Friday, December 9, 2016

LET THEM EAT METAL #1: Screaming For Vengeance by Judas Priest (A new blog series takes flight!)

In the days of yore, when pop music meant something, it was filled with nourishing musical ideas and showed the tides of progress.  But then something happened, the ability for it to fill our soul has nearly vanished, and the masses are starved on good music.  There’s the occasional quality track that stays good after multiple spins, but it has gotten to the moment where even good pop music gets stale.  We live in a white-bread world in mainstream music.  However, there’s salvation from the drek that the masses need to know about.  In the words of Marie Antoinette, or more accurately The Rods quoting her: “LET THEM EAT METAL!”

Hello degenerates, heathens, weirdos, and deviants.  I am the Rock Otaku, and I’m here to show you worlds such as hard rock, metal, punk, alternative rock, movies, TV, anime, video games, and anything that makes us scream for vengeance.

This is a new series dedicated to the best that heavy metal can offer.  As you will read, I will take you on a journey though the annals of heavy metal’s storied history from its beginning in early 70s, its crystallization in the late 70s and early 80s, its breakthrough into mainstream conscience in the early to mid-80s, its maturation in the late 80s and 90s, its dominance (sort of) in the 2000s and even today, and the rare moments that very few talk about unless in the company of like-minded fans.  Not in that order, but I’ll be looking at the footnotes oh metal history in the order I desire.  In short, this new series is about metal, plain and simple.

What better way to start than to look into one of the more important albums to be released when heavy metal was just one genre and state of mind before the splintering caused by coke, bimbos, Reagan and Thatcher.  The year was 1982, and arguably traditional heavy metal had both its last major hurrah or truly became mainstream and rewrote the rules of pop and rock almost forever.  The L.A. movement was gaining traction while the New Wave of British Heavy Metal took the torch of angry and dangerous music from punk and helped sink new wave with its drag-wearing Californian brothers in arms.  Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Motörhead, Saxon, and countless others made a splash in across the globe, and they were lead in their denim and leather-fueled charge by Judas Priest.

Starting in the late 60s/early 70s, they came out of Birmingham (the same English town that birthed Black Sabbath) with a heavy rock ‘n’ roll style that would inspire hundreds of bands in the years they played.  Their seventies work included the usually-never-talked-about Rocka Rolla, the haunting Sad Wings of Destiny, the heavy Sin After Sin, Stained Class, which birthed their iconic logo, and Killing Machine aka. Hell Bent For Leather in the US.  During this time, they kept getting heavier and more aggressive, that is until they released their 6th album, the iconic British Steel, and an album that I plan on covering in this series due to its status.  Then Point of Entry happened, and they ended up with another usually-never-talked-about album, despite some success with “Heading Out to the Highway.”  After that, they released the album I’m covering today: Screaming For Vengeance.

Considered their true commercial breakthrough and the moment where they became heavy metal staples, Judas Priest made an album that is considered a metal masterpiece.  While I could discuss the impact further, let me tell you my story about this classic.  Like many young geeky guys my age, I was introduced to this album, and Judas Priest in general, through “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” in Guitar Hero.  Around this time, I was more fixated on bands like Aerosmith, Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses, Scorpions, and whoever was playing on the radio alongside the soundtracks for modern Sonic games.  But it wasn’t until my interest in harder rock and metal blossomed into being before the Guitar Hero, and later Rock Band, franchises started dominating my focus. 

However, it took me three to four years (I started playing Guitar Hero seriously in 2007) before I ended up finding this album in my mall’s FYE store, bundled with the equally iconic British Steel.  Because my metal focus was more on iconography over personal preferences (with that playing into certain album choices that time as well), I decided to buy them and add them to my metal collection, which included Metallica, Iron Maiden, Dio, Motley Crue, A7X, Mastodon, Slipknot, Disturbed, Five Finger Death Punch, and Pantera.  As a result, I gained a greater appreciation of this legendary band outside of the hits (while I managed to pass “Painkiller” in Rock Band 2 at this point), and my metalhead-status, I felt, was even more proven, even after having, at the time, ALL of Metallica’s 80s discography.  As a result, there’s a sense of nostalgia I have toward this album, as it was one of the albums I listened to during my early semesters at Georgia Tech, even when I wasn’t popular, getting straight A’s, or realizing just how hard things really were.  Let’s just say this was one form of relief from the pains I had at the time alongside, later, anime.

And now today, with more words on later works or moments of my life I can retell depending on the album, I’ve decided to give this album, with what was ultimately my first introduction to Judas Priest, even if I didn’t know it at the time on by brother’s PS2, the track-by-track review it deserves.  If you think that this is a fruitless effort on my part, and that I’m wasting my time here, then you’ve got another thing comin’.  Here’s my review of the iconic Screaming For Vengeance, starting with:

1.    The Hellion:
(Usually, both this song and the next are lumped together, so I’ve decided to show that)
Starting this album is this haunting instrumental opener.  Featuring one of the most iconic guitar licks ever recorded in heavy metal, this is crafted around a melody that signals the descent of The Hellion, a mechanical bird of prey that acts in the name of revenge on the unsuspecting population below.  It also shows how in sync K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton are as co-lead guitarists once the dual harmonies kick in.  But as most Rhythm game fans know, as well as those that have played Brütal Legend, this is a great introductory track that segues perfectly into the next track…

2.    Electric Eye:
Starting off with one of the best guitar intros in a metal song, “Electric Eye” makes it known that Judas Priest are not toying around or playing coy, they are here to dominate.  Once the palm-muted riff begins, Rob Halford starts his vocal rampage, telling the story of a surveillance A.I. that tracks down those that would be a threat to the totalitarian order and exterminates them on sight, the machine the song is named after.  The pre-chorus and chorus reinforces this with lyrics like “I am perpetual/I keep the country clean” and “I protect the Electric Eye” respectively.  Plus that guitar solo is something of beauty, a showcase of Glenn Tipton’s talents as a guitar player.  This song is so iconic and so metal that you need to listen to it on your own (especially with “The Hellion” added to the opening).  There’s more to talk about, but I’m sure metal scholars have already dissected this song enough to reveal every crook and nanny about it, so moving on.  A truly badass song by a badass band for badass men (and women as well, let’s be inclusive about this).

