I have been a fan of Judas Priest for quite some time now, but as much as I think they created a lot of great music, I'm more than capable of admitting that when they were bad, there could scarcely have been anyone worse. With the album Ram It Down, they unfortunately managed to serve up a platter that is utterly putrid from start to finish.
Their previous album, Turbo, generated loads of controversy among fans of the band because of its more commercial sound and the first-time use of synthesizers. I think this caused the band to panic and they went into damage control mode, and this paranoia apparently resulted in Ram It Down, an album so generic that it's insulting. You couldn't get a better parody if you tried.
Every aspect of the music completely sucks. Period. All the
high-pitched screaming and tastelessly wanking interchangeable
solos that overpopulate the disc are nothing but a big special
effects show designed to distract you, the listener, from one very
sad fact: that the band hasn't bothered to write any songs. It's
true, these are not songs but rather a stew of uninspired snippets
tossed together like a salad in the hope that something might
miraculously gel and actually produce moments of music worth
hearing, but it fails on all counts. The entire affair is so lazy
that I feel embarrassed for the band that this album is widely
available for the public to hear. I dare say that just a few years
prior, not one of these "songs" would have had any chance of making
the cut on one of their quality albums. Dreadful stuff of the kind
only a band that has completely lost its way could produce and see
fit for release.
The group's two lead guitarists, Glen Tipton and K.K. Downing, are incapable of serving up a single measly memorable riff throughout the seemingly eternal 50 minute running time, and both are guilty of falling prey to the all-flash-and-no-substance soloing that had become standard issue in rock and metal in the '80s. Rarely has their playing ever sounded so tired. Add to that the fact that the tone of the guitars is hideous as well -- they sound completely tinny and almost digitized.
Rob Halford also deserves a lot of the blame for failing to create any vocal melodies with great hooks as he had so often done in the past. He relegates himself to dramatically shouting a lot of the time, followed by the same high pitched wailing over and over in every song instead of actually singing, and not surprisingly, it never goes anywhere. Or in the case of a track like "Heavy Metal," it goes to places no person ever wants to go -- just try to listen to the vocals on that gem and not cringe. Don't even get me started on his sub-elementary school level dreck passing for lyrics.
I don't think the rhythm section even entered the studio at all. I hear a bunch of ugly synthesized bass and the kind of monotonous mechanical drumming only a cheap drum machine makes, unless they had the shittiest drummer I've ever heard. Even the Sisters Of Mercy's Doktor Avalanche had more personality.
The production job completes the disaster. Judas Priest tried to regain some of their meaner, darker sound from earlier years with this release, but aside from the fact that they had absolutely no songwriting ideas, the actual recording itself has no power. Everything sounds echoey and trebly with hardly any discernible low end. Sometimes there were moments where I had the feeling the recording was slightly sped up even, further blunting what might otherwise have at least sounded a little meatier, if nothing else.
It's also essential to mention that even if the album were slightly less terrible than it is overall, there's simply no escaping how dramatically, colossally, and hugely wretched their cover is of Chuck Berry's classic anthem "Johnny B. Goode." Experience in amazement how your ears implode upon enduring the worst cover in recorded music history.
And there you have it -- I would nominate Ram It Down as quite possibly being the worst album of the lengthy career of Judas Priest, and quite possibly one of the worst metal albums I've ever heard. Spinal Tap in all its glory. Trust me, if you make the mistake of listening to this disc as an introduction to this band, you will never ever want to explore any further, and that would be a shame. It's baffling to me how this same band managed to completely turn around practically overnight and record the highly-praised, classic album Painkiller as their next release only two years later.
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