Rarity acquired! After many years of searching, I snagged a mint condition Japanese copy of Rob Halford’s album as Two with John 5. It was priced affordably and included the obi strip, always important to collectors. The Japanese copy has a second booklet with pictures of the band, missing from the original CD. Rob and John casually enjoying coffee in front of a wall of X-rays? It’s in here!
The bonus track is called “In My Head” and it’s surprising how different it is from the album at large. It still sounds like the industrial metal of Two, but criss-crossed with dirty blues. It’s like Two meets the Black Keys, in a wormhole from before the Black Keys even existed. Rob has occasionally shown a penchant for mixing the blues in with his heavy metal. Witness “A Little Crazy” from the first Fight album. John takes a really cool and inventive solo break on this track complete with plenty of slide. Had this track been on the original album, it might have had more appeal with the rockers, though that’s admittedly a long shot.
It’s not easy to find, but worth finding for the industrial blues of “In My Head”.
HALFORD – Live Insurrection (2002 Japanese Import)
Having a wealth of solo and Priest material to draw from, this seems like a good place for a double live album to drop. And so it was; Live Insurrection, Rob’s first full-fledged live solo outing. For me personally, this is the peak. This Rob’s home run of solo projects.
Admittedly, there is a certain sense of Rob trying to bury parts of his recent past. There are no songs from Two, and the set is Priest-heavier than prior tours. I found the Halford band to be kind of faceless, a little devoid of personality. They’re absolute pros and there is no question of them cutting it. That’s not the issue, it’s just one of…I can’t hear the different personalities of the players, compared to Fight.
On the other hand, the setlist is so much richer than Fight used to do. The songs are culled from the Halford album Resurrection, the Judas Priest back catologue, and the first Fight album, with a lot of added surprises.
These surprises include three studio tracks, two of which are tracks written by Judas Priest, but never released at the time! You also get Rob’s duet with Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, “live” (recorded during rehearsal I believe), and the two bonus tracks from the Japanese version of the Halford album, once again performed live. Rob even sings his first-ever solo track, “Light Comes Out Of Black” which was originally on the Buffy The Vampire Slayer soundtrack back in 1992. The Priest material is a great mix: old obscure stuff from Sad Wings and Stained Class, as well as more obvious stuff from Hell Bent and Screaming. Rob’s voice is in fine form, doing justice to the Priest and Fight material.
Rob’s so hardcore, he stapled his fuckin’ forehead!
The Japanese bonus track is “Blackout”. Yes, the old Scorpions tune, and recorded here with a Scorpion: Rudolph Schenker! Halford easily handles Klaus Meine’s vocal part. It’s a great bonus track, easily worth the extra cash that I spent on this import version. I got this from Amazon.com in 2002.
They give you lots of great packaging with this live album. Decent liner notes, lots of pictures, plenty to look at while you spend a couple hours listening to this platter of metal perfection. Enjoy the feast.
I’ll be taking a summer break from this series. I’m a bit burned out on Halford albums now, and there are so many new arrivals to listen to! But fear not. I’ll be following this review with Crucible, another Japanese release, a box set, and more.
HALFORD – Resurrection (2000 Japanese edition, 2008 remastered edition)
Note: There have been several versions of this CD. The original CD and Japanese import versions had a certain tracklisting, but the track order was changed up a bit for the Remastered edition (see tracklists at bottom). Since that’s the version that’s out right now, that’s what I’ve decided to review. I got mine in a combo pack with the DVD, Resurrection World Tour Live at Rock in Rio III. Rob has also retroactively started to number his solo albums; as such the remastered version is technically Halford 1: Resurrection.
Voyeurs by Two was not a mega seller regardless of the association with Trent Reznor and Nothing Records. Rob needed to return to heavy metal or risk alienating his fanbase.
I think pretty much everyone was enthused by the title track and lead off single, “Resurrection”. This wasn’t techno wizardry with whispery vocals. This was heavy metal, with screams! Although Rob was already headed in that direction at the end of Two, while working with Bob Marlette, it is Roy Z that drives this one single home. Yes, Roy Z, the Roy Z that Bruce Dickinson utilized to collaborate on manya greatsoloalbum. With Halford now drinking at the well of riffage that is Roy Z, “Resurrection” was bound to smoke. And it does. Take the sound of classic Judas Priest circa Painkiller, adjust for 10 years of sonic trends, stir in Roy Z, and you have “Resurrection”. Rob makes sure you know he’s serious from the very opening, screaming as only he can.
