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When I think back on the Tim 'Ripper' Owens era of Judas Priest I have to consider it against the greater schema of the band's legacy and my reactions to it. By the time Painkiller had been released, it was in my opinion the pinnacle of their career. They were touring arenas, kicking asses everywhere, much to the surprise of those who might have felt underwhelmed at Turbo or Ram It Down, and they had honed their traditional nuance for catchy chorus melodies and huge, inspirational riffs to its most aggressive and memorable potential. They were, in short, on the top of the world, and I think they would have easily been forgiven, if after all that touring and murdering audiences, they took a break through most of the 90s to pursue solo projects and perhaps ease tensions in the ranks.
But that's just not how it panned out. The band wanted to continue without Rob Halford, and he wanted to try his hand and lungs at different sounds like the street-oriented thrashing groove outfit Fight, or the later NIN clone Two. The rest of the band had families to feed, a reputation to uphold, and a genuine desire to keep touring and enjoying the lifestyle and livelihood they had pursued for over 20 years. Granted, unless they had been pissing their money away on coke and gambling, these guys were probably already set for life. A well paid and well loved entity who could tour the world on short notice, and whose famous singles were so heavily embedded into radio rotation that royalties would be paying for the education of their great grandchildren. And, fuck it, as mediocre as their following studio output would prove, they had every right to go on about their business and leave Halford behind them.
But here's the problem: if you took the best elements of EVERY studio record this band would record post-Painkiller, with Owens OR Halford at the helm, and mashed them together into the skeleton of a single album, it would not be good enough to serve Painkiller its high tea. Or clip that album's hedges. Or deliver its milk to the door. In fact, I don't think a single full-length produced past 1990 could compete with any album the band released prior to that date, not even the heavily divisive efforts like Point of Entry or Turbo; and unfortunately, Jugulator, the debut of Rob Halford's 'replacement', was the first in the barrage of lackluster studio offerings which itself has now spanned nearly two decades. This is a downright miserable record which attempts to season the aggression of their magnum opus with a relish of darker, trendy thrashing 'tough guy' hostility (circa Pantera) while at the same time introducing a new voice which, despite an obviously earnest effort, fails to meet expectations.
Now, everything I've read or seen of Tim Owens tells me that he's a stand up guy, with a good heart and a professional attitude. On a personal level, I think a chap like this deserves a shot. His performance on the Winters Bane debut Heart of a Killer seemed to suit him well, and he's a well practiced technical singer with a range, part of which encompassed the shrieking heights of his predecessor. This was no 'Blaze Bayley' choice. Priest were intent on snapping up someone who could handle their vast backlog of material without rocking and capsizing the boat. But for some reason, when listening to his throughput in either of the records he fronted for the metal gods, I can't help but think Owens tries too hard. Whether this was at the direction of the band veterans or producers or his own judgment is somewhat obfuscated, but his inflection always seems like a chameleon attempting to blend into a new environment rather just relaxing in its native climate.
His presence here is splattered with all manner of schizoid dynamics and special effects that are balanced off against a rather dry, central scream which is devoid of that same, piercing timbre that was so memorable about Halford. You can barely go through a handful of lyric lines on this album without some erratic, distracted bullshit happening, like the lame gang shouts in the first track ("Jugulator") itself, or the constant multi-tracked sneers and snarls or almost guttural vocals he uses to support his angrier mid range ("Blood Stained" and elsewhere). Again, on a technical basis, he hits his targets and does not shy away from the angrier persona required to complement the 'toughness' of the guitars' thrash orientation, but ultimately it feels the least genuine performance on any Priest record. Incredibly forced, as if you were to trace an image on paper, peel it off the original, then try and match them again physically to find that they weren't quite congruent.
But then, I can't really blame Owens for the underwhelming bravado of the musical composition, which lies squarely on the shoulders of the old timers. Predictable, power/thrash architecture which sacrifices much of the melodic, memory searing brilliance of the previous album for the sheer weight of force. The riffs and rhythm section are incredibly precise, with Downing and Tipton never backing down from their own physical exertion, but it's just so banal and boring. Manic, frivolous leads that build upon the Painkiller formula sans the catchiness, and even where the pair rips into tremolo picking sequences or churning hardcore/thrash grooves, they still do not seem to be able to implement this belligerence into anything that warrants recycled listens. Even after 15 years and numerous returns to re-evaluate Jugulator, I can find nothing new here, nothing 'grown' upon me, nothing subtle or interesting, just a washed out meat tenderizer to the face, bludgeoning away past its shelf life.
Seriously, listen to the riffs in the verse of "Blood Stained" or the slower grooves in "Abductors". Any quartet of Pantera-driven 15 year-olds in my county in 1995 might have crafted a more compelling, violent groove than this mundane, muted patterns. Jugulator is not without some atmosphere, as they incorporate a lot of dour, cleaner guitars to let Owens resonate with his multi-tracked screams (much like Rob), but even at its most 'tender' moments the album feels like a dud. I can't imagine that if Halford were to jam with, say, Dimebag Darrell or Rob Flynn, that the results would turn out so soddenly average and uninspired. Are there a few exceptions? Perhaps "Bullet Train" maintains an interesting, mechanical aesthetic for 30 or so seconds, and the epic finale "Cathedral Spires" is stronger than everything leading up to it, but even these tunes have their moments of disinterest me like the bombastic bridge grooves of the latter.
To its credit, Jugulator is not the very worst of the Judas Priest records, nor is it as awful as other midlife crisis records like Risk, Diabolus in Musica, Virtual XI or St. Anger. It still draws a pretty clear lineage from the band's prior works in 1988-1990, and it feels distinctly 'Priest' even with Owens at the helm. I like the loud and abrasive production of Scott Travis' drums, and where the band layers on the effects and atmosphere, even the varied vocal tracks it all gels from a production standpoint as this modern evolution of their sound. The lyrics are very often trite and pedestrian but at least many of them have a relevant point. I just can't help but think that the Brits would have turned out better if they just waited for a reunion album (which did happen eventually) or toured with guest singers. Or maybe they should have just gone and hired Ralf Scheepers, whose wild and absurd tones feel like a better, more powerful match to the band's material for me (hell, for all my post-1990 JP needs I just turn to the better Primal Fear records like Black Sun, Nuclear Fire or Jaws of Death).
There simply aren't enough of those wonderful vocal melodies here for me to grasp, or volcanic guitar riffs that drove Painkiller into an instant, accessible immortality. Jugulator is heavy, and it tries to keep with the times, and I don't fault it for those traits, I simply wish they had been better implemented. The jump da fuck up chorus parts like in "Blood Stained" are like a terrible foreshadowing to crap like Drowningpool's "Bodies", and despite the myriad personalities of Owens' inflections, I never felt a genuine threat to the music, whereas "Painkiller" made me clutch my blankets in nervous sweat as I looked out into the night, fearing what might be coming down through the skyline in a wreath of irradiated fire. Jugulator seems little more than weak flesh being grafted onto a solid steel skeleton, and I'm no more able to get into it today than I was in 1997.
What a surprise! Seven years after the very well received band classic "Painkiller", the band parted ways and seemed to be buried for all times. But at a certain moment, the remaining members of Judas Priest reanimated the band without their charismatic front singer Rob Halford and chose the young American Tim "Ripper" Owens who was playing Judas Priest cover songs in his early years. Everybody would have expected a poor attempt to earn some money and copy the style of the band's greatest successes.
