rob halford

#446: SLOW DOWN! (An announcement)

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GETTING MORE TALE #446: SLOW DOWN!

Since March 2012, LeBrain has been bringing you the rock on a daily basis.

I’ve been writing about music for a long time.  Over the years, I accumulated an immense catalogue of music reviews.  I saved them up, and gradually expanded and polished them up for publishing here at mikeladano.com.  On top of that, I also had an incredible stock of Record Store Tales to post.  Some of these had been gathering dust for well over a decade.  Including new content I’ve stirred into the mix, it took over three years to burn through all the old reviews and stories.  I am now dry.  I had a few movie reviews left in the hopper, but these are abandoned now, because this is (mostly) about the rock.

It’s much easier for me to revise and expand an old review, than it is to write a new one.  It’s actually an enjoyable process for me to revisit and fix up an old writing.  You’d be hard-pressed to tell an old polished up review from a brand-new one unless I pointed it out.  The huge amount of stuff that I had built up to publish enabled me to post content every day.  In fact, in my old “theme song” video I boasted that mikeladano.com was “updated daily!”

I can no longer keep going at that pace.  It’s just not possible; not if I want to maintain a level of quality.  Listening to music takes time, articulating thoughts into words takes more time, and adding the photos, videos and anecdotes takes even more time.  I love writing about music and sharing my music collection with you.  I can’t deny that this hobby is hard work, albeit a labour of love.

So, without any shame, I am now announcing that the pace of new content here is slowing down.  I don’t plan on using a schedule, but you can count on new reviews and stories here about one every other day.  I hope you continue to read and enjoy.  This will hopefully enable me to spend more time posting and responding to comments.

Music is an important part of my life, and yours too, I’ll wager, or you wouldn’t be reading this.  Coming home from work every day and sitting down to review music because I “have to”, to keep up the pace, isn’t what I wanted to do.  I don’t want to work on reviews because I “have to” maintain an inhuman pace.  You might not have noticed but I feel the more recent reviews I’ve written have been rushed.  I think the quality may have suffered in favour of quantity.

No longer.  You can count on the same brand of music reviews, the same kind of stories, and the odd “WTF” here and there…just not on a daily basis.  I’m taking tomorrow off!

Shit.  I guess this means I need a new theme song video.

See??  The work never ends!

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Sad Wings of Destiny (1976)

Welcome to PRIEST WEEKEND! It’s a long Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, and…

Well, here’s the truth of it. I had three Judas Priest reviews lined up and needed a spot to schedule them. A three day weekend worked. That’s how much thought went into the scheduling of this Thanksgiving theme.

Enjoy PRIEST WEEKEND starting with their immortal second album…

Scan_20150930JUDAS PRIEST – Sad Wings of Destiny (1976 Gull)

It’s quite a shame that Judas Priest haven’t regained the rights to their first and second albums.  Too many fly-by-night labels have done shoddy or half-arsed reissues of the albums and Sad Wings is no exception.  This one, on Snapper, isn’t too objectionable.  It’s funny to see “digitally mastered” on the front sticker, as if this is some kind of selling feature.  All CDs are digitally mastered!  Remember that old AAD, ADD, DDD logo that used to appear on CDs?  The A and D refers to analog or digital processes: recording, mixing, and mastering.  Every CD is at least AAD.  The “informative liner notes” (by somebody called “Krusher”) is just a blubbering general history essay on the band.

Fortunately, no matter how it’s packaged, the music is exceptional.

“Victim of Changes” defines “epic”, and probably remains Judas Priest’s definitive word on the epic song.  This is actually a mashup of two earlier songs called “Red Light Lady”, written by Rob Halford, and “Whiskey Woman” by original singer and founder, Al Atkins.  That’s how it came to be that Halford shares a writing credit with his predecessor, an unusual circumstance indeed!   The finished song “Victim of Changes” has everything: the concrete heavy riffs, the drama, the melody and the unearthly screams!  It takes its time, but it simply lays waste to the landscape.  By the time Rob nails his final scream, you may find yourself hard of hearing.  As if that wasn’t enough, “The Ripper” (a shorty) contains even more screams-per-minute than “Victim”.  Priest seemed to take a turn away from blues, towards metal on Sad Wings of Destiny.  The first two songs are as sharp and devastating as anything else in the Priest canon.

Although they are often separated on compilations and whatnot, “Dreamer Deceiver” and “Deceiver” are more or less one song.  One sounds incomplete without the other.  “Dreamer Deceiver” is an airy, acoustic number about some sort of ethereal being.  It is as entrancing as its title character:

“We followed the Dreamer through the purple hazy clouds,
He could control our sense of time.
We thought were lost but, no matter how we tried,
Everyone was in peace of mind.”

