Thursday, September 13, 2018

1093. Judas Priest / Jugulator. 1997. 2.5/5

Much has been made of the seven years that stretched between the release of the monster album Painkiller and of its follow-up Jugulator, which incorporated the leaving of Rob Halford from Judas Priest, and the eventual recruitment of the former singer of a Judas Priest cover band, Tim “Ripper” Owens. The lengthy period of time it took to get to this point has always been an interesting point of discussion. Many wondered if Judas Priest would ever record again in any form with Halford’s absence and no doubt this acted as an encouragement for the band to forge ahead. The danger given the length of time between albums was obviously inherent – would their music still be relevant in a world that had changed so much in that time?

I went into this album with a clear head and open mind. More than anything I wanted to like this album so I wasn’t going in with negative thoughts about it. The writing which forever had been composed by the trio of Tipton, Downing and Halford was now a writer short, and there was always going to be differences in the music because of it. Glenn wrote all of the lyrics while both he and Ken wrote the music, but if you take a third of your writing partnership away there is going to be a swing from the centre to one side or the other. And let’s face it, seven years is a long time between albums even if the band was settled, and the drastic swing between metal in 1990 and metal in 1997 created such a vast chasm that it was always going to be hard to overcome. Releasing “Painkiller II” would have been a disaster. Even so, the none-too-subtle change of musical direction between these two albums was a big gulf to accept.
One thing that wasn’t a problem was the vocals. “Ripper” came in with a great set of vocal chords and an uncanny ability to sound and sing like his predecessor, which for live performances was exceptionally handy as the live show barely missed a beat with the back catalogue of songs, something that is rarely the case when a band changes singers. What did have to be achieved was to find the right range for his vocals on the new songs being written, and given the slight change in this album’s direction that may not have been the easiest part to complete.
Despite all of this, what Judas Priest produced for their ‘comeback’ was like nothing they had ever recorded in their career, and that is where the major stumbling block was at the time, and remains to this day. The fact that they chose to record an industrial metal album at a time when industrial metal was at its prominence is not the issue. The issue is that it is so unlike a Judas Priest album that it becomes almost impossible to listen to. And even though as I said above that I went into this with an open mind, and that releasing “Painkiller II” would have been a disaster, you surely have to think that at least a few pieces of the past would make their way into the mix? But it is almost completely wiped away. This is a sound that has almost nothing to do with what Judas Priest had built their career on and it is somewhat shocking, even today. Honestly, to me it has the same mistakes that Dio made in writing and recording their Angry Machines album, in that there was no familiarity at all between that album and anything else they had released that it caused major fractions in the fan base. Much the same can be said about Jugulator.
And it comes from the very beginning. The opening track on a Judas Priest album is usually one of the highlights, the song that drags you willingly into the album. Think of “Freewheel Burning”, “Electric Eye”, “Sinner” and “Painkiller” as just a few examples. But, even though I like “Jugulator” as a song, it just doesn’t have that same drawing power. “Blood Stained” too has plenty of angst and drive to the song, and to be honest if you have made it through the two opening songs and not turned this off, and have also put completely out of your mind that this is a Priest album, you will be able to get more out of it. This album has more of a tame Fear Factory sound to it than any pretence of following the band’s previous doctrine, which is so very strange as it has more in common with the direction that Rob Halford took with two projects after leaving the band, Fight and Two. If both parties were heading down that path, then why part ways? Why remove the brilliant harmony guitars and great solos which act as the strength of the band to just side with the times? I don’t know the answers to these questions.

Anyone who saw the band live during this period knows full well that they were still just awesome, and that “Ripper” was great, but the new material just didn’t gel well with the old stuff. More than anything else that is what harms its overall appeal. There are still some terrific songs on this album, such as “Death Row”, “Burn in Hell” and “Bullet Train”, where when heard away from the rest of the album will garner a positive response. But the album as a whole just doesn’t work in a way that makes it a good Judas Priest album. It is so tied to the era because of the way the songs have been written and recorded that it doesn’t have a chance to stand on its own legs. That is a shame.

Rating: “Changing my course, blurred and scorched, breathing exhaust as we distort”. 2.5/5

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

1092. Judas Priest / The Complete Painkiller Tour [Live Bootleg]. 1991. 4/5

I didn’t become interested in tracking down bootleg concert recordings until the age of the internet, mainly because I had no way of finding a way into the network that went through such things in my pocketed little corner of Australia. Once the internet became an accessible thing it became something I was much more interested in, and especially from tours that we had not been fortunate enough to have seen here. Amid the reunited Judas Priest of the new millennium I began hunting for anything I could find from the tour promoting my favourite Priest album Painkiller, and that search eventually came up with this gem of a recording.
For the most part, what I was looking for was live recordings of the songs off the Painkiller album, and this doesn’t quite cover it, despite 
proclaiming to have every song from the tour.