But this album came as a surprise that went straight and without any compromises in the face of many fans. At least the record is accepted and got some positive reconsideration by most of the critics but at the time of its release, this album was a shock. Judas Priest doesn’t play hard rock or heavy metal on this record. They play straight thrash metal with some death metal elements plus industrial sound effects and discordant disharmonic guitar solos that remind a lot of Voivod on this dark album. The main topic is about the dark side of life, death and sinner and finally the end of the world.
Many people will now judge quickly and say that the band tried to catch up the trend train and win some fans among the younger generation that rather listened to thrash and death metal during the nineties when many heavy metal bands quit or had difficult times and when metal music became once again an underground movement that couldn't attract as many people as grunge, pop punk and rap did. Well, these people are not so wrong as this record sounds pretty modern and open-minded.
Critics will compare this release to Iron Maiden's dark and mostly unpopular release "X Factor" and compare the situation of Judas Priest to a situation that many bands lived during the nineties such as Voivod: they walked on new paths; they had to replace some original members and faced rather poor crowds during concerts and mediocre sell quotes. The critics are once again right.
Critics will judge this era of Judas Priest as a weaker one as the original line-up ultimately reunited as it was also the case of Iron Maiden or Voivod. They will claim that many fans forgot about "Jugulator" and also "Demolition" and rather hailed the comeback release "Angel Of Retribution". They will say that the quality of this record can't catch up with old and new Judas Priest releases. They are once again not far away as many people still don't overall accept this release and the band gained more popularity after the comeback.
But as in the case of Iron Maiden's "X Factor" or Voivod's "Phobos", I must admit that "Jugulator" is one of my very favourite releases of Judas Priest. It sounds raw, fresh and simply unexpected to me. It's a welcome change of style and rebirth of a legend that nobody expected. After the mediocre last release "Nostradamus", a strange series of concerts and the unexpected departure of K.K. Downing, I would even say that I would have preferred the band to stay together with Tim Owens. He's not yet as amazing and technically skilled on this release as he would be later but he has a very charismatic voice, a lot of talent and some much needed energy and did a very well job on here that can mess up with Rob Halford's performances. His stage acting might be less charismatic but he is a very gifted singer.
Concerning the music, the band used a lot of atmospheric interludes, industrial sounds and sound collage effects that give this album a very desperate atmosphere. The drums are heavy and powerful, the main riffs very heavy and memorable, the guitar solos disctorted and insane and the bass guitar is very charismatic with its galloping chords as usual. The title track kicks off the album on a high note and already resumes what awaits us for the next hour to come: dark industrial sounds with intense riffs, distorted guitar solos, piercing screams, progressive and surprising changes of style and catchy vocal lines.
The album sounds very coherent without being closed minded and dull. The structures of the tracks are comparable but never ever alike. Every song has something special to offer. One of my favourite tracks is the very dark, aggressive and intense "Death Row" that has an atmospheric introduction that shivers down my spine each time I listen to it. The main riff is maybe the heaviest one the band has ever pulled off in their career. The sound effects in the chorus and in the bridges a lot of intensity to the track, the vocals are unchained and insane and the guitar riffs are gone wild. You must be deaf to not head bang along to this treasure. Another highlight is the surprising single "Burn In Hell" that kicks off very slow and develops into a more and more intense and pitiless track. The opening guitar riff is simple but effective, the bass guitar feels like pumping blood and the vocals are amazingly diversified as I never heard it from Rob Halford. The song is also catchy as hell. As a third highlight, I would cite the great epic album closer "Cathedral Spires" that is a little bit calmer than the rest and features an amazing vocal performance by Tim Owens who simply beats himself once again. That being said, there is not one single weak track on the record maybe a part of the groove metal orientated "Blood Stained" that is only pretty good but not as excellent as the rest. Let's also add that this album has really grown on me. A few years ago I would have given about ten percent less than today but as I got more and more open-minded musically and especially towards extreme metal stuff, this record gets more and more precious to me.
My final verdict may surprise you as much as it surprises me. I really like early Judas Priest with albums like "Sad Wings Of Destiny", "Sin After Sin" and "Stained Class". Without a doubt, I have hailed tracks like "Breaking The Law", "The Hellion / Electric Eye" or "Painkiller" but my ultimate favourite record is "Jugulator", the most surprising album of the band. Give this album a fair try after all these years and rediscover it. Don't even try to compare this to the records of the band as this is completely unique and this is what this record's charm is all about. I cut off one point for “Blood Stained” and one point for a minimal lack of diversity at some parts and another point for the mediocre album cover but I'm still surprised about this forgotten little masterpiece. It will never have the status of "British Steel" or "Painkiller" but open-minded metal maniacs and true Judas Priest fans should nevertheless adore this album.
Let's get thing out of the way; this isn't really Judas Priest. Sure it's labeled as such, but think about. This is kind of like the American Godzilla film from 1998; it may be a movie about a giant lizard dubbed Godzilla that attacks a major city, but can one really label it a true Godzilla film? OH FUCK NO! Not even close. This album isn't really true Judas Priest. Sure it carries the label and sound a little like it, but when I think a Priest classic, I don't think a quasi-thrash album.
However, having said that, is this a bad album? Well, sort of. A number of the songs downright blow and are mostly forgettable. But the songs that are good are actually pretty fucking awesome. Most of the Priest badboys are here and accounted for. Glenn Tipton and KK Downing create a killer whirlwind of cool solos and some vicious riffs, as well as the album's dark, apocalyptic lyrics, a move often incorrectly attributed to then new guy Tim "The Ripper" Owens. Speaking of whom, this guy is actually pretty damn good in all fairness. He has quite a great Halford-esque wail, as well as a pretty cool and even classy-sounding mid-level voice. However, his overuse of guttural growling and similar vocal techniques gets worn out and even a little obnoxious at times, again further from differentiating this album from the classic Priest mold. Rounding out the cast is Ian Hill on bass, now more up front thanks in part to the songs' heavy and vicious riffs, and the great Scott Travis on drums, who is now more in the background thanks to the production, but thankfully he pounds those skins hard and fast enough so his immense talents aren't totally wasted.
A number of these songs, with their thrash-like speed and heaviness, don't exactly scream classic Judas Priest as I've mentioned, but a few are pretty cool. The title track has a goofy but interesting mechanical-sounding opening that segways into a song with decent riffing and a great solo; The Ripper's vocals soar in particular on this track. "Dead Meat", oft disliked by my fellow metalheads, I find pretty kick-ass. It starts with a synthesized sound of a growling dog, letting the listener know that they certainly will become dead meat. This leads directly into arguably the album's heaviest and most brutal riff, yet it's still somewhat catchy. A particularly classily-sung chorus from The Ripper rounds this one out. "Blood-Stained" has cool lyrics and more killer riffing, though I find the solo to be a bit long and forgettable. The legendary "Bullet Train" is also great, with a great solo, catchy vocals and screams, a catchy pre-chorus and main chorus, catchy riffs; it's catchy all around! The 9-minute closer "Cathedral Spires" is also often maligned for some reason I can't think off; it's so epic! Melodic guitarwork mixes with the super-heavy bass work to make for something both beautiful and harsh. Most other songs don't cut it. "Death Row" is mostly taken up by a too-long spoken intro that was done better on Priest's own "Night Crawler" or the hilarious opening to Grim Reaper's "Final Scream". When the song eventually does get going, it has "filler" written all over it. The too-heavy yet not heavy enough "Decapitate" is also fillerish and suffers from overly-simple lyrics, while songs like "Burn In Hell" goes on for too long with an over-long solo and yet another over-long opening.