Rob’s vocal performance on this one ranges from the deep and dramatic, to the wails that Priest fans crave.  It is the blueprint for similar early Iron Maiden tracks such as “Remember Tomorrow”.  Even the guitar solo is a well-composed piece of music, but this is just the beginning.  Morphing into “Deceiver”, the acoustic plucking has changed to an electric chug.  This time the guitar solo blazes rather than cries.  “Deceiver” burns out quick, ending the first side.

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Side two begins, as it obviously should, with a piano instrumental!  Glenn Tipton wrote and performed “Prelude” which is really just another track meant for you to let your guard down…before being ploughed over by the evil “Tyrant”!  He is the destructor, and every man shall fall!  The way Rob screams it, you believe it.  This is straight up the alley of prior tunes, like “Ripper” and “Deceiver”:  fast, lean, and heavy as balls!

“Genocide” is a change of pace, a leaning towards the mid-tempo ground that Priest would find great success with later.  There is a Priest stamp to it: a simple 4/4 beat, a couple of cool riffs, verses, chorus and solo…but I like the slow middle section best.  “Sin after sin…I have endured, but the wounds I bear, are the wounds of love.”  Sin After Sin was used as the next Priest album title.  Then, another surprise.  “Epitaph” is a piano ballad with Rob singing with a Queen-like backdrop of vocals.  Only piano and vocals, that is it.  Once again this is a Glenn Tipton song, and even though Priest let on that they had quiet tendencies, this is still a bit of a shocker.  “Pretty” is an appropriate word.  It is a tour de force for Rob, who performed some very intricate singing.

Chugging off to into the horizon, “Island of Domination” is the final track on a purely excellent heavy metal album.  Multi-layered Halford screams usher in the final assault.  Rocking both heavily and intelligently, the mighty Priest finished the album with a blitzkrieg, taking no prisoners.  From gallop to groove, “Island of Domination” has a bit of everything Priest did well.

What an album.  Do you like heavy metal music?  Then you need Sad Wings.  Period.  Exclamation point!

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Greatest Hits (2008 Sony Steel Box)

 

Welcome back to GREATEST HITS WEEK! This week we are looking at different, interesting hits albums from various bands. Today we re- visit the Mighty Priest, for the second of a Priest double-shot!

Monday:  EXTREME – The Best of Extreme: An Accidental Collication of Atoms? (1997)
Tuesday: JUDAS PRIEST – The Best of Judas Priest (1978/2000 Insight Series)


JUDAS PRIEST – Greatest Hits (2008 Sony/BMG Steel Box Collection)

Ever buy a CD for no real good reason?  I have all these songs, because I already own every song Priest has ever released.  I saw this Judas Priest compilation, from the “Sony Steel Box” collection, at my local Best Buy for a few measly dollars.  There are a few artists who have hits albums in this collection, such as Aerosmith.  I just wanted one of the steel boxes, so I chose Priest.  I chose Priest because of the brief, but interesting track listing.  There are some odd choices for a greatest hits disc:  “Rock Hard Ride Free”, and “Rock You All Around the World”, for example, instead of “Heading Out to the Highway”, “A Touch of Evil”, “Painkiller”,  or other better know singles.  Hell, where’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” or any song from Screaming?  You do get two “new” songs from Angel of Retribution.  Needless to say, for a 10-track hits CD, it was an interesting selection of songs, so I chose this one.  I have only played it once, so it’s time to revisit and assign a rating.

This is where we run into the flaw with these Sony steel boxes — the front cover and back cover art is just a sticker, that wraps around the case.  When you open the case, it damages the sticker where it covers the hinge, digging huge creases all over the spine.  I’ve opened my copy a couple of times and see what it looks like already?  That’s me being careful.

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“Breaking the Law” has always worked well in the opening position.  Off with a bang (literally; the first sound is a snare drum), we are now off to the races.  This Greatest Hits concentrates almost entirely on material from British Steel and after, collecting a lot of Priest music from their simple, straightforward metal period of the 1980’s.  There is nothing wrong with that of course, but it lacks the balance that earlier more complex tracks like “Victim of Changes” would have brought to the table.  “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight”, both classics culled from British Steel, get the job done on a hit laden note.  The sound is fine, as it appears these were lifted from the Priest remasters.

I’m not sure the logic in choosing “Out of the Cold”, a synth-laden slow crawler from Turbo.  There is nothing wrong with it of course, it was and remains a stormy fan classic.  That’s just it though, it’s a fan classic, not a well known hit that the band play in concert.  On a 10 song CD, it seems an odd choice, but it leads well into the dark “Love Bites”.  I went through a period of about three days in grade 8 of being completely obsessed with this song.  The things I liked about it, such as the choppy rhythms and hypnotic vocals, are still striking today.  It also flows perfectly into “Rock You All Around the World”, which unfortunately is pretty much just filler that should have been donated to the Scorpions.

