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In 1990, Judas Priest had already been a well-established band and were considered one of the first true heavy metal bands since the 70's. However, some accused the band of losing a few steps with the releases of Turbo and Ram it Down. Whatever criticisms were thrown in their path, Priest blasted them into the air with the quintessential Painkiller in 1990. Twenty years have passed since then, but metal has still never been the same.
Perhaps Judas' Priest's first "speed" metal album, each song sounds like a heavy metal anthem injected with jet fuel. The album starts off with the title track and features a fast-paced, rattling drum solo by then-newcomer Scott Travis before ultimately erupting into a booming riff. Not just heavy, but booming. Halford shows off his range with shrieking vocals telling us the story of the metal savior, the Painkiller. Duelling guitar solos by the always excellent K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton fill the bridge before Halford delivers one final verse and chorus before ending with a note held for what seems like twenty seconds while Travis plays another drum solo that starts slow but picks up in speed and intensity before the song ends in an explosion of sound with Halford shouting "Pain!" How can the rest of the album possibly follow that? Surprisingly, it does.
Hell Patrol has a griding riff that sounds similar to that of a military march, All Guns Blazing features more shrieking and high-pitched vocals by metal god Halford, Metal Meltdown is quite literally a metal meltdown with a mindblowing opening guitar solo, and Night Crawler tells the story of a viscious monster with a bridge that is strangely quiet, but dark and sinister. All of these aforementioned songs are classic, but nothing prepares one for A Touch of Evil. Starting off with what sounds like wailing winds in a graveyard is followed by a spine-tingling keyboard and then heavy riff. The keyboard and later guitar solos give the song a real chilling and haunting feel with a mix of Halford's baritone and shrieking vocals. A song about forbidden and forsaken love, this about as close as you will get to a power ballad, but to say that it is isn't even close.
The bass by Ian Hill is sometimes lost in the speed and loudness of the guitars and drums, and songs like Between the Hammer and the Anvil and One Shot at Glory may not be as memorable as Painkiller or a Touch of Evil, but there is really nothing at all wrong with this album. Incredibly fast and incredibly heavy with songs of appocalypse and impending disaster, the emotion deliverd by Halford in his vocals is as powerful as the sound of the music. Judas Priest were already metal legends before this album, but Painkiller is what makes them immortal. If one looked up heavy metal in the dictionary, one would see the iconic album art of the Painkiller and the faces of the band members next to the definition. This isn't just metal. This is the Painkiller.