Review Summary: PAIN! PAIN! KILLER! KILLEEEEEEEEER!
After the weak albums Turbo
and Ram It Down
, no one was really expecting Judas Priest to make a magnificent comeback to the top of the metal heap. Even Dave Holland, who had been drumming with the band for almost 10 years, left because of musical differences and personal issues. Holland was never so much a fast, and certainly not technical drummer, which explains his distaste in Priest’s current speed metal direction. He was replaced by Scott Travis, formerly of Racer X
, who was very skilled in the speed metal scene. This wasn’t the only change in personnel, however. Producer Tom Allom, who also had been working with the band for a very long time (since 1979’s Unleashed in the East
), was replaced by Chris Tsangarides, who had worked as engineer on Sad Wings of Destiny
way back in 1976.
1990 saw the release of the new line-up’s first album: Painkiller
. Doing away with the still lingering amount of commercialism from the 80’s, Priest entered the new decade with their, fastest, heaviest, and arguably most metallic album. It was lauded by many fans and critics alike as a magnificent comeback and a classic metal album. Still today, many even cite it as their favourite album from the band. Unfortunately, a great anti-climax followed. After the tour for the album, Rob Halford, who had been the voice for the band since their first album Rocka Rolla
in 1974, inevitably chose to leave the band, not to return until 2005’s Angel of Retribution
. As for the album itself, it still stands the same and shall be looked at for what it is.
Painkiller’s Judas Priest was:
- Robert John Arthur Halford ~ Vocals
- Kenneth Downing Jr. ~ Lead Guitar
- Glenn Raymond Tipton ~ Lead Guitar
- Ian Frank Hill ~ Bass Guitar
- Scott Travis ~ Drums
- Donald Airey ~ Keyboards on A Touch of Evil
Travis’ arrival was nothing less than a blessing for the band (and album). He has a very powerful double bass delivery and the drumming is, for the first time ever on a Judas Priest album, a force to be reckoned with. He completed what was missing on Ram it Down
, and finished the full speed metal picture. That doesn’t mean the rest of the band didn’t change their playing to serve the new style though. The double guitar lead provided by Downing and Tipton is more technical and high-pitched than ever, providing the basis for the take-no-prisoners style of the album. Halford goes nuts more than ever and chooses to sing a very large part of the album in a screeching falsetto that is about the highest delivery he could do at the time. Power-packed is an understatement when talking about this album. The new production also helped with creating the more metallic feel, something Tom Allom had never managed to achieve.
There is one particular track that encompasses all these elements together in the most perfect way imaginable, and that is, of course, the title track. One of Priest’s finer openers, if not finest, it manages to explode straight at the beginning with Travis’ energetic and short solo, which very smartly shows off his skills right from the very first seconds of the album. Several thunderous guitar solos and menacing screams later, we believe this is the best and heaviest Judas Priest album ever.
The quality keeps up for the majority of the album. Standouts are the short and catchy Leather Rebel
, the very metallic Metal Meltdown
, and the epic Touch of Evil
, which can, apart from its slightly annoyingly cheesy chorus, keep up with Priest’s greatest epics. Hell Patrol
stands out because of a great vocal performance. In short, highlights are aplenty.
is a breath of fresh air and still maintains some variety, I must be critical with it. Some songs are lacking slightly. Between the Hammer & the Anvil
manages to create a dark, brooding atmosphere, but can’t keep it’s momentum going strongly. All Guns Blazing
has a great vocal-only falsetto intro from Halford, but doesn’t bring enough change from its predecessor Hell Patrol
. Closer One Shot as Glory
is the right choice for a closing track, but is clichéd (depicting an epic battle), and gets slightly repetitive due to a lack of different hooks grabbing your attention. That said, there are no absolute weak songs on the album, but some of them could have used a greater amount of song writing input from the boys.
The lyrics, as is well known, are among the cheesiest Priest have ever done. Sometimes, this doesn’t matter. The title track and others are great examples of this, where they are luckily presented in such a way it doesn’t get annoying. Some songs however, and most notably their choruses, do present the lyrics in a way that remind us why Judas Priest, and many others in the metal scene really need to give the lyrics some thought, most notably Metal Meltdown
, A Touch of Evil
and One Shot At Glory
. Their delivery is certainly an improvement from Turbo
and Ram It Down
, but still not quite perfect. Other than that, flaws on Priest’s 12th studio output are hard to come by.
is, all in all, a very, very solid record. It is a superb dive from the band into the speed metal area, and ranks among their very best records, rivalling even the classic Sad Wings of Destiny
for best Judas Priest album. Unfortunately it has some flaws in song- and lyric writing which mean it ultimately can’t manage to be what many claim to be their best record. It is a speed metal classic most surely, as well as being very influential in taking heavy metal a step further, but what Painkiller is not
, is Priest’s best work.
+ Very powerful and energetic
+ All the heaviness works excellently
+ For the first time since their inception, the drumming really stands out
+ The double guitar lead is more impressive than ever
+ Halford manages to show off a very impressive falsetto
- Some of the songs could have used just a little more writing input
- Lyrics sometimes get annoying