Tom Allom

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Priest, Live & Rare (1998 Japanese import)

JUDAS PRIEST – Priest, Live & Rare (1998 Sony Japan)

Fun fact:  in 1998, there were three Judas Priest live albums released.  First was the official ’98 Live Meltdown, featuring then-current singer Tim “Ripper” Owens.  There was also Concert Classics, an unauthorised CD from the British Steel tour that the band swiftly took legal action to remove from store shelves.  Finally, a CD called Priest, Live & Rare released by their old label Sony in Japan, featuring a smorgasbord of live B-sides.

Judas Priest’s B-sides don’t garner a lot of attention, but are worth looking in to.  Fortunately, a large assortment of them are collected on this compilation.  Covering a period from 1978 to 1986, Priest released a number of live B-sides (and one remix) that are included here.  Only two (“Starbreaker”, and a version of “Breaking the Law”) were released on CD in the 2004 Metalogy box set.  Because Priest were conscious of giving value to fans, the live B-sides are not the same familiar versions from live albums.

From the “Evening Star” single in 1978 comes “Beyond the Realms of Death”, Judas Priest’s “Stairway to Heaven”, or so some said.  It’s a rather weak comparison, but “Beyond the Realms of Death” does hold special status.  Glen’s solo, though imperfect, drips with the tension that comes from the live performance.  From the same gig, but lifted from the “Take on the World” single comes “White Heat, Red Hot” and “Starbreaker”.  You can hear the life in the songs, from Les Binks’ organic drum work to Rob’s impassioned performance.  The man is in top voice especially on “White Heat, Red Hot”.  Les Binks has an extended energized drum solo on “Starbreaker”.  These are fantastic live versions that need to be in a diehard’s collection.

The next single visited is 1981’s “Hot Rockin'”, with two live B-sides:  “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight” from that year in Holland.  The drum stool has changed hands from Les Binks to Dave Holland, and it is like the band has had a heart transplant.  The difference is notable given that on this CD, Binks went out on a drum solo.  It’s like a pacemaker has been installed and the pulse of the beast has been tamed.  But that’s 80s Priest for you, and with that said, these are two excellent versions of some serious Priest hits.  Refreshing to hear, after the same familiar ones over and over again.

Priest’s set at the 1983 US Festival has not been released on CD yet, but here are some for you.  (The Festival on DVD is not an issue — the deluxe Screaming for Vengeance contains the whole thing.)  Here you get “Green Manalishi”, “Breaking the Law” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”.  “Green Manalishi” is a fantastic version (at least for one with Dave Holland on drums!) and Rob is peak Halford.  These three tracks are sourced from a live 1983 Japanese “Green Manalishi” EP that costs some fair funds on its own.  (This is the version of “Breaking the Law” that you can also find on the Metalogy box set.)

“Private Propety” (originally from 1986’s Turbo) is a rare live take from St. Louis. It was originally released on the “Parental Guidance” 12″ single.  Therefore it’s not the same one from Priest Live, nor the Turbo 30th anniversary set.  This one predates the release of the others and has a nice untampered quality.  Finally, also from the “Parental Guidance” single, is the only disappointing B-side in this collection.  It’s the “Hi-Octane” extended remix of “Turbo Lover”!  Extended remixes were a popular thing in the 80s.  Every mainstream artist did them; for example Def Leppard, Kiss and Aerosmith.  “Turbo Lover” is one of the poorer such examples.  Were any dance clubs likely to play Judas Priest?  No, but the Priest did try.

Unweildy ham-fisted “Turbo Lover” aside, Priest, Live & Rare is a highly recommended collection to get 10 rare Priest B-sides in one fell swoop.  Definitely cheaper than tracking down all those singles.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Defenders of the Faith (1984) Part One – Vinyl

JUDAS PRIEST – Defenders of the Faith (1984 Columbia)

If memory serves, in contemporary times, Defenders of the Faith was considered good but not as good as Screaming for Vengeance.  It was a down-ratchet in terms of tempo and intensity.  With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that both albums are near-equals in quality.

It begins with a bang.  “Freewheel Burning” is borderline thrash, with the kind of high octane tempos they do so well.  Racing metaphors are paired with a lightspeed lead Rob Halford vocal, syllables flowing so fast that only a seasoned rapper could keep up with his flow.

Look before you leap has never been the way we keep, our road is free.
Charging to the top and never give in never stop’s the way to be.
Hold on to the lead with all your will and not concede,
You’ll find there’s life with victory on high.

Without a lyric sheet, there was no way you were able to follow the words.

After an adrenaline rush like that, Priest wisely shifted the throttle back a few gears with “Jawbreaker”.  Though not slow, it’s also not mental like “Freewheel Burning”.  The pace is determined.  It would not be controversial to say that Dave Holland isn’t as complex a drummer as Les Binks was.  Still he and Ian Hill do lay down a pulsing, robotic metal beat.

