Saturday, 27 March 2010

CD Review: Painkiller, by Judas Priest (1990)

After a decade in the doldrums, Judas Priest are suddenly reborn with an album of outstanding high quality. For a band formed in 1969 and with a first record released in 1974, Painkiller is nothing short of remarkable.

It is no coincidence that Scott Travis joined the band on drums for the creation of the album. Finally, Judas Priest found themselves with a heavy metal drummer worthy of the name. His booming, crushing drum sound propels Painkiller towards heights that the band had never achieved before. It is absolutely no accident that the first two tracks, Painkiller and Hell Patrol, both open with massive drum intros. Imagine an artillery barrage that levels -- no, scorches -- the terrain before the tanks and soldiers move into battle: that's what Travis achieves at the front end of this album.

Also no coincidence that Priest discarded the unfortunately bland producer Tom Allom for this recording. Chris Tsangarides takes over behind the controls, and re-invents the band with a much deeper, fuller and more menacing sound.

The lead guitar work on Painkiller is several notches above the material that Judas Priest wallowed in for most of the 1980's. K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton all of a sudden have a focus and sharpness that was often so elusive. The solos carry a melody and integrate perfectly with the songs.

Rob Halford, in his farewell appearance with Priest before his departure to pursue other projects, never sounded better. He stays within control and makes good use of both his low range and trademark high pitch.

There is a maturity, darkness and dangerous power on Painkiller that leaves not just the Priest of the 1980's behind, but all of the metal of the 80's in the rearview mirror. In many ways, Painkiller is the bridge between the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and the Death Metal sound that was to emerge from Europe in the latter part of the 1990's. If anything, Painkiller was an album a few years ahead of its time.

The title track, Painkiller, is probably among metal's most perfect compositions, ever. An outstanding epic, it combines barely-in-control speed with over-the-top power without ever losing the laser focus on the chilling end-of-the-world demon at the center of the song. It is a measure of the band's sudden progress and maturity that Halford takes no less than 5 long and dangerous seconds to deliver the line "" as the centrepiece of the song's manic chorus while the band produces absolute carnage at breakneck speed behind him on each occasion.

There are plenty of other excellent tracks on the album, particularly at the back-end, including Hell Patrol, Night Crawler, Between the Hammer and the Anvil, and One Shot at Glory. But make no mistake, great as these tracks area, they all live in the shadow of the Painkiller.


Rob Halford - Vocals
K. K. Downing - Guitar
Glenn Tipton - Guitar
Ian Hill - Bass
Scott Travis - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Painkiller - 10 *See video below*
2. Hell Patrol - 9
3. All Guns Blazing - 8
4. Leather Rebel - 7
5. Metal Meltdown - 7
6. Night Crawler - 9
7. Between the Hammer and the Anvil -10
8. A Touch of Evil - 10
9. Battle Hymn - n/a (short instrumental intro to Track 10)
10. One Shot At Glory - 10

Average: 8.89

Produced by Judas Priest and Chris Tsangarides.

All Ace Black Blog CD Reviews are here.

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