scott travis

REVIEW: Judas Priest – ’98 Live Meltdown (1998)

JUDAS PRIEST – ’98 Live Meltdown (1998 BMG)

First in a long line of non-essential Priest live albums, here’s ’98 Live Meltdown.  Why did bands at certain points feel the need to add the year to the title?  Warrant – ’96 Belly to Belly – Volume One.  Kind of silly, right?  For fans who know their metal history, 1998 falls in Judas Priest’s Ripper Owens years.  Priest had just released their first album without Rob Halford, Jugulator.  Live Meltdown (let’s leave out that ’98 part for simplicity’s sake) captures the tour that followed, from various uncredited dates.

Fortunately the album is better than its title and awful cover art.  (Shame on you Mark Wilkinson!)  Ripper Owens provided fresh young lungs and with him at the mic, Priest were uber-powerful live.  All the new tunes from Jugulator were better in the live setting too.  “Blood Stained” is devastatingly powerful, and an enthusiastic crowd eats it up.  There are a few extraneous Jugulator tunes.  The world could have lived without “Death Row” and “Abductors”, and maybe the title track could have been thrown in instead.  Fortunately the track list is an otherwise excellent mix of new tracks and old cuts.

Priest deserve points for re-imaging their Joan Baez cover “Diamonds and Rust”.  The acoustic version was completely new for Judas Priest and Ripper could easily handle the heavy and the light.  Even though it’s acoustic, “Diamonds and Rust” represents Sin After Sin on a CD that gives face time to nearly every Priest album.   Rocka Rolla and Ram It Down are shunned as usual, but otherwise the only albums without tracks on this are Turbo and Point of Entry.  There is an emphasis on the classic material from the 70s, solid songs from the early 80s, and four tracks from Painkiller.  It’s a well-rounded album, and by the next live release (2003’s Live in London) they changed it up and added “Turbo” and “Heading Out to the Highway”.

Ripper was a great lead singer for this band during Rob’s absence.  He took one of the hardest jobs in rock and roll and did it with class.  Ripper had the goods.  He could scream the notes.  He added his own slant with guttural growls.  He struggled with “Painkiller” proving he’s a mere mortal but still he got the job done.

Live Meltdown was self-produced by Priest and Sean Lynch, but the guitars are too low in the mix.  The emphasis is on Ripper, but it seems to come at the expense of the volume of the rhythm guitars.  And the packaging is atrocious.  While it is true that most metal bands like Priest found themselves on smaller record labels, this is worse than a 90s indy band.  Fortunately the music and performance justify its existence.

Curious fans are advised to pick up Live Meltdown for the best representation of the Ripper Owens years.  It’s better than Jugulator and Live in London.  Fans are unanimously happy that Rob Halford is back in Judas Priest today, but that shouldn’t be taken as a slight against Ripper.

3.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Judas Priest – Battle Cry (2016)

NEW RELEASE

Scan_20160407JUDAS PRIEST – Battle Cry (2016 Sony)

Woah-ho!  Here comes the Priest with yet another live album!  How many does this make it?  Officially that’s six, not including live discs within deluxe editions, or live DVDs!  Battle Cry is the newest, recorded last year at Wacken (August 1 2015).

Some fans like to moan and complain every time an older band like Priest or Maiden release a live album.  You can see their point, but at the same time, how much longer will Priest be touring?  Don’t you want a live album with all their newest songs?  Priest’s last album, 2014’s Redeemer of Souls, was a triumphant return for the band, who had suffered a major lineup change.  KK Downing was out, and new kid Richie Faulkner was surprisingly able to take his place on the stage, and in the songwriting.  Rather than suffer from this blow, Priest simply kept going full speed ahead.  A live album is compulsory after this much activity.  Three of the new songs are included on the disc, in among a smattering of classics, but nothing from Nostradamus (2008) or Angel of Retribution (2005).  Fear not; you can get some of those songs on the live CD A Touch of Evil.

Here is a handy-dandy chart to show you where these songs originated, not counting intros “Battle Cry” and “The Hellion”.

priest chart

You’ll notice a huge 23 year gap in the music presented.  This isn’t uncommon for rock bands of Priest’s age.  There are so many classics, not to mention new songs to play, but not enough time.  As such, albums from later periods, or “cult” songs, are often overlooked.  The unfortunate effect of this is an unspoken implication that maybe the music between 1990 and 2014 wasn’t very good.  Now granted, Priest did have a lineup change during that period.  From 1997-2004, they were with singer Ripper Owens, and Priest have yet to revisit any of that material.

Proving that nothing has been lost with the departure of Downing, “Dragonaut” opens the show on a fast heavy note.  Faulkner is a perfect fit, acting in unison with Glenn Tipton to produce the same kind of Priest guitarmonies that you’re used to hearing.  “Halls of Valhalla”, another new track, rocks just as hard, but with the complexity of the Priest of yesteryear.  The musical chops of this band often go overlooked, but just listen to them play.  As for Halford?  He ain’t no spring chicken, but his singing style has changed to suit.  Within that framework, the man is a demon.  He can still do things with his voice that few can.  The final new song is “Redeemer of Souls”, a little stiff by comparison but certainly up to snuff.