Third in line and backed by regal guitars, “Rock Hard Ride Free” sounds like an anthem.  “Rock hard with a purpose, got a mind that won’t bend.  Die hard resolution that is true to the end.”  For context, in the 1980s, being a metal fan was like choosing to be a neighbourhood pariah.  Many of us appreciated upbeat, encouraging messages like “Rock Hard Ride Free”.  We believed in something, and it wasn’t what the teachers and preachers thought it was.  That’s what “Rock Hard Ride Free” is about.

The first side closes on “The Sentinel”, a mini epic.  A street battle is taking place in a shattered apocalyptic landscape.  It could very well be the same world inhabited in “Blood Red Skies” or “Painkiller”.

Amidst the upturned burned-out cars,
The challengers await,
And in their fists clutch iron bars,
With which to seal his fate.
Across his chest in scabbards rest,
The rows of throwing knives,
Whose razor points in challenged tests,
Have finished many lives.

A multi-parted dual guitar solo animates what the rumble must look like.  Rob tells the story with the necessary urgency.  In the end it’s a scream-laden metal triumph.

Ominous echoing bass notes ring as soon as the needle drops on Side Two.  “Love Bites” was a single, an unusual song with a very spare riff.  Its simplicity is its weapon as it bores its way into your brain.  Halford sounds absolutely menacing.  Then they go turn on the afterburners for the very naughty “Eat Me Alive”, a song which got them a bit of trouble in the 1980s.  It  was one of 15 songs the Parents Music Resource Center wanted stickered for “explicit content” . “I’m gonna force you at gunpoint to eat me alive” sings dirty Rob, as the parents of America weep in their Cheerios.  Not an album highlight, except in terms of pure aggression.

Much more interesting is the slower, menacing “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll”.  A great deep cut.  Dave Holland could have been a drum machine for what it’s worth, but this song is a champion.  Interestingly they followed it with the even slower “Night Comes Down” which might be the album ballad (albeit a heavy one).  Great pulsing bassline by Ian Hill on this track.  It’s a more sensitive, thoughtful side of Rob.  “Call me and I’ll wait till summer.  You never understood that I would wait forever, for love that’s only good.”

The album closes on a dual track:  “Heavy Duty” / “Defenders of the Faith”.  “Defenders” itself is an epic outro with “Heavy Duty” being the main part of the song.  As it implies, this is a heavy duty stomp.  The highly processed drums are accompanied by a repeating riff until Rob breaks into the outro.  Though “Defenders” itself is only a minute and a half in length, it’s among the best minutes on the album.

Not a perfect album, but even though this is a simpler Judas Priest for the 1980s, it still commands respect.  Defenders of the Faith is undoubtedly an 80s album.  It’s aimed at a wider demographic that wouldn’t necessarily get their earlier more complex material.  Defenders does it well, with some truly timeless riffs, and great song after great song.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Unleashed in the East (1979, Remastered)

JUDAS PRIEST – Unleashed in the East (Originally 1979, 2001 Sony reissue)

The best Judas Priest live album isn’t the biggest or the newest.  It’s the first:  the humble Unleashed in the East.  The first Priest album to be produced by Tom Allom, the last with Les Binks on drums…this is a special album for a number of reasons but most important are the songs.  It would not be going out on a limb to suggest that some of these tracks are now the definitive versions.

Like many live albums of the 1970s, it has been questioned how much of Unleashed in the East was redone in the studio.  Rob Halford has maintained that only the vocals were touched up, but it does not matter one iota when the needle hits wax or laser strikes plastic.  The band were at a musical peak in 1979, and with accelerated tempos, they attacked the best of their body of work, although neglecting the bluesier debut Rocka Rolla.

With “Exciter” (from 1978’s Stained Class) opening the set, this collection has more energy by comparison to the somewhat stiffer studio counterparts.  Les Binks has his foot on the pedal and the band is fully energized on this proto-thrash classic.  “Stand back for Exciter” indeed, as Halford has the Tokyo crowd in the palm of his hand, heavy on the echo.  “Running Wild” (1978’s Hell Bent for Leather) is extra caffeinated compared to the in-the-pocket original, giving the album the feel of a race.  KK goes bananas at the end, and then it’s his showpiece:  “Sinner” from 1977’s Sin After Sin.  Finally it sounds like Priest have stopped hurryin’ about.  About half of the track features KK taking his guitar to outer space in a trippy solo segment.

In its original form, “The Ripper” (1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny) was thin and stiff by comparison.  Here it is a beast, with Rob Halford fully unleashed and stalking the back-alley streets.  Easiest contender for most definitive version of a song on Unleashed in the East.  “Green Manalishi” also comes close, with this electrifying version containing the full-blown dual solo in fantastic, crisp, live glory in stereo.  Each part of the solo is an essential part of the song, just as “Green Manalishi” is an essential part of the album.  If you own the LP, this is where you flip sides and go straight into an adrenalized “Diamonds and Rust”, keeping the energy moving.  Binks’ double-bass work is fun as hell to listen to, like a kid who can’t stop tapping his feet excitement.

