rob halford

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Angel of Retribution (2004 CD/DVD)

“Sabbath are heavy, but Priest are metal.” – K.K. Downing

JUDAS PRIEST – Angel of Retribution (2004  Sony CD/DVD deluxe set)

Like Iron Maiden before them, Judas Priest pulled off a successful reunion tour before venturing into the studio to record a new album.  When the new music finally came, a deluxe package was made available featuring live videos from the reunion tour.  In this deluxe-sized review, we’ll take a close look at both the CD and DVD content.


The CD

Pure anticipation preceded the arrival of the Angel of Retribution.  Two underwhelming albums with Tim “Ripper” Owens on lead vocals caused Judas Priest’s star to diminish in the 90s and 2000s.  The return of the Metal God, Rob Halford, meant a reunion of the successful 1990-1991 Painkiller lineup.  The new album cover even featured the return of the Painkiller character, now the Angel of Retribution.  But a long time had passed.  Could Priest hope to live up to the hype, and their legacy?

The answer is mixed.  While Angel of Retribution contains enough classic Judas Priest metal to consider it a success, it also has some truly legendary filler, of sub-Ram It Down quality.  Instead of running through the album track by track, let’s break it down in terms of song integrity.

Priest wrote a natural sounding album, with elements from virtually all eras of Priest past.  They say it came about organically, and it does sound that way.  Some of the best material are the songs that sound like variations of classic Priest.

The opening song “Judas Rising” brings it back to 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny with that fade-in opener inspired by “Victim of Changes”.  Then it transforms right into the Painkiller era, with something that sounds like a far more intense “Hell Patrol”.  Solid 5/5.

The slightly psychedelic first single “Revolution” ranks among the better songs, although perhaps it’s actually most similar to “Little Crazy” by Rob Halford’s Fight.  It has flavours of Rocka Rolla and Killing Machine, and is far from what anyone expected Priest to put out for a first single.  Dig that slide guitar bit in the solo!  Solid 5/5.

Worth Fighting For” isn’t a ballad; it’s a little harder edged than that.  It’s the one song that is unique in the Priest catalogue, and remarkably strong.  The riff has a nice chug to it, while Rob ably carries the melody to a higher place.  A special song, and a 5/5.

Demonizer” is Jugulator meets Painkiller, faster than a hellriding devil dog (whatever that is), but “the Painkiller rises again!”   So testifies Halford.  It’s so ridiculously over the top that it can only be worth a solid 5/5.  Likewise the similar “Hellrider” on side two.  Both feature double bass so fast that it’s almost a parody of itself, but both rock so hard you’ll break your neck keeping up.  “Hellrider” is also notable as the song where Rob Halford inexplicably name drops “Megatron”.  Similar songs, both solid 5/5’s.

The ballad “Angel” is a little soft, unexpectedly so on an album with so much heavy metal.  Yet, Priest can do anything.  The acoustic “Angel” could be the quietest ballad since the early days.  “Put sad wings around me now,” sings Rob to the angel, an appropriate callback.  As his voice aged it acquired more depth.  That helps make “Angel” a respectable 4/5.

Deal With the Devil” and “Wheels of Fire” fall in a netherworld of pedestrian Priest.  These both feel like filler from Point of Entry or Ram it Down.  Less explosive, less memorable.  The autobiographical “Deal With the Devil” is amusing for its many lyrical callbacks: “Under blood red skies”, “Took on all the world”, references to razor blades.  Likewise the short one, “Eulogy“, which is really an intro for another song that we’ll get to.  “They remain still as stained class”, “Guarded by the Sentinel”, and so on.  3/5 each.

The worst of all songs is “Loch Ness“, a mess so atrocious that we had to devote an entire entry just to that one song.  Combined with its intro “Eulogy”, it’s over 15 minutes of mire that has no reason to exist.  Many people simply stop the album after “Hellrider” and leave this foul turd to rot unheard.  “Loch Ness” could very well be the worst Judas Priest song of all time.  A flaming turd to extinguish all flaming turds.  The worst of all putrid, rancid filler songs ever foisted upon the faithful.  0/5.

 


“Reunited” DVD

It’s worth getting a copy of this album with the bonus DVD.  For one, there’s a documentary from the Priest Reunited tour.  Secondly, there are seven uncut live songs here for you to enjoy, and it’s the only official video release from the Reunited tour.  The live footage is something to see, especially if you own the robotic Rising in the East DVD.  In that concert, Rob Halford was a stiff mannequin instead of a frontman.  Here, he comfortably in charge and engaged.  The entire lineup is energized.  “Breaking the Law” sees them powered up and working hard.