Overall, "Jugulator" suffers somewhat for its overlong songs, occasionally too-dark lyrics and inconsistent vocal work, but what few songs that rock rock pretty hard and use the album's flaws to their advantage. Is it a good Judas Priest album? Not really. But look at it as just another metal album, it's not too bad despite the flaws which hold it back.
Let's just come right out and admit, right from the get go, that "Ripper" Owens never adequately replaced the mighty Halford. I mean, there are few voices in heavy metal history that can compete with Halford's pipes. So it's no wonder that the majority of reviews of Jugulator one reads tend to view the record from an automatically biased viewpoint: i.e., Owens is no Halford. I'd like to NOT dwell on the obvious differences between Halford and Owens, and take the album on its own merits. It's difficult, but I'll try.
Listening to Jugulator with fresh ears, if you will, I have to say, right off the bat, that this is a pretty heavy album. The guitars are solid and crunchy, with a nice death metally low-tuned sound to them. The drum work is consistently solid. And whoever says Owens lacks Halford's high notes is simply not being honest. (Whoops, I'm already comparing Owens to Halford...see what I mean?) Anyway, Owens does some truly frightening screaming on this record, and his lower range is really growly and--dare I say it?--masculine. At the moment I'm writing this, I'm listening again to "Dead Meat," and the range Owens displays is tremendous: everything from a low, menacing growl to a high, strident metal scream. (You also have to love the guitar solos on this track, jumping from speaker to speaker.)
Backing up a little bit, I'd also like to present the title track "Jugulator" as an example of excellent late 90s heavy metal. The atmosphere starts out with a bit of an industrial flavor, and opens up into some pounding, thrashy metal. (Once again, props to Scott Travis for the excellent drum work.) Try listening to "Jugulator" (the song) with a copy of the album cover art in front of you. The menacing ambience of the track matches that horrific monster on the cover beautifully.
"Burn in Hell" was made into a video, which I will admit I haven't seen, but is a nice example of the range this incarnation of Priest was capable of. Sure, the title is a little corny, but there again, "You've Got Another Thing Coming" isn't exactly the least cliched song in heavy metal history. The nice thing with "Burn in Hell" is how it starts kind of quietly sinister, then builds into a raging screamfest as the song continues. And I hate to belabor the point, but anyone who says "Ripper" can't scream hasn't listened to this song, either. The guy's got some fierce rage in his voice that fits quite well with this incarnation of the band.
One more track that stands out is the final tune "Cathedral Spires." The opening slow section is really beautifully written and performed, and when it kicks into the heavy section, it's a thundering success. Heavy, menacing, raging...this track is a good example of what Priest was capable of in this era, I think. For those who like a little harmony singing in their heavy metal (as I do), this song has a little something for everyone. At over nine minutes long, this is a battering assault on the listener, and a fine way to wrap up a Judas Priest album.
As I said above, it's not easy to approach this album in an unprejudiced fashion. Rob Halford is not the kind of lead singer who can leave a band without leaving a gaping hole behind. It happened with Iron Maiden when Bruce Dickinson left. And honestly, I think JP did a far better job of finding a replacement than Iron Maiden did. No, Tim "Ripper" Owens was not a Halford copy, but he was a fine lead singer in his own right. And the band certainly didn't give up their vitality when they made this record. Is it as classic as British Steel? No. Is it a good, solid heavy metal that is a treat to listen to? I think so.
When you say Judas Priest, your mind instantly travels through time and you name up classics like “Tyrant”, “Beyond the Realms of Death”, “Metal Gods”, “Love Bites” or “Painkiller”. Without hesitation you think about Rob Halford’s high-pitched vocals and the superb guitarduels between Glenn Tipton and KK Downing. But there’s a darker side to this band and it came right up when Halford called it quits. As a result Tipton and Downing, both accustomed to writing good songs, took Halford-wannabe Tim Ripper Owens to replace the Metal God on vocals. Don’t you want to know how that turned out? No you don’t. I usually dig albums other people loath, but Jugulator just lacks creativity in every corner and sounds terribly uninspired. It’s been seven years since previous album Painkiller, which everyone remembers as one of Priest’s greatest. Whether Downing and Tipton wanted to create something in the same vein or something totally new is not clear. The music sounds like a parody of what Priest was before and I daresay the band just needed a reason to tour. And of course, there are enjoyable parts on this album, but most of it’s pushed towards the end of the record or it’s ruined by what follows.
Let’s begin with Halford’s replacement Tim “Ripper” Owens. Some people praise his vocal talents and his range, saying he resembles Rob Halford. Well, he tries very hard to resemble the man, but he does not really succeed. Halford could actually sing in the higher regions of his range, while Owens only screams and he doesn’t even hit half the height Halford does. Not that it matters, but the man really is annoying to listen to. His screams sound fucked up, his lower voice sounds cheesy as hell and sometimes he just sounds like a barbarian that’s about to attack a wild boar. Then there’s the boring songwriting. There are riffs I made up the first year I picked up a guitar. The best example is the opening track “Jugulator”. It begins with a nice machine-like rhythm (could make you think Priest is joining the industrial rise), but is quickly ruined by a cheese-evil theme and eventually bursts out into a three chord riff that is just too ridiculous for words. The lyrics on the song are so wannabe Halford, about freaky monsters and terribly beasts. But this is not convincing. The same formula of boring riffs and annoying vocals is used at tracks like “Dead Meat” or “Decapitate”. It sounds just so unprofessional it’s like a textbook “How to make my first metal song”. Then there’s “Death Row”, which actually flows pretty well if you don’t count the tiresome fragment at the beginning... that is, until you hear the chorus. Are we listening to a band playing (or trying to play) metal or is this a child’s party and we’re singing nice cozy songs?
Then the positive side of the album... I’ve been negative for far too long now. As I mentioned before there are some better songs near the end of the album with the exception of “Blood Stained”, which is number two. The said song is not really different from the others around it in terms of sound, riffage or structure, but the major difference is: it flows and stays cool ‘til the end. This is also what makes “Abductors” and “Bullet Train” more successful creations than crap like “Burn in Hell” or “Dead Meat”. And if a song doesn’t flow, it’s not a good song. If it does, then you can be proud like on “Bullet Train”, which is full of adrenaline and deserves to be written by Judas Priest, and “Abductors”, which begins evil and stays evil. And when you’ve achieved that, you find you can also like Owens’ vocals. Then there’s “Cathedral Spires”; the long song of the album. Peaking at a little over nine minutes, this song is a true epic consisting of three parts: the first part is a ballad, the second a rocker with an anthemic chorus and the third is a mesmerizing continuation of the anthem from part two. And when you’re done listening to these tracks, you begin to wonder why they didn’t bother to write more songs that actually sound good?
In short, Jugulator is a bad album with some positive surprises. This is Judas Priest being totally confused about what the hell they are, what they’re supposed to do and what the hell metal is. Still, I would recommend the last three tracks to any Priest fan, since they are really good tracks. As for the overall album; avoid it. Don’t be seduced by the cover.