The Priest epic “Victim of Changes” takes its time to unfold, though mightily it does.  The live setting and the unstoppable Les Binks make this another definitive Priest live version.  It is the climax of the album, with the last two tracks “Genocide” and “Tyrant” unable to surpass its mountainous metal spires.  Regardless, both are far more fuelled than their seemingly crippled studio counterparts.  Halford is more expressive and engaging live, while the guitars riff on relentlessly.

This album would be 5/5 stars right here, full stop, no need to elaborate.  The already definitive Priest live album became even more definitive in Japan in 1979, and 2001 in the rest of the world, with additional bonus tracks.  On the 2001 remastered Sony edition, all the tracks blend into one another without fade-outs.

Most of the tracks originated on Hell Bent for Leather, with one from Sin After Sin.  “Rock Forever” and “Delivering the Goods” cook!  Not too dissimilar from the originals, these are nice additions that extend the album without weakening it.  “Hell Bent for Leather” was conspicuous by its absence from the album proper, so its restoration is significant.  Finally the lengthy “Starbreaker” occupies the final slot, including a Binks drum solo.  An odd positioning but a stellar version nonethless.  All said and done, the version of Unleashed with bonus tracks is just over an hour long.  By today’s standards that’s a bit short for a live album, but it certainly does feel more complete.

Though he was indeed a significant source of Judas Priest’s musical power both on stage and in the studio, Les Binks quit the band mid-tour to be replaced by ex-Trapeze drummer Dave Holland for the remainder.  Binks was never made an official member on paper and was dissatisfied.  To be sure, other Priest drummers can sympathise.  The only taint on this otherwise perfect “live” metal album is the absence of the departed drummer on the front cover.

5/5/5 stars

 

JUDAS PRIEST REVIEWS

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Screaming For Vengeance (30th Anniversary Edition)

JUDAS PRIEST – Screaming For Vengeance (Originally 1982, 2012 Sony 30th Anniversary Edition)

While people recognize British Steel as a platinum Judas Priest landmark, it was Screaming For Vengeance that went double platinum.  It introduced Priest to the MTV generation and opened them up to bigger American audiences.  But before we get to Screaming For Vengeance itself, a cornerstone Judas Priest album in anyone’s books, the “Special 30th Anniversary Edition” must first be addressed.  The extra content is a full concert DVD, and four bonus audio live tracks from the same DVD.

To have Priest live at the US Festival is a wish fulfilled for many.  The daylight show with full classic costumes (Rob decked in silver) is a nostalgia blowout.  The band look lethal although drummer Dave Holland appears overwhelmed by the demanding tunes.  The setlist isn’t half bad, with “Green Manalishi”, “Diamonds and Rust”, and “Victim of Changes” being highlights and filling the need for old classics.  The bulk of the set is made up of more recent material from the three 1980s Priest albums thus far.  Tempos are fast, cowbells are in the air, and Rob is at his confident shrieking best.  The audio is great and the video is well reproduced.  Owning this edition of Screaming really is a must since it’s the only official release of this show on DVD.

The re-imagined cover art is nice, fitting in with other Priest deluxe reissues (see images at bottom).  In an unfortunate oversight, the clean and sharp original artwork is included nowhere inside this set.  They did include the two bonus tracks from the previous remastered CD release, which we’ll get to after we discuss the album in full.

Screaming For Vengeance was a sudden change of style for the Priest, after two rather soundalike albums.  Similarly the next album Defenders of the Faith would be cast from the same mold as Screaming.  All these albums were produced by Tom Allom.  Tempos were turned up, guitars sharpened, and as per the title, Rob Halford screamed.  A lot.  The refined 80s Priest was evident on the opening duo “The Hellion/Electric Eye”.  The guitars are sleeker, the vocals processed and robotic.  The riffs are just as sharp.  Priest were going for the throat.  This opening one-two punch was more punishing than any music I ever heard at that time.  Though you could not claim it’s heavier than a Priest oldie like “Saints In Hell”, the production is louder and more in your face than ever before.

Drummer Dave Holland sprays a bloodbath of bashes at the start of “Riding on the Wind”, Priest speeding on the highway once again.  With Rob in high register, this catchy tune is perfect for keeping the wind in your face.  The first respite in terms of tempo is “Bloodstone”, though its glorious riffs need no accelerant.  Halford’s scatting at the end is classic and a rare reappearance of his old sassy self from Hell Bent for Leather.

“(Take These) Chains” is one of the most immediately accessible tracks, a mid-tempo delight as Priest do so well.  They end the side with a slow metal grind called “Pain and Pleasure”, drums soaked in echo.  Rob alludes to an interest in BDSM again, but with music this heavy most people just headbanged and ignored.  (In another sad oversight, the lyrics are not contained within this edition, but were reproduced on the previous CD remaster.)  Don’t assume that because it’s a slow one it’s weak.  “Pain and Pleasure” is a resounding an d memorable side-ender.

