Simon Phillips

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Sin After Sin (1977)

JUDAS PRIEST – Sin After Sin (Originally 1977, 2001 Sony reissue)

“SIN AFTER SIN, I have endured, but the wounds I bear are the wounds of love.”

This lyric from “Genocide” on 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny would have been little more than a throwaway, if Priest didn’t recycle the words “sin after sin” for their next album title.  Though the song may have appeared to be the same, much had actually changed.  For the first time, they had a producer that understood that kind of aggressive rock that the young band were trying to create:  Roger Glover, ex-Deep Purple, who had already recorded several albums for Elf, Ian Gillan and Nazareth.  Perhaps even more significantly, for the first time they had a serious drummer creating the beats:  the not-yet-legendary Simon Phillips, who had still already played on a Jack Bruce album.  This was just a session for Phillips, but it enabled Priest to break the shackles of rhythm and really start exploring.

Opener “Sinner” might have been the same kind of tempos that Priest were working with before, but there is a new slickness to the drums; an effortless drive with increasingly interesting accents.  With a solid backing, Priest sound more vicious.  “Demonic vultures stalking, drawn by the smell of war and pain.”  The apocalypse has never sounded cooler.  As Phillips drops sonic bombs left and right, KK Downing goes to town on what would become his live showcase solo.  His growls and trills sound like a beast inflicting wounds on a struggling combatant.  At almost seven minutes, “Sinner” is the album epic, and it’s the opening track!

Priest previously recorded a cover of Joan Baez’ “Diamonds and Rust” for Gull records; that early version can be acquired on The Best of Judas Priest or Hero, Hero.  The Glover-produced track is the more famous and better of the two.  Radio play for “Diamonds and Rust” helped push the album to eventually sell 500,000 copies.  Rob Halford’s high pitched harmonies gleam like polished silver.

Ironic observation:  I hope by now we all know a light year is a measurement of distance, not time.  It is the amount of distance that light can travel in one year (9.46 trillion kilometres).  So, really really far.  Joan Baez playfully used it as a melodramatic measure of time in “Diamonds and Rust”.  (“A couple of light years ago”.)  On the next track “Starbreaker”, Halford refers to “light year miles away”, a crudely worded hyperbole for distance.  So with Sin After Sin, you get it both ways.  Regardless of scientific accuracy (or not) “Starbreaker” is a good track with a slightly flat riff.  Though Phillips is brilliant, it could just use a little more pep.

Like with Sad Wings of Destiny, you gotta have a ballad in there somewhere, and on side one that’s “Last Rose of Summer”.  This softie isn’t bad, though Priest have done and will do better.  Using a ballad to close a side isn’t always wise either, but on CD nobody really notices except us nerds.

“Let Us Prey/Call For the Priest” is a pretty epic side two opener, with harmony guitars playing an opening instrumental anthem.  Then a choir of Halfords joins in, and the band break in to what could be their fastest song yet.  From the wickedly fast dual guitar solos to the powerful rhythm, this song is a blitzkrieg of metal trademarks.  It’s relentless and all over the board, something that 80s Priest rarely was.

Side two keeps getting better with the groove of “Raw Deal”, which was Rob’s real “coming out” to fans in the know.  Today he calls it a “heavy metal gay rights song”.  It’s actually one of Halford’s best lyrics.  Instead of mashing together science fiction words and singing about battlefields, this time Halford paints a hazy picture of what is probably a gay club in Fire Island, New York.  It’s vivid but vague:  “The mirror on the wall was collecting and reflecting, all the heavy bodies ducking, stealing eager for some action.”  It’s also backed by some seriously cool Priest music, almost funky but always heavy.  “The true free expression I demand is human rights – right?”  It was all there in the lyrics all along.

