Archive for December, 2009

Judas Priest Discography Part IV of IV

Jugulator (1997)

Shortly after the Painkiller tour wrapped up, Judas Priest essentially saw a band-breaking move when vocalist Rob Halford decided to leave the band.  After six years, the world figured Judas Priest was long gone and likely to never return.  By the following year would show the band finally return with a new studio album thanks to finding a replacement for Halford in a singer for a Judas Priest cover band-Tim Owens.  However, this wasn’t the Priest most fans wanted, with inspiration from genres such as death metal and thrash metal creeping their way into an otherwise dominantly heavy metal album on Jugulator.  Owens vocal style proved to be one that, although competent, would drive certain fans away along with the less conventional sound.  At first, the album simply sounds bad, but giving it time to wear off can make it a small pleasure.  The title track, “Burn in Hell,” “Bullet Train” and “Cathedral Spires” are all songs that I personally would love to see Owens come on stage to help perform at least once in a while.  But unless you’re a die-hard Priest fan such as myself, this isn’t an album that’s worth much of a recommendation, if at all.

Demolition (2001)

Not too far from this point in the band’s career, the world had found out originally vocalist Rob Halford was homosexual, though the rest of the band wouldn’t reveal their awareness of it.  Regardless, the less than enthusiastic reception to Jugulator forced the band to rethink how they’d try to approach their next studio album.  The result was an album that tried to bring old fans back…by mixing new approaches with old approaches.  As much as I love Judas Priest, despite having a rather mixed bag of releases, this is an album I simply can’t bring myself to liking.  There are three songs on here that I’d listen to, the rest is trash as far as I’m concerned.  It’s seldom that I’d ever give a song one out of five stars, but almost half the tracks on Demolition received this little accolade.  About the only two things this album has going for it overall are improved production over Jugulator and Owens vocals are noticeably superior.  Yet that’s about as far as the level of praise towards it can go.  Oftentimes I can avoid lousy albums, but this, St. Anger and the second self-titled Killswitch Engage album are all contenders for worst album I’ve ever listened to.

Angel of Retribution (2005)

After 14 years and two less than stellar albums, Judas Priest was essentially considered better off dead than adding more lousy material to their catalogue.  However, light shined forth on the band when they announced Rob Halford would be reuniting for their fifteenth studio album, Angel of Retribution.  Fans were skeptical, however, as the true Metal Gods hadn’t been together in so long and the album’s single, “Revolution,” wasn’t exactly encouraging.  But this proved to be put in the past after the album hit stores, as fans happily took the new material, with the unanimous verdict being that it was a solid release.  And with good reason, Angel of Retribution contains some very strong tracks, such as “Judas Rising,” the Painkiller-like “Hellrider” and one of the band’s better ballads, “Angel.”  While albums such as Point of Entry and Turbo might be seen as more accessible, if someone who’s new to the band wants a recommendation and enjoys straightforward metal, Angel of Retribution would probably be my first suggestion.  This is mostly because it shows the band still possessing their old style but giving it a much needed and relatively welcomed facelift.

Nostradamus (2008)

Judas Priest as of recent have been quite different than they were in the late 70s to early 80s.  Rather than releasing a new album annually or every two years, we’re getting the equivalent to about one album every four or so years.  Given the overall quality of each time frame, it’s a bit of a shame.  What some might also consider a shame is the band’s most recent effort, a 23-track, concept album over an hour long based on the French prophet Nostradamus.  The band repeatedly stated that this is a project they’ve always wanted to do, one that they didn’t want to cut much material from.  As a result, the album has been released on two discs and, as one might expect, reactions have been between underwhelmed and mixed.  I personally find this unfortunate, because despite all of the album’s flaws, it’s still a good, if not great package.  The lyrics are overall far better than most of the material the band have done after Sad Wings of Destiny.  Giving this album a more power metal and at times progressive metal sound was a nice change of pace that didn’t feel ridiculous and despite the album’s runtime, it’s overall a very rewarding journey.  Granted, there are some rather weak points, but Nostradamus also has some of the band’s best, including “Dawn of Creation/Prophecy,” “Pestilence and Plague,” “Persectuion,” “Death,” “Calm Before the Storm/Nostradamus” and “Future of Mankind.”