I still think it terms of albums having “sides”, and I wonder if whoever sequenced this CD had the same thought?  “Rock You All Around the World” is a great side closer, as it filled that slot on Turbo.  Then the next track is the very different “Diamonds and Rust” (live version from Unleashed in the East).  It’s as if you have started a new side.  Another track from Defenders of the Faith (“Rock Hard Ride Free”) brings the listener back to the 80’s.  Although it was not a single, it was good enough to be one.  Back to the Turbo album for the third time, “Turbo Lover” is a song that still gets occasional radio airplay.  It’s funny how this robotic and very dated song is still loved today.  I wouldn’t have predicted that.

“Turbo Lover” is the last of the golden oldies, since the last two tracks are off Angel of Retribution, Priest’s glorious reunion album with Rob Halford after a long solo career.  Strange though that the single “Revolution” is not one of these tracks.  “Deal With the Devil” was an OK tune, a good heavy album tune that was of the same quality as similar songs from Painkiller.  “Worth Fighting For” was excellent – a midtempo quiet rocker that almost borders on ballad territory.  This song was a triumph, a really excellent song worth of the Priest canon.  Unfortunately in this case, a quiet midtempo near-ballad does not work to close a Priest compilation.  It works as a song to build into another song, but here it just leaves you hanging.  Sloppy sequencing.

Rating the steel book CD is not a reflection on the songs or the band, just the CD itself.  There are too many serious omissions (“Metal Gods:, “Freewheel Burning”, hello!) for it to rate highly.  The flawed packaging design is the final nail in the steel box.

2/5 stars

JUDAS PRIEST GREATEST HITS 2008Thanks to Geoff over at the 1001 Albums in 10 Years for the “Excel”lent inspiration!

 

 

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – The Best of Judas Priest (Insight Series reissue)

Welcome back to GREATEST HITS WEEK! This week we are looking at different, interesting hits albums from various bands. Today we visit the Mighty Priest!

Monday:  Extreme – The Best of Extreme: An Accidental Collication of Atoms? (1997)


 

Scan_20150808JUDAS PRIEST – The Best of Judas Priest (1978 Gull, 2000 Koch Insight Series reissue)

The abbreviated story:  Judas Priests’s first two albums, Rocka Rolla and Sad Wings of Destiny, were released on Gull records.  Priest’s first album for Columbia was Sin After Sin in 1977.  When they made the move to the bigger label, they lost all rights for their first albums to Gull.  The label proceeded to issue and reissue unauthorized compilations of those songs.  They even had Rocka Rolla remixed in its entirety by Rodger Bain and reissued in 1981 as part of the double album Hero, Hero.

The Best of Judas Priest was the first exploitive release by Gull, in 1978.  It would have been frustrating for the band to be out there promoting the new album, Stained Class (1978) when the unauthorized Best of hit the shelves.  Whenever asked about it, Priest have discouraged fans from spending their money on these Gull releases.  That was especially true when Best of Judas Priest was reissued again in 2000 by Koch records as part of the “Insight Series”.  They even placed a disclaimer on the official Judas Priest site advising fans to stay away from this CD in particular.  What really seemed to chap their collective ass was that the “Insight Series” contained a lengthy interview with former drummer John Hinch, who was really in the band for only a short time and was fired due to “lack of ability” (their words).

We at LeBrain HQ have acquired a copy for research purposes!

The Best of opens with 10 minutes of slow sludge from Rocka Rolla in the form of “Dying to Meet You” and “Never Satisfied”.  Poor sequencing aside, it is surprising that the up-tempo “One for the Road” is nowhere to be found.  Some heat is finally in the kitchen on Joan Baez’ “Diamonds and Rust”, an early unreleased version.  This too must have peeved the Priest.  This was recorded during the Sad Wings of Destiny sessions, but ultimately left off the album.  Not wanting to let the arrangement go to waste, it was re-recorded for Sin After Sin with Roger Glover producing. This earlier version, out the following year, probably confused a few fans who bought both albums.  The Sad Wings version is of high quality.  It lacks the crispness of the Glover recording, but should be absolutely essential to collectors today.  It can be found on a number of releases including Hero, Hero.

“Victim of Changes” was and is a high water mark.  It’s actually an amalgam of part of a song Rob Halford wrote (“Red Light Lady”) with a song by original Priest singer and founder, Al Atkins (“Whiskey Woman”).  To this day, has Halford ever used his scream more effectively?  “Victim of Changes” is nothing less than a desert island classic.  “Victim”, and the rest of the songs, all come of Priest’s immortal second album Sad Wings of Destiny.

“Island of Domination” is not a place you want to visit:  “We gotta get, we gotta get, we gotta get out of this place.  There’s a man with a needle who’s pleading to get to my face.”  The speedy metal delight keeps you there anyway.  “The Ripper” is a brief but undeniable classic, another highpoint from the Gull years.  Finally, “Deceiver” is separated from its first chapter, “Dreamer Deceiver”.  It does sound odd without its companion, but for a brief and explosive rock song to end a side of vinyl, it is certainly more than up to the task.

