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He Is The Painkiller, This Is THE Priest Killer - 80%

Luvers666, July 7th, 2007
Written based on this version: 2001, CD, Columbia Records (Remastered (US pressing))

With how much acclaim this release has, it may seem impossible to find any faults here. This has become an album that one, seemingly, is not allowed to hate and should be cherished for its merits. Some even somehow claim this is Priest’s definitive work when, as a musical unit, the band never had an identity to make anything ultimate. The band clearly has themes and concepts that everyone expects but the very identity of Judas Priest is to have no identity.

If a fan was introduced to Priest by Stained Class and then heard Painkiller immediately thereafter, the fan would not be blamed for thinking it was a completely separate band. Yes anyone can point to the twin guitar attack of Tipton and Downing as what constitutes as Priest’s identity, maybe even Halford’s screams or Ian’s usual silence. However, how many other bands in Metal would that describe? There were falsetto singers before Halford, twin guitar attacks before Tipton and Downing and inaudible bassists before Ian. To further illustrate, there were special guest keyboard spots by Don Airey before this and double bass phenomenon’s before Scott Travis, including in this very band.

So while there are obvious links between all albums, so very few of Priest’s albums have been similar to others. Killing Machine was Funk, British Steel was hard rock, Sin After Sin was speed metal and Turbo was synth-driven Power Pop. Similar to the question which one is Pink regarding Floyd, when regarding Priest, what exactly IS Judas Priest. If there is one element that shone through every effort was the notable lack of consistency between the songs. I am not referring to the enjoyment of them since that is subjective, I am referring to the consistency of the metallic sound.

When one listens to Priest they should expect that deep album clunker that appears to get a lot of hate but is equally brilliant, see: Savage. Or expect that inexplicable ballad with vocals that utilize Halford’s wide range, see: Before The Dawn. Then expect to get their ass kicked by a roaring metal anthem, see: Call For the Priest. That is what made Priest great, how diverse there albums were. Priest was never about consistency they were about dexterity and diversity, not just between albums but the songs themselves. This album though walks a fine line along sheer talent and respectability to utterly dull mediocrity. There are some ruthlessly amazing tracks of boiling metal here, but for those precious few, there is a stale and fruitless slab of predictable distortion. What this album suggests is Priest decided to abandon their only hint of identity, the evolving chameleon, to sound like any of interchangeable bands they had inspired.

The best way to sum up all of what I wrote above is by pointing the songs that actually work well and we start with the title track which needs no description, just look at the ridiculous album cover. A machine man with wings riding on a motorcycle made out of a snake with large saws as wheels. It should make you wonder who they were trying to impress, with the album art that accompanies all the infantile lyrics, horrible cliches and screaming dullness captured within. One can still enjoy the title track, from it's powerful drum intro to the melodic riffs and solos but as good as this is, how is it superior to Hard As Iron or Ram It Down?

Night Crawler is another highlight of the album since it at least tries to have atmosphere and a variety to the fixed tempo. However this song was done eight years later - and with a different vocalist - on '98 Meltdown and renders this offering entirely irrelevant. Between the Hammer and the Anvil is mildly interesting because it details their feelings towards the utterly stupid trial they had to go through and has a mesmerizing solo but still sounds like something lifted off of the first page in the “How to write Metal” songbook like almost every second of this album.

Since I am reviewing the remastered version I will mention the bonus tracks and they are not worth purchasing the version for. The production is not superior to the original and the tracks are more of the same tired formula found on the album. The only other highlight is All Guns Blazing, with that driving rhythm and inspired solo by Glenn, demonstrating his extreme writing capabilities. It's astonishing that the band could give us everything they were aiming for on this album in just these four minutes.

None of what I write is to suggest this is not a listenable album, far from it. Not surprising by my score given, this is still a well performed and higher quality release than other bands of the same genre. Even the bland songs have moments of enjoyment in them and does achieve its goal of blending aggressive and melodic songwriting. So it does succeed in its goal but that goal is where I find issue, this just simply is not how anyone should define Judas Priest. I listen to them for their eclecticism, the expansive compass of musical offerings, numerous diverse ambiances and thesis’. Here it is mostly just drivel of a one note approach that gets very old and very quickly so.

Any newcomer should not be blinded by the superficial qualities of this release that may color or blind them from the more stories pieces in this amazing bands lavish and outstanding discography.