Strongest tracks: “Bullet Train” and “Cathedral Spires”.
Weakest tracks: “Jugulator”, “Dead Meat”, “Death Row” and the others minus “Blood Stained” and “Abductors.
In 1991 an atomic bomb exploded in the metal world shattering the dreams of many fans. The mythical singer of Judas Priest, Rob Halford, a man who influenced so many other singers, announced that he was going to leave the band! He wanted to do something personal and either he couldn’t manage to give the best of himself in two fronts either he was not satisfied with Priest’s music direction. By the way, it turned out to be a completely wrong move. For a time the band thought of splitting-up. Finally they decided that they had the strength to move on. After many auditions his replacement was found in the face of a not so well known singer, Tim “Ripper” Owens and only seven years later they returned with their new album, Jugulator.
At first I was not so sure on whether he could stand up to his role. Yet he proved me wrong. Owens is a good apprentice of Halford both in singing and performing. That part went well. He may not possess the extreme high notes in which Halford had got us used to; still he stands decently giving the best of him. But what about the album itself? Was it worth the expectation after years of silence? Well…
In terms of music, Jugulator is kind of strange to me. They follow paths they had never attempted to tread in the past. It is one of the toughest things they have recorded with heavy, sharp guitars and very heavy drums but the thing is that many themes bring in mind bands so different from them like Machine Head or Pantera. I am not the only one to think of this. The straight-in your face metal riffs have become more complex and it make it somehow difficult to believe that this is a Judas Priest album. Of course I didn’t expect it to be Painkiller Pt.2 but something quite similar.
There are certain songs that I really liked too much like Dead Meat with the very heavy solid guitars and bombastic drums. Owens screams and yells with much aggression and harshness and he is clearly a pleasant surprise. Another track that stands out is Burn in Hell. An atmospheric intro is followed by strong drumming by Scott Travis who is proved to be an excellent choice for Priest. The guitar riffs are heavy as fuck making the song a blaster that blows you to pieces.
Another favorite of mine is Death Row. The once again razor sharp guitars stick to your head and the chorus is so inspired that I found myself singing along many times. Of course Tipton and Downing remain in great form, composing amazing solos and guitar parts for most of the time. The bass as always is firm and steady though a bit in the background.
But who would expect them to be the only three fantastic songs in a total of ten in a Judas Priest album? The band that gave us so many heavy metal hymns in the past seems to have run out of ideas. The majority of the tracks are less interesting to the point of becoming boring. Such is the nine-minute last song, Cathedral Spires. It sounds endless every time I listen to it and to be honest, it challenges me to push the STOP button before it ends.
Thank God there is no balladry stuff here like they have done on their next albums and that’s a good thing. Yet all the remaining songs are pretty mediocre and they have nothing special to contribute. Decapitate, Jugulator and Brain Dead are pure fillers. They are all heavy but somewhere on the way the cheese prevails. Their heavy breaks are not enough to save the day.
In overall, Jugulator is an album most likely to confuse you. If you wish to see a change and development in Priest’s music, this one is for you. But if you want to remember them in the way they used to be then you must surely listen to it before investing your money or hopes of a glorious comeback.
Despite being something of a vocalist myself, I never get too caught up in the drama of a certain lead singer's departure. Many of my favorite bands such as Black Sabbath and Iced Earth have gone through many different singers over the years yet continued to release quality material and I've always held to the belief that any line-up can release something successful as long as there is still a strong songwriting team at its core. But what happens when a great change completely transforms a band's sound and leads to a completely different sounding outfit; should they continue under the old name or adopt a new moniker? That is the question that is posed with the release of 1997's downtuned mindfuck "Jugulator," the very first Priest album to feature Tim "Ripper" Owens on lead vocals.
As much as I hate to take away credit from the other Priest members of the past and present (especially band founder and original vocalist Al Atkins), I don't think it's really Judas Priest anymore when you take away Rob Halford's influential voice and solid lyrics. That's certainly not said to insult Owens either for he is one of the most powerful vocalists in modern metal and went on to do great things in future projects. I just feel that the absence of the Metal God had somehow resulted with the creation of a completely different sounding band...
For one thing, the album's style and musical content sounds nothing like the Priest of old. There are absolutely no references to the "classic" 80's era and the style of 1990's "Painkiller" is only felt at a minimum on faster tracks such as the Grammy nominated "Bullet Train" and the somewhat robotic title track. Even then, the speeds never even come close to approaching those of anything on that album. Instead we are presented with some kind of hybrid that combines Slayer, Pantera, Alice in Chains, and Metallica with a guy who can shriek like Halford here and there...
As expected with this combination in mind, most of the songs on this album tend to revolve around heavy downtuned riffs and groovy mid-tempo song structures with a few darker touches here and there. "Blood Stained" and "Death Row" are probably the strongest tracks of this style with their muddy riffs, muscular drumming, and solid hooks (especially on the latter). Other tracks such as "Burn In Hell" and "Cathedral Spires" also have their mid-tempo moments, but the former is made memorable by an infectiously building structure and the latter is an apocalyptic epic that even the haters of this album can enjoy.
Aside from the drastic musical changes rubbing some listeners rubbing the wrong way, this album's biggest flaw lies in its lyrics. Just as Halford did with Fight, the band seems to go for a much darker outlook and more socially conscious themes. The album's topics range from the state of the world ("Blood Stained"), execution ("Dead Meat," "Death Row," and "Decapitate"), to the end of said world ("Cathedral Spires"). Unfortunately, Priest failed where Fight had succeeded and come off as primitive rather than clever...
All in all, I can say that album makes for a pretty enjoyable listen for any open-minded music fans out there. Of course, I still think Priest should've changed their name to fit this album's style. Hell, Jugulator sounds like it would've been a good name for the band as well as the album. Kinda like how Winters Bane's first two albums after Owens' departure were released under the Kill Procedure moniker...
1) Heavy riffs, hard-hitting drums, and excellently delivered vocals
2) The songs themselves are pretty enjoyable for the most part
3) Good variety of styles
1) Primitive lyrics
2) Drastic change of style may turn off some fans
3) "Abductors" and "Brain Dead" fall short of the other songs' quality
My Current Favorites:
"Blood Stained," "Death Row," "Burn In Hell," "Bullet Train," and "Cathedral Spires"
When a band changes an important (i.e. non-bassist and non-drummer) member of its band, and people dislike the new sound, it is often blamed on the vocalist. People who hated The X Factor often blamed Blaze Bailey, people who hated Falling Into Infinity often blamed Derek Sherinian and people who hate Jugulator often blame Tim Owens.
But the vocals aren't a problem here. Tim Owens is a competent vocalist – he just doesn't get used as he should. The problem is that it's just so dull.
The majority of the riffs on this album have no memorable quality about them at all. They're not horrible, they're just so bland and mediocre. The band also down-tuned for this album and, while this isn't necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, it brings with it the implication that the band down-tuned and started playing these mid-tempo groove based riffs in an attempt to “modernize” the band's sound.
A specific example of dull riffs would be the song Brain Dead (a title that describes how I feel when listening to the song). The verse riff is just a power chord, with a typical 'Slayer at 90bpm' riff every 4 bars. Before the chorus, the riff changes to a purely power chord based riff, with distorted guitar harmonics over it. The guitar harmonics are there because the song is about someone who is on life support, but it doesn't help with the comparisons to numetal because it just reminds me of Machine Head.
