JUDAS PRIEST — Painkiller (review)

JUDAS PRIEST — Painkiller album cover Album · 1990 · Power Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
There are a few certainties in life and one of those certainties is that if you are lucky enough to achieve enough life to be considered an elder that the whippersnappers who follow will always be nipping at your heel and even more so in the adrenaline and testosterone fueled world of heavy metal. JUDAS PRIEST is a metal band that needs no introduction. This band took the world by storm in the 70s by finally pulling the plug on blues based riffing and launched a heavier and more extreme version of hard rock that became known as heavy metal. While the band technically formed all the way back in 1970, it wasn’t until 1976’s “Sad Wings Of Destiny” that the PRIEST got a firm grip on its own idiosyncratic sound and once self-recognition was activated, there was no looking back.

These gods of thunder are virtually patron saints in the metal universe with one classic album after another ranking high on best metal albums of all time but after the one two punch of “Screaming For Vengeance” and “Defenders Of The Faith” which mesmerized a head banging public, the mighty PRIEST started to lose ground as younger, faster and more ferocious metal bands were gestating in the cauldron of caustic Promethean fire which fueled darker, faster and ever louder musical expressions. Bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Celtic Frost and Bathory were clearly breaking new grounds and the mighty PRIEST was looking more and more washed up with albums like “Turbo” and “Ram It Down” which were rich in creative experimentalism but lagged in execution. The lackluster performances of those two albums required a serious soul search and necessitated a methodology to reenergize and become relevant once again.

The weakest link turned out to be drummer Dave Holland who just didn’t have the magic mojo to keep up in an ever more demanding world of extreme metal and after a ten year stint as percussionist-in-chief of one of metal’s most revered bands Dave got the boot and in was a new skin abuser by the name of Scott Travis. Travis had worked with Thin Lizzy but seriously honed his chops in the Los Angeles based Racer X. He was exactly what a tired and weary JUDAS PRIEST needed in order to rekindle the magic that would kick the old JP in the arse. With Travis, long time members Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton, K.K. Downing and Ian Hill did something nobody even dared consider and that was craft one of their heaviest and most consistent albums of the band’s entire career. PAINKILLER arrived in the fall of 1990 and was the band’s 12th studio album. For those who expected another curse of mediocrity, man they must’ve been completely caught off guard with this one!

PAINKILLER took the classic style of PRIEST to the next level and made them relevant in the world of Helloween inspired power metal, lightning fast thrash metal and darkened doom-ridden death metal. Along with long time producer Tom Allom, PAINKILLER was dropped onto the metal world like an atomic bomb and still reverberates into the present as one of the crowning achievements of not only PRIEST itself as a band but as a masterpiece of metal for all time. Given Travis’ bombastic technical percussive wizardry, he forced the long time members to up their game and to their credit pulled it off with an unabashed victory. Tipton and Downing went back to guitar school to keep up with the neoclassical shredders whereas Rob Halford screamed his lungs out with amazing proficiency and vocal control. At the metaphorical eleventh hour of the band’s fading career, the gods of thunder ignited a new cauldron of creativity and raised the bar in the sound wars of the music’s world’s loudest and raucous descendent of rock.

PAINKILLER opens with the ferocious title track which immediately leaves little doubt that a new PRIEST has been resurrected from the ashes of the old and like a phoenix arising from the dying embers begins with Scott Travis pounding the living shit out of his drum set like a possessed griot narrating tales of the living dead with sounds so unruly and bombastic that the recording studio must’ve barely survived the impetuous torture that it endured. Yes, JUDAS PRIEST was back with Rob Halford shrieking like he never did before and twin guitar attacks that were on par with the fastest and most ferocious thrash and power metal of the era. If the opening track wasn’t enough to give you goosebumps, the album jets forth and never lets up for its 46 minute run. Generally speaking the first five tracks that culminate with “Metal Meltdown” display an aggressive fury characterized by ridiculously strong hooks, bombastic double guitar axe-man-ship, double bass drumming extravaganzas and a complementary bass line fury that offers a menagerie of molten metal madness.

As if an angel whispered in their ear telling them to tamp down the aggressive fury beginning with “Night Crawler” the band incorporates an atmospheric keyboard intro that sets a tone for the tale of a flesh eating monster that comes out at night and attacks with a vengeance. The keyboards played by Don Airey are fully implemented on the classic “Touch Of Evil” which offers a creepy atmospheric intro with chimes as the slower than usual track displays a completely different side of the PRIEST and unlike “Turbo” found a way to incorporate the keys appropriately into their classic heavy metal sound. The short instrumental “Battle Hymn” follows as an anthemic intro to the closing “One Shot At Glory” which finds JP in a classic 80s epic metal state of mind in the vein of Manilla Road and perhaps the most authentically sounding track of the band’s pre-PAINKILLER days although the musicianship has expanded severalfold since those days of yore and the great gods of thunder end one of their few albums of perfection. This “One Shot Of Glory” experience for the band without a doubt revitalized the sagging PRIEST like Cher’s facelift and in the process left one of metal’s most enduring albums.

Igniting the Promethean fire turned up the flames so high that so did the long suppressed tensions within the band begin to surface. After all, these guys had been playing together for well over a decade at this point with endless touring and unthinkable success. Rob Halford departed two years down the road an embarked on a successful solo career while the band morphed into the much loathed RIpper years as the alternative 90s spawned many surprises and heartbreak for long established 80s bands. But the great JUDAS PRIEST was not dead as fifteen years later Halford would return with “Angel Of Vengeance” however the momentum to follow the metal perfection of PAINKILLER would never be revived leaving this sole album as the zenith of the band’s musical prowess. It’s also well worth having the later remastered version of PAINKILLER. The bonus track “Living Bad Dreams” was recorded during the PAINKILLER sessions and presumably nixed due to lack of real estate on a 90s album but fits in perfectly with the album albeit on the slower side in the vein of “A Touch Of Evil.” The album cover depicts a secret desire we all have for some divine force to intervene and end the suffering and reign of evil that planet Earth has endured for millennia. While not exactly resurrecting the Christ consciousness, this album for a brief moment in time achieves this through the ultimate escapism. M-m-m-masterpiece!
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