The second side opens with the sudden shock blitzkrieg of the title track.  Speed metal turned up to 11, “Screaming For Vengeance” is over the top and almost self-parody.  It’s one of Priest’s most overdriven blasts of might, but it also verges on mindlessness if not for a spirited solo section in the middle.  But then in another jarring shift, the sleek mid-tempo groove of “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” rears its familiar head.  When I was a kid, there was no question this was Priest’s “big hit”.  It was the song everyone knew, and the music video was on constant rotation.  Classic clip.  The man pursuing Priest is meant to represent the tax man.  When Rob essentially yells at him “no tax man, you will not take my money,” his head blows up.  They used a little too much TNT on the mannequin, and so the tax man’s pants fell down in an added humiliation.  Such is the power of heavy metal, folks.  Got tax problems?  Rock and roll right in that tax man’s face.  Eventually his head will blow up.  If you’re lucky the pants might also fall.  This is what Priest have given the world!

“Another Thing Comin'” is a brilliant song.  Radio super-saturation cannot dull its simply-constructed hooks.  Its placement (second song, side two) is odd but that didn’t stop it to #4 on the US Billboard rock chart, nor did it impede the album rising to #17 on the Billboard 200.

The album begins drawing to a close, with an echoey tremolo effect on “Fever”, one of the album’s best cuts.  Then the echo ends, and a clean guitar accompanies a plaintive Rob.  Mid-tempo, powerfully built and loaded with hooks, “Fever” is a late-album winner.  Then, three quarters in, Halford turns on the high voice and the song transforms into something else equally cool.  Finally the echo-guitar returns to help bring the song to its dramatic end.

“Devil’s Child” is the last hurrah, a fun and heavy indictment of an ex-lover who’s “so damn wicked” and “smashed and grabbed all I had”.  The album ends as suddenly as it begins; jarring transitions being a sonic theme on Screaming For Vengeance.

Tom Allom’s production is often maligned as inferior to the more raw and loose sounds of Priest on their 70s albums, and there’s certainly an argument to be made there.  Screaming For Vengeance is not a warm album.  It is cold, sharp and steely.  It has a precise, digital undertone.  But it’s also heavy, considerably more so than Point of Entry which preceded it.  The cover art indicated that we were entering a new phase for Judas Priest; a simpler streamlined 80s phase but still deadly enough for the old fans.

The live bonus tracks included on the CD were not chosen willy-nilly.  Instead of including the best hits from the US Festival DVD, they use tracks from a different show in San Antonio, and all from Screaming For Vengeance:  “Electric Eye”, “Riding On the Wind”, “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” and “Screaming” itself.  Watch out for the squealing feedback!  Finally the original bonus tracks from the 2001 CD are edition are tacked on so you don’t have to own two copies.  These include a raspy, smoking “Devil’s Child” live from another concert, and a demo from the 1985-86 Twin Turbos sessions called “Prisoner of Your Eyes”.  I hate when Priest use bonus tracks from the wrong era, but the Screaming For Vengeance reissues are the only place you can get this song.  In a stylistic shift, this slick ballad sounds more like “A Touch of Evil” from Painkiller, but far tamer.  (The guitar solos were overdubbed and tracks finished in 2001.)

Good special edition, but not great.  As these things go I’m sure we can expect a better 40 anniversary edition.  It won’t be long now.

5/5 stars for the album

3.5/5 stars for the 30th Anniversary edition

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Point of Entry (1981, Remastered)

JUDAS PRIEST – Point of Entry (1981, 2001 Sony remaster)

Point of Entry will always be one of those “other” Judas Priest albums. It wasn’t a ground breaker and wasn’t a massive seller. It will always just be “the album that came after British Steel” or “the one that came before Screaming for Vengeance“.  It did fine (500,000 US sales) and spawned a killer single called “Heading Out to the Highway”, but it didn’t make history like the other two records.

Coming after British Steel, Priest continued with producer Tom Allom and drummer Dave Holland, and it doesn’t sound like they were overly interested in taking chances.  Sonically Point of Entry is a carbon copy, though with less impactful songs.  In 2001, it was issued remastered by Sony with two bonus tracks.

For me, Point of Entry occupies an interesting space.  Listening to it on a recent road trip took me back to 1987 or 88, when I was in the midst of seriously trying to collect “all the Priest”.  From the perspective of a kid in 1988, Point of Entry was what I thought 1981 must have sounded like, though it wasn’t that long before.  So Point of Entry takes me back not to the early 80s, but the late 80s.  And in the late 80s, it sounded good.

Sure, I was aware that it sounded a lot like British Steel before, but without the massive landmark tracks like “Metal Gods”.  But what about “Desert Plains”?  Why wasn’t it as important as “Metal Gods”?

To this day, I don’t know.

Point of Entry does boast a few songs that could go toe-to-toe with any on British Steel.  Certainly “Desert Plains” and “Heading Out to the Highway” can stand up to the prior album.  “Highway” has one of those riffs so classic that I sometimes find myself humming it in a grocery line wondering what song was in my head.  As a mid-tempo road song, it does the job.  One could argue it’s just a sequel to “Living After Midnight”, but you just try and resist this one.