The leads of K. K. Downing and Glenn Tipton sound dull and uninspired, and specifically sound like the work of Hanneman and King.
Most of the songs begin with either a clean passage, or some sound effects and spoken words, or a clean passage underneath some sound effects and spoken words. These range from the mildly annoying (Brain Dead opening with the sound of a car crash, followed by police car sirens rushing to the scene), to the truly cringe-worthy (Death Row opening with a conversation between a prisoner, evidently on death row, and a gruff security guard who says without a word of irony “Sorry, son. Commit a crime – pay the price,” later following it up with “Dead man walking.”). I expect sound effects and samples in every other song from some bands, but I can't help but get the feeling that the band didn't think that their audience would understand Tipton's deep lyrics unless they included all of these annoying sound effects and samples to show them what the songs were about.
“Death Row? Hm. I wonder if this song's about Glenn's feelings on Accept's 1994 album. Or a song about Dr. Dre's former record label. ...oh, no. What a buffoon I am. It's about someone who has been sentenced to death, and whose warden thinks that he is Kurt Russell”
Lyrics have never been the band's strong point, but these are some of the worst I've ever heard. If you look at the song titles list and think “man, those are some infantile song-titles,” then the lyrics will make you either wince in agony or howl with unstoppable laughter.
But the thing that bothers me most about this album is that there are some nuggets in here that are good, and a couple that are really great. Once you get past the awful intro, Death Row is fun and has a catchy chorus. The song that actually annoys me the most is Bullet Train, because after listening to the intro to Demanufacture by Fear Factory, and getting through some awful lyrics, the pre-chorus is actually catchy as fuck, the chorus is not too bad, then it goes back to shit.
And then there's Cathedral Spires. And I'm not sure if it's because by this point I've listened to some really woeful stuff, but I have to say that I really, really enjoy this song. It begins with a clean intro, but unlike the rest of the album, it begins with a clean intro that isn't terrible, and Tim Owens actually gets to show off what he can do with his voice. The verses aren't great, but the chorus is without a doubt the catchiest, most fun and most memorable thing about the entire album – it is huge, epic, with twin guitar melodies, clean guitar parts, and layered vocals. Cathedral Spires almost makes me stop thinking about the two pints of lager I could have bought with the £4.99 I spent on this album, though I can't help but wonder what Glenn Tipton really meant with the lyrics “Oh! We're so tired,” and “Time that we retire.”
This album sounds like a mid-life crisis. Tipton and Downing realising that the young kids don't listen to (or commit suicide) to their music any more, and trying to recapture the ears of the youth again, with mostly disastrous moments. If you're a completist who just has to have every studio album that Priest released (like me), then I'm not going to stop you from buying this album. If you want typical Priest fare you're not going to get it, but you could probably buy Cathedral Spires as an mp3 on Amazon or iTunes or something. It's not all bad, but listening to it for the few good moments there are is a bit like wading through shit trying to find peanuts. You'll probably find some, but afterwords you'll just wish that you'd bought a bag of peanuts.
Judas Priest without Rob Halford simply isn't Priest. Well that's what I thought at first, until I actually came round to buying Jugulator, the first of 2 studio albums to feature Tim 'Ripper' Owens on vocals. You may know Owens also for his work with Iced Earth, but he was easily supeior when he was with Priest.
Naturally I wasn't expecting this to be up to the standards of Priest classics such as Sad Wings, Stained Class, Screaming For Vengeance or Painkiller but I was wrong. Well, maybe it's not up to the standards as Painkiller since in my opinion that is one of the finest metal albums of all time but you get what I mean. And no, Ripper is no Halford- but then again, no one is. But he is Ripper- and Ripper still sounds unique himself.
I think the reason why Jugulator works so well is the fact that Glenn Tipton and KK Downing aren't trying to sound like any of the previous material- Jugulator simply sounds nothing like, well, any of the Halford discography. Other than the follow up album to this with Ripper, Demolition, I can't really see similarities between any of the Halford stuff. It is WAY heavier for a start, and the guitars are tuned extremely low making the riffs sound much more aggressive and angry. Painkiller was the heaviest album that Halford sang on, but it definitely isn't as heavy or dark as Jugulator.
The fact that this album doesn't really sound like any of the previous albums will put a lot of people off- but if it did it then Ripper would be accused of being a Halford wannabe. I will admit that there are plenty of times when Tim gives some Halford-like screams to his vocals, but overall his voice is usually deeper and generally angrier. It's not just Ripper that impresses though, Glenn and KK's song writing is still very strong and Jugulator contains some of the most kick-ass guitar riffs and solo's you'll hear in a while.
The title track opens, with plenty of downtuned, ugly and menacing riffs and an even more menacing vocal performance. 'Blood Stained' is pretty fast and put simply, brutal. The chorus is also very memorbale. 'Dead Meat' and 'Death Row' follow the same brutality direction and 'Decapitate' is as awesome as the title suggests.- the main riff is so DAMN HEAVY and I can never get enough of this track! 'Burn In Hell', 'Brain Dead' and 'Abductors' again, continue in the same direction. They all feature some twisted riffs and evil screams. 'Bullet Train' is a strong track with a great chorus. But 'Cathedral Spires' steals the show reaching over 9 minutes in length and containing some fantastic performances from every band member.
There isn't a duff track on here and I do think this is one of the stronger Priest albums. Of course it's no Painkiller, Stained Class, Sad Wings, British Steel or Screaming... but those albums were incredibly strong in the first place and are all classics now. I understand that some fans don't like Jugulator but I think it's an album you should at least hear before you dismiss it. It impressed me that's for sure and deserves a place in a Judas Priest collection.
When discussing Ripper Owens' tenure in Judas Priest, the smart fans usually focus on the outright terrible releases: 'Demolition', for instance. But when broaching the subject of 'Jugulator', most Ripper detractors, I've noticed, get decidedly quiet. One could interpret this a number of ways, but I think saying simply that Priest fans who enjoyed the heaviness of 'Painkiller' and 'Defenders of the Faith' genuinely have nothing major to complain about with 1997's effort: 'Jugulator' is probably close to the mark.
Yes, there is a general lack of the classic 'Priest twin-guitar solos that we've all become accustomed to, and the album undoubtedly suffers for it, but there really is no attacking Ripper's phenomenal vocal performance, or the album's quality as a whole. In fact, after revisiting this album time and again, I've found myself missing Halford less and less. Ripper's masterful performance on the album's title track, 'Burn in Hell', 'Bullet Train', and of course the now-legendary 'Cathedral Spires' put any doubt of his abilities immediately to rest. Accusations of his 'ripping off' (no pun intended) Rob Halford don't hold water, either, as he definitely has a more forceful delivery and a more gravelly sound on the whole when compared to the metal god in question. Even filler tracks like 'Dead Meat' somehow get far better when Ripper is delivering lines like "I will not give in... Not while I'm Liviiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing!"