Finally there is the infamous 18 minute John Hinch interview that so upset the Priest camp upon its release.  Hinch discusses his history with the band, going back to forming a band with Rob Halford called Hiroshima.  Perhaps the guys in Priest were peeved when Hinch recalls playing on the same bill as Judas Priest, who he says were “horrible”.  His description of KK Downing as a “strutting lead guitarist [with] long blonde hair,” isn’t complimentary.  Ian Hill invited Rob and Hinch to join the band to replace Al Atkins, and their drummer Chris “Congo” Campbell.  According to Hinch, they did so reluctantly and with a desire to change the name.  This critique turns to praise, especially after Glenn Tipton joined the band to fill out the sound.  Perhaps his recollections don’t match those of the band, but it is otherwise impossible to find any other interviews with the drummer from Priest’s first album.  If you want a perspective from the drum stool in 1974, here it is.  What’s missing is any comment on why he was let go.

Ultimately it is up to the fan to decide where to draw the line on what to buy, and what not to buy.  Since the early “Diamonds and Rust” is also on Hero, Hero, one could choose to only buy that release, if they decide they don’t need the Hinch interview.  One could even buy both, or neither.  Personally speaking, I would have bought this anyway if only for the unique cover art.  It is your decision, but The Best of Judas Priest is a decent listen.

3/5 stars

#380: Custom Priest Box Set Mania!

THE BEST FUCKING COLLABORATION WEEK EVER

Alas, it’s the end of THE BEST FUCKING COLLABORATION WEEK EVER!* I made a five disc Judas Priest box set for Aaron a while ago.  Let’s take a close look at the tracks.  Dig in!

Aaron: Custom Priest Box Set Mania!

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RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#380: Custom Priest Box Set Mania!

I’ve known Aaron, your incredible co-host over at the KeepsMeAlive website, for almost 20 years.  For most of those 20 years we haven’t lived in the same town, so we kept in touch via email, text messages, and physical mail.  It wasn’t that long ago that we were sending each other parcels semi-regularly, including musical gifts and mix CDs.  Mix CDs are an art that we both take very seriously.

At one point Aaron had expressed interest in hearing more Judas Priest, so I took it upon myself to create a custom box set, by me, for him.  The official Metalogy box set is pretty good, but as I said in my review for it, “just not the box set that I would have made given the opportunity.”  Aaron gave me the opportunity so I decided to out-do Metalogy and go for a full five discs, and update him to the then-current Priest album Nostradamus.

I found a track listing that I drafted for that very set.  The final CDs that I made for him may have differed, because I was rough-guessing my disc times here.  As close as I have records of, this is the box set that I burned for Aaron.  Let’s take a look at it disc by disc and see how it holds up.

Rocka Rolla – The Old Grey Whistle Test

DISC 1

1. One For The Road
2. Rocka Rolla
3. Diamonds and Rust
4. Dreamer Deceiver
5. Deceiver
6. Cheater
7. Caviar and Meths
8. Prelude
9. Tyrant
10. Dissident Aggressor
11. Better By You, Better Than Me
12. Race With The Devil
13. Stained Class
14. Beyond The Realms of Death
15. Exciter
16. Delivering The Goods
17. Rock Forever
18. Burnin’ Up
19. The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown)
20. Take On The World
21. Hell Bent For Leather

In my Metalogy review, I complained about the absence of “Rocka Rolla” and “One For the Road”.  I have fixed that oversight here, but at the cost of “Never Satisfied”.  It’s not the perfect trade-off.  The ending to “Never Satisfied” was as epic as early Priest got, so it is a win for a loss.  I replaced the live “Diamonds and Rust” with the studio version though, so that is a good thing for a listener like Aaron.  I like that I included the rare “Race With the Devil”, a cover of The Gun.  There is also a healthy dose of Hell Bent for Leather/Killing Machine.  I’m not sure what I was thinking with the track order, but I probably modified that before I burned the final CD.


When the Tax Man comes for Priest’s money, he loses his head and pants!

DISC 2

1. Victim of Changes (Live)
2. Sinner (Live)
3. The Ripper (Live)
4. Breaking The Law (Live)
5. You Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise
6. Living After Midnight
7. The Rage
8. Desert Plains
9. Heading Out To The Highway
10. Troubleshooter
11. Turnin’ Circles
12. Riding On The Wind
13. (Take These) Chains
14. Bloodstone
15. You Got Another Thing Comin’
16. Devil’s Child
17. The Hellion / Electric Eye (Live)
18. Steeler (Live)

I see here that I included the live versions of “The Ripper” and “Victim of Changes”.  I suppose that I left these on, because Unleashed in the East is such a critical live album.  It simply must be represented on a box set like this, so I chose to keep a few songs, some of the best ones.  I also like to include rare tracks, so I snagged the live “Steeler” from the radio broadcast CD called Concert Classics. I see a lot of personal favourites on this CD, especially from Screaming for Vengeance. Pretty damn fine disc!