A second ballad, the dirge “Here Comes the Tears” brings a cloudier mood.  An ode to loneliness, “Here Comes the Tears” is the one to play when you just can’t take it anymore.  When Halford starts givin’ ‘er at the end with the wildest screams in history, it sounds like an exorcism.  The guitars howl, a hint of piano can be heard, and there is an underlying choir of Robs singing sadly in unison.  Finally “Dissident Aggressor”, famously covered by Slayer, concludes the album on a violently fast note.  “Stab!  Fall!  Punch!  Crawl!”  This song is not for amateurs and might be the heaviest thing Priest have ever done.  There are plenty of contenders, but “Dissident Aggressor” must be in the Top Five Heaviest Priest Songs Ever.  But that being said, they still have the balls to end the song with another multi-layered harmony of Halfords.

The 2001 Sony remastered CD has two bonus tracks, and the first is the best in the entire series:  “Race With the Devil”, a cover of a track by The Gun.  This version, recorded for the next album Stained Class (Les Binks on drums) could easily have been a B-side all this time.  Why it went unreleased until 2001 is unknown.  Perhaps it was lost, but now that it has gotten a proper mastering job it is available on CD.  This is un-retouched, which cannot be said for other unreleased tracks in the Priest Remasters series.  “Run With the Devil” is raw, riffy, fast, and wicked.  All it really needed to make it album quality is a better guitar solo.  The second bonus track is a live “Jawbreaker” (Dave Holland on drums) from the Defenders of the Faith tour.  Out of place, but an excellent song regardless.

Incidentally, Sin After Sin is the last album before Priest adopted the first version of their current logo design.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: We Wish You A Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year – Various Artists (2008)

WE WISH YOU A METAL XMAS AND A HEADBANGING NEW YEAR (2008 Armoury)

Yep, It’s another Bob Kulick album with various guests.  You know what you’re going to get.  Let’s not dilly-dally; let’s crack open the cranberry sauce and see what a Metal Xmas sounds like.

Generic!  A truly ordinary title track features the amazing Jeff Scott Soto on lead vocals, but it’s a purely cookie-cutter arrangement with all the cheesy adornments you expect.  Ray Luzier fans will enjoy the busy drums, but this does not bode well for the album.

Fortunately it’s Lemmy to the rescue, with “Run Rudolph Run”, an utterly classic performance with Billy Gibbons and Dave Grohl.  All spit n’ vinegar with no apologies and nary a mistletoe in sight.  I remember playing this for my sister Dr. Kathryn Ladano in the car one Christmas.

When Lemmy opened his yap, she proclaimed “This is bullshit!  How come they get to make albums and not me?”

Lemmy Kilmister, pissing people off since day one, has done it again.  You can buy the CD for “Run Rudolph Run” even if the rest is utter shit.

A silly “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by Alice Cooper echoes “The Black Widow”, but novelty value aside, is not very good.  A joke song can only take you so far, and Alice is usually far more clever.  (At least John 5’s soloing is quite delicious.)  And even though Dio is next, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” comes across as a joke, too.  Which is a shame because the lineup is a Dio/Sabbath hybrid:  Tony Iommi, Rudy Sarzo, and Simon Wright.  Dio’s joyless, dead serious interpretation is amusing only because of its unintentional dry humour.

Funny enough, Geoff Tate’s “Silver Bells” has the right attitude.  Even though Geoff is perpetually flat, his spirited version (with Carlos Cavazo, James Lomenzo and Ray Luzier) kicks up some snow.  That makes me happy, but it pains me to say that Dug Pinnick’s “Little Drummer Boy” (with George Lynch, Billy Sheehan and Simon Phillips) doesn’t jingle.  Ripper Owens, Steve More & pals team up next on “Santa Claus is Back in Town”, so bad that it borders on parody.

The most bizarre track is Chuck Billy’s “Silent Night”, with thrash buddies like Scott Ian.  Chuck performs it in his death metal growl, and it’s pure comedy.  Oni Logan can’t follow that with “Deck the Halls”, though it’s pretty inoffensive.  Stephen Pearcy’s “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” adapts the riff from “Tie Your Mother Down” and succeeds in creating a listenable track.  “Rockin’ Around the Xmas Tree” is ably performed by Joe Lynn Turner, sounding a lot like a Christmas party jam.