It's more the intangibles that Judas Priest's faithful were expecting that seem to fall by the wayside on this album. That isn't a mark against 'Jugulator', though. When taken as a balls-out vicious Heavy Metal release - which is exactly what Jugulator was meant to be - it's difficult to level any genuine complaints since it is so damn solid. Judas Priest effortlessly transcend the banality of the modern Metal they have been accused of attempting to emulate on this album. The fact that so many songs are memorable alone speaks to the record's worth, with some even being declared classics, in retrospect. The music isn't quite as theatrical or overblown as past Priest albums, but now that 'Nostradamus' has been released, I would like to think that 'Priest fans have begun to understand that one can, in fact, be too theatrical.
Basically, this album is a natural progression from the sound in place on 'Painkiller', it steps in the same direction as the former - that is, a more modern one - but it also shakes off some of the best elements of classic Priest in favor of a heavier, more rhythmic sound, and darker lyrical content. Ripper's vocals ultimately save it from being too generic, and a few moments of songwriting brilliance allow it to remain a fond memory for most fans of the Metal Gods. I highly recommend it. Even the filler is worth headbanging to.
Standout tracks: Jugulator, Dead Meat, Burn in Hell, Bullet Train, Cathedral Spires
Stinkers: Abductors, Brain Dead
Yes, I am one of the few people who actually enjoy this album. Sure, it sounds nothing like classic Priest, and the solos aren't really that great, but damn is this album heavy. Most people who reject this album, because there's no Rob Halford here. However, I actually like Tim Owens as a singer. He does a nice job on this album except when he uses those "tough guy" shouts. Sure, he's The Ripper may not be no Halford, but he's nonetheless a good singer. However, it's the drummer, Scott Travis who really shines on this album. He really shows off his talent here, and actually saves a few of the songs from being crappy. He has to be one of my favorite drummers. The closest thing I compare this album too is a mix of traditional and groove metal with thrashy moments, paticularily on the song, Death Row.
Amongest the highlights here are the title track, Blood Stained, and Death fucking Row. The first two mentioned tracks are groove metal numbers that actually have nice riffs that make my head bang. Then, there's Death Row, holy shit, this song fucking rules! It actually sounds pretty thrashy, with some nice Horrorscope-era Overkill moments. Not only that, but I love that fucking chorus. "OH NOOOO, I WON'T GOOO, YOU'LL NEVER GET ME DOWN TO DEATH ROOOW!!!!!" that right there is Owens' shiny momemt, right there. This is easily the best song on the album. Cathedral Spires is also a pretty awesome song too. It starts off like a ballad with a dark atmosphere, and then gets heavy as fuck. The only weak moment on this song is the cheesy chorus, but that's a small price to pay.
However, I will admit that there are some pretty bad moments on this album as well. I agree fully with Mr.Boris on this one that Decapitate, Brain Dead, and Abductors are the weak songs here. However, I don't really hate these songs, there just pretty boring, and bring the album down as a whole. Brain Dead is the best song out of the three, and it sounds almost like a doom metal song, just without the punch. However, the other two tracks are absoluetly mediocre. They're not nessecarily bad songs, it's just that there nothing special, and don't contribute to the album at all. The riffs are boring, and Owens sounds pretty dumb on here as well.
In conclusion, this song is certainly not bad. In fact, it's quite underrated, and is better than several of their earlier albums, paticularily Point of Entry and Ram It Down. If you can tolerate a little bit of change, and can tolerate groove metal, than you'll like this album. It's no Painkiller, but it's solid, and is certainly worthy of the title, Judas Priest. You are going to BURN IN HEEELLLLLL!!!!!!!
So Rob Halford is gone and Judas Priest is trying to recover without him. Left with the decision to either disband or find a suitable successor, Tipton, Downing, & Co. enlist Winters Bane singer Tim (soon to be nicknamed “Ripper”) Owens to keep the band alive. But just how alive could he keep the band with their legendary vocalist off in Fight? Not very much, it seems, as Jugulator is one of the weakest albums ever conceived by such a talented ensemble.
Perhaps the only replacement singer more infamous than Blaze Bailey in Iron Maiden is Tim Owens in Judas Priest (note the irony in the similarities of both singers former bands, Wolfsbane and Winters Bane respectively). But his performance is notwithstanding in the event of a musical catastrophe, so I’ll get to him later. And the music is almost catastrophic. Gone is the speed of early Priest albums, replaced with what is basically groove metal. I hear a lot of industrial influence as well, considering the ultra modern guitar tone and the overuse of fucking sampled sounds. Does every song have to start with some kind of stupid intro? Apparently, as they all do. Regardless, most of these songs start slow and go nowhere. The handful of downtuned riffs that are recycled throughout each song are unmemorable, some even bordering on mallcore. But the double bass…you say. Fuck that, I already knew that Scott Travis was a good drummer from his performance on Painkiller; that won’t justify the lack of riffage here. Same goes for the lead guitar. I’ve heard KK and Glen shred better than this as early as Turbo. Hell, as early as Sad Wings. A few choice solos here and there don’t compensate for some poor ones, not to mention once again the lack of good riffs. One plus is that Ian Hill actually pulls his weight, circumnavigating the sludgy modern guitars with his newfound knack for playing fills, but the scales remain unbalanced in the favor of this album’s shitty aspects. Let me add that all the brief ‘clean’ riffs used for intros and ‘atmosphere’ blow. They’re all cut from the same cloth (just as the distorted riffs are, only from a different cloth of course) and merely delay the inevitable suckage of their heavier counterparts.
So now on to Owens. His delivery consists of two parts: a lower register growl that would be a bit more intimidating if the lyrics weren’t so cheesy, and his singing voice that’s capable of hitting every note that Halford could. Best comparison I can think of is John Greely from Iced Earth’s Night of the Stormrider. Unfortunately, rather than make the most of his powerful voice, Owens tends to spend too much time trying to make that unimpressive growl-singing work, to no avail. This is the primary difference between 90’s Maiden and Priest. While Maiden’s roman numeral albums were incorrigible, the presence of Rob Halford might have saved Jugulator. I can’t prove it of course, but I imagine that he’d somehow have made this a bit more listenable than it is. I sympathize with Owens for the mammoth shoes he was expected to fill, but his vocals didn’t save this album where Halford’s might have.
So any tracks worth salvaging from this wreck? Well, the title track kind of owns, primarily due to its remarkable up-tempo nature on an album mostly composed of down-tempo bullshit. Owens vocals are brand new here, so they sound far less grating than they would by the album’s end. Plus he uses plenty of those high notes that he executes so well. Then there’s a bunch of songs with cool titles they fail to live up to (“Dead Meat,” “Burn in Hell,” “Decapitate,” “Blood Stained”) until we get to “Bullet Train,” which actually has some interesting ideas both vocally and instrumentally. Closer “Cathedral Spires” is the last of the interesting songs, and fairly epic at that. But that’s really it. Three interesting tunes out of ten, not good odds for a Judas Priest album.
So Jugulator will go down in history as one of Judas Priest’s heaviest albums, but it will also go down as one of their worst ones. Part Owens and part modern influences to blame, it’s just not a pleasant listen anyway you look at it.
Jugulator gets a lot of hate, but I like it. I wouldn’t say it’s their best, but still on par with their more acknowledged works, if in a different way.
Yes, it’s more thrashy and aggressive, so don’t come to it expecting less, but it’s not like it devolves into all-out death metal or anything (despite some of the song titles), and I still wouldn’t actually call it thrash metal. It just lessens the melodies of previous Judas Priest albums, and thus it's unsurprising that it took fans aback. If you want the older style Priest, this is better found later on after Halford returns or in earlier works. But personally I love the turn up of aggression, it keeps the band sounding fresh, going in a new direction, and they generally carry it off well. Not as well as pure thrash bands of course, but well enough for a Judas Priest fan who likes some extra anger and heaviness.
