Hey – remember that period of time when the lights went out in Judas Priest? There have been a few reasons for the stall proposed over the years, but the truth is that it really needed to happen. Painkiller (the band’s twelfth studio album) was a portrait of a band running on creative fumes and on borrowed time. Conspicuously, it would end up taking the band seven years to produce a follow-up for Painkiller – and that wasn’t even really a Judas Priest album; the album which came after Painkiller was Jugulator, the beginning of the band’s “Ripper Owens” era.
While Painkiller was not Judas Priest’s greatest moment, 2015 does mark the album’s twenty-fifth anniversary and in celebration of that occasion, Legacy Recordings has pressed a deluxe reissue of the album’s title track – only decent single that the album produced. This new edition of the single has been pressed in the shape of the saw blades which also appear as wheels on the motorcycle pictured on the single’s cover, and it has been pressed into blue vinyl.
On paper, the presentation of this reissue sounds great – but all the frills which hang off this “Painkiller” reissue don’t do a heck of a lot to redeem the single in listening; unless the desire is for an article which shows a band ready to collapse from overwork. Right from the get-go, then-new drummer Scott Travis begins double-kicking up a maelstrom of menace while K.K. Downing blasts out a soul-stirring lead and, in many ways for the time, “Painkiller” could have gotten a whole lot of excitement behind it; definitely leaner and faster than Judas Priest had ever run before, there are clear touches of shred to be found and that feels a little revelatory.
Prior to this point in their history, Judas Priest always aimed to be the biggest, burliest and most ominous beast on the scene and fans were always happy to buy it – but here, the band shows it can be more than they’ve expressed before, and that artistic flexibility is very thought-provoking. It would be awesome – if the song didn’t also feature a really awful vocal performance from Rob Halford. That’s the chasm-sized flaw here: Halford’s vocal performance sounds like the work of a genuine witch in the throes of menopause. It’s brutal to hear this reedy and thin vocal performance from such a powerhouse voice and, while it doesn’t quite derail the song, it does detract mythically from it.
The standard that most fans hold for Judas Priest may not have been met on this single’s A-side but, tragically, the going gets no better on the B-side either. After the bell tolls to open “Touch Of Evil,” the synth touches around the edges of an already slick and slippery composition just make the whole thing feel ridiculous, like something from the soundtrack from a bad slasher movie. While the lyrics are blessedly not bad (twenty-five years after the fact, the lines about visions of fire, the taste of fear and the seduction of the profane play well), the music is what destroys “Touch Of Evil” and, unfortunately, all possible realms of badness converge in the thoroughly trite trifle which is “Hell Patrol.” There, while the rhythm set by the guitars is solid enough (how could it not be? it’s pretty formulaic), everything feels exhausted and very paint-by-numbers. The guitars feature none of the hellfire, metallic crunch or urgency that Downing and Glenn Tipton usually ensured were present in every Priest song released previously and, again, the synths do nothing to improve the song – if anything, they make it feel even older than it is.
“But is this single worth the expense,” you ask? “Reading this review, it’s hard to tell.”
While I truly believe that the Painkiller period of Judas Priest’s history is the dimmest and most desperate part before things actually did go black for a while in the band, I also think this single is of great value. I feel that way for a couple of reasons: first, this die-cut piece looks awesome and would make a great keepsake for any fan and, second, that this release features three album cuts [the song selection for this single was never the same when it was originally released as it is here] makes it the most cost effective way to get an impression of what happened before Judas Priest crashed and burned years ago while also being mercifully shorter than the Painkiller LP. That may not sound like the single greatest or most glowing endorsement but, if you go front-to-back with the album, you’ll realize how charitable both this single and this commentary of it is.
Judas Priest’s die-cut, 10-inch “Painkiller” single was released on November 27, 2015 via Legacy Recordings/Sony Music. Track a copy down at your favorite participating independent record store!