But how did the seemingly unlikely reunion begin?  According to the documentary, the band and Halford met to discuss the forthcoming Metalogy box set.  Glenn Tipton states that they decided to reunite later the same day.  It was like they’d never been apart.  Terribly British, says Rob.  “Have a cup of tea, see you later.”  Rob does express regret for his actions (reportedly he gave Judas Priest his notice in 1992 by fax), but it seems all was forgiven over time.

Beware which version you buy.  This CD/DVD combo set contains the documentary plus the full live songs:  “Breaking the Law”, “Metal Gods”, “A Touch of Evil”, “Hell Bent for Leather”, “Eletric Eye:”, “Diamonds & Rust”, and “Living After Midnight”.  The DualDisc version does not; it only includes edited fragments of those tracks.  Which is a shame, because the band sounded fantastic and Rob was in full-lunged form.  This is probably the best live version of “A Touch of Evil” available, for example.  Not everyone likes the acoustic version of “Diamonds & Rust”, but it’s certainly different. The only bonus to DualDisc is that you also get the album in “enhanced stereo”.  Avoid that; get this.


Although Angel of Retribution is overall a very strong Judas Priest album, “Loch Ness” is impossible to ignore.  It does serious damage to an album that was otherwise an impressive listen.  In the included DVD, K.K. Downing says they had to pick and choose from an overabundance of songs.  Can you imagine how bad the leftovers are if “Loch Ness” made the album?

3.5/5 stars

Advertisements

#779: Loch Ness

GETTING MORE TALE #779: “Loch Ness” – A Lyrical Analysis

Judas Priest are known not just for their incendiary riffing, but also vivid lyricism.  It’s often a winning combination.  Witness such metal concoctions as “Blood Red Skies” or “Metal Gods”.  When it works, it works.  When it fails, it fails gloriously.  Let’s have a look at Judas Priest’s most epic failure.  That would be the 13:28 long “Loch Ness”, from 2005’s reunion album Angel of Retribution.

Musically, “Loch Ness” is utter garbage; lethargic rock for the sleepy.  The lyrics are a little better, though not enough to save the song.

Judas Priest usually create their own mythology.  Characters such as the Painkiller, the Sentinel and the Jugulator are three such examples.  This time, Priest dipped into cryptozoology and Scottish legends for their subject matter.  Today, the general consensus is that there is no monster in the depths of Loch Ness.  It’s still fun to speculate and imagine what might have been.

The first verse of “Loch Ness” sets the scene.  The loch is the largest (by volume) in the UK, with an incredible depth of 755 feet.  Because of the loch’s depth and murkiness, long has there been uncertainty about what may be down below.  Using sonar and other modern technologies, nothing of any great size has ever been found.  Though legends remain strong today, it is highly unlikely that a large monster lives in Loch Ness.  What say Judas Priest?

Grey mist drifts upon the water,
The mirrored surface moves,
Awakened of this presence,
Dispelling legends proof.

Stories of a beast in the loch date back almost 1500 years.  A definitive modern day sighting would indeed be the proof needed to move the monster from legend to reality.  Rob Halford references the grey mists, and how the movements of the “mirrored surface” can look like a creature is swimming beneath.  This is how most sightings begin.  Then “Nessie” rises from the water:

A beastly head of onyx,
With eyes set coals of fire,
It’s leathered hide glides glistening,
Ascends the heathered briar.

Physical descriptions of “Nessie” the monster vary wildly.  A head attached to a long neck is a defining characteristic.  It is usually described as dark, which Halford here exaggerates as “onyx” (black) in colour.  It’s eyes being “coals of fire” seems to be a Halford invention.  Likewise the hide, which is usually not described in much detail.  Out of necessity, Rob had to elaborate on the myth in order to describe the beast.  An interesting line is “ascends the heathered briar”.  Indeed, in some of the older sightings, the beast is seen climbing onto land – once even crossing a road.  When seen in full, the creature is often described as similar to a plesiosaur.

This legend lives through centuries,
Evoking history’s memories,
Prevailing in eternities,
On and on and on.

More interesting than the physical descriptions of the beast are the old legends. Water beast legends were not uncommon.  Why was Loch Ness always such a hotspot for such tales?  There is no simple answer.  Recently, large eels were filmed in the loch.  A mistaken sighting of an eel could account for many of the stories.  With the advent of modern media in the 1900s, tales of the monster spread worldwide and stories were reported with more frequency.  Proponents of the monster theory point to the oldest legends as proof that there was always something mysterious about the loch, though there is no proof that there is any connection to the “Nessie” of today.