“Heading Out to the Highway” was made into an unintentionally funny video, mixing on-set with on-location footage in an obvious way.  Worse though were the two videos that followed:  “Don’t Go” and “Hot Rockin'”.  “Don’t Go” features the band playing trapped inside a small room, with a door that leads various impossible locations including outer space.  Fortunately the song is better:  slow and plaintive, yet with that solid rocking beat and a killer guitar solo.  “Hot Rockin'” is high-speed but tends to be forgotten because Priest have better material at this tempo.  The video is situated in a sauna, and then a concert stage where Rob’s flaming feet light fire to his microphone, and the microphone to a couple guitars.  Funny to look at, but I think it’s one of those cases where we’re laughing at the band, not with them.

“Turning Circles”, and a lot of the rest of the album, fall into various categories.  This one fits alongside “Don’t Go” as a slow but hard track.  “We’ve all got somethin’ wrong to say,” sings Rob in this song that seems to be about ending a relationship.  The “ah ha, ah ha” break in the middle is an album highlight, and to me it sounds exactly like my bedroom in 1987.

It’s “Desert Plains” that really brings it home.  There is a pulse to this song, created by Dave Holland and Ian Hill.  You don’t associate those two guys with awesome rock beats often, but here it is.  “Desert Plains” is an instant classic, and it’s alive with movement.  From the verses, to the choruses, to Holland’s drum “sound effects” (like “wild mountain thunder”), this is a Priest classic and shall forever remain so.  This side one closer should have been a video way before “Hot Rockin'”.

The second side opens with “Solar Angels”, another track with an interesting rhythm (slow drums, fast guitar chug).  The song feels like it could use some more substance, but it’s still enjoyable albeit in a “Metal Gods” knock-off kind of way.  Though heaviness is always celebrated, who doesn’t enjoy when Rob Halford gets sassy?  That’s “You Say Yes”, an outstanding shoulda-been hit.  The verses verge on punk rock as Rob spits out the words as only he can.  Then the airy “what I do, what I do, what I do” middle section goes right to heaven — or my room in ’87, I’m not sure which.

Point of Entry ends on three decent but unremarkable mid-tempo tracks, which perhaps always served to weaken the album’s impressions.  “All the Way” might be an attempt to rewrite “Living After Midnight”, and although it’s a cool track we all know Priest have better stuff in this vein.  “Troubleshooter” might even be more of a rewrite, with that opening drum beat sounding a little familiar.  But Rob’s vocals kill it.  Finally “On the Run” is a screamy album closer where Rob is once again the star.

As with previous CDs in this Priest remasters series, there are two bonus tracks, one of which has nothing to do with Point of Entry.  “Thunder Road” sounds a lot like Ram It Down era Priest, so you can safely assume it’s from those sessions in the late 80s.  Clearly outtake quality, almost like a prototype for “Johnny B Goode”.  Then there is a live version of “Desert Plains” from what sounds like the 1987 tour judging by the big echoey drums and Rob’s added screams.  It’s much faster than the album cut, all but destroying the pulse of the original.  Yet the song still kills!  Somehow it didn’t make it onto the Priest…Live! album, which was already stuffed full.

In the late 90s, a guy sold a used copy of this on CD to me, but he left something inside.  Something I wish I’d kept because it was so bizarre and funny.  The back cover features five white boxes in the desert.  The guy left a little white piece of note paper inside, explaining what he thought the back cover was about.   “Maybe they are graves,” said part of it.  I wish I could remember the rest.  (I always thought the five boxes represented the five band members, with the large one in the back being Dave Holland and the drum kit.)  And speaking of the cover, this album does look better on vinyl.  I have vinyl for almost all the Priest up to Ram It Down, and they all look better on vinyl.

Although Point of Entry will always live in the shadows of the towering albums that came before and after, it still leaves a glow behind.

3.75/5 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 – Ram It Down (Remastered)

JUDAS PRIEST – Ram It Down (Originally 1988, 2001 Sony remaster)

Judas Priest seemed pretty lost in the late 80s.  They were bigger than ever, but they lost focus of their musical direction.  Producer Tom Allom had cursed them with a robotic plod, far removed from the lively firepower of yesteryear.  When they released Turbo in 1986, they had gone as far down those roads as possible.  It was am ambitious departure, but 100% a product of the 1980s.

For Turbo, Priest had written enough songs for a double album.  Twin Turbos, as it was to be called, was supposed to reflect all facets of metal, but the record comany got cold feet and a single disc was issued.  It contained the most techno-commercial tracks, while Priest held onto the rest for another day.  That day came in 1988 when Priest (again with producer Tom Allom) released Ram It Down, largely made up of Turbo outtakes.  The album was hyped as a return to the heavy Priest of yore, and this was at least partly true, but fans were unconvinced by it.  In comparison with Turbo, yes, Ram It Down was heavier.  But Priest had gone as far as they could with Allom.  Ram It Down was too sterile and bogged down with filler.