Basically it’s plain that this isn’t their normal style, for it goes in a heavier direction yet fails to capitalise on that fully. Many of the songs feel good, but as though they could be better if done by a band more used to this style. They chug along well enough but sometimes lack that certain punch you’d expect from a seasoned metal band. Both older and later songs show off Priest’s power more, and this album illustrates that inherent aggression in songs doesn’t always lead to a stronger performance if it isn’t that band’s natural way. That said, they still do an admirable job, if not a perfect one, and I certainly wouldn’t call the album a failure (as many do).
A few song specifics: The inserted sound clips present in most of the songs are a bit annoying. In some songs by other bands they can work, but here they don’t really, and just get a bit annoying. But they’re not that prominent outside the intros/outros. Bullet Train works well, showing off Tim’s vocal skills well, and on that note I think he’s a perfectly good replacement for Halford. His voice works in a slightly different way, but it’s still one of the best in the business when used properly. Jugulator itself, the opening track, takes too long to get into the song properly, I find myself skipping forward into it most of the time. Death Row is another one that doesn’t quite pull it off. It works at times, and at others doesn’t. The lyrics sound kind of low-quality sometimes, more suited to a firmer, slower-tempo song rather than the semi-thrash this is. They just don’t quite mesh. And when you compare the lyrics to something like Metallica’s Ride The Lightning, which focuses on much the same issues, you’ll see a marked difference in the basic intelligence of the lyrics too. Things like “Severed head, you will lose it, when executed” don’t really do the band justice.
However, this is starting to sound overly negative. Burn In Hell is a good slow builder, nice beat to it, with the energy gradually increasing as it goes. The lyrics on Dead Meat work much better than some of the other songs, showing that they’re perfectly capable of getting it right, and here Tim’s screaming and the guitars feel more aligned with one another. At times it does still lack some punch though, it exemplifies the album as a whole in this respect: sometimes feels like there’s just one guitar playing, seemingly a problem with the mixing/production. The bridge at around 3 minutes features Tim on absolutely top form, but it could really be a firm, pounding mid-section if only it had something more to it. As it is it’s still good, but not perfect, almost what you might expect from a good band as their debut in that you can see the skill and plenty of good points, but it feels held back and slightly incomplete. A remastering or live version of some of the songs would go down very nicely I feel.
So, overall a good effort. It has it’s drawbacks, and considering some of the heights Priest soar to in their career it is perhaps one of the weaker works, but it’s still a perfectly good metal album if you don’t mind a bit of a change.
Painkiller II this is not. Hell, Turbo II this is not. What we have here is an awesome performance from Tim Owens, with Judas Priest here in name only. The band, for some reason, decided to get "modern" and tune down from E to C#, which doesn't really sounds as good when your singer can fucking wail (the most recent Iced Earth tour showed us how good Tim can be), as well as making it sound muddy. There are also FAR too many "intros" to songs (which fails miserably). The songwriting really lacks here, as can be evidenced in Glenn's lyrical abortions (Hell Bent For Leather these are not). It's almost as if he's trying to force brutality on us, but it just sounds like Cannibal Corpse b-movie cheese (see UltraBoris's review concerning this). The good riffs are few and far between, and we know Priest can do better than this. This album lacks the "happy" and/or "positive" feel that most Priest albums have a good percentage of (One Shot At Glory, Reckless, et al), and just tries to come off as pure aggression and spite, and unlike Painkiller mauling you like Kodiak bear with its riffage and odes of glory and kicking ass, Jugulator is akin to a Chihuahua humping your leg with its faux attitude.
All that aside, we have 3 above average songs. Jugulator is cool uptempo speed, but as said earlier, the lyrics are atrocious. Bullet Train fucking slays, and Cathedral Spires is also exceptional, and was their longest song (until the 13:22 tarpuddle from Angel of Retribution known as Lochness). These 3 were worth the $4 I paid for the album, and unless you see this in the bargain bin or in a cheap used CD section, you're not missing much.
Let's face it, with Halford back in Priest (where he fucking belongs), the Owens years can be forgotten now by us serious old school types. Tim Owens was competent, but he was no Halford. And it's not like he does THAT badly on this abum, but y'know...it just isn't the same.
The songs are excellent musically, with a somewhat more modern downtuned riffing style rearing its head, and Scott Travis pounding the hell out of his kit. The leads are still good as well, with Downing and Tipton still maintaining a more technical approach as they did on the classic "Painkiller", and you can even hear Ian Hill's growling, rumbling bass guitar underneath the riff onslaught, especially near the end of the title track where he lets out a great big roaring slide under the riff.
I actually rather like the title track until Owens lets out one of his weak, sub-Halford wails, which is straight away--sorry, no go! You don't do that unless you can match or beat the maestro, and he just doesn't cut it for me. "Blood Stained" has a good catchy chorus and a strong headbanging groove, followed by "Dead Meat" with its brutish midtempo crunch. But "Death Row" really gets my head banging with its syncopated riffs before the verse starts and the chorus is the best on the record. "Decapitate"--ehh, not too bad, but could be better, but I do like the witty line in the middle ("You've lost your head, sir! Well, you will tomorrow...sleep well!"). "Burn in Hell"--awww, yeah! I think this song is about "The Crow", and I love it right away for that alone. Nice intro and some of the best vocals from Owens as he actually lets his own identity show are in the intro alone. "Brain Dead" and "Abductors"...again, ehh, could have been better. "Bullet Train" redeems the album with a fast, aggressive tune filled with manic leads and Owens letting out his most unhinged scream at the end as it builds to a crashing climax. Again, another rare moment of him showing his own style instead of his Halford impersonations. And "Cathedral Spires" is a nice ending, heavy and doomy with a very cool multitracked choir ending.
If you can get past Owens' lack of identity through most of the album--he also has a lot of unwelcome Seattle influence in his clean vocals moments--this is not such a bad album, really. If you could imagine this with Halford singing and better lyrics here and there, it would own! Can't wait for the new album and tour with one of the last few remaining True Metal Gods!!!!
Seven years after the release of Painkiller, the follow-up seems bound to fail. It has to be a worthy successor to what is by many considered the greatest Judas Priest album of all time, and on top of that they have lost Rob Halford, the Metal God. A hard task was ahead of them, and personally, I think they dealt with it quite fucking well.
Jugulator takes a very aggressive and sometimes even thrashy approach, and while not being their heaviest (Painkiller takes that prize, of course), it is definitely their darkest album. Which you've probably figured out just by looking at the song titles. Dead Meat, Burn in Hell and Death Row, for example.
And for the most part, this album is really fucking great. But there is one pretty big flaw to be found, and that is the guitar soloing. It's crap, they worst they ever did. They don't make sense, and for the most part seems like senseless wankery. No memorable melodies are to be found anywhere near the guitar solos. What the hell happened? Oh yeah, and the solos are produced really shitty too, making them sound even messier than really necessary.
Oh yeah... The vocals. Tim 'Ripper' Owens, a man loved and loathed by lots. I fall into the former category. Most of the criticism he receives is that he is a Rob Halford ripoff, which just isn't true.