As a matter of fact, both “Metal Meltdown” and “A Touch of Evil” were played but they don’t appear on either disc of this album. No big deal, but it still would have been good to have had them as a part of this collection.
Instead what we have here is two performances, one from the start of the tour and one from closer to the end. The first disc is compiled from radio broadcasts of the opening night of the tour in Los Angeles and as such is good quality. This includes the performance of “Better By You, Better By Me” that was at the centre of the court case that the band had spent much of the previous year fighting over the two kids who had claimed the song had backwards messages suggesting they commit suicide. It had delayed the release of the album and the start of the tour, and playing this song was no doubt a little stress reliever for them. Apart from this, the set list contains what you would expect, along with “Between the Hammer and the Anvil” and “Leather Rebel” from the Painkiller album. It’s a good listen.
The second disc is a great audience recording from their gig at Offenbach, Germany in February 1991. This is a true bootleg because the crowd are in the foreground and the band in the background, complete with the crowd nearby the recorder singing along in unison. This is what makes a great bootleg in my opinion, getting a great impression of how the crowd is enjoying the show, while still hearing the songs in there as well. The addition of “All Guns Blazing”, “Night Crawler” and “Painkiller” make this an excellent representation to what is a great disc.

This wasn’t exactly what I was looking for when I went searching for live performances of the songs of Painkiller, but it probably doesn’t exist anyway. What I found instead was an excellent bootleg of two complete gigs from the same tour, where Judas Priest are at the peak of their powers and showcasing their wares to the world. Those that enjoy bootlegs will get a lot from this double album. Those that prefer the crisp live recordings that comes from official releases will still be surprised just how good this sounds.

Rating: “Lightning in the dark!!” 4/5

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

1091. Alice Cooper / A Paranormal Evening with Alice Cooper at the Olympia Paris [Live]. 2018. 5/5

While Alice Cooper’s output of albums has been remarkably consistent given the length of his career as an artist, over the course of this time there have been less live albums released by his band than you may have expected. Given his legendary status as a live artist this may be construed as unusual, but the scarcity of them actually improves their output. Indeed, when this release was announced I found myself looking forward to it immensely to not only hear what he and his current band sound like live but what flavours we were likely to get from it.

Choosing any set list for any tour is a tough ask, trying to find the balance between the old and the new, the popular and the obscure, the songs you can’t possibly leave out and the ones that the fans really want to hear. There is nothing easy about it, and the longer an artist has been around the more difficult it is. Alice Cooper has 27 studio albums worth of material to choose from and only a finite time on stage in which to play, and given the amazing hits that have been produced over the years it must be a crazy decision to decide what to shoehorn in to that allowed time.
I have always loved A Fistful of Alice because it not only managed to put together a great set list comprising both the great hits from both the past and that present time, but it gave the whole show a modern sound without being detrimental to the source material. It is a great live album. The gratifying thing is that A Paranormal Evening with Alice Cooper at the Olympia Paris is exactly the same. It is a brilliant mix of all pieces of the Alice Cooper story, and every song sounds brilliant in its own way. The band and entourage sounds brilliant, a terrific ensemble of musicians and singers who do justice to every track.
From the very start this clicks into gear with a great selection of songs. Opening with the underrated “Brutal Planet”, you are then hit with three of Alice’s all time classics, the hard rocking trio of “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, the brilliant “Under My Wheels” and the timeless “Department of Youth”. It’s a nice touch having these legendary track opening the set, as well as having “I’m Eighteen” and “School’s Out” closing out the album in style. The way in which Alice mixes the lyrics from the other schoolkid rebellious song of that era, Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”, into the melody lines of “School’s Out” is a particularly effective way of closing out the show. Within the middle of the set we are also favoured with high energy versions of “Billion Dollar Babies”, “Cold Ethyl” and constant companion “Only Women Bleed”. All of these legendary tracks still hold their own after all of these years, and the versions played here are superb. Most fans know these songs off by heart and are crowd favourites from that era.
However, what makes this such a great live album is that there are plenty of surprises here from the first third of Alice’s career apart from those classic tracks, and each of them comes off superbly. “Pain” from Flush the Fashion, “Ballad of Dwight Fry” from Love It to Death , “Halo of Flies” from Killer and the duo of “Killer” the same album and “I Love the Dead” from Billion Dollar Babies are excellent reminders of the strength of much of the material from the 1970’s that doesn’t always get a look in when the best of Alice Cooper gets thrown around.
On the flipside the modern day material gets a fair showing. Along with the aforementioned “Brutal Planet” there are also excellent versions of “Woman of Mass Distraction” from Dirty Diamonds and “Paranoiac Personality” from his most recent release Paranormal. And as always the two big tracks from his modern day revival come in, with “Poison” and “Feed My Frankenstein”. However, for me the best track on this whole double album is the appearance of “The World Needs Guts” from the Constrictor album. I loved this album as a teenager, and hearing this song given the live treatment is a joy. It is a raucous version too which makes it even better. Thanks Alice just for this!