What I dislike are the lyrics. “I walked alone into a Fight”? Rob, you weren’t alone, you had Scott Travis with you! “I tried to look too far ahead, and saw the road lead to my past instead.” In other words, sorry about the Two album, this is what I really want to be doing.
The first three tracks totally smoke, all falling somewhere in a Defenders/Painkiller vibe of Priestly goodness. At first I didn’t like “Night Fall”, the fourth track, too much. Its redeeming value is a great chorus, totally in the Defenders mold.
“Silent Screams” is one of the songs that Rob was working on with Marlette at the end of Two. Rob was especially proud of this lengthy number, and he released a demo version of it for free on his official website. The demo version is an evolution from Two. It has screams (appropriately enough) and heavy guitar riffs. The album version has a more emotional lead vocal and tones down the keyboards. The song is a bit slow and ploddy to start with but it is epic in quality and it sure does rock by the halfway point!
The big gimmick on the album was the duet with Bruce Dickinson, “The One You Love to Hate”. The connection is Roy Z, but obviously a matchup like this would generate much hype. Arguably the two best singers in metal, together at last. Bruce sounds great, holding his own against the Metal God, who sounds vintage 80’s. I have to say I enjoyed this one a lot. Shortly thereafter, there were rumours of a coming supergroup called the Three Tremors – Rob, Bruce, and Geoff Tate of Queensryche. All three artists were touring together at the time, but this idea was never meant to be taken seriously.
“Cyber World” is fast and heavy but unfortunately also boring and skip-worthy. Likewise, the groovier “Slow Down”. Dull title, dull song. I tend to think of Resurrection as losing steam on side 2. I guess that’s why the remastered edition inserts the Japanese bonus track “Hell’s Last Survivor” right here. Sounding something of a Screaming for Vengeance outtake, I think this was placed here to compensate for some of the weaker tracks.
“Temptation” is a little on the boring side, so two new tracks are inserted at this point for the remastered edition: “God Bringer of Death” and “Fetish”. In my opinion it doesn’t sound like they belong here. Rob’s voice had changed a lot in the 8 years since, and the sound is more like later Halford albums. Neither song is particularly notable.
On the other hand, “Sad Wings”, which was previously only on the Japanese version, is awesome. It has a sharp riff and a chorus that is designed to remind you what band he was the singer of. This is followed by “Twist” which sounds like maybe it had its origins in Two, but I like it a lot. “Drive” is also pretty decent, and the album ends with “Saviour” which has an anthemic chorus.
Bottom line: Pretty decent if a bit safe comeback. Rob wasn’t treading any new ground here musically, but Roy Z never fails to class up any album he’s on. His tasteful and blistering solo work is just marvelous.
Fight was kaput. Rob had a new band, a photo of whom appeared in Metal Edge magazine. The band was called Halford, and although that would change, Rob used his surname for another band later on. I remember a weird looking blonde dude wearing a silver skin tight suit of some kind (more on him later), and I thought, “Well, OK then. This is going to be different.” Soon after the Metal Edge photo, the name had changed from Halford, to Two.
I had a buddy, Nathan, who was really into Nine Inch Nails. This Halford project was on his radar as well, due to Rob’s collaboration with Trent Reznor. At the time, Rob Halford insisted that the resulting album, an industrial/rock hybrid, was the sound he was going for all along when he quit Priest in ’92 and formed Fight.
I don’t believe that, but they did come close on the Mutations EP. I think Fight was exactly what he wanted to do at that time. When the second Fight album fizzled I think Rob questioned his musical direction, hooked up with Trent, and did this experimental record.
Two (stylized as 2wo) were experimental by Halford’s standards, but not by industrial music standards in general. Voyeurs has all the expected bells and whistles, including but not limited to: distorted vocals, the word “pig” in a song title, thumpy bass, ticky-ticky sounds, bloops, bleeps, and other stuff that sounds like broken machinery.
What does make this album special is that the band was “Two”, not “One”…meaning there is a second guy involved here, and what a talent he was. That guy was guitar player John 5. This was his breakthrough release. After this he hooked up with David Lee Roth, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, et al. John 5’s involvement means there is some wicked guitar work here, including “I Am A Pig” which features a solo that sounds like a mashup of Morello and Satriani.
Highlight songs include “I Am A Pig” (Reznor sure loves his pig imagery), “Stutter Kiss”, “Hey Sha La La”, “Water’s Leaking”, and the epic closer “Bed of Rust”. “Bed of Rust” could have made a pretty cool Fight track. I would say in fact that there are no throwaway songs here. All of them have something worthwhile to offer. Just don’t think too much about the lyrics. Halford’s delivery is understated and, at times, whispery. No screams. At Reznor’s suggestion, instead Rob explored other aspects of his voice.