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Judas Priest Discography Part III of IV

Defenders of the Faith (1984)

For six years, Judas Priest release a new album annually, managing to change things just enough to mostly be interesting and successful enough.  After the overall excellence of Screaming For Vengeance, the band had a good bit to live up to with Defenders of the Faith, an album that landed the band in hot water with “Eat Me Alive” appearing on the infamous Filthy Fifteen list.  Regardless, the album was out to be listened to and now evaluated.  On a positive note, this release proved to be a very competent one, showcasing a sound familiar and fresh to the band.  Other than the relatively worthless closing tracks, there really aren’t any “weak” songs to be found here.  However, after a few listens the tracks begin to feel less remarkable and this becomes a seeming superb album that shows its cracks after a couple revisits.  Overall, this is a solid effort that has some very memorable moments such as “Freewheel Burning,” “The Sentinel” and “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll.”

Turbo (1986)

With the then-recent craze over hair/glam metal, established and renowned bands were often pressured into giving their own take of such a style.  It was at this time that Judas Priest got the concept for the Twin Turbo records, which would become scratched after the bittersweet response to the first part, Turbo.  While the band once again managed to open themselves up to a broader audience, the overall response to Turbo was a resounding “eh.”  Although I absolutely despise hair/glam metal, I wouldn’t say this release as all bad since tracks like “Turbo Lover” and “Reckless” are worthy of returning to.  However, this album is a complete and utter synthesizer overload whose messages are quite cliché and absurd.  What’s odd is that this album, one of the band’s weakest, came out the same year as Slayer’s Reign In Blood, Megadeth’s Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? and Metallica’s deemed magnum opus, Master of Puppets.  Look at the album on its own, and it’s at least tolerable.  Compare it to other releases that year, and it belongs in the trash.

Ram It Down (1988)

The second part of the original Twin Turbo double-record release, Ram It Down sought to balance rectifying the mistakes of Turbo while still keeping a bit of the core sound.  What we got is an album that’s overall a better package than its predecessor, but just barely.  Indications of a speed metal sound are definitely present, which would become a key reason for long-time drummer Dave Holland’s departure from the band.  At points, the style works wonders, with the title track and “Blood Red Skies” being the immediate standouts.  However, these points are matched by dull moments such as closing track “Monsters of Rock” and embarrassing, joyless cover of “Johnny Be Goode.”  As a result, Ram It Down proved to be little more than a fair improvement over Turbo.  But of course, Priest fans know that this wouldn’t be a proper sign of what would follow two years later.

Painkiller (1990)

Right from the drum intro the title track leading to the frantic guitar riffs, it’s clear that this isn’t the same Judas Priest fans had known for the past 20 years.  Painkiller is universally considered the Priest’s best effort to date, myself included.  One of the most immediate differences here is the welcome addition of drummer Scott Travis, filling in Dave Holland’s position.  His frantic drum work really helped to sell the speed and intensity that fueled the album with Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing providing arguably their best guitar playing ever.  For the entire first half of the album, nothing lets up.  As for the second half, Judas Priest slow things down just enough to let the listener gradually catch their breath before closing with “One Shot at Glory.”  Unfortunately, after the Painkiller tour, the band would find themselves taken to court over their cover of “Better By You, Better Than Me” on Stained Class and then see vocalist Rob Halford leave the band.

Judas Priest Discography Part II of IV

Killing Machine/Hell Bent for Leather (1979)

For U.S. citizens such as myself, this release from the band is better known as Hell Bent for Leather.  Otherwise, you likely call this album Killing Machine since the U.S. is the only country that saw harm with its “murderous implications.”  Though this debate of irony will have to hold, the album is still here to be listened to and looked at.  Hell Bent for Leather was the first drastic change the band made in both image and sound.  The recipe was to take a far simpler approach to the songs with shorter lengths and a more chorus-driven structure.  Additionally, the band began to wear leather and studs for this album, which has since become a permanent change in style for them.  On a positive note, Hell Bent for Leather still brought some good material with it, including a great Fleetwood Mac cover in “The Green Manalishi.”  However, this album simply isn’t as interesting as what they previous released, not to mention this was the first album by the band that would contain entirely mediocre lyrics.  Easy on the ears for the most casual listener, but without depth or interest, Hell Bent for Leather has found itself as a modest at-best album in my books.