A few lesser-played songs really spice up the set.   “Devil’s Child” from Screaming For Vengeance is a treat, and “Jawbreaker” from Defenders of the Faith is a nice switch up from “Freewheel Burning”.   Wacken probably would have rioted if songs like “Breaking the Law” and “Metal Gods” were not played, so of course you can count on the hits being represented.  A long guitar solo and instrumental section during “Another Thing Coming” is another surprise.  Halford used to do a long singalong at this point of the show, but that’s been shortened in favour of a pretty damn cool Richie Faulkner guitar solo.   Way to give the spotlight to the new kid — that is really classy.

Because there’s not enough time on a single disc, “Living After Midnight”, the final encore of the show, was axed.  Instead, “Painkiller” ends this CD, certainly an interesting choice for a closer.  This is the only song during which Rob’s voice can’t keep up.  The song is just insane; it always has been, and you can’t fault the guy for not quite getting there.

Battle Cry is yet another in a long string of great live Judas Priest albums.  Shoulda woulda coulda been a double CD.  The only two songs missing from this show are “Turbo Lover” and “Living After Midnight”, but wouldn’t you prefer having them?

3.75/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – “Bullet Train” (1998 single)

Scan_20151003JUDAS PRIEST – “Bullet Train” (1998 Zero, from Japan)

I know not why it took Priest until 1998 to release a single from 1997’s Jugulator.  In hindsight, the choice of “Bullet Train” as a single seems a calculated move.  Nu-metal was all the rage with the disaffected youth of the late 90’s.  The new singer (Ripper Owens) was capable of doing any kind of vocal, so why the hell not, I guess?

Whatever kind of metal it is, it seems Priest can play it.  With Scott Travis nailing the double bass like a metronome, “Bullet Train” is an example of razor-sharp precision.  Travis is always a pleasure to listen to just blasting away.  It’s just a shame they didn’t choose a better song for a single.  “Bullet Train” is only about the fourth-best song on Jugulator, an album so atrocious that it’s more accurate to say that “Bullet Train” is only the seventh-worst.

Of course, nobody would order this all the way from Japan unless there were B-sides worth having, and there are.  Much like Iron Maiden did with Bruce Dickinson, Priest decided to re-record some old Priest classics with the new singer.  They picked two incredible songs; timeless metal favourites updated for the period.  From British Steel, it’s “Rapid Fire”!  Neither Owens nor Travis played on the original, so the song is naturally more fierce and aggressive.  Both of them kill it.  Some may object to Ripper’s insertion of addition lyrics:

“Rapid fire, between the eyes,
Rapid fire, terrifies,
Rapid fire, before you die
Rapid fire.”

Doesn’t bother me.

“Green Manalishi” is updated in an interesting way.  Unexpectedly it is slowed down.  Live, they always tended to play it just a hair faster than the mid-tempo original.  On this studio re-take, they’ve gone the opposite direction, closer to the original 1970 Fleetwood Mac tempo.  This is just a one-off, they did not perform it live in this slow guise.  Live, it was faster than ever.  Given that this is ultimately just an alternate slant on an obscure single, it lives on as an interesting side road.  The tempo naturally extends the song, giving you even more Priestly goodness!  The star of the show is the singer.  Ripper takes one final scream at the end there that seals the deal:  he was definitely good enough for Judas Priest.

Not a bad little single here.  The two B-sides were later re-released on a limited edition digipack version of their next album, Demolition.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Jugulator (1997)

Scan_20151003JUDAS PRIEST – Jugulator (1997 BMG)

One of the most anticipated, but frustratingly bad albums that I have ever looked forward to was Judas Priest’s big return on Jugulator.  Seven whole years had passed.  Rob Halford split, taking drummer Scott Travis with him, and had an entire career with the modern metal band Fight, before they split in ’96.  Travis returned to Priest, who had found their new singer in Tim “Ripper” Owens, a young man with incredible pipes.  Owens came from a Priest tribute band, and this was considered an interesting enough story to warrant an entire movie loosely based on him (Rock Star).

The resultant album, the heavy-as-fuck Jugulator, was a disappointment from the first note.  Opening with over a minute of looped samples (of clanking metal) and drony guitars, the album takes way too long to really start.  Only at 1:45 into the title track does Ripper finally let out a scream (a blood-curdling one at that).  The riffs finally take over, turning the song into “Painkiller, Part II” for all intents and purposes.  That’s fine — “Painkiller” is a high water mark of intensity and speed.  But when I put “Jugulator” on a mix CD, I edit out the first 1:45 because it’s just a waste of space.