Do you need a new Alice Cooper live album? The answer is a resolute absolutely! At 70 years of age he shows no signs of slowing down, and this album reminds you of how huge his legacy is and how he has managed to continue to be relevant through so many decades of change in music. There is something here for everyone, for the old fans who have been around for the whole journey, and the young fans who have only cottoned on to the legend in recent times. This is a worthwhile addition to the catalogue.

Rating: “Hey you! Fighting for your life where you’ve never fought before!” 5/5

Thursday, September 06, 2018

1090. Judas Priest / Painkiller. 1990. 5/5

Way back in 1990, there was an absolute plethora of albums coming out that have become folklore in the world of heavy metal music. People’s opinions vary somewhat on them, but as a twenty year old trawling the record store shelves it was an amazing year of releases for this genre. While it is hard to go past albums like Megadeth’s Rust in Peace and Slayer’s Seasons in the Abyss as the stand out albums of this year, one album in particular for me was the one that shepherded heavy metal music into the new decade. It also brought life back to the band in question, hurtling them to the top once again with another album that was a star attraction. The band was Judas Priest, and the album of course was Painkiller.

I had pre-ordered this album at the local record store, and came home from work one day to find my mother had picked it up for me. Having done the usual post-work things I took it to my room and put it on and, as I am sure occurred to almost every person who has listened to this album, was completely blown away by the opening drum fill from new Priest drummer Scott Travis. Having heard Scott’s previous work with Racer X it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but that opening is still as brilliant today as it was back on this first listen, especially when guitar scream comes in over the top, before the song descends into the opening riff chords. Everything you need to know about the album Painkiller comes in the opening fifteen seconds of the title track “Painkiller”.
What brought about this ‘revival’ in the band and its music? Was it really a revival? There were plenty of fast and hard tracks on the previous album Ram It Down along with a toning down of the keyboard and synth side of the recordings, something that makes a return in bigger and more bold direction here. No doubt the addition of Travis on drums kindles something that Dave Holland did not. Holland’s drumming was always precision and timing and certainly never detracted from the music. Probably the difference here, as is evident from the opening of the album, is that Travis adds to the music and songs and isn’t just a part of the furniture. It doesn’t just hold the rhythm, it becomes a bigger part of the picture, and this alone does make a difference in the songs produced. The other factor changed here is the re-emergence of Chris Tsangaridis as producer, replacing Tom Allom who had produced every Judas Priest album since Killing Machine. Was his presence alone enough to create the changes that came with this album? Probably not, but the fact that he gave a fresh air of advice along with his success in recent times with many other bands and artists surely added to the changes that came with the writing and recording of Painkiller.
What we got here was a mashing and melding of all of the greatest parts of Judas Priest, and then amplified beyond the normal. There is aggression in the lyrics and the vocals, there is fire in the guitars and bass, and there is speed and double kick to an extreme in the drums. Rob Halford’s vocals, often dormant in regards to his higher range over some albums, are at their most damaging here, so much so that it makes it almost impossible to sing along with him throughout this album. When Rob is reaching for the ceiling you know every effort is going into the song and it brings the roof down. The added power of the drumming of Travis gives these songs a greater punch, and harder and faster feeling than they would without it. Ian Hill’s bass is at its best too, providing the big bottom end that highlights the riffs it is backing while exerting its own rumbling influence over them, especially in songs like “All Guns Blazing” and “A Touch of Evil”. Through it all, the magic of the twin guitars of K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton rule all. The melodic interludes that then get ripped apart by their blazing and blistering solos are the culmination of years of brilliant songs and writing.
Everything here is a triumph. Those faster and heavier songs such as “Painkiller”, “All Guns Blazing”, “Leather Rebel” and “Between the Hammer and the Anvil” are complemented perfectly by the slightly less speed influenced but more heavy groove influenced “Hell Patrol”, “Metal Meltdown”, “Night Crawler” and “One Shot at Glory”, while the moody brilliance of “A Touch of Evil” is still perhaps the show stealer it always threatened to be, the one slight change in appearance that could well have been the benchmark of future writing sessions had the future panned out differently. There is not a weak song here. Everything clips together perfectly, segueing from one brilliant track to the next, exhorting you to sing, chant or scream along in unison while frantically playing those air guitars to a standstill.