British Steel (1980)

Here’s an album that anyone who knows anything about Judas Priest should be familiar with.  British Steel is a clear contender for the band’s most popular album, both thanks to its featured tracks and legacy.  Unlike its predecessor which was severely lacking in a strong sound, British Steel hit the ball running with incredible energy that became a defining sound for the band.  From the track “Metal Gods” earning the band the same name, to the infamous intro riff of “Breaking the Law,” to the popular party-like tune “Living After Midnight” and much more, British Steel proved how a mainstream sound can work with ease.  If you haven’t guessed, this is an album I very highly recommend, especially if you have yet to get into metal.

Point of Entry (1981)

British Steel’s successor couldn’t have been any more of an ironic follow up than this.  Unlike the vigor which fueled the band’s 1980 breakthrough album, Point of Entry felt more like a mild version of Hell Bent for Leather.  Although this release did contain some live-worthy tracks such as “Heading Out to the Highway” and “Desert Plains,” most of it fell into a relatively dull rut that was even more unremarkable than Rocka Rolla.  The album is so forgettable as a whole that during my most recent discography listen for the band, I actually forgot this album even existed until halfway through Screaming for Vengeance.  Not surprisingly, Point of Entry did little for the band and is one of their weaker overall studio efforts.

Screaming for Vengeance (1982)

A far more proper sequel to British Steel, Screaming for Vengeance saw the band quickly return to form via British Steel.  The main difference here, however, is that Screaming for Vengeance became the first debatable masterpiece Judas Priest had put out since 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny.  Opening track(s) “The Hellion/Electric Eye” indicate a truly stellar album is to follow and this is precisely what we get.  “Riding on the Wind” and “Bloodstone” subsequently keep the flow going well while “(Take These) Chains” and “Pain and Pleasure” turn down the intensity slightly to help the listener relax before heading full-blast again with the title track.  Just like British Steel, this album has become a huge hit for the band, partly thanks to their biggest hit, “You Got Another Thing Coming” being included.  It was also the first full album release for downloadable content on Rock Band 2 (and is a very worthwhile investment if you’re a fan of either).

Judas Priest Discography Part I of IV

For the last two weeks of the semester, I’ll be doing a four part discography review for all 16 studio albums by my favorite band, Judas Priest.  Just about anyone who knows even the slightest bit about metal knows Judas Priest as one of the founding fathers of heavy metal.  They’ve gone through a number of style changes, incorporating a short list of genres into their sound and have since become called the “Metal Gods.”  So here it begins; the start to the end of my semester blogs, dedicated to my favorite band.

Rocka Rolla (1974)

Unlike most bands, Judas Priest’s debut album wasn’t much of a stepping stone for their first coherent genre.  Rocka Rolla also didn’t leave much of an impact on the metal community and is one of the few albums that the band never performs live.  About all that Rocka Rolla has really done is give an idea of what early metal was like and indicate where its roots lye (in blues, dominantly).  The title track is about as close to a single as this record saw and, other than that and “Cheater,” no song has really stood out.  Most listeners have passed off this album as only something for the most die-hard fans to listen to for the sake of curiosity.  And truth be told, this holds up for what I think of the album.  Granted, it’s not bad and has its share of fair enough moments, but ultimately this is one of the two most forgettable albums the band has released.

Sad Wings of Destiny (1976)

Universally considered Judas Priest’s first true album, Sad Wings of Destiny helped give the band some attention and has been listed as one of the most influential records for many metal artists (including Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine).  This album saw far less of the blues tone in Rocka Rolla and pushed for a quicker, heavier style.  Opening track “Victim of Changes” has become a fan favorite for many while tracks such as “The Ripper” and “Tyrant” helped solidify the band’s sound for the future.  Currently, Sad Wings of Destiny holds up as my third favorite Judas Priest album with the aforementioned tracks, “Dreamer Deceiver” and “Island of Domination” being among my favorite songs by the band.  This is definitely one of the band’s strongest albums which should be listened to by anyone who wants a good idea of what metal was like when still mostly developing.