Loch Ness confess,
Your terror of the deep,
Loch Ness distress,
Malingers what you keep,
Loch Ness protects monstrosity,
Loch Ness confess to me.

This chorus is a contender for the worst on any Judas Priest album.  There is nothing here to sing along to.  The words are awkward and juvenile with overly simple rhymes.

The speaker is addressing the loch itself; asking the loch to give up its secrets.  But “Terror of the deep”?  Few today find the idea of the Loch Ness monster to be terrifying .  True, early sightings would have been quite scary. Even if the creature spotted was only an otter or an eel, in the dusk or fog it could have been startling.  As you’ll see, however, it is implied this song takes place in the modern age.

The most interesting word choice here is “malingers”, meaning to pretend to be sick in order to avoid something.  It’s possible the word is being intentionally misused because it simply sounded good.  Insofar as meaning goes, “distress”, “malinger” and “protect” all imply the creature isn’t actually threatening.  Perhaps it or its young need protection.  Halford begs the beast for the truth, but the truth is not to be found.

Somehow it heeds the piper,
From battlements that call,
From side to side it ponders,
In passion in the skirl.

Scottish imagery here, implying that the monster will appear if a piper plays its song.  “Skirl” refers to the shrill sound of bagpipes.  “From side to side it ponders, in passion in the skirl” is a variation of the old saying that music soothes the savage beast.  Otherwise, the connection between the pipes and the monster seem to be a Halford construction.  There is also an old joke:  “Bagpipes and the Loch Ness Monster have two things in common – they both attract tourists and terrify little children.”

This highland lair of mystery,
Retains a lost world empathy,
Resilient to discovery,
On and on and on.

“Resilient to discovery” isn’t the most accurate phrasing.  “Resilient” means to recover quickly.  The Loch Ness monster is more “resistant” to discovery than “resilient”, though the legend certainly is resilient.  It goes on and on regardless of a narrowing scope of possibilities.  “Retains a lost world empathy” probably refers to the age of the beast.  It is so old that it comes from a simple time when people had more empathy than today.

This legend lives through centuries,
Evoking history’s memories,
Prevailing in eternity,
Your secret lies safe with me.

These lines simply refer to the age of the old legends, which will live forever.  Rob assures the beast that if it reveals its secrets, he will not tell.

This creature’s peril from decease,
Implores to mankind for release,
A legacy to rest in peace,
On and on and on.

Finally the last verse goes back to the idea that the creature is in some sort of distress.  It’s unclear what the peril is, but mankind is a part of it.  Is it the call of the pipers?  The monster simply wants to be at peace. Perhaps this is a hint of an environmental message, for conservation.

The lyrics to “Loch Ness” are not overly complex. Their simplicity, combined with slow monotonous music, make the 13 minute song seriously drag.  A few unusual word choices tend to obscure meaning, but “Loch Ness” is otherwise a fairly straightforward Judas Priest lyric.  When sung aloud, it begins to sound a little foolish.  “Loch Ness, confess, your terror of the deep” is not poetry.  It’s something you would have written in highschool English class.  While the words mostly stand up to analysis, they are not resilient to singing aloud.  In this manner (perhaps the only manner in which rock lyrics really matter), “Loch Ness” flounders.

“Loch Ness” has never and will never be played live.  It’s a shame that one of the greatest cryptids in all of legend has been given such a weak heavy metal song!

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Trouble Shooters (1989 CBS cassette)

JUDAS PRIEST – Trouble Shooters (1989 CBS cassette)

Readers understand that I’m pretty anti-cassette.  For most of my life, I had shitty equipment and shitty tapes so my memories of fiddling with tapes are not happy ones.  You do tend to find oddities on cassette that don’t exist on any other media, which is one reason I’ll always need a tape deck.

Here’s one from my personal collection that I bought in early 1990.

Bob Schipper knew my favourite band in 1989/1990 was the mighty Priest.  He told me of a cassette I didn’t have called Trouble Shooters.  The one detail I can’t recall is what store he saw it in, but I gave him some money and he got me the tape.

I was disappointed that it was a cheap tape with nothing on the inlay, but I now had a Priest tape I didn’t own before.  I spied the release date:  1989.  It looked odd sitting in my tape cases filed as the “newest” Judas Priest release, with Les Binks on the front cover.  Trouble Shooters was in fact a bargain bin compilation made up of songs from Sin After Sin, Stained Class, Hell Bent for Leather, Point of Entry, British Steel, and Defenders of the Faith.  Another thing that looked strange:  the uber-metal Priest logo on the front.  Turning it up to 11, it’s rendered as the insane-o looking Jüdäs Priést.

