scott travis

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Live in London (2003)

JUDAS PRIEST – Live in London (2003 SPV)

A second live album to go with a second Ripper studio album seemed excessive.  Double live albums, both.  ’98 Live Meltdown was a suitable way to get fans familiar with Ripper Owens’ spin on Priest tunes.  With only one new studio album between them, was 2003’s Live in London necessary?

Maybe not “necessary”, but certainly beneficial.  Wisely, Priest avoided double-dipping on many songs.  Eight songs were not on ’98 Live, including old classics like “Desert Plains”, “Heading Out to the Highway” and the rarely played “United”.  Notably, “Turbo Lover” was back in the set for the first time since 1987; no longer an embarrassing pariah but slowly becoming a classic.  It’s also a stronger album sonically than ’98 Live, with guitars more in-your-face.

Ripper is commanding.  On the Live in London DVD, he spoke about his stage attire.  He would come out on stage dressed in the leathers, but after a song or two, changed into a baseball cap.  He was clearly more comfortable just being himself.  And that translates into him sounding comfortable on album.

The new songs from Demolition included are “One On One”, “Feed On Me”, and “Hell Is Home”.  It’s hard to ignore the modern sonic touches like Morello-inspired guitar noises.  All decent enough tunes, but up against the back catalogue of the mighty Priest, they just disappear into the scenery.

One of the most impressive performances is all 10 minutes of “Victim of Changes”, probably the longest jam of the song you are likely to find.  KK’s guitar solo is mental.  “Diamonds and Rust” is the same acoustic version they played on the previous tour, but “Turbo Lover”…oh baby!  It is strange hearing anyone other than Rob Halford singing it, but this Priest is convincing enough.  It is largely stripped clean of the synths, as Priest seemed scared of this part of their history.  “Desert Plains” is also special — Ripper just lets loose a molten scream at the start.  This is the only version available with Ripper, or Scott Travis on drums.  Scott nails the pulse of “Desert Plains”.  Another special song is “Running Wild”, rarely played, from Hell Bent For Leather.  It’s joyful to hear.  Ripper really screams it up.  The oddball anthem “United” is heavier with the guitars amped up, but it’s definitely the one that sticks out like a sore thumb.

So how does Live In London stack up “One On One” against ’98 Live Meltdown?  It’s more well-rounded, and has two more tracks.  That means room for more old rare classics.  Overall the new Jugulator material worked better in concert than the Demolition stuff, which is an element in the favour of ’98 Live.  Both albums are so close to equally enjoyable that’s there’s no point in splitting hairs.  Just hit play and enjoy a “lost” era of Judas Priest that wasn’t bad at all.

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Stained Class (1978, Remastered)

JUDAS PRIEST – Stained Class (Orignally 1978, 2001 Sony reissue)

I always considered Stained Class to be the “lost” Judas Priest album.  I rarely saw its name in a print magazine, and never saw a copy in a store.  Not until 1989.  As it turns out, I only needed one Priest tape to complete my collection.  There it sat, at Zellers at the mall.  My dad got out his wallet and bought it for me.  I could tell that he was not as impressed as I was that I had finally completed my Priest cassette library.

A year later after I bought it, Stained Class became world famous.  In 1990, Priest were taken to court over “Better By You, Better Than Me”, a song from the album.  Lawyers in Nevada argued that Priest had embedded backwards “do it!” messages within the song, prompting James Vance and Raymond Belknap to attempt suicide by shotgun.  Belknap succeeded, but Vance survived, horrifically disfigured.  In the summer of 1990, everybody knew the name Judas Priest.  But there were no backwards “do its!” embedded in the music.  Even if there were, what does “do it” even mean?  And why would a rock band want to kill off their source of income?

In short, I’m telling you that it’s perfectly safe to listen to Stained Class.  As one of the finer Priest albums, your life will be better for it, not worse.

Nine tracks.  New drummer.  The smouldering odor of quenched steel.  Stained Class.