Sin After Sin (1977)

Anyone who has listened to the Iron Maiden album Fear of the Dark will likely agree when I say that it’s one of the most inconsistent albums I’ve ever heard.  Judas Priest’s third album, Sin After Sin, is what I consider to be their equivalent; if fifteen years before it.  When the album starts with “Sinner,” one of the best tracks the band has released (and unfortunately underplayed), it’s easy to expect the rest will match or ever surpass its predecessor.  Unfortunately, about half of the following songs hit below the mark.  As a result, Sin After Sin proves to be competent but simply doesn’t live up to its potential.  Two of the better tracks on the album, “Starbreaker” and “Dissident Aggressor” have also been covered by Arch Enemy and Slayer, respectively.  The former didn’t exactly do a stellar job (not to mention with their original vocalist), though the latter did a fairly commendable job by making it less overzealous than most of their material.

Stained Class (1978)

At this point in Priest’s career, it was pretty safe to say that they were going to release albums rather frequently.  Each subsequent album indicated both slight and drastic changes, with Stained Class being the last gradual progression the band before its successor.  On this album, the band mixed styles akin to its predecessors while showing signs of the more straightforward sound that would gain the band immense popularity.  Of all the content on this album, “Beyond the Realms of Death” has become the most popular, and with good reason.  The lyrics tackled a serious subject matter without reaching into a moody, depression atmosphere.  Interestingly, another song on this album landed the group in hot water with a trial in 1990.  In 1985, two boys attempted to kill themselves, one of whom survived only to die a couple years later.  After the Painkiller tour, the band was taken to court over the cover of “Better By You, Better Than Me,” which appeared on this album.  The reason behind the accusation?  Subliminal messages such as “let’s be dead” when the song was played backwards (in other words, indicating the band wants their fans to kill themselves).  Needless to say, the case was dismissed in the band’s favor, but the parents are now trying to sue the judge who ruled the final verdict.  Back on topic, Stained Class has proven itself a solid entry in the band’s discography that, while amazing, is definitely a must listen for any true Priest fan.

My Top 10 Films: Part II

5. American History X

Here’s a film I was very reluctant towards watching.  My friend continually recommended it to me yet I thought with a name like “American History X” it would only be boring or another glamorization of our country (my thoughts on it are for another blog).  You could also say I had similar thoughts going into American Beauty, yet I wound up holding it in a fairly high regard.  And wouldn’t you know it?  American History X became an immediate favorite of mine once the credits came.  The film features my favorite performance by Edward Norton, who really hits the ball running during his Neo-Nazi scenes (particularly the lunch/dinner table fight).  Interestingly, however, it’s Edward Furlong who manages to feel more convincing as a white supremacist (though at times it seems he’s just moving along without much care), despite Norton’s near Oscar-worthy performance.  Regardless, the performances by both and the entire cast are nothing less than stellar; and the film’s message still holds strong (if heard several times before).

“Who do you hate Danny?”
“I hate anyone that is a white Protestant.”
“Why? “
“There a burden to the advancement of the white race. Some of them are alright I guess…”
“None of them are ****ing alright Danny ok? They’re all a bunch of ****in’ freeloaders.  Remember what Cam said, ‘we don’t know em we don’t wanna know em.’  They’re the ****ing enemy. Now what don’t you like about them and say it with some ****ing conviction!”
“I hate the fact that’s cool to be black these days.”
“Good.”
“I hate this hip-pop ****in’ influence on white-****in’ suburbia.
“Good.”
“And I hate Tabitha Soren and all there Zionist MTV ****ing pigs telling us we should get along. Save the rhetorical bull**** Hilary Rodham Clinton cause it ain’t gonna ****in’ work.”
“That’s some of the best **** I’ve heard come out of your mouth.”

4. The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight-Yes, I know this has become the most talked about film for the past decade (if not more) and that it’s praised to no end, but this is all with good reason.  Just like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, The Dark Knight has a lot of content between the characters and story which pushed the runtime close to three hours for both.  Fortunately, the pacing is excellent and for my first viewing in theaters, I kept saying to myself the same words YouTube user MRBLACK spoke in his review, “I just didn’t want it to end.”  The cast were overall very stellar with the possible exception of Christian Bale when in the Batsuit (and I don’t think I really have to mention Ledger’s amazing performance).  Aaron Eckhart also pulled off his role with ease with the Two Face sections being about as effective as The Joker’s.  I’ll still insist that this is the real Best Picture of last year, not Slumdog Millionaire (which was a good film, but nothing more).  Though we obviously want to see Nolan direct more for Batman, it’s definitely going to be tough, if not impossible to top this for many viewers, including myself.

