Painkiller is an album I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. Not because it thought I’d enjoy it but instead because it has my least favorite Judas Priest song of all time: “Painkiller”. The ultimate shrill Halford, it doesn’t come much worse than this. Every time I listen to this song it’s worse than I remember. That’s quite an achievement. It’s a dubious honor only held by this song as far as I can remember. Now however, things take an incredible about-face for the rest of the songs on the album, bar one. That’s right, “Hell Patrol” rules, along with every other song that isn’t called “Metal Meltdown” (first ten seconds of “All Guns Blazing” obviously exempt too). They’re heavy, they’re badass, and they all have wicked solos. I came into this album expecting to trash it to hell and back and instead I came out with one of my top five Priest albums. Ironic, isn’t it? Even with “Painkiller” on it I can’t deny it’s awesomeness. This is one hell of an album.
The verdict- 4/5 stars
Well, Harrison’s wrong about the title track. Sorry, but it’s fucking awesome. If you don’t like shrill vocals I can understand why it wouldn’t be your thing, but to me it’s a statement of intent from Judas Priest. No more sissy shit, it’s time to rock your world. It’s a track that sounds like the signalling of the apocalypse, when it’s really The Painkiller that is preventing it! The lyrics are still cheesy as hell, as they are on most of the release, but the sweep picking solos and Halford’s ballbusting notes consolidate into a wall of metallic abandon. It’s a metal classic, sorry Poopison.
While I always loved the title track, the rest of the album had to grow on me considerably. It sounded to me like the awful Ram It Down with some extra heaviness to add some integrity. The lyrics are certainly on par, but the strength of the music ultimately prevailed and I now enjoy this release quite a bit. “Metal Meltdown” is another standout, and I fail to comprehend how my marsupial mate can deny how galvanizing the pre-chorus is in this track. Maybe because Halford goes too high for his sonar bat ears, I don’t know. We don’t get anything close to a wimp ballad, with the softest full-length song being the atmospheric “A Touch of Evil” and song so badass they had to name a future live album after it. The riffs are so strong on this album I don’t know what young me was thinking not liking it very much. The one in the chorus of “Night Crawler” is so infectious it’s a crime that it wasn’t featured in the Jake Gyllenhaal feature film of the same name.
Scott Travis of Racer X fame joining on the kit really amps up the intensity here too. Whereas the previous effort is a stupid drum machine, this features live, bashy drums, with a newfound clarity, balls, and intensity courtesy of Chris Tsangarides (RIP), who previously engineered Sad Wings of Destiny and did a few albums for the Minneanapolis band Slave Raider. The uptick in sound and overall production thanks to his involvement is undeniable, and the change was just what Judas Priest needed to prove all their doubters wrong. This was a new fresh sound, they sounded revitalized by the thrash movement rather than the glam scene as they had on the last few albums. What we get in return is their strongest work in some time, and yet another metal classic in the process.
4.5/5 Circular Saw Spare Tires
With this review concluded we will take a break from the series, so as to prevent Holen from getting burned out. In the meantime I shall continue my regularly scheduled stuff, but also be on the lookout for a post exploring just why “Painkiller” gets the reaction it does, and how my unorthodox views on Judas Priest developed.