This album defined for me where metal was heading back in 1990. Along with those other brilliant albums from the same year, it felt as though this was going to be the new direction that heavy metal was going to take, the morphing of heavy and thrash and speed metal into a monster that bands like Priest, Megadeth and Slayer could paint the decade of the 1990’s with. Of course it all became a final shot at glory, as Priest had almost predicted with their closing track. Grunge had taken seed, and Metallica would further commercialise the genre with the release of Metallica the following year, and bands began to change their sound away from this magnificence to something… less magnificent. Judas Priest of course went on a lengthy sabbatical after this tour, with Rob Halford leaving the band for other ventures, and what should have been the album that provided the springboard to further greatness for the band instead became a lasting monument to their memory and legacy instead, and for a long time looked as though it would be their final chapter. All in all, it would not have been a bad way to bow out.

Rating: “One shot at glory, in the crossfire overhead, fate stands before me, words have all been said.” 5/5

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

1089. Judas Priest / Ram It Down. 1988. 3.5/5

When the decision came about to split the “Twin Turbo” double album idea into a ‘heavy’ and ‘light’ concept over two albums, there were a number of songs left over from Turbo that came to be used here on Ram It Down. And there are noticeable differences in the songs of both albums. A lot of the synths used in Turbo have been moved out or placed in the background here, allowing this album to go back to being a guitar and drum based track list. The lyrics for the most part are a simplified version of recent albums, trying to return to a different time. It is an effort to make a heavier album than the last, whereas perhaps making a ‘better’ album may have produced something that was more significant.

It holds up with the opening track, the title track “Ram it Down” which screams out of the speakers at you with fire and speed, the best elements of the Judas Priest juggernaut. Perhaps it is somewhat simplistic in lyrics and base set, but there are any number of great Priest songs that you could name that are like that, and this is another great version of that. Why it is maligned so much I don’t know, because “Ram it Down” is a great metal song. This is followed by the perhaps metaphorically titled “Heavy Metal”, but again it has what you want. Halford’s vocals are in his upper range almost all the way through, while the magnificent guitars of Downing and Tipton shred away in style. As it is obviously written as an anthem, it is strange that it has been used so infrequently live since the end of this tour.
We head into a section of the album where the words ‘double entendre’ come into play most significantly. “Love Zone” is a strange concept song for this band, or at least so I would have thought. Perhaps in the end it just confirms the groupie situation for the touring band is the same for everyone, but it wasn’t a direction I thought Judas priest would cover. I was mistaken. This is followed by “Come and Get It” which for all intents and purposes is just about the music and if you want it… well, you know… but I’m sure if you put your mind to it you could come up with a way that the lyrics here could be interpreted another way. This then leads into “Hard as Iron” (yeah I know, pretty easy to laugh at…) which again lyrically doesn’t point in the way you might initially think but you could certainly make a case that it does. Beyond this lame attempt at breaking down the lyrics of these three songs, each continues in the heavy vein of the album, with a greater push to emphasise the guitars and vocals on this scale.
“Blood Red Skies” is a beauty. Without even trying to compare them for fear of being seen as ludicrous, “Blood Red Skies” is in a similar vein to past gems such as “Beyond the Realms of Death” and “Victim of Changes” in its composition. It’s moody subtleness throughout emphasises its difference to the other songs on the album, and as a result I think it is one of the standouts on Ram It Down. “I’m a Rocker” retains the slower tempo as the follow up which is probably slightly strange considering the title and lyrics, but it again looks the chanting anthem qualities between the twin solos of Downing and Tipton.
One of the songs that I am not sure about even today is the cover version of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”. Done for the soundtrack of the comedy film of the same name, it was then shoehorned onto this album and released as a single as well. Yep okay, it’s good that they did their own version of the song, and didn’t stick to a note by note revision of the original, and the band sounds great here, but I often just think is it necessary? Another song, “Thunder Road” was bumped from the album in order to fit this on, and I believe it is a superior and better song. It was eventually released as a bonus track on the remastered version of Point of Entry. To be honest, “Thunder Road” could have replaced either of the last two songs on the album too, as I think it is also better than them. “Love You to Death” and “Monsters of Rock” are both really only average songs that perhaps lengthen the album longer than it needed, and are both just a little too slow in tempo after the first half of the album for my liking.
For many Judas Priest fans, this album over-corrected what they felt wasn’t quite right with the previous album. There was a fire-and-brimstone quality that perhaps it didn’t have and they wanted more of that. In essence there is plenty of that here on Ram It Down, but it is missing the pure rocking anthem that songs like “Turbo Lover” and “Locked In” provided from that album. Many probably felt that a mixture of the two – the harder, heavier edge of Ram It Downalong with a fissuring of the keyboard and synth sound from Turbo to influence the feel of the songs – may produce the album that they were looking for. This indeed is what came to pass with the following album which opened the new decade in the most amazing style.