He sings in a generally dark and pretty gruff voice, and his high-pitches shrieks are not as clean as Rob's. While they have similar vocal styles, their voices are not at all the same, and Ripper does not try to copy Halford's voice.
So stop saying that, cause he's a fucking awesome singer.
We begin with the title track, which the ultimte fucking highlight of the entire album. The buildup is fucking awesome- it begins with a distorted riff, and over it comes a dark, haunting guitar melody. Over that, a midpaced riff enters, and then comes Ripper's first vocal lines. After that, Scott Travis kicks the song going with a quick double bass attack, and Ripper introduces himself with a high-pitched scream.
Then the song moves on at a generally high pace, going through a wide variety of riff changes, some being pretty thrashy occasionally. This album opens with total fucking headbanging madness.
"Now it's time to jugulate, feel your skull DISINTEGRAAAAAATE!" Hell yeah.
Blood Stained is another above midpaced, pretty thrashy headbanger. Like the opener, it contains quite a bunch of riff changes and various vocal lines. Although it's not as lethal and aggressive as the title track, it's definitely a pretty good song.
Dead Meat next- this is pretty damn brutal, and another of the highlights. The intro- a growling dog- is cool, although a bit silly. But when it gets going- prepare to bang your fucking head. Awesome fast riffwork along with catchy yet aggressive vocal lines, and very cool lyrics.
Death Row is probably the catchiest song on here. The intro here is even more silly, although the part right when it gets going is pretty nice.
"Dead... Man.... Walking." And then we go with some cool keyboard effects, before kicking into the fast-paced main riff. More kickass headbanging material to be found here, definitely. Very memorable verses, and an incredibly catchy singalong chorus. But the pre-chorus part is silly as hell. And that's another problem with that album- While most of it is really cool, each song has some incredibly silly moments that the song easily could have been without.
It's an excellent song nonetheless.
Decapitate is by far the weakest song of the album. The above midpaced riffwork is pretty cool and groovy, but it never really gets anywhere. The solo sucks as usual, and the bridge, or whatever you choose to call it, is silly as fuck. "You've lost your head sir. Well, you will tomorrow. Sleep well." What the fuck is up with that? It's kinda funny, but still...
Burn in Hell is a dark, atmospheric and really fucking solid tune. The intro, which lasts for more than two minutes, contains groovy basslines playing underneath a melodic guitar riff and interesting licks from the other guitar. Very, very good and atmospheric intro. And slowly it builds up, with teasers of heaviness coming up everywhere. Short hits on the double bass and a demonic scream keep you at bay, until the song gets going, and turns into a killer midpaced headbanger.
Brain Dead is in my opinion pretty damn underrated. The riffwork is incredible- most notably the midpaced riff going on under the verses, which is just fucking devastating. The menacing bridge is also incredibly cool, featuring a killer double bass attack by the double bass king Scott Travis.
Abductors next, and this is a pretty interesting tune. The vocal lines on the verses are insane, alternating between regular clean vocals and infernal shrieks. This song also manages to have a number of riff changes and different vocal lines without having any really silly part- not even the acoustic part is completely terrible, although it sounds a bit out of place.
Bullet Train is one of the major fucking highlights on here. The riffwork is absolutely menacing, and contains a bunch of changes. The chorus is pretty damn catchy, and the fast sung bridge is insane.
But the best part of the song must be the pre-chorus parts. It features a multi-tracked Ripper, doing dark half-growled vocals and at the same time letting out atmospheric clean vocals, occasionally ending in demonic shrieks.
And now, to the grand finale: Cathedral Spires. Man, this is a fucking masterpiece. It would've been the greatest song on the album by twenty fucking miles, if it weren't for the fact that several parts of it were Metallica ripoffs. Two parts of it, to be precise: The acoustic intro is taken right from Welcome Home (Sanitarium), and the driving riff is suspiciously similar to that of Ride the Lightning.
But if you can look past that, this is a fucking masterpiece. The acoustic intro is way better than the original version, and Ripper's clean vocals shown during it are quite amazing. And the heavy parts make for some really nice headbanging moments.
This could definitely compete with some of the epics from the epic kings themselves, Iron Maiden. But, considering the fact that the two most importnant factors of the song are stolen, this song loses a lot of credibility.
Final conclusion: While the songwriting generally is really fucking solid, there are small points of annoyance everywhere that drag down the overall quality of the album. All the melodic leads and solos that once marked Judas Priest are never seen here, instead we only have messy noises that I can barely even called soloing. And of course there are some annoying parts in most songs that sometimes manage to mess them up quite badly. So while this album is definitely very good, it could've been so much better.
After years of silence Priest finally returns to the metal scene with a new album - and it turns out to be more or less a slight dissapointment...
Let's start with summing up the bad points really quickly - first of all you got the production - which is a bit too weak & dry most of the time - then there is the rather lame cover artwork (sure, that is forgettable still - after all you buy an album for the music, not the artwork..but still...) - but most importantly, there seems to be a definite lack of good songwriting on here, both musically as well as in the lyrics - songs like "Braindead", "Decapitate" etc should never have made it unto an album at all - then there is the "musical direction" - for some reason Priest decided to ditch all of the usual "Priest trademarks" (melodic leads - melodic soloing) in favour of a Pantera riff based style flavoured with Slayer-esque solo's, something which the band doesn't quite succeed at.
However, there still is quite a lot of good to be found as well - most importantly in the new frontman Tim Owens - who shows just how classy he is - not only a fitting replacement for Halford - but actually (especially these days) surpassing him when it comes to power. And of course there is the joy that finally Priest managed to get their carreer going - couple this with 2 superb songs ("Cathedral Spires" and "Bullet Train") and a handfull of decent - good ones ("Burn In Hell" & "Jugulator") and you basically have an album that, while perhaps not the best in their carreer - is still above average and a nice sign of life for this great band...
This album is half Painkiller, and half absolute crap. Some of the songs on here are total speed metal classics, and others are unlistenable drivel.
First off, the whole vocalist situation. Is Tim Owens (I refuse to call him Ripper, if his mother didn't name him Ripper, why should I?) any good? Oh, Hell yeah, he is definitely great. He nails all sorts of unholy screams, and his singing voice is very good as well (see: "Cathedral Spires")
That said, the songs on the album album do really go into three categories: awesome speed metal, good midpaced stuff, and complete crap.
Awesome speed metal: Jugulator, Dead Meat, Death Row, Bullet Train. Priest can really do no wrong when they play fast - they're dead on right here. Sometimes the cheese factor is high - for example, the most fucked up rhyming couplet this side of Cannibal Corpse: "Jugulator, killing time now, reaches in and rips your spine out!" Ow. My spine.
Good midpaced stuff: Blood Stained, Burn in Hell, Cathedral Spires. Cathedral Spires is a really nice epic number that they should definitely bust out live. The other two are now concert staples, and rightly so - these three are pretty fun.
Complete cra: Decapitate, Brain Dead, Abductors. What the fuck?? This makes Turbo sound like fucking Priest in the East. Enough said. Priest always have some total abortions on most every album, and this is no exception - they kinda spread them around, unlike Defenders of the Faith, so the album does go through its ups and downs quite a bit.
Also, one more thing - the guitar solos suck. Tipton and Downing can do far better - but the songs are for the most part decent, so it's definitely worth getting.