In the dead of night, Love Bites

DISC 3

1. Love Bites
2. Jawbreaker
3. Rock Hard Ride Free
4. The Sentinel
5. Some Heads Are Gonna Roll
6. Night Comes Down (Live)
7. Heavy Duty
8. Defenders of the Faith
9. Turbo Lover
10. Parental Guidance
11. Reckless
12. Out In The Cold (Live)
13. Metal Gods (Live)
14. Freewheel Burning (Live)
15. Ram It Down
16. Hard As Iron
17. Blood Red Skies

From Defenders of the Faith to Ram it Down, the 80’s can be a tricky period of Judas Priest to navigate. This third CD could have been the worst. I opened with the studio version of “Love Bites”, where Metalogy utilized an unreleased live version. I think it makes a great disc opener. For rarities I went with the live “Night Comes Down” instead, a great version from the Priest Re-Masters.  I also had to represent Priest…Live! from this era, so I chose its dramatic concert opener “Out in the Cold” as a live version.  The live version of “Metal Gods” from that album is more melodic than others, so I went with it too.  I look at this disc as some of the very best Priest from this period.

Priest with Ripper – Blood Stained, live in London

DISC 4

1. Heart of a Lion (Demo)
2. Painkiller
3. Hell Patrol
4. One Shot at Glory
5. Jugulator
6. Rapid Fire ‘98
7. Burn In Hell
8. A Touch of Evil (Live)
9. Blood Stained (Live)
10. One On One
11. Feed On Me
12. What’s My Name
13. Running Wild (Live)
14. The Ripper (Live)
15. Diamonds and Rust (Live)
16. The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown) ‘98

There it is! “Heart of a Lion” is one of the best rare Priest demos, only available on the Metalogy box set, but recorded in the Turbo era.  It would make a good disc opener, but following it with “Painkiller”?  I’m not sure about my transition there.  It could be like a sledgehammer of awesome, or it could be an awkward stumble.  I think the most difficult mixture of different periods has to be the sudden change of lead singers.  When Tim “Ripper” Owens replaced Rob Halford on 1997’s Jugulator, the band’s sound changed.  That’s probably why I chose a remake of the oldie “Rapid Fire” to be one of the first Ripper songs on this CD.  There are also plenty of live versions here of old Priest classics, from the various live albums Priest did with Ripper.  “Blood Stained” was a live take on a new Ripper song, from their ’98 Live Meltdown album.  I think it’s vastly superior to the original version on Jugulator.   “What’s My Name” is included as a rare B-side from the Japanese version of Demolition.  On the whole I think this is a pretty good CD representing a difficult period in Priest history, and in hindsight it could use more tracks from Painkiller.

The Hellrider, live — same version that I used

DISC 5

1. Judas Rising
2. Revolution
3. Worth Fighting For
4. Demonizer
5. Angel
6. Hellrider (Live)
7. Between the Hammer & the Anvil (Live)
8. Eat Me Alive (Live)
9. Dawn of Creation
10. Prophesy
11. Revelations
12. Death (Live)
13. Persecution
14. Calm Before The Storm
15. Nostradamus

I remember having a really hard time with this disc. I wanted to give Nostradamus a fair shake, but as a double concept album it didn’t lend itself well to chopping up into bits for a mix CD.  By the time I got to this mix CD, all I had left to include were two studio albums (Angel of Retribution and Nostradamus) and a live album (A Touch of Evil) to utilize.  The version of “Hellrider” from that live album is among my favourite tracks due to Rob Halford’s over the top screaming.  This disc doesn’t appear to have any rarities among its tracks.  Not a bad disc but I think I could have done better here.

I remember having difficulty burning the CDs to my satisfaction.  There was some quirk happening with my Nero version, and ultimately I just abandoned the project and sent the discs to Aaron.  Apparently I didn’t even bother making a track list or covers for him.

Making mix CDs to my own satisfaction is a lot of work.  I know I sunk a lot of time into this Priest set, ripping the discs and meticulously choosing the songs.  Ultimately though, it was just fun to hand pick the Judas Priest songs to help Aaron in his exploration of this awesome band.

Monday: QUIET RIOT – Metal Health
Tuesday: DANKO JONES – Born A Lion
Wednesday: Aaron’s Black Crowes B-sides
Thursday: THE CULT – Pure Cult: The Singles 1984-1995

* Not the last collaboration, however.  Stay tuned.

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Metalogy (2004 box set)

Would you care for an Epic Review with your morning tea?

JUDAS PRIEST – Metalogy (2004 Sony 4CD/1DVD limited edition box set)

Q: Who would release a box set dressed up in faux-leather and studs?
A: Who else? PRIEST!