In many ways like Point of Entry this album gets lost in the discography of Judas Priest, more from the album that followed than from any real distaste of the album itself. It may never be considered one of the great releases, but it isn’t quite the disappointment that some make out they believe it is. Taken on its merits it still has plenty that should be better regarded than it is.

Rating: “Can you feel the power, blinded by the light.” 3.5/5

Monday, August 27, 2018

1088. Judas Priest / Priest... Live! 1987. 5/5

Back in 1979 Judas Priest released their initial live album entitled Unleashed in the East: Live in Japan, which was praised and loved in most circles but also somewhat derided in a small circle because of the re-recording of the vocals after they were trashed on the original tapes. As such some believed it could never be considered as a true live album, which didn’t stop it being extremely popular. Thus with the announcement and release of the band’s second live album, the double vinyl opus Priest... Live!, those thoughts could be put to rest, and the fans could enjoy a live album with no foibles and great songs. So you’d think.

I’m not going to lie to you. When I got this album, even though it was a couple of years after its release, I was excited. I love and loved Unleashed in the East: Live in Japan and I was looking forward to hearing another live album. As it turned out, at the time I hadn’t heard any of the Turbo album apart from the title track, so given it was recorded on the Fuel For Life tour to promote that album there were obviously songs that I hadn’t heard before. My enjoyment of them allowed me to go back in search of that album after the fact and probably helped me to enjoy it more than many did at that time.
The album has no songs on it from any album prior to the previous live album. The band played songs on that tour from their 1970’s era but chose not to put them on this live release, which in the long run I think was a great idea as we instead heard only songs which to that point had not been released as live versions. I also meant that a lot of songs that didn’t get played live too often after this tour were caught for future posterity here.
So what we get here is not necessarily the definitive selection of Priest tracks from the 1980’s, but it is an impressive and enjoyable selection. The triumvirate of “Electric Eye” into “Turbo Lover” and then into “Freewheel Burning” is a high energy speed-fest that highlights the best part of the album with three of the era’s best songs. I still enjoy the opening of “Out in the Cold” moodiness that leads into the anthemic “Heading Out to the Highway” and the ground shaking “Metal Gods”. And not forgetting the awesomeness that is “The Sentinel”, with Halford at his glass shattering best in his vocals. Some will see the missing space that comes with not having songs like “Screaming For Vengeance” and “Rock Hard, Ride Free” on the album, though this was rectified with the remastered version of the CD some years later.
In the live setting, the band sounds spectacular. Dave Holland on drums is as metronomic accurate as ever and does a great job, with his rhythm partner Ian Hill on bass keeping the bottom end perfectly sound. The dual electrifying guitars of K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton are just fantastic, searing and scene stealing between them, while Rob Halford shows that he can carry his pipes live just as well as he does in the studio.

Priest... Live! is a terrific live experience and a great recording of Judas Priest the band in their element. It may not be as energetically satisfying as Unleashed in the East: Live in Japan was, but it perfectly captures the 80’s decade of this great band in their defining moment.

Rating: “It’s Friday night and the Priest is back!”  5/5

Friday, August 24, 2018

1087. Judas Priest / Screaming for Vengeance. 1982. 4.5/5

Whether or not Point of Entry was considered to be an experiment of sorts, an effort to write an album that would search for commercial success, is hard to pin down. Whatever the debate of it has become, one can only assume that during the writing for the follow up, which became Screaming for Vengeance, that there was a committed effort to return the band to a heavier sound, one utilising all of the talents of the band rather than just moving along in third gear. Anyone who listens to both albums back-to-back will no doubt come to the conclusion that something had changed, because chalk and cheese does not even begin to describe how different those two albums are.