Certainly the title track opens Ram It Down on a thrash-like note.  As if to silence to critics, it was a proud metal statement with an opening Rob Halford scream that curdles the brain.  The weakness is drummer Dave Holland on his final Priest outing.  Only when Scott Travis joined Priest in 1990 did they acquire a drummer who could play the kind of beats at the speed they needed.  On Ram It Down, Priest were held back by the drummer and clunky production, two mistakes they fixed on 1990’s Painkiller.  The lyrics also seem dumbed-down for the 80s.  “Thousands of cars, and a million guitars, screaming with power in the air,” is cool but cliche.

“Heavy Metal” is more of the same lyrically, an ode to the power and glory of power chords.  Rob Halford’s performance is fantastic, and the man has rarely sounded as fantastic as he does on Ram It Down.  You can’t say the same for the words, the highschool equivalent of poetry.  On the music front, Priest were now following rather than leading.  They were on the same clunky metal trip as bands such as Scorpions at the same time.  There audible Kiss and Whitesnake influences on the album, with Rob sometimes sounding like he was trying to write a Gene Simmons tune.  “Love You to Death” on side two sounds right out of the Demon’s closet.  The embarrassingly terrible  “Love Zone” and “Come and Get It” both sound as if Coverdale co-wrote them on the sly.  Whether Priest were consciously copying other bands or just lost, who knows.  (“Love Zone” is one of the few songs that Halford almost seemed to write gender specific.  “With your razor nails and painted smile” are not specifically referring to a female, but certainly that was the general assumption.)

There are definitely a few cool tracks that deserve mention.  The first is “Hard as Iron” which had to be one of the fastest Priest songs to date.  It’s still held back by the production, but has some serious energy to it.  Like metal espresso injected right into the brain!  The other standout is “Blood Red Skies”, a forgotten highlight of this album and indeed of the Priest catalog in general.  (I actually used “Blood Red Skies” in a poetry project for school.  A girl liked it so much she asked for a copy of the lyrics.)  Using the synth effectively, “Blood Red Skies” paints a Terminator-like future with humans hunted by beings with “pneumatic fingers”, “laser eyes” and “computer sights”.  Halford  pours power and anguish into it, as a human freedom fighter.  “As I die, a legend will be born!”  Cheesey?  Absolutely.  Priest perfection?  Yes indeed!

There are also two mis-steps on Ram It Down that must be addressed.  The first and most obvious is “Johnny B. Goode”, from the 1988 movie Johnny Be Good starring Anthony Michael Hall and some guy named Robert Downey Something.  This track should have been kept off the album.  As a novelty single, sure, you can dig it.  It’s a stereotypical cliche-ridden metal cover, and that’s fun for a goof.  As a Priest album track, it only serves to completely destroy any momentum that Ram It Down managed to build.  Then there is “Monsters of Rock”.  This awful excuse for a song is only 5:31 long, but seems twice that.  It is the prototype for the even more awful “Loch Ness” from Angel of Retribution.  Most buyers probably didn’t finish listening to the album because of this bloated and aimless track.

The Priest Re-masters collection had two bonus tracks per studio album.  Ram It Down provides two completely unrelated but great tracks:  live versions of “Bloodstone” and “Night Comes Down”.  The liner notes don’t state when they were recorded, but live versions of either are always welcome in any Priest collection.  It’s interesting that bonus tracks from these actual sessions, such as “Red, White and Blue”, were used on other CDs but not Ram It Down.

Priest may have known Ram It Down wasn’t the metal album they hoped to make.  They cleared house afterwards.  Dave Holland and Tom Allom were done, and there is no question that Painkiller was superior to Ram It Down because of that.

2/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Turbo 30 (2017 deluxe 3 CD set)

JUDAS PRIEST – Turbo 30 (2017 Sony Legacy 3 CD set)

It is sheer delight to see Judas Priest’s once maligned Turbo to finally see some vindication.  There was a time this album was shied away from completely.  They played no tracks from it on the 1990-91 Painkiller tour.  In 1990, Priest finally pulled themselves out of a slide into dangerously commercial territory.  For a long time, Turbo was considered a musical detour that did more harm than good.  However the frost thawed quickly and Priest began to put the title track back into the set around 2001 for their Demolition tour with Tim “Ripper” Owens.  Today there is no longer any shame in cranking Turbo while hoisting a tall cool one.

The 30th anniversary edition of Turbo contains a freshly remastered edition and two live discs.  The sound is greatly improved from the 2001 version from the Priest Re-masters series.  As you can see by the waveform below, the 2001 version at bottom was a victim of the “loudness wars”, and much of the dynamic range was lost by pushing it to overdrive.  The 2017 version at top has more peaks and valleys.  The new version wins for overall for having more warmth.