Other notable names: Bob Marlette plays bass and produces. Dave “Rave” Ogilvie does some production work. Trent Reznor “executive produced”. I always wondered what that means. I picture it meaning that Trent gives the project either a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down” when the real work is done.
Of course many Priest fans didn’t get it, although a chunk of the Reznor fans (who at the time would buy anything on Nothing records) accepted and enjoyed the album for what it is. I think if this was a release by a more popular band, like say Nine Inch Nails or KMFDM, it could have spawned two or three singles.
Japan had a bonus track called “In My Head” which is absolutely impossible to find, so good luck. I’ve never heard it.
It was during this period, promoting the Two album, that Rob Halford came out. People joked for a good number of years that Rob’s sexuality was the worst kept secret in rock. That can’t negate the courage that it took for Rob to come out in a musical genre that isn’t always kind to anyone who’s “different” (hello, Blabbermouth!).
“I think it’s difficult for everybody, you know, in making the decision to come forward and be who you are, based on peer pressure, especially if you’re a teenager,” Halford said. “That’s where a lot of the anxiety begins, and so maybe people like myself and others that do step in front of a camera and let the world know, maybe it’s of some help, where there’s an individual that’s been successful, that’s been able to achieve dreams and visions and goals in life and not let the issue of sexuality be something to hold them back, so I think it’s an important thing.”
FIGHT – Mutations (1994 Epic collector’s edition, 2008 Metal God Entertainment reissue)
Released in late 1994, Mutations (subtitled “collector’s edition“, which really means nothing) was a live/remix CD to follow War of Words. I seem to remember this being marketed as some sort of “extended EP” or some kind of not-album, which again is kind of meaningless. The original release was 45 minutes, a full length album by most measures.
Live Fight! Shame it was only four songs, as they absolutely kick ass. Rob Halford was still in peak voice in 1994, and every high scream is present on opener “Into the Pit”. Fight as a live band were less stiff than on the first album. They were no less precise, and each song is just as ferocious as its album counterpart. On “Nailed to the Gun”, bassist Jay Jay does the low death metal growls while Rob howls like a mad dog.
I was surprised that Rob put “Freewheel Burning” on the album, as he seemed to be trying to distance himself from his past at this time. Its the only Priest song and I don’t think they played many Priest songs on the tour at all (but I know they did cover Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf”). Surprisingly it’s here that Rob’s voice falters, struggling with the demanding song. He redeems himself on the bluesy single “Little Crazy”.
I enjoy hearing live recordings from bands with two distinct lead guitar players trading off. Russ Parrish and Brian Tilse were both very different stylistically, and the contrast is awesome. The pace is aggressive, and these guys keep chugging on. (Note: Russ Parrish is not credited on this album. He had left the band by the time of release, but there is no question that he did play on all these tracks. Why he was not credited is a mystery, but he does appear on the remastered version cover art.)
I believe I am well on record as not being a fan of remixes in general. There are exceptions but so many remixes add techno-crapola that often serves to reduce the songs to repetitive mockeries of themselves. On a track like “War of Words” , they remove Scott Travis’ drums from sections, and replace him electronic beats. At the time I thought, “Why would you want to replace Scott Travis with a drum machine?” Today, it still bugs me. But hey, those who doubted the sincerity of Rob’s industrial work with Trent Reznor in Two should remember these remixes!
I’ll be honest, I struggle getting through the remix side in one sitting. There are some cool moments, such as the chance to hear isolated instruments and solos. “Vicious” is an example of a remix that works for me. It’s weird, it has an opera singer and dance beats added, but it’s pretty heavy and cool. But in general, the Fight songs were simple and repetitive to begin with. Making them simpler and more repetitive didn’t work for me. Sure, I own some Nine Inch Nails albums, but this sound isn’t where my heart lies.
Goodie-goodie-gosh, Mutations was reissued as part of the Into the Pit box set, with two bonus tracks. And these bonus tracks are (you guessed it) remixes. More versions of “Kill It” and “War of Words”. At least the “Culture of Corruption Mix” of “War of Words” is about half as long as the regular “Bloody Tongue Mix”.
Incidentally, why do remixes always have cliche sounding names? “Bloody Tongue Mix”! Raahhrr! Why not…”Toothpaste Mix”. Something original. I think remixers should strive to be more original in the naming of their work. Something nobody’s used yet. “I’m Rob Halford and I Endorsed This Mix Mix”.