Any doubts of Judas Priest’s validity in the world of music are eradicated within the first 60 seconds of putting this album on. The ripping instrumental attack of “The Hellion” screams out of the speakers. In fact, it is almost the ultimate opening stanza of a Priest album, probably only topped by the opening to their 1990 album down the track. This shoots straight into “Electric Eye” which in turn is of the highest quality opening tracks in Priest history. It has it all, speed, screams and sensational twin guitar solos to lock in the middle of the song. It is still one of my all-time favourite songs from this band. This is followed by “Riding on the Wind” which continues in the same vein, a hard and heavy opening from the rhythm that sets off Halford in his higher range vocal strains, something that certainly wasn’t stretched on the previous album, and it immediately makes this better because of it. “Bloodstone” finds that perfect mid-tempo heavy rhythm and settles in for the distance, leaving Halford to sing mightily along with the chorus of guitars playing underneath him. A terrific opening to the album.
“(Take These) Chains” has different bent than the other songs here, certainly because it was in fact written by Bob Halligan Jr and not the band itself. It circles a more commercial property and perhaps veers into a soft metal or hair metal sound than the rest of the album has. It has those ‘sing-along’ qualities but not of a fist-pumping variety that would normally be the case with great Judas Priest tracks. “Pain and Pleasure” is a song right out of context with the rest of the album. It’s a throwback to the 1970’s and doesn’t fit in here with the faster and more energetic 1980’s sound, but more than anything else, it is just quite boring and unattractive. It closed out the first half of the album, but perhaps not in a way that enhances the album. Don’t get me wrong, these two songs are fine, but they are in a different setting than the three that preceded them.
This is recovered in full with the title track “Screaming for Vengeance” which opens the second side of the album in scintillating style. Fast and strong once again with the best parts of the Downing/Tipton combination, Halford’s vocals again are the star attraction, reaching for heights that he makes sound so easy. This is followed by the anthemic drive of the classic “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”. Built around the same style that songs like “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight” drew on, this became the song that finally saw them break into a commercial setting and receiving radio airplay around the world. It’s funny as this occurred once the band had returned to writing songs that had a real metal edge to them, unlike the more commercial bent that they had been looking for on Point of Entry which for the most part seemed to put fans off.
“Fever” is another track that just differs slightly from the central themes of the music on the album. The clear and quieter sections of the song, all held together by the constant and consistent rhythm of Dave Holland and Ian Hill, makes for a completely different atmosphere within the song to the rest of the album. I found that it took some getting used to, and to find how it related to the other songs surrounding it. “Devil’s Child” then wraps up the album in style, harking back to the first two songs on the second half of the album, taking on a hard edge beat and energy while Halford spits out the lyrics in the way you would expect.
Apart from the songs that have been written for this album, the band is in fine form throughout. Dave Holland’s excellent steady timekeeping perhaps doesn’t appear flashy in any sense of the word, but it is perfectly effective and holds the songs together. Ian Hill on bass is his laconic self, and again while he mightn’t be flashy in comparison to others around, his bass lines are important and perfectly suit the way the songs and other players in the band utilise them. The duelling and complementing guitars of K. K. Downing and Glenn Tipton are at their best here and highlight the great songs on the album, while the return of the full range of Rob Halford’s vocals is one of the highlights.

Many consider this to be the pinnacle of Judas Priest’s career, and while I believe it is one of the highlights it isn’t quite in that category for me. If I had been just a little older and had gotten this when it was released instead of some five or so years later then perhaps my feelings would be different. This still hits all the right areas though and set in place a template that could be followed to find the best Priest releases – speed, energy, brilliant guitar licks and Halford screaming from the rafters. A winning combination.

Rating: “You think you've private lives, think nothing of the kind, there is no true escape I'm watching all the time”. 4.5/5

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

1086. Judas Priest / Point of Entry. 1981. 3/5

Following the success of the British Steel album and the singles that were released from it, I guess it was a no brainer that Judas Priest would stick to the same formula for their next album and try to replicate that commercial success. Whether or not that was a good idea – and whether or not they achieved that – is a question that is still asked amongst the Priest fandom. Perhaps ignoring the debut album, the one Judas Priest album that rarely gets mentioned in any shape of form is Point of Entry. Is it purely because it just doesn’t have many songs on it that are considered classics, or is it because it is believed to have been out of step with the other albums that were released around it? The opinions are wide and varied.