What the 2017 version does not have are the two bonus tracks included on the Priest Re-masters version.  They were a live version of “Locked In” (which would be somewhat redundant here) and an unreleased studio track called “All Fired Up” which sounds like a Ram It Down outtake.  For a complete review of Turbo and these bonus tracks, please refer to our review of the Turbo 2001 CD edition.  The rest of this review will focus on the two live CDs inside Turbo 30.

The Fuel For Life tour that followed Turbo was one of Priest’s biggest.  Their stage featured a riser that “transformed” from a race car to a robot that would lift Glenn Tipton and KK Downing in the air with its claws.  It was commemorated by an album (Priest…Live!) and a separate home video from a concert in Dallas, Texas.  This new double live comes from a show in Kansas on May 22 1986.  It is 100% superior to Priest…Live! by every measure and could supplant that 30 year old album in your collection.

The set list varies a little from Priest…Live! but hits the same key tracks.  The ballsy synth ballad “Out of the Cold” still opens the set, a brave move even in 1986.  It is certainly the most unexpected of all Priest’s openers, so bravo.  “Locked In” is restored to its spot in the set; it was not on Priest…Live!  A version from an unknown concert (the liner notes are vague) was on the prior edition of Turbo as a bonus track.  “Locked In” isn’t a major track but still important due to its place as part of the “Turbo Lover” music video duology.  This live version is the best yet, loaded heavy with plenty of guitar thrills not present on the studio original.  From there it’s on to “Heading Out to the Highway”, nicely in the pocket.  Rob Halford’s screams are ferocious.  Next is the march of the “Metal Gods”, another version far more lively than the one on Priest…Live!  Seems there is much less mucking around with the recordings this time.

“Breaking the what?  Breaking the what?  Breaking the what?”  It’s that silly yet tried and true song intro.  Post-British Steel, you just can’t have a Priest live concert without “Breaking the Law”.  But always remember, that in the dead of night, “Love Bites”.  From 1984’s Defenders of the Faith, “Love Bites” was very different for Priest but still a set highlight.  (Incidentally, British Steel and Defenders of the Faith are the other Priest albums that had recent triple disc deluxe editions with live albums.)  Then more from Defenders:  Two killers in a row, “Some Heads are Gonna Roll” and “The Sentinel”.  Two songs that fans never tire of, and some credit must be given to the mighty guitar duo of Tipton and Downing.  Their trade-offs are sublime, and Halford curdles the blood.

Back into new material, “Private Property” was one of Priest’s more obvious grasps for a hit.  It’s far from a must-have, but better at least than the version on Priest…Live!  A mere five minutes later you will be transported to the “Desert Plains”, a Point of Entry deep cut that was excluded from Priest…Live!  It is far faster live and stay tuned for a long voice-shredding breakdown by Halford.  (Rob was clean at this point in his life.  Rob Halford recommends vocal rest between shows, menthol eucalyptus gum, and herbal tea to maintain a strong voice.)  A frantic “Rock You All Around the World” from Turbo ends the first disc with a filler track that is again better here than on the prior live album.

Screaming for Vengeance brings the fury for disc two, “The Hellion” (taped intro) and “Electric Eye” bring the focus clearly back to heavy metal, just in time to go for a spin with “Turbo Lover”.  This song is now a beloved classic, finally appreciated for its sharp songwriting and adventurous production.  Downing and Tipton pushed synths into heavy metal in a big way, but with integrity and ingenuity.  Better run for cover indeed, and fast…for next is “Freewheel Burning”, a natural for keeping with the theme of turbos and the like.

As the disc roars to its close, we are treated to some serious historic Priest.  The oldest track is “Victim of Changes”, from the immortal Sad Wings of Destiny (1976).  This most dramatic of Priest compositions is always welcome in the set, yet was not on Priest…Live! probably to avoid overlap with 1979’s Unleashed in the East live album.  This one boasts a blazing hot guitar solo and some of Rob’s most impassioned wailing.  This stretches out for nearly nine minutes of pure metal brilliance at its most vintage.  But the vintage metal gift-giving is not over, because “The Green Manalishi” (1979’s Hell Bent for Leather, via Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac) delivers the greatest of all riffs.

It’s nothing but the hits from there:  “Living After Midnight”, “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”, and “Hell Bent for Leather”, the standards that everyone knows.  “Another Thing Coming” is stretched out with Rob’s annoying back-and-forth with the crowd, but it is what it is.  “Heavy metal communication”, he calls it.  Nobody is buying this CD for another version of that song anyway.

“You don’t know what it’s like!”  So get this package, the triple CD set, and you will!

5/5 stars

For Superdeke’s amazing review including some tidbits about who the drummer(s) on this live album really is (are), check it out:  superdekes.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/judas-priestlive-in-kansas-city1986

REVIEW: Def Leppard – On Through the Night (1980)

DEF LEPPARD – On Through the Night (1980 Phonogram)

A bright young LeBrain in grade 11,
During the glorious 80’s,
Needed new music to feel like heaven,
To woo some lovely young ladies.

