Sad Wings of Destiny

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

 

Advertisements

REVIEW: Al Atkins – Victim of Changes (1998)

scan_20161117AL ATKINS – Victim of Changes (1998 Pulse)

Al Atkins was the original lead singer in Judas Priest, before “Bob” Halford was invited to join. You’ll find a number of Atkins credits on the first two Priest albums, even though he was out of the band by that time. In fact, Atkins formed a band called Judas Priest in 1969. The band were named by bassist Bruno Stapenhill. They split in 1970, and Atkins went looking for a new band. He found them in Ken “KK” Downing and Ian “Skull” Hill, who were looking for a singer. With Atkins and drummer John Ellis, they eventually settled on the name Judas Priest, same as Atkins’ prior band. And yes, that means that Ian Hill is actually the only remaining original member of Judas Priest.

Atkins wrote and co-wrote much of Priest’s earliest material. Before he left, he wrote a song called “Whiskey Woman”. Rob Halford used that song and merged it with one of his called “Red Light Lady”. The result was “Victim of Changes”, the first and perhaps greatest of Judas Priest’s epics. Two other songs he wrote in Priest were “Mind Conception” and “Holy is the Man” which were demoed but never released.

Atkins worked a 9-5 job after Priest, but got back into music again in short order. His fourth solo album, Victim of Changes, was essentially a tribute to his Judas Priest years. It is a collection of new recordings of (mostly) a lot of numbers that Priest played live during the Atkins era.  As a gimmick, he had Priest’s drummer from the 1980s, Dave Holland, on this album.

Atkins and Halford couldn’t sound less alike.  Rob is known for his high-pitched operatics.  Atkins has a gutsier, grittier sound, somewhat like a Paul Di’anno meeting Blaze Bayley.  There is no question that Rob is the right singer for Judas Priest, so it is really only a matter of curiosity to hear these tunes with Atkins singing.  The tunes are at least good.

The unreleased “Mind Conception” commences the disc, re-recorded and very modern sounding especially in the guitars.  It is difficult to know exactly what the original “Mind Conception” sounded like, but it’s very safe to say it would not have sounded like this.  In the liner notes, Atkins states the original demos were recorded stoned and with a sore throat.  “Holy is the Man” has a slower groove to it, and would work very nicely as a modern Priest track.  As the only representation of these unreleased tracks available, die-hard Priest collectors will want to hear them.  Another track of interest is the cover of Quatermass’ “Black Sheep of the Family” which Priest played live at their earliest gigs (along with Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic”).  Rainbow’s recording is still the one to beat.

scan_20161117-2

The familiar Priest tracks are actually anything but.  They are probably arranged more like the way Priest used to play them in the early days.  “Never Satisfied” is extended with a tough bluesy acoustic intro.  The heavy parts have a Zeppelin-y beat, due to Holland’s straightforward style.  Same with “Winter”.  Then there is “Caviar and Meths” which is a whopping 7:12 long.  According to Atkins, this song was their big finale live, but never recorded in full in the studio.  This version is the full-length arrangement that they used to close with live.  And it’s brilliant.  Finally there is “Victim of Changes” itself, and Atkins has some help from a backup singer for the high parts that Rob does.

There are a couple tracks that could be considered filler, since they have nothing to do with Judas Priest.  These are the instrumentals “The Melt Down” and “Metanoia”, written by guitarist Paul May.  They are excellent tracks, however, and should not be ignored.  (“Metanoia” serves as a postscript to “Winter” on the CD.) They are European sounding heavy metal tracks, loaded with guitar drama and ferocity.

Check out Victim of Changes for a glance at what Priest might have sounded like with Al Atkins singing lead.  One can hope for those unreleased demos to surface, but one can also wish for the moon.

3/5 stars

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.

Scan_20150930 (3)

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: Halford – Live Insurrection (2002 Japanese Import)

“Part 6 in a miniseries of reviews on Rob Halford’s solo career!  If you missed the last part, click here!”  That was a rhyme, that ain’t no crime…Breaking the Law!  Breaking the Law!

HALFORD – Live Insurrection (2002 Japanese Import)

Having a wealth of solo and Priest material to draw from, this seems like a good place for a double live album to drop.  And so it was; Live Insurrection, Rob’s first full-fledged live solo outing.  For me personally, this is the peak.  This Rob’s home run of solo projects.

Admittedly, there is a certain sense of Rob trying to bury parts of his recent past.  There are no songs from Two, and the set is Priest-heavier than prior tours.  I found the Halford band to be kind of faceless, a little devoid of personality.  They’re absolute pros and there is no question of them cutting it.  That’s not the issue, it’s just one of…I can’t hear the different personalities of the players, compared to Fight.

On the other hand, the setlist is so much richer than Fight used to do.  The songs are culled from the Halford album Resurrection, the Judas Priest back catologue, and the first Fight album, with a lot of added surprises.

These surprises include three studio tracks, two of which are tracks written by Judas Priest, but never released at the time! You also get Rob’s duet with Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, “live” (recorded during rehearsal I believe), and the two bonus tracks from the Japanese version of the Halford album, once again performed live. Rob even sings his first-ever solo track, “Light Comes Out Of Black” which was originally on the Buffy The Vampire Slayer soundtrack back in 1992. The Priest material is a great mix: old obscure stuff from Sad Wings and Stained Class, as well as more obvious stuff from Hell Bent and Screaming. Rob’s voice is in fine form, doing justice to the Priest and Fight material.

INSURRECTION_0004

Rob’s so hardcore, he stapled his fuckin’ forehead!

The Japanese bonus track is “Blackout”. Yes, the old Scorpions tune, and recorded here with a Scorpion: Rudolph Schenker! Halford easily handles Klaus Meine’s vocal part. It’s a great bonus track, easily worth the extra cash that I spent on this import version.  I got this from Amazon.com in 2002.

They give you lots of great packaging with this live album. Decent liner notes, lots of pictures, plenty to look at while you spend a couple hours listening to this platter of metal perfection.  Enjoy the feast.

5/5 stars

I’ll be taking a summer break from this series.  I’m a bit burned out on Halford albums now, and there are so many new arrivals to listen to!  But fear not.  I’ll be following this review with Crucible, another Japanese release, a box set, and more.

INSURRECTION_0003