This five disc set (4 CD/1 DVD) compiles a generous sampling of Judas Priest’s music over the decades, from Rocka Rolla (1974) to Demolition (2002). While the tracklist is far from perfect in my eyes (where’s “Rocka Rolla”, “One For the Road”, the studio version of “Victim Of Changes”, “The Ripper”, etc?) it does provide some previously unreleased live versions (both B-sides and never-before-released) and a completely unreleased demo. It’s not a bad set. Just not the one I would have made personally given the opportunity.*

IMG_20150301_071946With insanely great fortune, I got this box set (a limited edition by the way; reissues lack the DVD) in mint condition but used at my own store! One of my favourite sellers, a customer named Conrad sold it to me only a short time after release.  I don’t know why and I don’t care.  I was just glad to have it affordably.  I loved the packaging and there was that unreleased demo that I was eager to finally hear.    Also, Metalogy was the first anthology style box set from Priest and I wanted to hear how it played out.

The unreleased song is the awesome hard rock track “Heart of a Lion”, demoed for Turbo back in ’85. You may have heard this one in re-recorded form on Halford’s live album Insurrection. It was also recorded back in the 80’s by a young band called Racer X, starring Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big) on guitar, and a drummer by the name of Scott Travis! It was a surprise to me that “Heart of a Lion” was not released on the Priest Re-masters series; obviously they were deviously saving it for something later, like this box set.

Some of the live versions are exclusive to this set. Two newly released versions included a 1981 radio broadcast of “Green Manalishi” (unfortunately, meaning the studio track isn’t on here). There is also an unreleased broadcast version of “Love Bites” from ’86.  In addition to these, there are a few live tracks taken from old single B-sides. Unfortunately I already have all Priest’s B-sides, on a Japanese compilation called Priest Live & Rare.

The biggest weakness with this box set is that it tragically loses steam right at the end. In 2002 when the last original Priest music had been recorded, Rob Halford had yet to rejoin the band and Ripper Owens was still the current singer. The box ends with four Ripper tunes, and not necessarily the best ones. “Jugulator” is an undeniable inclusion, but there is a feeling of anticlimax. Leaving an exciting and unheard track like “Heart of a Lion” for last would have ended set on an up note.  (Perhaps Priest could have included some Ripper-era rarities to add some value and excitement — there were a few songs available.)

METALOGY_0002Judas Priest Live (DVD)

The limited edition DVD, cleverly called Judas Priest Live, has since been released on its own. This is the old Judas Priest Live video, also known as Live Vengeance ’82, from the Screaming for Vengeance tour (Memphis Tennessee).  It’s one of those music videos that you probably remember seeing back in the day. It’s quintessential early 80’s live Priest — all black leather and shiny studs. The setlist leans heavily on Screaming and British Steel, with classics throughout.  The stage is pretty bare, just some girders and a Screaming for Vengeance flag in behind.

This concert has been remixed for DVD, in both stereo and 5.1 surround.  I have read some complaints from fans that guitar overdubs were added to some tracks.  I listened intently but could not conclude one way or the other that any tampering was done.

A pre-recorded “Hellion” acts as intro music; Priest emerge onstage amidst lasers and smoke to play “Electric Eye”.  Halford is  the caricature of himself, bearing a bullwhip, and looking something like the biker from the Village People.  Nevertheless, a young Rob Halford slowly and deliberately commands the stage, powerful voice cracking but getting the job done.  Tipton and Downing are on the flanks, tearing into “Riding on the Wind” next.  The pulse of Ian Hill and Dave Holland, plain is it may be, is metronomically precise.  The video is shot and edited to my taste; lots of closeups although the light flaring is distracting.  (J.J. Abrams did not direct the video though!)  KK Downing makes some of the best “guitar faces” this side of Nigel Tufnel.

“Heading Out to the Highway” brings the speed down from the breakneck pace.  This mid-tempo classic has long been a favourite, although at the time it was only a year old!  Three songs in, and Priest had not yet played anything from British Steel or before!  The confidence in their new material is refreshing.  Rob treats us to some hilarious dancing, but I admit I’d kill for a leather vest like that, with the bird from Screaming emblazoned on the back!  Fear not though, as “Metal Gods”, a British Steel classic, is next.  Rob’s robot dance gets my nod for “favourite moment of the concert”.

Back to new songs, the sharp guitars and robotic pulse of “Bloodstone” gets fists pumping in the air.  The cameras are not wasted on audience shots (I’d rather see the band), but you can see the crowd digging the new material as much as the old.  They really like “Breaking the Law” though, which has a blazing intensity.  Then it’s back to the stone ages:  KK Downing’s guitar showcase “Sinner”.  This killer song loses something with Holland on drums, but it’s more about KK anyway.  His solo is resplendent, but Rob nails the screams!  “Desert Plains” is faster than the Point of Entry version but more powerful.  This is one that Dave Holland is well suited to, and the Hill/Holland pulse is fully apparent.

