Judas Priest

Columbia Records, 1990

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


Look past the teenage fantasy lyrics, the leather/bondage gear and albums like Ram It Down and Turbo and you'll find an intelligent band. In 1989, Priest saw a musical landscape that not only virtually guaranteed top 10 chart entries for bands like White Lion and Winger, but was also opening to harder bands, such as Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth. Judas Priest wisely saw this as a safe time to put away the keyboards and make a return to form. The addition of drummer Scott Travis also injected some much-needed urgency.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Less than fifteen seconds into the title track of their 1990 release, Painkiller immediately lays down one simple statement: Priest was not f*%&ing around with this album. Priest wisely chose to release this song as their first single: it was a great way to reintroduce the band to fans who thought the band had gone soft, or their heaviest song was "Breaking the Law." The song was a multi-layered powerhouse, filled with breakneck riff changes and Rob Halford's voice going from a dentist drill to the sound of someone literally descending into hell.

If you can manage not to repeat the first track, the rest of Painkiller may not attain the same heights of the title track, but it holds up remarkably well, even 15 years after its release. "Metal Meltdown" and "A Touch of Evil" balance deftly between melodicism and muscle. Whether it was the addition of Travis or the friendlier music environment, Priest seemed totally reenergized with Painkiller. So energized, you can even overlook clichéd titles like "Hell Patrol" and "All Guns Blazing."

Rob Halford's now-open sexuality makes it hard to listen through "Leather Rebel" without snickering. Lyrically, you almost wish they would have added a bit more thought into their songs (a la Stained Class). If they focused a tad more on their lyrical muscle, Painkiller would have been an instant classic.

Still, Painkiller made for a great introduction into '90s metal. Megadeth's Rust In Peace would be the band's commercial and artistic peak and Metallica's black album would forever change Metallica in the eyes of their fans. Unfortunately, the band was not able to hold together after Painkiller's release. Halford would leave the band and the Judas Priest would not drop another album for almost seven years. It's understandable that the band has been trying to recapture the magic of their earlier recordings, but Painkiller would have been the perfect album to end their career with: a near-masterpiece that can stand with the band's best works.

Rating: B+

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© 2005 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.