“Do you want to know why I use a knife? Guns are too quick. You can’t savor all the… little emotions. In… you see, in their last moments, people show you who they really are. So in a way, I know your friends better than you ever did. Would you like to know which of them were cowards?”

3. The Green Mile

Going into this movie, I was almost certain that I would like it and that it would be one to keep me coming back.  Interestingly, this was only the case partially, as I absolutely loved the film but I have seldom given it a full viewing after my first one.  While the length didn’t begin to drag until the last ten or so minutes, it’s still a lot to swallow just like Schindler’s List.  But for a film like this where the execution is top-notch, I don’t mind the length (the cut of Das Boot I own is just shy of three and a half hours, yet it’s right below my Top 20).  Director Frank Darabont has put characters in all his films that we instinctively want to hate.  However, unlike The Mist where Marcia Gay Harden was beyond intolerable, Doug Hutchison as Percy Wetmore felt despicable but not in an absurd form.  There’s a lot to love about The Green Mile, ranging from the excellent cast (Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morris, Barry Pepper, Jeffrey DeMunn, Michael Jeter, James Cromwell; the list goes on), to the wonderful score, strong emotions superbly carried out with strong dialogue, superb directing and cinematography; the film has a lot going for it.  Regardless of the low number of viewings, The Green Mile remains a film that will stick with me is the one film that got me to cry for more than a few seconds (try close to three minutes, I felt like such a baby).

“Do you believe that if a man repents enough for what he done wrong, then he’ll get to go back to the time that was happiest for him and live there forever? Could that be what heaven’s like?”
“I just about believe that very thing.”
“I had a young wife when I was eighteen. We spent the summer in the mountains, made love every night. After we would talk sometimes till the sun came up, and she’d lay there, bare breasted in the fire light… that was my best time.”

2. Planet of the Apes (1968)

It was a good while before I finally got around to seeing the original version of Planet of the Apes.  Having seen the remake several times before, I was honestly surprised at how much hate it had attracted; even those who claimed to have never seen the original condemned Tim Burton’s remake.  Finally, my friend and I decided to give the first film a chance over the summer and after the ending, we finally understood the comparisons.  Now, I still wouldn’t say I hate the remake; it’s just horrible when compared to its father since they have little in-common.  The original Planet of the Apes gives us far stronger characters and more clever twists in its reversal roles and, unless you’ve seen the DVD cover before watching the movie, will downright shock you at the end.  Even so, I was still left stunned and silenced by the time we see Charlton Heston slamming the beach sand at the sight before him.  Planet of the Apes is a movie that takes the concept of how truly weak we are as humans for a backbone.  And though it’s fairly implausible, the film still proves a potent point and leads to a wonderful satire of our habits.  By the time it’s over, one can’t help but feel thunderstruck.

“Imagine me needing someone. Back on Earth I never did. Oh, there were women. Lots of women.  Lots of love-making but no love. You see, that was the kind of world we’d made. So I left, because there was no one to hold me there.”

1. The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption-I can’t think of many films that I’ve seen well over 20 times and still never get sick of watching.  But The Shawshank Redemption is such a film and each subsequent viewing only makes me think of and realize more to appreciate about it.  At first, the film barely scraped my Top 10 but before long I simply couldn’t get enough of it.  A huge reason this movie sticks out more than the others is for the two lead actors (Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman) who both feel as down to earth as any on-screen character is going to get.  They talk and act like us while emitting a vibe that helps them stand out, but not to the point that they feel all that different from any of us.  Connections between the two and the supporting cast feel legitimate with a sense of honesty and compassion amongst all of them (whether positive or negative).  There’s so much to love and admire in the film, despite the fact it takes place almost entirely in a prison.  Anyone who hasn’t seen this movie I highly urge to just purchase and watch ASAP since I feel this isn’t just a must-see, but a must-own to continually view and enjoy.  If all else fails, this is the movie that always manages to help me bounce back from a lousy day.

“I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.”