IMG_20150228_184258Here’s something you don’t hear at Judas Priest concerts anymore: Rob screaming at the crowd, “Are you high?  Sing yeah!”  As a kid, I naively assumed Rob meant high on the music, the adrenaline of the concert, and I’m sure that’s the answer he’d give to the press if asked about it. As a cynical adult, I’m sure he meant “Are you high?” as in “Are you high?”!

All the way back to Sad Wings, “a little Victorian melodrama for you,” it’s “The Ripper”!  Some stage bombs help out with the drama, and Rob sinks his teeth into the words. It’s an absolutely metal-perfect ode to Jack himself.   “Diamonds and Rust” is an unexpected treat, as glimmery as it was on Sin After Sin.

Rob takes a moment to tell the crowd that there are cameras all over the place because they’re making the very first “Judas Priest movie”, and possible live album.  Still waiting on that live album today, Rob!  Back to the new album, it’s “Devil’s Child”, which Rob imbues with a strange monotone during the verses.  This exact version was released as a bonus track on the remastered Screaming For Vengeance.  As such it’s familiar to me and I enjoy the vocal twist.  “Screaming for Vengeance” continues the onslaught of new songs, concluded by the chugging fan favourite “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”.

Closing the set with “Victim of Changes” is a suitably dramatic end.  “Victim” is spot-on, and Rob is as animated as he gets.  Headbanging away, Downing and Tipton are at his sides, while Ian Hill stands bolted to the stage, swaying his bass back and forth hidden behind a cloud of smoke!  This brilliant version has all the twists and turns you expect, and that end scream is so satisfying even if Rob misses the note by several notches.

“The Green Manalishi” rears its leather-studded head in the encores, but not before the big hit, “Living After Midnight”.  And let’s not forgot Rob’s boring “Oh yeah!” chant-along.  Thankfully this version of “Green Manalishi” is a killer (as is the 1981 live version on CD 1 of this box set).  “What you sayin’ Memphis?” screams Rob, before KK and Glenn dig in to their trademark solos.  “Green Manalishi” remains to this day an example of a song improved as a cover version, with all due respect to Peter Green.

It ain’t over ’til the bike comes out, and it does on “Hell Bent for Leather”.  Rob sits reclined on his Harley, bullwhip back in hand, commanding the masses.  After dozens of power chords and crashed cymbals, it’s finally over — 95 minutes of Judas Priest fury, at the height of their 1980’s power.  Not bad for a little bonus DVD (video quality issues aside), and worth picking up separately if you feel so inclined.

In closing

Review the track list yourself, see what you have and what you want, amd buy accordingly. I can tell you that this set was worth it for me for “Heart of a Lion” and the unreleased live material.  The DVD was gravy.

4/5 stars

* foreshadowing!

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Concert Classics (also known as Live in Concert)

CONCERT CLASSICS_0001JUDAS PRIEST – Concert Classics (1998 RME, recorded 6/25/1980)

I was surprised to see this album was reissued in 2007 as Live in Concert. When I got it back in 1998, the record label was immediately served with a “cease and desist” because Priest had just released their own official ’98 Live Meltdown album, and this one isn’t authorized by the band. It’s a radio broadcast from 1980, the British Steel tour.  It doesn’t even have the right drummer pictured on the back!  The album was swiftly deleted and disappeared from store shelves, and most fans didn’t know it had come and gone. (Also, at the exact same time, Sony issued another compilation called Priest Live and Rare, further muddifying the clarification.)  After it was deleted, I acquired this CD from Tom who had just opened his own branch of the Record Store.  I paid $19.99, used.

As an unofficial part of the Priest discography, In Concert is worth picking up. Although Priest had released the live Unleashed in the East in 1979, Concert Classics was recorded in 1980 after British Steel.  Therefore, a lot of crucial future Priest classics had been added to the set.  You can’t argue with the tunes inside. Recorded live in Denver (you can tell this when Halford yells, “What you say, Denver!” right before the guitar solo in “Green Manalishi”), some of these tracks are lost gems. It’s nice to have the CD alongside Unleashed, as a companion.

CONCERT CLASSICS_0003The sound quality is OK, it’s not up to the standards of Unleashed (obviously). The vocals are not mixed loud enough.  The bass on the other hand is mixed way too loud, and Ian Hill is not that interesting as a bassist.  The band is also not the same lineup as the year before, due to the replacement of Les Binks by Dave Holland. Holland is a very blocky, robotic drummer. Play “Green Manalishi” for an idea of how the two drummers differ.  Priest with Holland was that much weaker for it.  I don’t think anyone would argue the point that Priest sound better without Dave Holland on drums.