In 1980 Def Leppard came out,
With the LP On Through the Night,
It is heavy with screams and plenty shouts,
It makes me feel alright alright alright.

“Hello America”! It’s the “Rock Brigade”!
I played these singles on my ghetto blaster,
Unpolished – but the tunes made the grade,
Heavy ones like “Answer to the Master”.

Producer was Tom Allom of Judas Priest fame,
A heavy raw album he did record,
Leppard had not yet joined the hit game,
No big tricks on the electronic soundboard.

“It Could Be You” rocking out to this one,
Reckless abandon with axes ablaze,
“Wasted” blasts you like a shotgun,
Nothing left to see but a smokey haze.

Sophistication will not be found anywhere,
Maybe a little on the closer “Overture”,
Loud guitars drums blasting and long hair,
For your metal sickness this is the cure.

On Through the Night straight into battle,
Leppard hit the launching pad hard,
With the New Wave of British Heavy Metal,
The Lep became leaders of the new guard.

The story continues today as Leppard survive,
Still prowling the concert stage all over the world,
Fans clamour to hear these old song lives,
And so on Viva Hysteria, “Wasted” was unfurled.

This is but the seed that would grow into a beast,
The mere beginning of something great,
Pick up this record at the very least,
You will find it is very difficult to hate.

4/5 stars

Further reading:

DEF LEPPARD – On Through the Night (1980) review by DEKE at ARENA ROCK
DEF LEPPARD – The Def Leppard E.P. (1979) EP review
DEF LEPPARD – “Wasted” / “Hello America” (1979) single review
DEF LEPPARD – “Hello America” / “Good Morning Freedom” (1980) single review

REVIEW: Judas Priest – A Touch of Evil – Live (2009 Japanese and iTunes versions)

JUDAS PRIEST – A Touch of Evil – Live (2009)

A Touch of Evil is, depending on how you count, either Priest’s 5th or 7th live album.  Regardless, it’s their first official live album since the Rob Halford reunion. The goal here was to give fans versions of songs never before released live on CD. However, when Priest claim that, they’re not counting the live albums they did with “Ripper” Owens on vocals, or the live songs released on remasters and box sets.

This is a great CD, and it’s very well recorded and mixed. Tom Allom came back to the mixing board after a 21 year break from the Priest. The guitars are driving, the drums are loud & clear but not overwhelming. Allom has done a great job. You can’t hear any obvious tampering or overdubbing (even though, let’s be honest, you know on every live album released today there must be some).

Rob Halford’s voice really struggles on “Painkiller” but absolutely shreds on “Hellrider”. “Hellrider”, in fact, is even better than its 2005 studio version. Halford is now singing in a lower register and saving his screams for special moments in the songs. Don’t forget, he has been screaming for 35 years by this album. He tends to be stronger on more recent material. The rest of the band show no signs of slowing down at all, especially Scott Travis on the drums.

It is absolutely great to hear two songs from the Nostradamus CD recorded live. “Prophecy” is one of my favourites from that album and I hope the band get to play the whole album live one day. It is also fantastic to hear “Dissident Aggressor” which was originally released on Sin After Sin in 1977. It is still heavy and powerful, although Rob has changed the vocal melodies a bit, out of necessity. “Beyond The Realms Of Death” is another great one to have with Rob singing, from 1978’s Stained Class. For a while in 1990 I thought they’d never play it live again, after the band’s “suicide trial”, even though they emerged victorious.

Japanese bonus tracks are “Worth Fighting For” and “Deal With The Devil” both from 2005’s Angel Of Retribution. I think these (and “Hellrider) are the same versions as the Rising In The East DVD. “Worth Fighting For” is one of my favourite recent Priest tunes.  It’s a great mid-tempo burner.  The iTunes bonus track is “Breaking The Law”, the only song absolutely positively undeniably released before on an official Priest-with-Rob live CD (Priest…Live!). This version of “Breaking” is faster than the studio version, and very enjoyable for the sheer glee that emanates from it.

ATOE_0005

The artwork for this CD, sadly, sucks. Mark Wilkinson has done some great covers for Priest (see: Painkiller), Iron Maiden, and Marillion. Here there’s a picture of the world on fire, or something. A comment on global warming? You decide. The liner notes also, sadly, suck. There are no indications as to which shows these songs were taken from, or even which tour (the CD culls from 2005 and 2008 tours). There is a brief note from the band about how awesome they are, as they have done on previous live albums. There are some cool pictures, but little else (the Japanese version has lyrics).

I don’t think this CD is essential to anybody but Priest fans. Newcomers would be wiser to buy Unleashed In The East first, and maybe even Priest…Live! before buying this. Priest fans will enjoy hearing live versions of these songs, because they already own “Another Thing Coming” and “Living After Midnight” elsewhere. So, if you are a Priest fan, pick it up and enjoy the sonic blast of metal fury as only Priest can deliver!

4/5 stars

*Note: There is supposedly a Russian version with another bonus track, also taken from the Rising in the East DVD: “Angel”. I question whether this is an official release or not.