The more I have listened to this album over the last couple of weeks, the more I have come to appreciate it for what it is. I had never owned a copy of this album, most probably because when I went out in my big-spending-on-albums in my youth this album just wasn’t on ANYONE’S radar for something I needed to have. As a result I only ever got snatches of songs on various best-of releases and the occasional acquaintance who had a copy and played it while I was over. The age of digital music brought easier access to such things and I was able to listen to it completely, before finally buying my own copy more as a way of completing my collection. But on heavy rotation in recent times along with the other Judas Priest albums, it fits neatly into the niche it was created for. It isn’t as regimented as British Steel and it doesn’t have the speed or upward energy of Screaming for Vengeance, and in places it has an easy listening feel to some of the songs, certainly in relation to previous albums. In fact Point of Entry is quite unique in the Priest discography in that it sounds as though the songs have been written in a way that may attract more commercial airplay than the band would usually have, but I’m not sure that it succeeded. Once again Rob Halford has kept his vocal range in check, for the most part eschewing any major extension of his famous vocal chords and in the main sticking to a range more within normal human hearing. A lot of the songs have periods within them that are deliberately quiet and soft, mirroring a reflective air which in turn shows a different side from the band than what we have seen on previous albums.
Most of this therefore has created the metaphorical vacuum that Point of Entry has seemed to fall into. When it comes to memorable tracks from the album, there is really only one, the opening track “Heading Out to the Highway”. It is the only song on the album that stayed in the live set list beyond the tour to promote it, and it is one of the fan favourites. But most of the rest of the track list just doesn’t stick in the memory of most. The other two singles released from the album were the next two tracks on the album, “Don’t Go” and “Hot Rockin’”, neither of which to me comes across as a single. Indeed, if commercial airplay was what the band was aiming for then it doesn’t seem like it came out of the oven the right way. And thus we have an album without highlights, without big musical hits that can help raise the profile of an album and also lift the mood of the listener when you have it on the turntable.
That said, put it on, play it loud and decide for yourself. Because when I do this, and when I have done this over the last couple of weeks, I’ve enjoyed the album immensely. I still love “Heading Out to the Highway”, I think it is a great song. The tempo change of “Don’t Go” and “Hot Rockin’” isn’t such a problem when you are just listening to the album and not trying to break it down in a review. “Turning Circles” is an unusual Priest song that works here because it fits the pattern of the writing. “Desert Plains” is a vastly underrated song, more so because it doesn’t have that massive fire and energy of a typical Priest song but is more of a slow burn. “Solar Angels” is like a sister track to “Desert Plains” and starts the second side nicely. “You Say Yes” is a bit clunky but enjoyable enough. “All the Way”, “Troublemaker” and “On the Run” all smoothly ride out the end of the album, and there’s just a hint of Van Halen in each of them.

Point of Entry probably ended up proving to the band that they needed to redefine the direction they were heading in if they wanted to make a bigger impression in the next decade. While the album did well enough at the time there’s no doubt in hindsight that it wasn’t exactly what their fan base was looking for. And while it will never rank as one of their best albums, it by no means is the worst offering. Different, yes. Out of character, yes. But for all of that it is still a good listen.

Rating: “Full moon is rising, the sky is black, I need your call I'm coming back”  3/5

Monday, August 20, 2018

1085. Judas Priest / Unleashed in the East: Live in Japan [Live]. 1979. 5/5

The oft-used formula of recording and releasing a live album once a band has released four or five studio albums comes to the fore once again, this time for Judas Priest. Having released five studio albums over a reasonably short period of time, Unleashed in the East: Live in Japan was the result of two nights recording on their Hell Bent for Leather World Tour in Japan, and brought to life a selection of their best material for the fans to feats upon.

Okay, so there has always been some controversy about this album, over whether or not it can be considered to be a ‘live’ album. All through the 1980’s and well into the 1990’s there was a chorus of opinion that the album wasn’t a true live album, and that if it was not in fact recorded in the studio and had live effects dubbed over it then there was a certain amount of ‘clean up’ done in post-production in orders to cover up spots where things didn’t sound as good as the band had hoped for. Eventually, vocalist Rob Halford admitted in an interview that some of the vocals had been ruined on the original recordings, and that to fix these he went into the studio and re-recorded some of those songs in a live setting. Even today there are those out there that are not convinced the whole album is a ‘sham’, but given that no further explanations have ever come from anyone surrounding the band at the time surely it should be accepted that this was the only part that didn’t come from those two nights in Japan.
Beyond this circle of discussion, just listen to the album and discover how terrific it is. Judas Priest’s albums to this point were for the most part excellent and there are plenty of terrific songs on them. Many of them appear on this album. And it is not until you hear them here that you understand just how good those songs are, because they are all improved immeasurably on stage. They are played at a faster tempo, they are louder, and the guitars of Tipton and Downing are superb, flailing their licks and solos in strident support. The rhythm of Ian Hill’s bass is deep and booming and Les Binks’ drums ring through perfectly. Mixed with the screaming vocals of Halford and you have an atmosphere that brings every angle of these songs to a more positive end.
The first side of this album to me is perfect. Opening with the brilliance of “Exciter”, Halford reigns in the crowd with “Fall to your knees and repent if you please!” while the duelling guitars of Tipton and Downing excel. This is followed by an amazing version of “Running Wild” which for me is almost the highlight of the album, as it really brings this song to life. The awesome “Sinner” follows and then another superb rendition of “The Ripper” leads into the still-perfect version of “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)”. Every single one of these songs is improved on this recording and they are still brilliant to listen to with the stereo on 11 today.
The second half of the album isn’t quite to the same standard, but only marginally. Again, a heavy fast-paced version of “Diamonds and Rust” is the perfect track to lead off side two, and is followed by “Victim of Changes” where Rob nails the vocal brilliantly. To complete the set we have great versions of “Genocide” and “Tyrant” to finish off the original album in style. For those that also gained the remastered edition of the CD later on down the line you also get four additional songs which are worth listening to.