Having said that, the rest of the band are playing great, and Halford’s voice was in fine, peak shape. He was able to hit all the notes in “The Ripper”.  He didn’t quite nail the one on “Victim of Changes”, but he was close!  This doesn’t sound like there were any overdubs or other assorted mess-arounds. Which is the way I like it.

Other notables:  No “Metal Gods” (although the concert opens with the metal hammering sound from that song).  “You Don’t Have to be Old to be Wise” is a nice surprise, and it sounds great live!  There are plenty of tunes from Sad Wings and British Steel, a trio from Hell Bent, and samplings from Sin After Sin and Stained Class.  The set list is well rounded.

3/5 stars. Somewhat collectible, since Priest would probably like this CD to be buried. Good tunes, and an important era of Priest history documented on CD for the metal historian.

CONCERT CLASSICS_0002

#357: “Dream Bands” (1990 version)

ROB

RECORD STORE TALES Mk II: Getting More Tale
#357: “Dream Bands” (1990 version)

I’m sure you and your friends have made these lists many times: put together a lineup of your dream band! Any living players can qualify.

I had deep, long conversations about this with my friends in highschool. One of them simply listed the four members of Led Zeppelin (Jason subbing in for John) as his dream band. You could certainly make an argument for that. My highschool dream band (1990-91 year) was instead made up of the players that I thought were the absolute best in their fields.  Can you guess who I was listening to that year? Lineup:

  1. Lead vocals – Rob Halford
  2. Lead guitar – Steve Vai
  3. Rhythm guitar – Malcolm Young
  4. Bass – Billy Sheehan
  5. Drums – Scott Travis
  6. Keyboards – Jon Lord

As a joke, I also added a seventh bonus member, Walter Ostanek on accordion!  That was for my buddy Andy, who also played accordion.  Upon submitting my official list for consideration, I removed Ostanek.  But I figured that Walter could show up for a guest appearance on a track or two, because everyone loves accordion.

An interesting band lineup to be sure, but as my highschool friends pointed out, they would probably implode after only one rehearsal. Steve Vai and Malcolm Young in the same band? I can’t see how that would work. Sorry, LeBrain circa 1990. Fail!  I’m glad I kept this stuff though, because it’s so funny to look back on it now.  25 freakin’ years ago!

Who would you place in your “dream band” lineup today? One stipulation: the artist must be alive and able to play. For example I couldn’t put Malcolm on my list today, nor could I put Phil Collins on drums, since he can no longer play them due to injury.

Have at it! Let’s see your lists!

metal smurf

 

REVIEW: Fight – “Christmas Ride” (1994 single)

1db1835968cbc23429860145ff5 (1)FIGHT“Christmas Ride” (1994 single, 2009 free download reissue)

Some people think Halford III: Winter Songs was Rob’s first Christmas release.  Truth be told, I don’t even own Winter Songs.  Christmas music is barely just above tolerable for me.  The completist in me wants to own everything; the music lover in me doesn’t really care for Christmas tunes, metal or otherwise.  Besides, in 2009 Rob’s website was offering a limited time free download of “Christmas Ride”, a song Rob recorded in 1994 with Fight!  20 years ago!  Unreal.

Don’t let the jingle bells throw you.  That soon turns into revving engines, and a chugging Fight riff not too dissimilar from the stuff they did on War of Words.  This was, however, probably recorded during the Small Deadly Space sessions, because Mark Chaussee is credited on guitar, even though Russ Parrish appears on the cover.

Either way, it’s purely metal.  Rob is screaming in his upper register for all but the choruses, for which he howls.  There’s absolutely nothing Christmas-y about the music (which is fine) but I just can’t get into the chorus of “Christmas ride!”  The lyrics are funny enough.  Fight have paid tribute to Santa this time: “The fat man’s coming and he knows no fear, He’s a big red rebel with some mean reindeer.”  There’s even a reference to breakin’ the law: “Cruising ’round town breaking every law, He’ll come back next year to crank it up some more.”

I’m assuming Rob is referring to the crime of break & enter.  He may also be breaking various aviation laws, but I don’t know how that works.  I’ve never read about any charges being pressed, or warrants being issued, so I’m assuming that these minor infringements have been overlooked because of all the gift giving and so on.

But OK, it’s an alright song.  Nothing special, though it does quote the “Nailed to the Gun” riff at one moment.  It was released as a promo-only fanclub release in 1994, which I have never laid eyes upon.  The free download offer was a legal way for me to get the tune.  It also came with “Rob Halford’s Holiday Greeting” (11 seconds)! “Hey everybody, this is Rob Halford from Fight, wishing you all a crazy heavy metal Christmas and an insane, wild manic New Year!”  There I spoiled it for you.

Would love a physical copy of this, for the collection.  This is for fans only.  Grandma will not dig it if you play this at your Christmas dinner this year.

3/5 stars

b_33746_Fight-Christmas_Ride-1994

 

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”.