down

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Ram It Down (Remastered)

JUDAS PRIEST – Ram It Down (Originally 1988, 2001 Sony remaster)

Judas Priest seemed pretty lost in the late 80s.  They were bigger than ever, but they lost focus of their musical direction.  Producer Tom Allom had cursed them with a robotic plod, far removed from the lively firepower of yesteryear.  When they released Turbo in 1986, they had gone as far down those roads as possible.  It was am ambitious departure, but 100% a product of the 1980s.

For Turbo, Priest had written enough songs for a double album.  Twin Turbos, as it was to be called, was supposed to reflect all facets of metal, but the record comany got cold feet and a single disc was issued.  It contained the most techno-commercial tracks, while Priest held onto the rest for another day.  That day came in 1988 when Priest (again with producer Tom Allom) released Ram It Down, largely made up of Turbo outtakes.  The album was hyped as a return to the heavy Priest of yore, and this was at least partly true, but fans were unconvinced by it.  In comparison with Turbo, yes, Ram It Down was heavier.  But Priest had gone as far as they could with Allom.  Ram It Down was too sterile and bogged down with filler.

Certainly the title track opens Ram It Down on a thrash-like note.  As if to silence to critics, it was a proud metal statement with an opening Rob Halford scream that curdles the brain.  The weakness is drummer Dave Holland on his final Priest outing.  Only when Scott Travis joined Priest in 1990 did they acquire a drummer who could play the kind of beats at the speed they needed.  On Ram It Down, Priest were held back by the drummer and clunky production, two mistakes they fixed on 1990’s Painkiller.  The lyrics also seem dumbed-down for the 80s.  “Thousands of cars, and a million guitars, screaming with power in the air,” is cool but cliche.

“Heavy Metal” is more of the same lyrically, an ode to the power and glory of power chords.  Rob Halford’s performance is fantastic, and the man has rarely sounded as fantastic as he does on Ram It Down.  You can’t say the same for the words, the highschool equivalent of poetry.  On the music front, Priest were now following rather than leading.  They were on the same clunky metal trip as bands such as Scorpions at the same time.  There audible Kiss and Whitesnake influences on the album, with Rob sometimes sounding like he was trying to write a Gene Simmons tune.  “Love You to Death” on side two sounds right out of the Demon’s closet.  The embarrassingly terrible  “Love Zone” and “Come and Get It” both sound as if Coverdale co-wrote them on the sly.  Whether Priest were consciously copying other bands or just lost, who knows.  (“Love Zone” is one of the few songs that Halford almost seemed to write gender specific.  “With your razor nails and painted smile” are not specifically referring to a female, but certainly that was the general assumption.)

There are definitely a few cool tracks that deserve mention.  The first is “Hard as Iron” which had to be one of the fastest Priest songs to date.  It’s still held back by the production, but has some serious energy to it.  Like metal espresso injected right into the brain!  The other standout is “Blood Red Skies”, a forgotten highlight of this album and indeed of the Priest catalog in general.  (I actually used “Blood Red Skies” in a poetry project for school.  A girl liked it so much she asked for a copy of the lyrics.)  Using the synth effectively, “Blood Red Skies” paints a Terminator-like future with humans hunted by beings with “pneumatic fingers”, “laser eyes” and “computer sights”.  Halford  pours power and anguish into it, as a human freedom fighter.  “As I die, a legend will be born!”  Cheesey?  Absolutely.  Priest perfection?  Yes indeed!

There are also two mis-steps on Ram It Down that must be addressed.  The first and most obvious is “Johnny B. Goode”, from the 1988 movie Johnny Be Good starring Anthony Michael Hall and some guy named Robert Downey Something.  This track should have been kept off the album.  As a novelty single, sure, you can dig it.  It’s a stereotypical cliche-ridden metal cover, and that’s fun for a goof.  As a Priest album track, it only serves to completely destroy any momentum that Ram It Down managed to build.  Then there is “Monsters of Rock”.  This awful excuse for a song is only 5:31 long, but seems twice that.  It is the prototype for the even more awful “Loch Ness” from Angel of Retribution.  Most buyers probably didn’t finish listening to the album because of this bloated and aimless track.

The Priest Re-masters collection had two bonus tracks per studio album.  Ram It Down provides two completely unrelated but great tracks:  live versions of “Bloodstone” and “Night Comes Down”.  The liner notes don’t state when they were recorded, but live versions of either are always welcome in any Priest collection.  It’s interesting that bonus tracks from these actual sessions, such as “Red, White and Blue”, were used on other CDs but not Ram It Down.

Priest may have known Ram It Down wasn’t the metal album they hoped to make.  They cleared house afterwards.  Dave Holland and Tom Allom were done, and there is no question that Painkiller was superior to Ram It Down because of that.

2/5 stars

 

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Part 272: Priest Week – The Re-Masters

PRIEST WEEK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tell me more!” I said to Al.

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Metal Works 73-93

PRIEST WEEK

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

JUDAS PRIEST – Metal Works 73-93 (1993)

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.

METAL WORKS_0005Due 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 tracks 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 track 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 “Headed 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.

METAL WORKS_0003

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 two separate 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.

3/5 stars