The running order on these tapes is usually pretty random, but side one of Trouble Shooters goes down really well.  “Let Us Prey/Call For the Priest” is a pretty cool way to open a tape, with that low hum of instruments before the regal guitarmonies enter.  (Note that the second part of the title isn’t printed anywhere.)  “Let Us Prey” is suited to commence a Priest tape that is heavier than the average.  Its proto-thrash pacing represents Judas Priest at an early peak.  Then, sensibly, Trouble Shooters gets the “hit single” out of the way early, in this case “Living After Midnight”.  Casual music buyers picked up these tapes in discount bins, so you have to put on the hit early; the second slot working best.

I appreciated that they included two songs from Point of Entry as that has always been a personal favourite.  The title track is parsed wrong as “Trouble Shooters” when it should be all one word.  Still a good song, with Priest taking a simple sassy 4/4 time stance.  “Turning Circles” from the same album is lesser known but possesses a slower groove that works just as well as the fast ones.  The secret seems to be Rob Halford, who twists and turns every word for maximum expression.

Side One is granted an epic quality thanks to “The Green Manalishi”, my favourite Priest song of all time and certainly a crowd pleaser too.  (Yeah, yeah, I know it’s a Fleetwood Mac cover.)  You just can’t find a better closer for a Side One anywhere else in the Priest canon.

Continuing the excellent sequencing is a song heralding the arrivals of “Metal Gods” on Side Two.  Then “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll”, the most recent song from 1984’s Defenders of the Faith.  Nothing from Turbo or Ram It Down.  I wonder if there were rules about what could and couldn’t go on these budget compilations.  Maybe they were limited to music five years old or more.  Back to the tape, “Some Heads” follows a similar sonic mood as “Metal Gods”, though the production is less sleek and more muddled.  It’s still apocalyptic metal for breakfast.

Finally it’s back to the start with a couple epics from the early days.  For me, I think I would have ended the tape on “Sinner”, but it comes before “Saints In Hell” here.  Much like “Let Us Prey” on Side One, these songs show off the early savage side of Judas Priest, ripping meat from the bone raw and ugly.  It’s barbaric metal with sharply precise moves.

I don’t know why I hung on to this tape when so many of them ended up in a Thunder Bay landfill.  I’m glad I did:  this was a fun cassette to review.

3.5/5 stars

 

VHS Archives #29: Rob Halford talks touring (1986)

Judging by my personal VHS Archives, there were few heavy metal artists that MuchMusic interviewed more frequently than Judas Priest’s Rob Halford.

So far in my VHS explorations, this is the fourth Rob Halford interview to turn up (two from Turbo, two from Painkiller), and there are still more coming (Ram It Down, Fight). Today’s video is interesting because it’s the second one I’ve found from 1986. The first was an illuminating chat with Terry David Mulligan, with Rob sporting a moustache! It seems that by August ’86, he had shaved it off.

VJ Christopher Ward asks Rob about the expenses of touring.

VHS Archives #13: Two Rob Halford interviews (1990)

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.

VHS Archives #5: Rob Halford interview (1986)

This brief but great clip has MuchMusic’s Terry David Mulligan getting Rob Halford to open up about drugs and Judas Priest’s image.  TDM hosted a show called MuchWest, but this was aired on the Power Hour.  Summer 1986, (presumably from Expo ’86) and Rob’s got a moustache and slick, long hair!  Definitely a look that didn’t stick.

VHS Archives #2: Hear N’ Aid Special – Pepsi Power Hour (1986)

The one VHS tape I’m working on currently spans a period of recordings from about July 1986 to September 1987. This Hear N’ Aid special features a MuchMusic interview conducted by J.D. (John) Roberts. There’s lots of exclusive information in this valuable video, including a tidbit on bands who refused to be in the same project as Spinal Tap!

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Firepower (2018)

JUDAS PRIEST – Firepower (2018 Sony)

It’s 2018 and the Priest is back.  The excitement for the mighty metal band’s return has been restrained by the knowledge that Glenn Tipton is too ill to tour.  Parkinson’s disease — what a bastard that is.  Co-producer Andy Sneap has stepped up to take over Glenn’s guitar parts on tour.

