After the ‘Painkiller’ Tour in 1991, Rob Halford had decided to leave the band. However, due to contract obligations he didn’t really leave until late 1992 as Halford did help with the 20th Anniversary celebration of the band with the greatest hits package ‘Metal Works – ’73-’93’. After that was overs, so was Halford. Now, according to Rob’s book ‘Confess’, his departure was merely a miscommunication. He said he was leaving to do just go do a solo project, but not technically leaving the band. The band took it as he was leaving the band, plain and simple. It took them 11 years to work that out because Rob was too scared to make contact and clear things up and Rob takes fully responsibility for that part.
In the meantime, the band moved on without Rob. They searched high and low and found their new lead singer in the strangest of places. The found Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens in a Judas Priest Tribute band called British Steel. When they heard him, they knew he was the one. That story inspired a movie in 2001 called ‘Rock Star’ with Mark Wahlberg that told of a story of metal band finding their new lead singer from a Tribute Band…hmmm…is this the bands 2nd time inspiring movies. Didn’t their legendary drummer turnover inspire part of ‘This is Spinal Tap’??? Crazy stuff.
The line-up was set, original members K.K. Downing, Glenn Tipton, Ian Hill along with drummer Scott Travis and new guy, Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens. Tim was not the only new thing about the band for this album, the band changed their sound and changed it big time. They didn’t go to a softer side, they went even heavier…much heavier. The band tuned down their guitars which completely change the tone of the album as that classic Priest guitar sound was gone. The album was pretty much a thrash metal album as there was not much melody and really no catchy choruses. This is the heaviest I think they’ve ever been. They were starting to lean towards heavier even with ‘Painkiller’, but this takes it to another level entirely. And you know what, with a new singer, it wasn’t a bad idea to try and change it up…might’ve been better if it wasn’t a Priest album because as a Priest album, I’m not sure this works. As another band name, might be just fine. We will see.
The album kicks off with a more industrial sound before we get a massive double kick drum from Scott and then a growling talking verse and a massive scream from Ripper. “Jugulator” is pounding, it is abusive and it is total destruction. You are pummeled from beginning to end and it is abrasive and assaulting to say the least. Ripper’s vocals go from speaking to the deepest of sounds all the way to the highest of highs as and even some screaming. He shows all he can do in one song and is a huge introduction to the world.
“Blood Stained” doesn’t let up and is filled with some killer grooves and a hell of a bassline. And it is a striking difference to what you are used to hearing from Priest. This is an adjustment for sure. As a massive Halford fan now because of this series, this takes some getting used to hearing. The guitars on this are deadly as Tipton and Downing are going bezerko nuts with this one. Scott’s drums are totally destroyed with his destructive behavior with the extreme pounding on the drums. With no real hooks or melodies anymore, I have a hard time getting in to what I’m hearing.
And things don’t get better with “Dead Meat”. It is more of the same heavy ass playing, screaming/singing. The only bright spot on this is the guitar solo which doesn’t really fit with the intensity of the song, but the rif after the solo is pretty great. Still though, not a real exciting song for me.
“Death Row” kicks off with an explosion and some one screaming let me out, a phone ringing as someone is calling death row to give a message to the man about to die…huh? What the hell is this? Ripper’s singing on this one, if you want to call it that, is lacking in the verses. The chorus is rather cheesy and overly dramatic to almost being comical. This one is very derivative of a lot of things I’ve heard.
The first half of the album ends with “Decapitate” and so far the song titles are abrasive as the music. The song is slow and sort of plods along to no where. So far, might be the worst song on the album and that is saying a lot. The guitar sound is lacking, the singing is lacking, it is all simply lacking.
Then we get to the first single of the album and what might be my favorite track on the album, “Burn in Hell”. I can sort of sing a long with this one. It opens with a cool dramatic atmospheric synth, some James Bond type riff and is a slow burner and when it explodes, hold on tight as the blast radius is huge. That Halford-type scream from Ripper made me feel at home with this one and the closest thing to a classic Priest song on this album. I could get used to this.
“Brain Dead” is up next and this is a rather depressing song in that it is about a guy who is paralyzed and trapped in his own mind. It comes from his point-of-view. I find the concept quite interesting, I do like the guitar work on it and Scott’s drumming is nothing short of spectacular. Ripper does a good job, but the problem is the song kind of plods along a little and could’ve been more exciting than it is. It has its moments, but still missing a little something.
The next track gets back on track for me and that is “Abductors”. When Ripper hits those high notes, that is really cool especially when he screams the word “Abductors”. It is a strange song, but one I dug more than most others and it is all because of Ripper on this one. He can really go high. The song also had some timing changes it felt like and I like a little variety. Plus, with two guitar solos and one being a dual guitar solo, what more could you want.
“Bullet Train” lives up to its name. It is fast and heavy and comes at you like a bullet. It is the second single off the album and definitely one of the catchier songs on the album and for that it hits the mark and is for sure a keeper. The guitar riffs on this one are killer and the boys deliver another solo accompanied by the extremely ballistic drumming of Scott Travis on that double kick drum. It is brutal and awesome at the same time. I even like the Ripper piece we he seems to be singing back and forth to himself, to me that was a cool touch. All-in-all just a stellar track.
The final track is “Cathedral Spires” which starts off slow and then picks up the tempo and goes on for over 9 minutes. The song is about the end of the world and is grand and epic in its delivery and starts off pretty good, but it drags on way too long and to go on for 9 minutes is too long and loses me. If they would’ve cut this down, I think it would be a keeper as the first half is pretty great as Ripper sounds great and the band is really on point. By the time you get to around the 7 minute mark would’ve been a good place to stop.
- Jugulator – Keeper
- Blood Stained – Keeper (1/2 Point)
- Dead Meat – Delete
- Death Row – Delete
- Decapitate – Delete
- Burn in Hell – Keeper
- Brain Dead – Keeper (1/2 Point)
- Abductors – Keeper
- Bullet Train – Keeper
- Cathedral Spires – Keeper (1/2 Point)
The Track Score is 5.5 out of 10 or 55%. Not great, but seriously not as bad as I was expecting. This to me is not a Priest album and it is not because of Ripper. It is really because the album is so much heavier than prior albums and has lost all melody and catchy choruses. It is a tough listen, but did get a little better as I kept listening to it. Ripper isn’t bad, but I don’t like the more speaking type vocals or the guttural vocals either. I did like when he hit the high notes as those were killer. I think they went to an extreme to distance themselves from Halford’s Priest and that was to their detriment. It could also be that the times were different and music was much darker and angrier as this album felt. Either way, not my favorite Priest album, not even close. I Score it a 2.5 out of 5.0 Stars which closely correlates to the Track Score. Not a bad effort, but too far from where they were before and the band probably shouldn’t have been called Judas Priest.
UP NEXT: ‘DEMOLITION’ (2001) – BONUS EDITION
THE COMPLETE ALBUMS COLLECTION SERIES:
- Rocka Rolla (1974)
- Sad Wings of Destiny (1976)
- Sin After Sin (1977)
- Stained Class (1978)
- Killing Machine / Hell Bent For Leather (1978)
- Unleashed in the East (1979)
- British Steel (1980)
- Point of Entry (1981)
- Screaming for Vengeance (1982)
- Defenders of the Faith (1984)
- Turbo (1986)
- Priest…Live! (1987)
- Ram it Down (1988)
- Painkiller (1990)
- Angel of Retribution (2005)
- Nostradamus (2008)
- A Touch of Evil: Live (2009)
- Jugulator (1997) – Bonus Edition