Judas Priest – ‘Painkiller’ (1990) – Album Review (The Complete Albums Collection Series)

After ‘Ram It Down’, Priest needed to find themselves as they were going down the wrong path musically. In January 1990, the band got back to the studio to begin work and a comeback album that would show they were still the metal titans they were. This time it would be without their drummer Dave Holland who left in 1989. Drummer Scott Travis, from Racer X, was brought in and his double kick drumming style was going to help bring the heavy back to their sound. Also out was producer Tom Allom and in came Chris Tsangarides who also helped Priest find a new sound. We still have Rob Halford, Ian Hill, Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing.

The album was finished by March 1990, but didn’t see a release until September 1990. The reason for the delay was that Judas Priest was being sued for subliminal messages in their music stemming from a civil suit brought on by the families of two teens that say the band had subliminal messages in the song “Better By You, Better Than Me” telling the teens to kill themselves. One teen was successful in his attempt and the other teen survived. The lawsuit ended up being thrown out on August 24th as the judge ruled in favor of the band that there was no messaging. As a result, the band released the album on September 3, 1990 and the heavy was brought back to Priest. The album went Gold in the US selling over 500,000 copies and charting at #26 on the Billboard Charts.

Following the Painkiller tour, Rob Halford left the band as he was ready to try a solo career plus he was tired of dealing with the ever growing tensions in the band. His final date with the band was May 1992. According to Halford’s book ‘Confess’, Rob sent a letter to the band discussing his intentions to pursue outside music and he wanted to take a break to do that, but the band he says took that as he was quitting the band. Not liking confrontation, It took Rob 10 years to finally talk with the band and discuss this matter with them and finally clear the air. We will get to that for the next review. For now, it is music time.

“PainKiller” comes out guns a blazing with the double kick drum of new guy, Scott, and Priest is the heaviest they have ever been. Rob sings in a way he has never done before. He is more aggressive, much higher in tone and though still screams like no one before or after. Tipton and Downing’s thrash guitars are hitting notes that are fast and frenzied and totally destructive. It is all a brutal assault on the senses and a massive statement to kick off the album. Priest hadn’t lost their metal and they make sure there is no doubt the direction of this album.

Things don’t let up with “Hell Patrol” as it kicks off with even more powerful drumming and Rob’s vocals raging on. It is more heavy, in your face music but not as memorable as the opener, but no less heavy.

“All Guns Blazing” kicks off with Halford going straight in to a shrieking verse before the song slams home and he goes back to his normal vocal style. It is another fast paced, metal rocker with a memorable and catchy chorus followed by more guitar antics and a killer solo and a great explosion at the end. After the slight dip of “Hell Patrol”, this one saves the day and gets the album back on track quickly.

We get more speed and some bad ass double kick drumming rumbling that is some of the heaviest drumming ever heard on a Priest song or album. “Leather Rebel” has to be the most exhausting song for Scott because the man never stops and is at a constant pace that would kill most mere mortals. Rob is aggressive and attacks the song with great gusto. Another catchy chorus helps this song stick in the brain and swim around and catch hold.

“Metal Meltdown” opens with a guitar solo, wait is that two lead breaks to open…why, yes it is. The song then kicks in heavy as hell and a continual brutal assault that hasn’t slowed down one bit the whole album. This is not the same Priest we knew before. There is no doubt that Priest has taken the heavy to whole new level as the ram it down you throat, destroy your ear drums and lay waste to all you know.

Things change up a little with “Night Crawler”. The song starts off with an eerie feel to it and has a spooky vibe. It is still heavy but the foot is off the gas ever so slightly. Rob hits some crazy notes on this one and he is also less intense as well. There is a dark, menacing break in the middle where Rob is speaking the verses in haunting, serial killer approach. Overall, the song is a nice change of pace after such a brutal opening set of songs. We needed the break.

“Between the Hammer & the Anvil” is another heavy track that is more in line with what we are used to from Priest. It is a solid rocker and a catchy title with some nice moments. I do like the hammer hitting the anvil sound effect added to the song and there is some killer guitar work from the boys. And Rob sounds great and I love the inflection he adds to the word “anvil” when he sings and some great screams at the end.

Then we get to “A Touch of Evil” which comes in with a chiming bell and some wind noises then with Don Airey on keyboards and some massive guitar riffs and extra long guitar solo and break. You could label this a power ballad I guess at has some great glam elements but is still decidedly metal. It is the most melodic song on the album and one of the best slow songs they have done (if you could consider this one truly a slow one). Rob is on point and delivers more screams which is what we want from Rob.

“Battle Hymn” is an instrumental opening for the song “One Shot at Glory” which is another rocker, but again, not as heavy as the first half of the album. It is an okay song, some more pounding drumming from Scot and more from the masterclass professors of Tipton and Downing. All-in-all, a decent track but not much more than that.

There are two bonus tracks on this one as well. First is “Living Bad Dreams” which was actually part of the ‘Painkiller’ recordings. I would classify this as a power ballad and I really love it. It is catchy, shows a softer side of the band and Rob sound great. Not sure why this one was left off the album as I think it fits quite nicely. The second bonus track is “Leather Rebel (Live)” recorded at Foundation’s Forum in Los Angeles back on September 13, 1990. The live version is a little flat for me. It doesn’t have the punch and excitement of the studio track. The band sounds bored a little and Rob is holding back on vocals and going through the motions. Don’t really like this live version of the song…oh well.

