Last week we herded some old Judas Priest fans together who were stoked to hear that Rob Halford, metals original screamer, had rejoined his mates for Angel of Retribution the first Priest/Halford recording since 1990s Painkiller. (Farewell to Priest cover-band singer Ripper Owens, who substituted for Halford in the interim as well as anyone could. He did not suck.)
Our consulting metalheads were carefully chosen. Besides being discriminating listeners, Odin, Fafnir and Loki abuse guitar; Thor and Freya have been known to smash drums.* Before gathering in smallish home rock-rooms to stare fiercely at the speakers, the acolytes prepared themselves for the listening sessions in traditional ways (sucking down prodigious quantities of smoke and beer) or through prayer and meditation. Or both.
*Names have been changed.
DAY 1: ODIN, FREYA AND FAFNIR
Track 1, Judas Rising
ODIN: [seeing the tape recorder] Im not gonna say anything. Turn that off.
FAFNIR: I think the kick drum was kind of a crutch there. They kinda relied on that to move it along. Not as strong an opening as they might have manufactured.
ODIN: Downings got a weird way of picking like Tony Iommi, makes it almost sound like theres an effect on it. [Ed.s note: K.K. Downing is one of Priests dual lead guitarists; Tony Iommi is Black Sabbaths founding guitarist.]
Track 2, Deal With the Devil
FAFNIR: Real intense. It made me feel, like, something about my arches, you know? It was sort of like running.
ODIN: Your feet felt good?
FAFNIR: Yeah. Then the next song [track 3, Revolution], I was going, like, Isnt this just one old blues riff over and over and over again?
ODIN: You sound ungrateful.
FAFNIR: I really liked the texture of it, though. All this huge layering. Did you notice that?
ODIN: I noticed how much fun it sounds like this was to make. [Producer] Roy Z, he hasnt done anything bad yet.
The chugging riff on track 4, Worth Fighting For
ODIN: I love that kind of riff right there, thats what I want.
The TV is on with the sound off. A commercial for Hooters comes on.
ODIN: They wouldnt allow that commercial on TV if they had the actual tight shorts. But in the commercial, the Hooters girls could have the slightly baggy shorts.
Track 7, Angel
Odin complains about the red light on the tape recorder.
ODIN: When youve got that on, I know that its on, and it chokes my creativity.
Solution: thumb over light.
FAFNIR: This is a good ballad. Its kicking into Spanish overdrive now.
Track 8, Hellrider intro, with rapidly twiddling guitars
FAFNIR: I like this psychedelic intro. I really think they did something different with their formula there. Too much kick drum again . . . yet I rock.
ODIN: Were doing a Roger Glover now.
ODIN: [explains Deep Purple reference] Roger Glover used to unscrew the light bulb so [Ritchie] Blackmore didnt know when they were recording. Blackmore would seize up when he saw the light.
FAFNIR: Cant really argue about this one [Hellrider] too much. Its on the level of some of their famous -er songs. [Exciter, Jawbreaker, Painkiller.]
ODIN: Homogenizer, thats a great album.
Track 9, Eulogy
FAFNIR: Another ballad. Time to take a leak. I feel one of those airplane pisses coming on.
Track 10, Lochness, atmospheric intro
FAFNIR: Theyre goin for it here. Its not like theyre fuckin around.
ODIN: I have a feeling this is gonna be better than the Sting song. [Sting also wrote a song about Loch Ness. Odin and Fafnir hate Sting.]
Freya, Odins girlfriend, comes in looking shook up.
FREYA: I got hit today.
ODIN: You got hit?
FREYA: Somebody hit the back of my car.
FAFNIR: How is everybody?
Freya says her neck hurts. The tape is turned off while the situation is assessed. Freya is not bleeding.
ODIN: Anyways, Freya, the Judas Priest album was released today, and were right in the middle of listening to it.
FREYA: Oh, sorry.
Fafnir, who has reached a pretty good consumption level by this point, reaches over to put his beer down, and knocks a whole stack of CDs behind a big amp cabinet.
FREYA: Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Ha! Im sorry, I didnt mean to laugh.
The twisted guitar squeals that begin Lochness are heating up. Then it really gets heavy and Spinal Tappy.