Whether or not you consider this to be a true live album is, in the long run, irrelevant. What matters is just how much you enjoy listening to this album, and how good you think it is. Since I was first given a copy of this back in 1986, I have considered it to be an absolute gem. Every version of every song on Unleashed in the East: Live in Japan is a classic, and I never get tired of putting the album on and air guitaring along to every part of it.

Rating: “In for surprise, you’re in for a shooooOOOOOOOCK!!!”. 5/5

Friday, August 17, 2018

1084. Judas Priest / Killing Machine. 1978. 3.5/5

As they have done on a few occasions during their long and storied career, Judas Priest tended to mix up just how powerful or aggressive their albums were, changing their sound from album to album in a rebuilding fashion. Up until this album there had been a gradual build and refashioning from progressive rock to a heavy metal sound, increasing with each release. And while some of that remains here on Killing Machine, there seems to be a lull overall, something that doesn’t quite hold up with the direction the band had been heading in.

When you put this record on what you get is a polished great sounding album. The playing from all members is superb. The drums are again perfectly played by Les Binks, with his expertise on hi-hats and cymbals especially pleasing. Ian Hill does as he always does with great bass riffs and bottom end throughout. The guitars of Glenn Tipton and K. K. Downing are truly superb, and their riffs and solos are caught clean here by producer James Guthrie, while Rob Halford’s vocals are as always fantastic.
However, the songs themselves have taken an interesting turn and that is where the difference lies between this album and the previous two releases. Overall the songs are much less technical, and there is much more basic beat and layout to them. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is quite noticeable from the beginning. There is nothing wrong with any of the songs on the first half of the album, it’s just that there is nothing overtly exciting about them either. I do like the opening track “Delivering the Goods”, but this studio version is just a bit slower and less energetic than it feels it should be. It has all of the qualities to make a really good opening track but by the end it feels as though it has perhaps plodded along rather than energise the album’s starting point. This is followed by “Rock Forever” and “Evening Star”, which both have very basic song patterns, and trot along in a mid-tempo range without any great moments that bring you to life or have you raising a pumped fist along the way. Neither has a breakout solo or anything outstanding from the vocals to become memorable. Slightly better than average songs that fill the space but don’t own it. “Take on the World” looks to be an anthemic song but without the drive or balls to really make it one. In the end it feels weaker than it is because it feels like it is trying too hard to be something it is not. “Burnin’ Up” also falls into the average ranking. The title track “Killing Machine” doesn’t seem to get out of second gear at any stage. The power ballad “Before the Dawn” sounds great, with Halford’s vocals soaring throughout, but it just isn’t my style of song and doesn’t grab me in the slightest. And the closing track “Evil Fantasies”, even though it was written and recorded well before the song “Heavy Duty”, still sounds like a poor cousin to it, and Halford’s vocals for the first half just sound completely out of context with the song. In the majority of these songs, it just feels as though one of the major drawcards of Judas Priest, their twin guitar assault, has gone completely missing.
There are some highlights. “Delivering the Goods” I have already mentioned as one of my favourites, along with the more markedly upbeat “Hell Bent for Leather” (which also substituted for the title of the American released album) and “Running Wild” which I’ve also always loved. Perhaps surprisingly though it is the heavier cover version of Fleetwood Mac’s "The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)" which is the star of the show. This was not on the original release of Killing Machine and only originally made it on the U.S release. I didn’t hear Fleetwood Mac’s version for many years after I first had this version, and this version puts it in the shade. That it is the redeeming feature here is interesting given that the other cover songs Priest had done on previous albums were also fan favourites. One thing that you can take from this album is that when performed live the songs on this album sound infinitely better. That isn’t meant to be a criticism, it is just meant to show that the band knew what they were doing in the writing process, it just took until they played them live to get the energy into them that they probably needed in the studio. Take a listen to Unleashed in the East: Live in Japan and you will know what I mean.

While it probably sounds as though I have torn this album apart, it is not all bad. When I put it on and just listen to it without trying to break it down for a review, I listen to it all the way through and enjoy it for what it is. My favourite songs are spread evenly throughout which probably helps that. It is not as good as previous albums, and not as good as some of the albums to come. But rest assured there is still enough here to make this pleasant enough when the mood hits you to take it out of its cover and put it on your stereo.

Rating:  “I move as fast as I can, I like to get around”.  3.5/5