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Shocking: this is the best way to describe Painkiller, the studio album published by Judas Priest in 1990. If the band from Birmingham during the previous decade had rewrote the rules of heavy metal with masterpieces like Screaming For Vengeance and Defenders Of The Faith, in 1986 they published Turbo, in which they left their classic style introducing a softer sound and using synthesized guitars, causing discontent among fans. Then they retraced their steps with Ram It Down, a good work with some good songs but certainly not a masterpiece and not particularly original. So at the beginning of the nineties Judas Priest appeared as an almost tired and without ideas band until they incredibly published Painkiller that stroke as an hurricane on the metal world.
This album, even if it keeps the continuity with the best works of the group, shows a power and a rage never heard before in the discography of the English band as well as an incredible perfection and attention for the details, thanks to the production of Chris Tsangarides. All the members of the group seems rejuvenated and revitalized. Ian Hill is very fast and rigorous and Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing are perfectly integrated and play duels that reach surreal levels. And about the drums, we find a new entry in the group, Scott Travis, who presents himself with the introduction of the first song (Painkiller) and who, throughout the whole album, builds a powerful and very firm wall of sound that seems like reinforced concrete. At the end, Rob Halford's falsetto is even more shrill and at the same time less melodic, and in this way it becomes almost strident, showing an effect of evil and malice.
Among the songs, there is never a step-load or a loosening of tension. We can find songs that are fast and sharp like blades (Painkiller, All Guns Blazing, Leather Rebel, and Metal Meltdown), while others are more similar to the “classic” Judas Priest style (Hell Patrol and Night Crawler), then others that sound almost epic (Between The Hammer & The Anvil and One Shot At Glory), and even one with slow and crawling tones (A Touch Of Evil).
In conclusion, Painkiller is highly tense and a destroyer of an album, showing a fully fit band like it will probably never be. In fact, Judas Priest couldn’t continue with this new stylistic subject started with Painkiller because the following year Halford left the band and when he returned in 2003, he was no longer able to sing in such a extreme way. This is a pity, but in this way Painkiller has remained an absolutely unique masterpiece.