CMC International Records, 1997
REVIEW BY: Paul Hanson
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/14/1998
I recently read one music writer's (I'll call him Joe, but it's not his real name) Top 10 list for the worst releases of 1997 on the internet. I paused long enough on this list to see two intriguing releases: Motley Crue's Generation Swine and Judas Priest's Jugulator. The Motley Crue disc's appearance did not surprise me. I didn't like it much either, although I could easily name ten other discs I disliked more emphatically. The inclusion of Jugulator is wrong and not only because it is on my Top 10 list elsewhere on this site. The writer's comment was (paraphrased) "The new lead singer is from Ohio. Need I say more?"
Um, yes. Most definitely more needs to be written about the return of a veteran metal band that didn't get sucker punched by a producer a la Metallica and Bob Rock. (Would you trust the same man that produced BON JOVI to help create a heavy metal disc?) Joe's summary is out of touch with reality and throws a wet blanket over an incredible release. It also typifies a critic that reads the press kit, listens to a half of a song and forms an opinion.
Rest assured, you have critics like me that will tell you when a recording is bad, except I'll leave no doubt in your mind. (Dokken's Shadowlife comes to mind. It could have easily topped my list of worst releases of 1997.) It is also my responsibility to tell you that the first Judas Priest release in the post-Rob Halford era is a bona fide awesome disc. If CDs could wear out, this one would be in serious sound-quality trouble.
For you history buffs, Rob Halford departed from Judas Priest following their last disc Painkiller. To summarize greatly, this was a gigantic hole to fill. For most people, Halford WAS Priest, known for riding a Harley onstage in concerts. To show how much Halford was Priest, name the vocalist he replaced. Can't do it? Not surprised.
Halford, for his part, went on to form Fight, a band that released two excellent discs, War Of Words and A Small Deadly Space. These discs continued the Painkiller sound. I was lucky enough to see Fight in concert on their first tour in early 1994 and they were excellent. The last I heard on Fight is Halford is moving toward redefining his sound as industrial, a la NIN. So if you liked Painkiller, you'll be tickled with this disc.
Painkiller marked a radical departure from the simplistic heavy metal style of 1983's Screaming For Vengeance and 1984's Defenders Of The Faith. Their CD Turbo was a desperate misstep. I got rid of my copy of it soon after I acquired it. Painkiller introduced drummer Scott Travis to the band (Trivia question: name the drummer he replaced.). Travis came from Shrapnel artist Racer X (whose disc Second Heat is excellent), bringing his double bass drums, his driving rhythms, as well as a heaviness to the band. The guitars turned thrashy and evil to compliment his playing. So as far as Jugulator goes, Judas Priest continues down the same road as Painkiller, which is great. The first thing I noticed was that Travis returns from Halford's Fight for this disc. His performance is top-notch, smashing his way through each of the ten tracks on this disc. He is blisteringly heavy on "Decapitate."
And since the incompetent moron brought it up, yes, the new singer, "Ripper" Owens, is from Ohio. He came from a Judas Priest tribute band and after seeing him on video, the band asked him to audition. After one song, Judas Priest had a new vocalist. And compared to Halford, they are in the same league.
Owens can hold his own on tracks like "Brain Dead" and the piledriving "Bullet Train." The track "Abductors" covers familiar ground musically. Other bands have switched to acoustic guitars in the middle of a sonic riff. Yet, when Judas Priest pulls the familiar switches, the effects are aurally exciting. The disc reaches its climax in the final track "Cathedral Spires," which begins softly before crescendoing into a frenzy.
So, if you happen to stumble upon Joe's list, or any other list that might have erroneously listed this disc as one of the worst, ignore them. The combination of Scott Travis brutalizing his drums and Owens being a fine replacement for Halford (hitting some of the high notes Halford would hit) makes this an excellent disc.
And oh, yes: Judas Priest is a quintet. Guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing (who are credited as songwriters and arrangers of all the tracks) and bassist Ian Hill are all in fine form. You can actually hear Hill's part in the mix, which turns out to be a giant plus. This release was one of the best of 1997 because it marked a break in the current trends: a heavy metal band PLAYING HEAVY MUSIC! Throw away Reload and get Jugulator!