FAFNIR: How did you know this song was going to be remarkable?
ODIN: Its about the Loch Ness monster, for gods sake.
FAFNIR: Lochness, confess your terror of the deep. Wow, this is corny shit. Im not sure if the riffs are convincing me. Not evil enough.
The DVD documentary portion of the Angel of Retribution package is up next. 2004 reunion concert footage comes on.
ODIN: Whoa, I want to see that again!
Rewind. Bassist Ian Hill and guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton are all bending over together in a classic unison pose. Halford comes up from behind.
FAFNIR: Wow, he butt-fucked em all in a row there, didnt he? I think its funny that he decided its okay to butt-fuck his bandmates onstage now.
Halford is wearing yards of black leather drapery and studded fringe.
FAFNIR: I believe that Halfords got more studs on him than ever before in his rock career. I mean, you cant go down in the studs department. You have to kinda keep going up, right?
ODIN: Yeah. A stud-finder would go mental on Halford.
FAFNIR: After the age of 35 or so, rock stars need bigger and bigger sunglasses. Its the eyes that really betray the age.
ODIN: Is that right?
FAFNIR: Even Paul Westerberg has big sunglasses now. Sifa and I went to see him the other night, because shes a huge fan.
ODIN: Dont tell Freya that. She really wanted to go.
FAFNIR: It was bad.
ODIN: Heres the real question: What if you were Paul Westerberg? Was it okay?
FAFNIR: Man, thats a good question. I dont think I can answer that. Its almost like thats what he goes for, is that kind of messed-up experience. It was successful for Sifa, cause she falls for that. [Now Fafnir is acting jealous.] She wants to be his mom, you know, and take care of him, because hes such a fuck-up. Thats how hes always got girlfriends, Im sure, too. By pretending that hes really fucked up, and he really needs their help.
Diamonds and Rust
ODIN: I first heard that in, like, 77. And of course I had no idea that it was a Joan Baez song. I was living in that apartment looking over the freeway. I was living with my brother. Thats when I had that album.
Its time for some critical judgment.
FAFNIR: Im impressed with the way Priest decided to reconsider their past in a way that is not imitative of themselves. Maybe a bit imitative of other people. The music is successful. On a production level mixing, just impeccable. Really, like, powerful.
ODIN: It seems to be done in the right frame of mind. The right sentiment.
Freya is back. Its unclear whom shes talking about, probably somebody on TV.
FREYA: It would be cool if I had that haircut.
FAFNIR: You havent changed your haircut in quite a while.
ODIN: Hey, thats really a mean thing to say.
FREYA: Fafnir, you havent changed yours in a while either.
ODIN: On the Rodney on the ROQ show in 79 or something, he had Ian Hunter on as a guest. And Ian Hunter was calling live, on tour in Connecticut. And Rodney Bingenheimer, in the middle of the interview, after being a really cool, hang-out-and-chat, Bingenheimer kind of guy, goes, What about your image, man? It doesnt seem like youve changed, youve always got the same kind of image, with the sunglasses and everything. And he had to go, Yeah, I guess so . . .
FAFNIR: . . . fuckwad . . .
[Ed.s note: Rodney is one to talk.]
DAY 2: LOKI, THOR AND FAFNIR
Thor has brought a copy of Heavy Metal Parking Lot, the classic short documentary on Judas Priest fans pre-show festivities. One of the stoner subjects dreams about A joint so big, it fits across America.
Our consultants then watch the Priest DVD. Onscreen, a spaced-out, skinny trailer-trash guy is hanging at stage-front.
FAFNIR: He could have been in Heavy Metal Parking Lot 20 years ago!
THOR: Its the same guy!
FAFNIR: Hes still 20 years old! How did that happen? Drugs and acid preserved him.
THOR: Maybe I shoulda stuck with it.
Diamonds and Rust
FAFNIR: What state of mind do you have to be in to play the same song, like, a thousand times?
LOKI: I dunno, does whacking off ever get old? It never really does, and its about the same.
Now its on to the album.