The final artist is Tommy Shaw with John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”.  It’s an authentic version and while not a replacement for the original, will be enjoyable to Styx fans.

Christmas albums by rock artists are, let’s be honest, rarely worthwhile.  This one has only a handful of keepers so spend wisely.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Joe Satriani – Flying in a Blue Dream (1989)

JOE SATRIANI – Flying in a Blue Dream (1989 Relativity)

I used to read all the rock magazines and charts as a kid, and I was surprised when Joe Satriani’s latest album cracked the top 30 in Canada.  “Isn’t he an instrumental guitar guy?  Do enough people buy that stuff for it to chart?”  Apparently they did, and even if instrumentals aren’t your thing, you have to love Joe’s big vocal single debut, “Big Bad Moon”.

Joe nailed a cool, creative music video with lots of shreddery, which immediately caught my eye.  Joe looked like Razor Ramon before there was such a character, but cool as ice in that suit.  Meanwhile, another Joe in a leather jacket shreds the fuck out of a beautiful silvery Ibanez.  Putting on a gritty, Waits-ish voice, Joe slammed out a blues rocker like no blues I’d ever heard before.  I had to get this!

Flying in a Blue Dream contains only six vocal songs, but it didn’t need any more than that to become a hit.  The instrumentals are all killer (as Joe’s usually are).  For an album that is well over an hour, it is rare to find one so full of killer, with zero filler!  The best way to think about Satriani songs is that they are not really instrumentals, just good songs where the lead vocal melody is performed by a guitar.  Most of the songs on Flying share this quality.  The title track is one such song, where the musical backbone is a good song on its own, but the lead guitar front and center is where the lead singer would normally be delivering the hooks.  Instead, Joe delivers all the hooks with his guitar alone, and does so ably.  This is no easy accomplishment.  Lots of songs are in the five minute range, but don’t drag or bore.

Variety is another key quality to this album.  “Flying” isn’t a ballad, but falls somewhere in between.  “Can’t Slow Down” on the other hand will rip your head clean off.  For a real ballad, check out the beautiful “I Believe”, still a favourite of mine today.  While the diversity of the album is one of its strengths, another is the production, particularly on the guitars.  Melty, etherial and slippery as greased mercury, Joe’s tone defies imitation.  He gets crunchy on the rhythms though, and it’s a really sweet crunch — like a Skor bar.

When instrumentalists like Joe added vocals to their arsenals, jaded music snobs would often accuse the artist of “selling out” or “going soft”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Boom, right there on track #2 (“The Mystical Potato Head Groove Thing”) is bright instrumental showcasing virtually every trick in the Book of Satch!  Harmonics out the wazoo, sounds I can’t describe or articulate, but all done with an eye to the melody and groove of the song.  That’s how to do it, folks.  You want groove?  Check out “Can’t Slow Down”, one of the blazing vocal tracks, or the headlong “One Big Rush” and “Back to Shalla-Bal”.  You want bizarre and experimental?  Then “Headless” and “Strange” appropriately fit the bill.  You want mystical, exotic and avante garde…but with funk bass?  Parts I and II of “The Bells of Lal” should do you.

Adding vocals was the coup de grâce. Those songs really elevate Flying in a Blue Dream to a timeless level.  Of them, “I Believe” is particularly special.  It is quiet and spare, in contrast to some of the heavier moments on the album.  Tasteful and reserved guitar melodies set the tone, and Joe sings softly of making a better tomorrow.  His singing is remarkable actually, because though Joe is not known for his voice, he sings with the correct passion and feeling.  In short, it all works as a package.  Remember, it is usually Joe’s guitar that delivers the the hooks.

Flying in a Blue  Dream always seems to live in the looming shadow of its predecessor, the million selling Surfing With the Alien.  If I had to pick a favourite, it would be Flying in a Blue Dream, every time.

