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Rob Halford's impressive musical leap - 75%

ViciousFriendlyFish, January 30th, 2014

It was the early 90s. Judas Priest had survived a trial concerning a connection of the suicides of two young men to their music, and they released the classic Painkiller album in 1990. Whilst things were starting to look up for the band, Rob Halford's musical tastes and desires were beginning to change; he was turned onto the newer metal bands - notably, Pantera. Rob Halford consulted Priest about changing up their musical style to fit the then-modern metal scene. They were unwilling to shift to a new sound so quickly, so Halford formed a new band called Fight to suit his musical needs. Tensions rose between him and his Priest bandmates and he left the band in 1992, allowing him to fully focus on Fight. It's worth noting that Judas Priest drummer Scott Travis was also a band member, though Travis' decision to join Halford in this band apparently had little effect on his relationship with the remaining Priest members, and so he stayed in the band through the 'Ripper' Owens era.

The music on this album does indeed sound mostly like a cross between Judas Priest's classic heavy metal sound and Pantera's groove metal sound, with guitars that have more of a crunch. The songs are kept fairly "to the point" so to speak, meaning there are no 6/7 minute Priest-style epics found here. However, much of Travis' hard-hitting speed metal drumming style heard on Painkiller transfers over to this album, perhaps a redeeming factor for Priest fans if Halford alone wasn't enough to reel them into the new musical territory of Fight. Halford's singing style is pretty much the same as it was in Judas Priest; he uses none of the growling styles of vocalists like Phil Anselmo and Max Cavalera (who was venturing further into groove metal territory with Sepultura during this time), choosing instead to continue showing off his high-pitched screams and shrieks, though he does also often sing in a lower register. Often he will have gang-style backing vocals accompanying him, such as in "Nailed to the Gun" and "Vicious", which helps re-create the in-your-face attitude of the bands Halford was influenced by.

Unsurprisingly the album may sound derivative to some, but the material is actually rather strong, enjoyable and seldom boring. The instrumental musicians recruited by Rob Halford do a great job at re-creating the groove metal vibe whilst not straying too far from the classic-metal territory of Priest. "Immortal Sin" is a fantastic mid-tempo song with damning guitar riffs with some dark melody thrown into the mix, and "For All Eternity", one of the more mellow songs on the album, showcases Halford singing with just as much passion as he ever had in Judas Priest. Lyrically, the album contains a number of dark themes, such as betrayal ("Life in Black" - "You never took care of me / you just watched me fall"), greed and suffering ("Contortion" - "Money sucking greed / all these mouths to feed / shoot it through the brain / selfish and insane") and religion ("Kill It" - "I eat the holy bible / I am the plague!") though they rarely carry as much hostility as bands like Pantera and Sepultura did, with "Vicious" being the main exception to this ("Vicious! Vicious! Fucker! Fucker!").

War of Words is full of solid metal tunes, and Rob Halford achieved what he pretty much set out to do with it. However, I do feel that Judas Priest fans like me will probably appreciate this more than non-Priest fans. There isn't really anything on this release that is particularly groundbreaking, but it's the sound of a great veteran singer stepping out of his comfort zone and handling it well. After one more album with this band he decided that his experimentation in "street-metal" had run its course, and moved into more industrial territory with 2wo, before eventually returning to his metal roots with his self-titled band, as well as rejoining Judas Priest. But Halford started off his run without Priest pretty damn well with War of Words.