Review Summary: The Priest's first effort with Owens provides some solid material, but not everything offered here is pleasant listening material.
The 90’s were a relatively inactive yet interesting decade for Judas Priest. Although they had hit their peak with the highly successful and critically acclaimed Painkiller in 1990, the departure of longtime vocalist Rob Halford left many fans in dismay. But the band wasn’t about to call it quits; instead they searched for a replacement and found tribute band vocalist Tim Owens. Seven long years after Painkiller’s release the public saw Jugulator hit stores, marking Owens’ first release with the band. Though the album is often frowned upon or ignored by many fans, it did manage to offer up some solid material, if not scattered amidst some less stellar tracks.
From the get-go with the title track, it becomes apparent that this is not the Priest many are familiar with. Rather than having a generally upbeat feel, Jugulator sets a dark, murky mood with elements of thrash and death metal finding their way into the sound. In fact, with the possible exception of Nostradamus, this could be argued as the band’s most ambitious effort. This is mainly due to the fact that it has little to nothing in common with the band’s other albums. There’s no smooth transition between any other Priest album and this one (even Demolition barely sounds similar). However, the album begs to be looked at separately from its predecessors and successors. And when giving it a neutral listen one might possibly find it an overall worthwhile listen.
Jugulator’s an album that alternates between being quite solid and simply mediocre. On one hand, tracks such as “Burn In Hell”, “Abductors” and “Cathedral Spires” are good indicators of the band hitting the right notes. In the case of those songs, the instruments and mood work quite nicely, with the vocals usually matching the solid musicianship. Unfortunately, there are also some very low points on the album that really stick out like a Lamborghini in a parking lot (after being demolished that is, no pun intended). For instance, listening to “Blood Stained” (namely the chorus), “Dead Meat,” and “Decapitate” becomes a bit of a strenuous experience due to the very blatant core sound and almost complete absence of true passion.
As far as the performances of the band members, there’s quite a bit to note. Guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing manage to deliver adequate enough performances each, though there’s a distinct lack of top-notch shredding material here. While just about everything onward from (and including) Defenders of the Faith had some quick guitar playing charisma, here everything feels slowed down to try and set the mood. The end result for Tipton and Downing is that they do a fair enough job, but simply don’t have the personality they usually express. Drummer Scott Travis’ second outing with the band managed to show some still impressive arm and foot work. Though nothing here really compares to Painkiller, he still puts on a great show on most, if not all of the tracks. As for bassist Ian Hill, he actually seems to have a bit more of a prominent role here than on any other album. Normally it’s tough to make out what he’s playing but on Jugulator his playing comes through a few times which nicely compliments the songs.
Yet there are two primary issues to be found with the album: the execution of Owens vocal style and the thematic aspects. While Tim Owens has since proven himself a solid vocalist, here he seems all over the place just like the songs themselves. At points it can almost be laughable to hear the erratic extents of his voice singing the blunt lyrics. Yet on “Burn In Hell” and “Cathedral Spires,” he manages to spread his vocal style very well and give a proper hinting of his talents. As for the themes present in the album, this is namely in the parts that seem to try telling stories and/or attempt to create more of an atmosphere (eg. the voices in “Death Row”, the growls/snarls on “Dead Meat”). Just about every point these aspects show only come off as corny and you begin to wonder why the band didn’t tweak these parts so that they didn’t fall so flat.
From start to finish this is an unrestrained album by the band’s standards. It’s dark, blunt and almost completely dismal in nature. In some cases a better album creeps in, mostly with the closing tracks. However, for every high note hit properly, there’s a low one lousily missed. In fact, the songs alternate between middling and solid very inconsistently (go from “Burn In Hell” to “Brain Dead” and then “Abductors”). Overall, it’s a fairly admirable effort that allowed the band to stretch its wings, but there’s just a distinct lack of passion or care in half of the tracks that it’s too hard to overlook.