The fact that “Jugulator” sounds uncomfortable like “Painkiller” shouldn’t come a surprise.  Just look at the cover art.  Mark Wilkinson created a Painkiller Jr. for the album cover, including a modernized Priest “tuning fork” logo in his forehead.  Musically (and intro aside), “Jugulator” is one fine metal assault, even if it is just a second cousin to “Painkiller”.  Lyrically, “Jugulator” is among the worst crimes Priest have foisted upon us.  With Rob Halford gone, Glenn Tipton was left to write the lyrics.   The words he eventually produced are such a pale imitation of past Priest that I cringe to hear them.

“Exterminator, you are dead.
Mu-til-ate.
Sharpened razor, takes your head.
Jugulator.”

I do like the word Glenn invented in one line, “Predit-hater”.  I like one word in the whole song!

“Blood Stained” is fierce, and was even better live (such on ’98 Live Meltdown).   It’s obvious from the cranked bass, detuned instruments, noisy guitar anti-solos, and driving groove that Priest were trying to emulate nu-metal.  Quite a few fans were turned off by the modern twists in songs like “Blood Stained”, including grunted vocals.  There is enough of the core Priest sound, including screams, riffs and standard solos that “Blood Stained” is really more of an amalgam of old and nu-metal.  Ripper is certainly a capable singer, and should shoulder none of the blame if you don’t like it.  Blame Glenn and K.K., not the vocalist.

It’s not until the third song, the creatively titled “Dead Meat”, that I lose interest.  Until now, the songs had been good enough.  “Dead Meat” is not.  The violent, bloody lyrics are starting to wear thin.  There are always individual moments of brilliance, such as the solos, drum patterns, and high-pitched wails.  This is not enough to carry a song.  One of the more nu-metal tracks is “Death Row”, which is even worse, especially when it comes to the prose.  “Oh no, I won’t go!  You’ll never get me down to death row.”  Priest have shed no light whatsoever on the issue of capital punishment, only written a boring cartoon song about the subject.  Even worse, there is dialogue in the intro to the song that is so poor that I’m embarrassed for them.  Sticking to a theme that already wore out its welcome, “Decapitate” is about the guillotine!  “Your head, you will lose it.  Severed, when executed”.  That’s the opening line!  The atonal nu-metal guitars have also worn thin.

If this were an LP, that would be the side closer.  The second half of the CD is heralded in by “Burn in Hell”; a little bit better song than the previous three in a row.  It seems a little more effort went into the melody this time, although “Burn in Hell” is just as heavy as everything else.  It builds and has some dynamics to it, which you cannot say for most of Jugulator.  It’s too long at 6:41.  Unfortunately much of this album is just too long.

“Brain Dead” is yet another stunningly creative song title.  This slow chug has no character, it’s just a senseless march into oblivion.  I feel “Brain Dead”, listening to it drone on and on.  Thematically it’s just Judas Priest stealing “One” by Metallica and calling it something else.  For my money, Jugulator can end right here (only seven songs in), because I’ve checked out.  My brain is turning to mush; that’s how it feels.  Then “Abductors” should have been a winner for me, a UFO buff.  The opportunity for a cool song is blown on yet another nu-metal sludge-fest with shite for lyrics:  “They come at night and they infiltrate you, they paralyse and they mentally rape you.”  The only redeeming quality is the likeable Ripper Owens.  He rolls his R’s like Halford used to, and you have to give the guy credit for doing the best he could with the material he was given to sing.

The single was “Bullet Train”, which I have on Japanese import (of course).  This isn’t a bad tune.  It drives like a perpetual motion dynamo.  It’s more nu than old metal, which may be why it was chosen as a single, compared to a better song like “Blood Stained”.  Finally, the lyrics are about something other than death or maiming.  It’s still not sunshine and puppy dogs, as the words seem to about someone suffering from Siderodromophobia, or fear of trains, while riding on a train!  Fun!  Let’s be clear: this is an improvement.

The final song offers a little redemption.  “Cathedral Spires” (over nine minutes!) is in the mold of old Priest classics such as “Beyond the Realm of Death”.  A slow, mellow opening with dramatic lead vocals invites you in, and it’s a due respite from all the nu-metal bombardment.  Ripper really sinks his teeth into the singing, and I think it was quite clear that he loved his job.  The classy intro eventually degenerates into another sound-alike chug, but once again redemption is ahead.  The chorus is great: pure traditional Priest drama with the nu-metal grunts in moderation.

I’ve listened to Jugulator many, many times over the years.  I desperately want the next listen to be the one where I finally “get it”.  That has yet to happen, and it almost certainly never will.  Thankfully Judas Priest realized they needed to diversify their sound next time around.  2001’s Demolition was a marked improvement.

2/5 stars

In tomorrow’s review, we’ll take a look at the B-sides on the Japanese CD single for “Bullet Train”.

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.

IMG_20150809_081711

“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!

 

 

 

#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!

priest

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!

#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”.