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I've never been able to understand why this album gets so much praise and acclaim; or, rather, I've understood why it gets the praise and acclaim, but never seen why people have found it deserving of such. Scratch that, I see exactly why people have found it deserving of such, but I'm not fooled by the bells and whistles that dazzle so many and don't believe it actually is deserving of such. The sound and fury signifies nothing.
To start with, the band wisely chose the title track to open the album; it's basically the only really good song of the bunch. Just listen to it: after the drum barrage, the razor-sharp guitar riffs slice in, shortly followed by Halford's falsetto, probably more aggressive than we've ever heard him before. Then the melodic solos, hot poop! If you don't turn into a flailing neanderthal during this song, you hate metal. The lyrics are kinda stupid, but in this endearing tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top way that can't help but make me smile. I mean, a man made of metal on a flying motorcycle is going to ride down from the sky and save the world? And fuck your speeding bullet, the Painkiller is faster than a goddamn laser bullet!!!!! The song is so good, the positive feelings and adrenalin spill over into the rest of the album, coloring its mediocre pace, lack of quality riffs, and the repetitive crowd-pleasing tripe they call melodies. That adrenalin still left in your system from the title track makes these feel like good songs. They're not. "Hell Patrol" is plodding and devoid of good riffs; mostly the guitars just go through chord progressions with a lick or two. The drumming is flashy but can't hide the mediocrity, and Halford is still a great singer but even the best voice in the world can't save crappy songwriting. "All Guns Blazing" is like the title track with all quality leeched out, leaving nothing but blandness (except the little opening vocal bit, which is cool I guess). "Leather Rebel" is OK, decent speed metal but without much more going for it than speed and energy; it's repetitive as hell, and what it repeats wasn't even that good the first time around.
I could go through every song like this, but I would essentially be saying the same thing over and over, which is pretty much what the album is after the opener. Each song has the required one cool bit to carry it, after which Halford and Scott Travis try to distract you as much as possible from the boring songwriting. "Metal Meltdown" has a good main riff, "Nightcrawler" has a cool chorus, but the songs are pretty bare-boned with a facade of drums and vocals stretched over them, like a big zeppelin or something. Looks solid from a distance, but there's only gas inside. I know metal isn't the most serious or lyrically intellectual of genres, but come on, how can anyone listen to the chorus to "Metal Meltdown" without feeling retarded? It would make Manowar blush. The tongue-in-cheek of the title track seems gone in the boring-ass description of a metal meltdown; whatever the fuck that is, this song isn't. More like popping a paper bag. And then what's with "A Touch of Evil"? Sounds like "bad touch", you can't tell me Halford was thinking about some buxom wench while writing those lyrics! I'm sure it was some barely pubescent metalhead with peach fuzz on his balls, or perhaps some big burly biker type. Any subliminal messages that may have actually been in Judas Priest songs were assuredly trying to convince people to bugger ol' Rob's lonely cornhole.
You mesmerize slowly
Till I can't believe my eyes
Ecstasy controls me
What you give just serves me right
Yeah, I'll bet Halford's getting it just right. The whole song sounds like he's wrestling with being in the closet: "I'm so afraid/But I still feed the flame" for example. It seems somehow appropriate the song is saccharine, plodding, and repetitive as FUCK. That fucking drum beat is like getting pounded in the ass over and over and over and over. I've never engaged in homosexual relations (you'll just have to trust me on that one), but somehow after listening to "A Touch of Evil" I know just what it's like.
Painkiller is essentially a comic book movie. At first there's the joy at recognizing a beloved character up on the big screen: for a second, all your childhood nostalgia comes rushing back, and you think for that fleeting second that this movie will portray the superhero with all the bells and whistles modern special effects can provide, yet still remain faithful to the original character you know and love. After that initial thrill, you slowly realize that aside from those bells and whistles, the plot and characters have been trivialized. Corny romance, laughably inept villains, eye-rollingly bad dialog, clearly family-oriented humor - all serve to bring home the reality that no, this is not the beloved Judas Priest of old. It's cartoon versions of themselves, two-dimensional, with the target demographic clearly being the Saturday morning market. Watch the music video for "Painkiller", Halford looks like a Looney Tunes character. Homo Hal, or something. Metal isn't always the most mature of genres, sure, but these are no youths, swept up in dreams of knights, gore, and Satan; these are middle-aged men with huge budgets indulging in regression. Midlife crisis? You betcha. There's nothing wrong with traditional metal themes, but there are much better ways of dealing with them. You know, like Judas Priest used to, over a decade before writing this crap. Unsurprisingly, the thought put into the music reflects the thought put into the lyrics.