THOR: In the [past] they were experimenting more. This one seems like theyre using more reliable formulas. Now the contracts say that youve got to have one that will sell or whatever. Compared to, lets say, Painkiller, the drum production on this is way more ambient. You feel it more than you hear it.
FAFNIR: But then, youre a drummer.
THOR: That means I get to ride the bus for free! I get to park close to the entrance of Ralphs!
LOKI: That was almost like Janes Addiction, that riff. I liked it a lot, but that was the least Priest-like song.
FAFNIR: Theres a little bit of Led Zeppelin . . .
THOR: I heard Soundgarden.
FAFNIR: I hear Marilyn Manson in there too.
Worth Fighting For
LOKI: I like this song, too. I just wish Halford would open it up a little, at least once, just for us: Lets hear Ripper sing like this.
THOR: Many hesher girlfriends will be happy that that ones on there.
As the big ballad Angel plays, Thor performs frail-waif dance moves. Song ends.
LOKI: Thats one that Night Ranger didnt get around to recording. They sound like theyre trying to be five different bands. But I like the sound, personally.
THOR: Well, youre wrong.
THOR: That one makes me want to go rob convenience stores. With Judas Priest, thats how you judge success.
FAFNIR: Wind chimes takes balls.
THOR: Its so egregious. Length and heaviness.
LOKI: Its like they broke it up into two songs. They said, Thisll give Halford time for a wardrobe change. With those long coats on, he looks more and more like Hellraiser.
Lochness fades out.
LOKI: Was that the last track? They went out with a rumble.
THOR: Smack you over the head with a cinder block.
LOKI: Thats not gonna be a single. You gotta admire that.
Comparisons are made between Painkiller and Angel of Retribution.
FAFNIR: Its like the difference between speed and pot. Thats the same kind of intersection Metallica had.
THOR: That last records horrible [Metallicas St. Anger]. God, I cant stand that record.
FAFNIR: As a drummer?
THOR: Ah, Jesus! Somebody shoulda kicked that idiot out and stepped all over him. He plays like a white tennis player.
FAFNIR: Theres some really good white tennis players.
THOR: You also liked that one song, though. [Worth Fighting For from the new Priest.]
FAFNIR: Yeah . . .
Now everybodys laughing at Fafnir.
FAFNIR: I do phosphoresce a little bit. Not every day, but every once in a while you need to put on a tutu.
Overall rankings for Angel of Retribution
Freya: 8 That Lochness song is stuck in my head. And I am not sure that I like that.
Heart of a Lion and Scott Travis: A Judas Priest Reunion Time Circle
1987: Heart of a Lion appears on an album by a respected but little-known rock band from Los Angeles, Racer X. The song, written by Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, has a crushing riff and an unforgettable chorus quintessential Judas Priest. Yet it will never show up on a regular Priest album. Racer Xs drummer: Scott Travis.
1990: Travis, having left Racer X, records Painkiller with his new band, Judas Priest.
1993: Halford and Travis leave Judas Priest to form the harder-edged Fight. It goes nowhere.
1997: Halford and John Lowery (later called John5 with Marilyn Manson) form the industrial duo Two, produced by Trent Reznor. Travis has gone back to Judas Priest to record and tour with front man Ripper Owens.
2000: Fighting unprecedented invisibility, Halford releases Resurrection with his new band, Halford, which sounds suspiciously like Judas Priest.
2001: Two studio songs are tacked on to Halfords nominally live Live Insurrection, and one of them is a blistering version of Heart of a Lion that sounds exactly like Judas Priest.
2004: Judas Priest releases the retrospective box Metalogy, which includes a demo version of Heart of a Lion recorded by Priest in the 80s. During communications about the box, the idea of a reunion has come up. Judas Priest, including Halford and Travis, go on the Ozzfest tour.
2005: Judas Priest, with the same lineup that made Painkiller, drop Angel of Retribution. The circle is closed.
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Behold The Wings of Rock!
Whoever said hard rock was strictly phallic just wasn't paying attention.
From top left: Judas Priest's Angel of Retribution, Billy Thorpe's Children of the Sun . . . Revisited, Queensryche's Greatest Hits, Journey's Greatest Hits, Nirvana's In Utero, Rush's Fly By Night