Fall to your knees and repent if you please, and be sure to stand back for “Exciter”!  Though the production of the 1970s robs it of its potential thunder, “Exciter” does not fail.  Judas Priest had mastered the art of the speedy riff, and Halford coloured them with vibrant wordy imagery.  “When he leaps amidst us, with combustive dance, all shall bear the branding of his thermal lance.”  While it could have come from a comic book, it’s certainly a more challenging lyric than “Rock hard, ride free, all day, all night.”

Fire imagery continues on “White Heat, Red Hot”, a Glenn Tipton number with one of those mid-tempo guitar grooves that Priest specialize in.  The new kid, Les Binks, lends it a relentless heavy beat.  Yet it’s a cover tune, the aforementioned “Better By You, Better Than Me” (Spooky Tooth) that knocks me out.  That groove!  The record company suggested the tune, to balance an otherwise pretty heavy album.  It was a good idea.  While it’s not as notable as “Diamonds and Rust” or “Green Manalishi”, Priest put their own spin on it.  Headbangingly so!  Rob Halford’s vocal performance is top notch.

Side one ends with the closing duo “Stained Class” and “Invader”.  Halford duets with himself on the title track, a pretty cool effect for a metallic midtempo stomper.  Enjoy some nice guitar harmonies from the duo of Tipton and Downing.  Its gleaming chorus upholds a great song.  “Invader” has a similarly burnished chorus hook and a victorious tone.

The album’s second side is more challenging to the uninitiated.  A tantalizing riff leads in to the doomy “Saints In Hell”.  Shrieking, Rob agonizes over going “down into the fire”, but the real heat is coming from churning guitars.  Next, “Savage” is just that.  Time changes with tricky drum work, dualing solos, and screamin’ Rob is what you will get.  “What have we done to deserve such injustice?” pleads Halford, giving 110%.

It is Les Binks that is credited with writing the guitar part to the album’s epic.  Says KK:  “Our drummer at the time, Les Binks, was left handed.  One day he walked into the studio and picked up one of the guitars.  It must have been mine, because Glenn would guard his with his life!  Anyway Les picked it up, turned it upside down, and played that riff.”  They built “Beyond the Realms of Death” around the guitar part.  Downing adds that he’d never seen Binks play anything on guitar before or since!  Like “Victim of Changes” before, it has distinct sections and builds up on itself.  “It’s a bit like our ‘Stairway to Heaven’!” said Rob; or perhaps to hell?  The centerpiece of the album.

Closing on “Heroes End”, Priest go out with a serious rocker and a couple more cool riffs for your collection.  An extended outro solo is one of its main features.

But that’s not all folks, because Sony added two bonus tracks on this 2001 CD edition!  And hey, I have nothing against “Fire Burns Below”, but this Turbo / Ram It Down outtake should have been added to a different album, not Stained Class.  The synth and programmed drums are jarring.  The back cover states it was recorded during “the earlier years of our career”.  This is obviously not true.  Too bad, as it’s a cool track although Priest probably didn’t need any more ballads at that point.  They already had “Out in the Cold” and “Blood Red Skies”, not to mention “Red, White and Blue”.  Decent ballad, but on the wrong CD altogether.  A live take of “Better By You, Better Than Me” has more relevance.  This is from the Painkiller tour in 1990, when the song was resurrected in their set after a long absence.  A middle finger to the lawsuit.  For that reason, this live version is important for the collector.

It’s a real shame this album was so rare when I was a kid.  Stained Class is Priest at one of their many peaks.  This was them at peak curiosity: willing to take chances, play with tempo and riff changes, and to challenge themselves.  By the next album they were starting to hone in on a commercially viable sound.  Cover tune aside, that’s not a consideration on Stained Class.

4.5/5 stars

 

JUDAS PRIEST REVIEWS

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

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

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

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


The CD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


“Reunited” DVD

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

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

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


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

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Firepower (2018)

JUDAS PRIEST – Firepower (2018 Sony)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5/5 stars

 


JUDAS PRIEST REVIEWS

 

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

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.

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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!

 

 

 

#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.