Meanwhile on album, Glenn’s contributions to Firepower can be heard.  Sneap and classic Priest producer Tom Allom recorded one of the most biting Priest albums to date.  More impressive than the sound they captured are the performances.  Rob Halford in particular is more expressive than he has been in years.

At 14 tracks and almost an hour, Firepower suffers only from too many tracks.  There are a couple that clearly could have been cut and left for B-sides or bonus tracks.  “Flame Thrower” (similar to “Hot For Love” from Turbo), though a cool title, would have been great on a B-side.  On album, I’d rather race ahead to some of the more exciting tracks.

Firepower throws it back to sounds of the past.  Sometimes it’s Painkiller, and sometimes Angel of Retribution.  Rock writer Heavy Metal Overload noticed sonic similarities to Halford’s Resurrection CD.   At other times it’s brand new, because guitarist Richie Faulkner brings new things to the table, such as slide.

There are many highlights among the 14 tracks.  “Evil Never Dies” and “Never the Heroes” both immediately jump out for their melodic mastery.  Rob is sounding better than he has on the last couple, with a few tasty screams to enjoy.  As time goes on, new favourites will replace old.  Perhaps it’ll be “Spectre”, “No Surrender”,  “Children of the Sun”, “Rising From the Ruins” or even “Flame Thrower”!  Another highlight:  mellow album closer “Sea of Red” which bears lyrical similarities to “Blood Red Skies” from 1988’s Ram It Down.  In general, Firepower is about fighting back.

The cover art by Claudio Bergamin is Priest’s new mascot, “Titanicus”.  Silly name aside, this one Priest’s best album cover in decades.  (Mark Wilkinson continues to contribute to the packaging art as well.)  Notice how Bergamin’s lines match up with the style of past Priest albums like Screaming for Vengeance.

It’s hard to imagine a better album this late in their career.  Priest have done it again.  Firepower lives up to its name.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Hero, Hero (1981)

JUDAS PRIEST – Hero, Hero (1981 Gull)

It’s true:  By all measurements, Hero, Hero is an exploitive compilation of Judas Priest material.  Their first record label, Gull, was prone to do this.  However this is no typical “hits” set; this one is of interest to collectors and die hard fans.

Hero, Hero (named for a lyric from the song “Dying to Meet You”) was originally released in 1981 to take advantage of Priest’s rising star. The original two releases on Gull records, Rocka Rolla and Sad Wings Of Destiny, had been exploited previously in a compilation called The Best Of Judas Priest, which was a single record. Hero, Hero was a double record which included all of Rocka Rolla and most of Sad Wings, as well as the crucial Joan Baez cover, “Diamonds and Rust”, in an alternate take (previously heard on Best Of).

So, if you have all that material already, why is this album required at all?  Cover art aside, of course.  That cover (a pre-existing painting) is brilliant.  There is also a Kiss bootleg called Barbarize with the same cover.

The reason is revealed in the liner notes. All of Rocka Rolla had been remixed for this release. Why is unknown, as that record sounded just fine for what it is. The remixes are, in general, not even all that different. The major changes are made during “Cheater”, the “Winter” suite, and “Rocka Rolla” itself, during which major portions of the songs are noticeably shifted around. “Rocka Rolla” has its verses rearranged, and there’s a burst of harmonica in “Cheater” where there never was before.

The remix done to Rocka Rolla doesn’t really add or subtract anything from the album, which makes it that much harder to understand why it was done.  Why Gull records spent the money to remix these tracks is unknown, and the names of the engineers involved are a mystery.  But there it is:  Rocka Rolla remixed in its entirety but not in order, here on the Hero, Hero album.  Because they’re less familiar to the ear, they sound fresh, but in many cases you’d struggle to point out differences.  A little reverb here, a little echo there.

Highlights including a bluesy “Cheater” and the flanged chug of “Diamonds and Rust”.  The six tracks from Sad Wings of Destiny are brilliant.  “Dreamer Deceiver” and “Deceiver” are used to open this CD, but that is not the original running order.  Normally the album begins with “Prelude” and “Tyrant”, also from Sad Wings.  The original Canadian cassette version on Attic maintained the original running order with “Prelude” at the start.  Essentially, the Connoisseur Collection CD has side one and side two flipped.

Fair warning to CD buyers:  There are some shoddy reissues of this album that don’t have the remixed tracks.  Transluxe is one such version.  To make your life easier you might just want to look for an original 1981 LP.  The pictured CD from Connoisseur Collection (1995) does have the remixes, so you’re good to go if you spot one.

3/5 stars

 

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