Album Of The Week – December 5, 2022

This week’s pick is the album released in 1990 after one of heavy metal’s legendary acts spent some time in the late 80’s indulging in the sound of the times a bit. It was both a return to form and a new phase for the group, that sadly would not last much beyond the album’s cycle.

Judas Priest – Painkiller

Released September 14, 1990 via Columbia Records

My Favorite Tracks – Painkiller, All Guns Blazing, Between The Hammer & The Anvil

Judas Priest in the late 1980’s was a mixed bag – both Turbo and Ram It Down had varying degrees of commercial success but both albums were also not received as well as the band’s early-80’s classic metal phase. The band came into 1990 with a new drummer and a new approach to album crafting.

Priest were also engaged in public turmoil around this time – the infamous trial over subliminal messages was held in the summer, it was only after the dismissal of the lawsuit when Painkiller would see release.

Painkiller comprises 10 songs at about 46 minutes in its original form, the version I’ll discuss today. 3 singles were released from the record – A Touch Of Evil, the title track and Night Crawler.

Painkiller

Opening with the title track and one hell of an introduction for new drummer Scott Travis as he blasts his way through the first seconds of the song. The intensity keeps up as the riffs enter and especially when Rob Halford wails his way through the song in a manner raising the bar even for him. Painkiller has to do with some robot thing saving the world and has become an all-time Priest classic.

Hell Patrol

The tempo goes down a touch but the heaviness and atmosphere remain on this track having to do with fighter plane combat. Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing get a bit of time to flex some solos on this one and they stand out a touch more given the less violent musical presentation.

All Guns Blazing

Back with the speed on this aptly-named song. It’s a tried and true metal song about going for it at full capacity, as the title suggests. The slowdown of the main riff at the song’s conclusion is a nice touch to end the song in a bit unconventional fashion.

Leather Rebel

By now a standard Priest theme, get decked out in leather and kick ass. The guitars go ham on this one, it’s a marriage of classic Priest subjects with the updated speed metal of 1990.

Metal Meltdown

Another scorcher that lives up to its name and could be an accurate description of the album as a whole, as if the band were reviewing their own work in song.

Night Crawler

Rather than being an homage to the X-Men character, this song invents a monster that comes to eat everyone. Making up their own monsters worked out better for Priest than singing about famous ones, though we’re not there yet in the Priest chronology. This one is a fairly simple tune that executes very well.

Between The Hammer & The Anvil

The title offers another take on the “between a rock and a hard place” concept. The song was apparently created out of the subliminal messages trial. Rather than being a literal offering of their feelings on it, things are dressed up here to fit a song that very much recalls the classic Priest era.

A Touch Of Evil

A song that hearkens back to the late 80’s time period, replete with synth. It’s a track about how love can be painful and twisted. Though it sticks out a bit on the album it’s still a very nice addition and doesn’t detract from the proceedings.

One Shot At Glory

After the brief intro Battle Hymn, the album wraps up with this solid metal offering. It delves into the “good side” of war, that rush of adrenaline and desire to do something greater that comes with stepping onto the battlefield. It’s a nice, motivating track to close out the record.

Painkiller marked both a return to the old ways and a new direction for Judas Priest. It was heavy on a scale beyond what the band had done before, entering speed metal territory and deftly changing direction as the sounds of the 1980’s were quickly dismissed in the new decade. The album made a decent showing on several nations’ charts and has a handful of gold certifications.

Acclaim and praise would come with Painkiller. It left some jaws on the floor upon release and in the years since it is widely hailed as one of the band’s strongest efforts. It was an impressive effort all around for the metal legends.

Sadly this time period would not spark a new era of Priest classics. Not long after the touring cycle for this album, Rob Halford wished to do a side project. Due to strange contract wording Halford had to leave the band to release anything else, and he would be out of Priest for a decade. The rest of Priest took some time off before regrouping with a new singer and a couple of albums that also explored the heavier side of things.

In the end, Painkiller was a triumphant piece of the Judas Priest catalog. An old dog learned a few new tricks and translated an already successful formula to a heavier shade of metal. Even in modern times, Priest have still made a fair bit of stuff that sounds like it could have come from this album. Metal would go on to be a timeless beast, and Judas Priest were one of the ones chiefly responsible.

12 thoughts on “Album Of The Week – December 5, 2022

  1. This is where Priest went a little to heavy for my liking and I passed on this album at the time after I got fooled in buying Ram It Down two years earlier (88). I prefer Priest from 78-87 as I really like that sound they had going…

    Liked by 1 person

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