5/5 stars

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Part 272: Priest Week – The Re-Masters

PRIEST WEEK

It’s the end of PRIEST WEEK! It was all Judas Priest all week, and what better way to end it then with a 12 CD remastered box set?
Monday:  Rocka Rolla (1974)
Tuesday: Priest…Live! (1987)

Wednesday: Metal Works 73-93 (1993)
Thursday: Demolition (2001 Japanese version)

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RECORD STORE TALES Part 272:  PRIEST WEEK – The Re-Masters

When Judas Priest began reissuing their albums in 2001 (in three waves of four CDs each), of course I had to have all 12.  I’ve been a fan of the band since I was a kid, and my complete Judas Priest collection has always brought me much joy.  Priest’s “Re-masters” series included all the studio and live albums from 1977’s Sin After Sin to 1990’s Painkiller.  Each was expanded with two bonus tracks, with the exception of the live albums.  Unleashed in the East contained the four bonus tracks from the Japanese Priest in the East release (which I already had) and Priest…Live had three extra songs.  (Today, there is a new budget box set that collects the entire Halford era into one box called The Complete Albums Collection.)

In late 2001, local record store legend Al “the King” dropped into my store to sell some discs.  Nimble-minded readers will recall that on day 1 of Priest Week, Al King sold me my vinyl copy of Rocka Rolla in 1989!  Al now worked at another store in town called Encore Records.  Al’s a good guy.  He didn’t see us so much as competition, because really we catered to different groups of people.  There were certain discs that Al couldn’t sell at Encore (pop and mainstream stuff), and he knew I would give him the fairest prices in town, so he came to me.  It was a good mutually beneficial arrangement.  I wanted his stock and he wanted the money!

On this afternoon, I chatted with Al while going through his discs, and he informed me of a forthcoming Priest collectible.

“It’s expensive,” he began, “but it does look cool.  It’s a UK import.  I sold one to this really excited guy, but Mark’s trying to order another one in.  If you want it no problem, but fair warning, it’s not cheap.”

“Tell me more!” I said to Al.

PRIEST WORKINGThe details were scant.  The box set was titled The Re-Masters, and it contained four CDs with room for the other eight, sold separately.  The CDs included with the box were the first four of the Columbia years:  Sin After Sin, Stained Class, Killing Machine (Hell Bent for Leather) and Unleashed in the East.  It was an attractive box, printed to look like it is held together by metal rivets.  There was also supposed to be a booklet included.  At the time, I was obsessed with collecting the “best” versions of anything.  This meant having all the songs, and the best packaging available.  I asked Al to hold the box for me.  At various points in the conversation, I felt like Al was trying to talk me out of buying it due to the price!  What Al didn’t understand was my deep obsession for this band.

A few days later I headed down to Encore and bought my treasure.  I eagerly opened it up and discovered one little additional bonus!  Nothing major, but cool enough for me:  the four CDs included had embossed silver logos on both front and back covers, instead of the regular printed ones.  This differentiated the discs from the versions I could buy separately at retail.  Also, Hell Bent for Leather was indeed included under the UK name Killing Machine, something I hadn’t seen on CD before. Finally, once all 12 discs were collected, together the CD spines read JUDAS PRIEST and depicted their “devil’s tuning fork” logo.  The spaces for the 8 discs sold separately were taken up by individual foam spacers.

Back covers with silver embossed “tuning fork” logo, and without.

The bonus tracks were a mixed bag of live and demo songs from all over Priest history, but some, such as “Race With the Devil” (The Gun cover) were incredible and classic.  One by one, I added to the set.  Some discs came in used rather quickly:  Point of Entry was one such disc.  Others I had to order via Amazon, or buy in-store at Encore, such as Turbo and Painkiller.  But I did get them all, and my complete Priest Re-Masters set has served me well for over a decade now.  Although I have since bought the newer deluxe editions of Screaming for Vengeance and British Steel (with bonus DVDs) I have felt no need to replace this box set with anything else.  Having to buy the discs individually and complete it myself makes it rare to find, not to mention the box was made only in small numbers.  Some fans expected more out of the box set, and some were upset that the Gull Records and Ripper Owens years are not represented inside, even though Ripper was still the current singer.  My attitude was and is, “Who cares?”  It’s a great looking set and it comprises a complete era of Priest.  I like it a lot and according to Al King I’m one of two guys in town that own it.  Cool.

