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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 Dream Supergroup

For those who might not know what a “supergroup” is, it’s essentially a collection of members from various bands who collaborate for a number of songs or even a full album.  Typically the closest we’ll get to a supergroup is a side project announced by a member of another band.  Take for instance the recently announced side group that will involve members from Anthrax, Every Time I Die and Fall Out Boy (honestly, I’m scared to see/hear the results), that’s a close example of a supergroup.  But for someone like me who tries to get into more, similar bands after hearing an album or two by another, it’s easy to dream for a certain collaboration.  So this is what I’m going to bring you, my own personal dream group, if only for one album.

Vocals: Ronnie James Dio (Black Sabbath/Heaven and Hell, Dio, Elf, Rainbow)

Anyone who knows heavy metal has to know Ronnie James Dio, and not just for the song “Holy Diver.”  On a few of Black Sabbath’s albums, Dio actually assumed the role of frontman instead of Ozzy Osbourne, leading to the foundation of Heaven and Hell as a bit of a side band.  Dio is often credited as the one who invented the devil horns hand sign, a near daily gesture given off by most metal fans.  I was fortunate enough to see Heaven and Hell during the Judas Priest-headlined Metal Masters tour from 2008, additionally featuring Motorhead and Testament.  The entire six hour show was a blast and to my (pleasant) surprise, Dio happened to be the strongest vocalist there.  Thus began my true appreciation for this power metal vocalist.  Dio has recently turned 67 and he’s still able to push impressive notes out that can put other singers to shame.  Unfortunately, it’s been confirmed that he has stomach cancer and is currently in the hospital.  Despite this, Dio has shown great strength and variety to his vocals and it’s always a joy to hear him on a song.

Guitars: Glenn Tipton (Judas Priest, Glenn Tipton)

Those who have hung out with me know that Judas Priest have been my favorite band for as long as I’ve been into metal.  They’re the band that served as my real introduction to the genre and even with a relatively mixed discography; their great songs and still solid live performances have left them (mostly) unchallenged by other artists.  A big part of why the band is so enjoyable is because the two lead guitarists, Glenn Tipton and Kenneth “K.K.” Downing.  These two essentially do trade-off guitar duals during solo sections, with most of their more impressive ones being on the excellent Painkiller album.  Though it could almost be argued as a toss-up between the two, I’ve always preferred the solos Tipton has done more work in; that and his solo album, Baptizm of Fire showed he’s not too bad on his own (save for the vocals).

Guitars: Jonathan Donais (Shadows Fall)

Shadows Fall are a band that get frowned upon quite a bit, mostly because they’re a metalcore band and many people insist Brian Fair is a lousy vocalist.  But to be honest, they aren’t all that bad (and neither is Fair).  Sure, nothing they’ve released after The Art of Balance has hit as high but they’re released some fairly good material.  Even those who don’t like the band tend to admit the guitars are pretty good and this is part of why I think Jonathan Donais would be a good second guitar player for a supergroup.  Now, there are plenty of other more talented guitar players out there, but I think Donais would be best suited as a mix between rhythm guitar player and supporting soloist (Tipton would be dominant but Donais would have his fair share too).  If I wanted the most insane guitar combination I’d probably pick Marty Friedmand and Yngwie Malmsteen.  But I simply want a strong guitar duo and I do believe Donais could work well with Tipton for this.  He’s between good and great, with guitar riffs and solos that usually impress, but never feel overwhelming or without some form of flow to maintain consistencies in the songs.

Bass: Greg Christian (Testament)

Bass players don’t tend to get much recognition, even in the metal community.  What’s most unfortunate, however, is that there’s actually a valid reason: there aren’t many great bassists out there to stand out.  But when you find a talented person on the bass guitar, you’ll definitely be able to tell the difference in the music more times than not.  While I was inclined to put ICS Vortex (recently fired from Dimmu Borgir), he was never given much legroom outside of his vocal sections.  Even so, Greg Christian from Testament has proved himself a more than competent bass player over the years.  Many of the songs Testament have done include a strong use of bass, with the most popular being the intro to “Souls of Black.”  And after hearing more of what the band has to offer, it becomes more and more abundantly clear how great Christian could fit into just about any metal band, especially a more aggressive one.

Drums: Nicholas Barker (Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth)

Similar to Jonathan Donais and, to a lesser extent, Glenn Tipton, Nicholas Barker is a similar example of a musician who’s quite talented but isn’t quite in the overzealous territory.  I’m most familiar with Barker as the drummer for a chunk of Dimmu Borgir’s discography (yet another band that takes a lot of heat).  If you want a proper idea of what this drummer can do, give “Blessings Upon the Throne of Tyranny” a listen and you’ll get a good idea of his talents.  Though the more talented Jan Axel “Hellhammer” Blomberg replaced Barker for 2007’s In Sorte Diaboli (ironically, the band’s weakest overall effort), the latter has still given the band some impressive contributions and it would be wonderful to continue to see his talents put to good use.