Track Listing:

  1. Painkiller – Keeper
  2. Hell Patrol – Keeper (1/2 Point)
  3. All Guns Blazing – Keeper
  4. Leather Rebel – Keeper
  5. Metal Meltdown – Keeper
  6. Night Crawler – Keeper (1/2 Point)
  7. Between the Hammer & the Anvil – Keeper
  8. A Touch of Evil – Keeper
  9. Battle Hymn (Instrumental)
  10. One Shot At Glory – Keeper (1/2 Point)

Bonus Tracks:

  1. Living Bad Dreams
  2. Leather Rebel (Live)

The Track Score is 7.5 out of 9 Tracks or 83%. I count “Battle Hymn” as part of “One Shot of Glory” so don’t score it separately. Now, if I had to describe this album in one word, that would be easy. This album is Intense! The big stand out is the double kick drum as Scott Travis makes his presence known from the get go. The album is split in to two halves for me. The first half is pure thrash/speed metal heaviness like no other Priest album you’ve ever heard before. It is quite a statement. The second half is more straight ahead rock, more melodic but just as good. It is definitely a step up from the prior album and sees the band start to delve in to a heavier sound without losing who they are and maybe even getting stronger. Too bad it was Rob’s last for over 10 years as it would’ve been cool to see where they went after this. Overall, the album is a solid 4.0 out of 5.0 Stars for me. I see myself pulling this baby out pretty frequently and blasting it so the neighbors can hear it as well.

Now, I know the Tim “Ripper” Owen albums are up next in the timeline, but we are first going to do all the albums in the Complete Albums Collection and then we will come back and hit the four studio albums that were not, including the Ripper albums so don’t fret.

UP NEXT: ‘Angel of Retribution’ (2005)

THE COMPLETE ALBUMS COLLECTION SERIES:

  1. Rocka Rolla (1974)
  2. Sad Wings of Destiny (1976)
  3. Sin After Sin (1977)
  4. Stained Class (1978)
  5. Killing Machine / Hell Bent For Leather (1978)
  6. Unleashed in the East (1979)
  7. British Steel (1980)
  8. Point of Entry (1981)
  9. Screaming for Vengeance (1982)
  10. Defenders of the Faith (1984)
  11. Turbo (1986)
  12. Priest…Live! (1987)
  13. Ram it Down (1988)
  14. Painkiller (1990)
  15. Angel of Retribution (2005)
  16. Nostradamus (2008)
  17. A Touch of Evil: Live (2009)

41 thoughts on “Judas Priest – ‘Painkiller’ (1990) – Album Review (The Complete Albums Collection Series)

  1. I love just about everything about this album except the title track which is my least favourite Priest song. And I never got the hate for “Nightcrawler” Lebrain and others gave.

    And this was the last hurrah for Rob Halford vocally. His voice peaked with the Ram it Down tour and the recording of this album, but it finished him. None of the Painkiller songs were ever done live to the standard they were on the album, which is a little sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. After the Ram It Down fiasco I never got/bought into the whole Painkiller deal. Title track I like but for some reason it just didn’t click with me. To me it was like Priest was trying too hard to sound too metal if that makes any sense.
    I always go back to the era from Unleashed through to the Priest Live era.
    Fair score though and I know the Mars Man likes this one so I may have to stream it and give it another shot as it’s only been 31 years since I heard the record in full lol
    Great stuff Sir

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Some great songs, some okay songs and some so-so songs, but I like this album better because it’s metal and aggressive.

    Scott Travis on the drums is a massive improvement.

    Also Tipton and Downing really stepped up their game here in guitar playing throwing down some wicked leads that involved tapping, sweep picking and super fast picked alternate lines.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This was the first Priest album I ever heard in its entirety, back when it was released. I would’ve just turned 13 at the time. Of course it beat my face clean off just as I was on the edges of getting into a lot of heavier stuff. And Scott Travis definitely brought the fire for the record, he really helped them step up.

    I know for me I’d put it in their top 3 albums, there are days where I wonder if it isn’t my number 1. I do get that it turns some others off with its more aggressive sound, they’ve certainly had a few distinct creative eras that people are into. But I really can’t live without it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As much as I love this album, I see the songs going from really intense and up all in your face to less intense so that the listeners have a chance to breathe. Like the hype and energy level declines further and further. Also, I think “One Shot at Glory” is a terrible song to end the album on (not including the bonus tracks). I hate “Living Bad Dreams” too, though. But next to ‘Stained Class,’ ‘Painkiller’ is my favorite album cover from the band. I’ve always loved that the Judas Priest has an American in the line-up now. Everyone else has British accents, except for Scott.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s true! And like I said, it gives the audience a chance to breathe after all that intensity from the first half. ‘Painkiller’ is definitely an improvement from ‘Ram It Down’ and ‘Turbo.’

        Liked by 1 person

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