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Metal Works 73-93

PRIEST WEEK

Its PRIEST WEEK!  
Monday:  Rocka Rolla (1974)
Tuesday: Priest…Live! (1987)

JUDAS PRIEST – Metal Works 73-93 (1993)

1973 to 1993? But didn’t the first album (Rocka Rolla, which has no songs on this CD) come out in 1974? Doesn’t this CD only actually include music from 1977-1990?  And didn’t Al Atkins form the original Judas Priest in 1969?  1973 was the year that Atkins left to be replaced by Rob Halford, who himself quit in 1992. So, 1973-1993? OK, I guess I’ll play along.

METAL WORKS_0005Due to complications and conflicts with Gull Records, Metal Works 1973-1993 contains no songs from the first two albums (the aforementioned Rocka Rolla and Sad Wings of Destiny). Instead, a live version (from Unleashed in the East) of “Victim of Changes” is subbed in to represent the early period of the Priest. After that, every album is given a look-see.

Aside from the songs that couldn’t be included for legal reasons, it is hard to argue with most of this track list. It is a near-perfect representation of pre-Ripper Priest, with the odd tune I’d swap out for another, but more or less awesome all the way through. Personally I think “Night Crawler” is and pretty much always has been an excessively cheesy song…like sharp cheddar. I would have put on something else from Painkiller, like “Between The Hammer and the Anvil” or the battering “Hell Patrol”.  

Most conspicuous by its absence is “Green Manalishi”. Maybe the band decided not to include a cover (Fleetwood Mac), even if it’s one of the best things that Priest have ever recorded.   I think “Green Manalishi” today is equally associated with Priest than Fleetwood Mac, if not more so by a hair.  It may as well be their own song.

Many longtime personal faves are included: I love “Bloodstone”, “Desert Plains”, “Night Comes Down”, and “Blood Red Skies”.  These are songs that weren’t necessarily “hits”, but were huge hits with my teenage self.  There’s one inclusion that bugs me, and that’s “Heading Out to the Highway”.  I love that song, but unfortunately somebody chose to use the Priest…Live! version over the original Point of Entry track.  Furthermore, none of the live substitutions are listed as such on the back cover.  There is no indication on the back that any songs are anything but the original.  I consider that dishonest.

METAL WORKS_0003

The liner notes are interesting for a quick read; tales from four of Judas Priest’s members (Rob, Ian, KK and Glenn) for each of the songs. Nothing earth shattering, just some fun brief stories. It’s interesting, however, how Priest completely glossed over Rob’s departure in the liner notes. Indeed, by reading, one would have no idea he was gone. A little misleading to the metal mongers of the time, especially with Rob about to debut his new band Fight a couple months later….

This 2 CD set is polished off with some fine artwork from Mark Wilkinson, tying in the “metal works” theme with a nod to Birmingham with some iconic characters and images from Priest covers past.  The Painkiller does battle with the bird of prey from Screaming For Vengeance, with lots going on in the background.

The summer of ’93 was loaded with expensive sets for metal fans to buy.  Ozzy Osbourne put out the double Live & Loud.  Van Halen released Live: Right Here, Right Now, also a 2 CD set.  Iron Maiden had two separate single disc live albums, followed by a double live in the fall.  That right there is a lot of cash to be spent, and that’s just a handful of essential purchases that fans had to choose from.   There was a ton of new music to buy, not including the grunge bands vying for our dollars that year.   Priest failed to deliver in terms of value.  Metal Works 73-93 was an expensive collection featuring no music fans didn’t have, and those darned live tracks.  It felt tossed off.

3/5 stars