3.    Riding on the Wind:
However, if there’s one quality that Judas Priest are known for, a quality that has allowed them to make heavy metal reach demographics that were unheard of in the 80s, one that crossed the glam rockers and heshers, it’s their tendency to be badass.  With this track, Judas Priest prove that point in spades with a catchy riff that exudes manliness, a driving beat, and lyrics that deal with how fast, loud, and large they tend to do things.  The verses give off a sense of confidence, with larger-than-life imagery alongside a chorus that screams confidence.  The song is punctuated with a dual guitar solo that adds to the confidence Judas Priest have in their craft.  This is the kind of song that increases confidence in the listener, like the best heavy metal when not dealing with darkness.  This song, as well as the last two, is proof that Judas Priest are a badass band for badass people that do badass things.

4.    Bloodstone:
This song’s guitar intro, going into the main riff is the stuff of legends, showing the band’s penchant for melodic badassitude.  I’m not sure what a bloodstone is entirely, but it sounds badass, and it allows for a really catchy concert staple (not sure if it ever got radio play unless rock radio was desperate at the time).  Ensuring the catchiness of the song, which ensures that you’ll be headbanging throughout, is the aforementioned riff, being extremely hummable as well as something you can take to the gym when you’re goal is to beat Son Goku in a fight (or at least Krillen).  There’s the repeat of the title in the song and Rob Halford’s vocals, which sell the lyrics, which deal with what I’m sure is being beaten down and dealing with society’s gunk as well as a bloodstone, while demanding to be left out of the nonsense, with aplomb.  Plus, there’s a great guitar moment that changes the key of the song before entering the guitar solo, which falls under dueling guitars with each getting their own half.  In short, this is another ode to badassitude by a badass band for badass people who perform badass acts.

5.    (Take These) Chains:
Ladies, gentlemen, and children of all ages, welcome to the first ballad.  Written by Bob Halligan Jr., who would later pen “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” for the band, the song deals with a relationship that Rob Halford is dealing with that causes him to suffer emotional pain, despite being currently miles away.  As a result, he feels “chained” to the love of his ex, and demands that they be removed from his heart.  Sappiness aside, the starts with clean guitars before being driven by distorted (you know, rock/metal) guitars, palm-muted chords included, for the rest of the song as well as a tight rhythm section from Ian Hill and Dave Holland.  As for Robby, his vocal performance is lower, but more emotional and conflicted, dealing with the loss and desire to move on from the lyrics.  Again, you get a well-crafted solo with the feel to add to the song’s tone from Glenn Tipton.  Overall, this is a badass AMV-friendly rocker from a badass band for badass people with badass relationships.

6.    Pain and Pleasure:
Now we go from broken relationships to sexy time, courtesy of these metal gods.  While the last 5 songs had a driving beat, even when mid-tempo (great for long-distance highway drives), this song is clearly written for time in the bedroom.  What I mean is that the beat decreases in speed, set to a tempo that can get any girl wet and guy horny, but there seems to be a more, well, desperate tone to this as well.  Fittingly, the music is as hard and heavy as usual, with an air of sleaziness based around the beat, with the guitars from Glenn and K.K., bass from Ian, and drums from Dave pushing the music into sexual desire.  Adding to that is Rob’s vocal delivery, with shows his steamy side.  For the lyrics, they are slightly more tsundere than expected, dealing with both the pain and pleasure of a lustful relationship with an air of S&M (look at Rob’s fashion sense).  Plus, there’s another killer guitar solo.  This steamy metal jam, which may make for a pretty good Kämpfer AMV, is another slab of badass rock from these badass rockers, made for badass people with badass lovemaking techniques.

7.    Screaming for Vengeance:
Well, you can’t be driven by love and lust all the time, so back to the odes to badassery.  This song may be the musical equivalent to screaming “WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK I AM?!”  And if anyone ever got that reference as well as the references from a few entries, I wonder what your favorite anime from this year is.  As for the song, that Gurren Lagaan line sums it up as well as the title itself, dealing with being put down in life and telling the oppressors that put you down to GTFO.  To match that, Rob Halford delivers some killer screams, K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton deliver killer riffs and a dual solo that ends with a dual guitar harmony, Ian Hill delivers killer bass lines (when audible), and Dave Holland, while not the best or most technical drummer they ever had, delivers some killer drums.  If I were to say what the song’s best aspect is, it really is the fact that it has a killer sing-along chorus, one that is best, well, screamed at the top of your lungs.  And the fact that the guitar parts are awesome.  This badass song from this badass band is definitely for badass people with badass goals, may they include becoming King of the Pirates, Hokage, slaying every Titan in the world, or just restoring your lost limbs and younger brother’s body by finding a Philosopher’s Stone (this coming from someone who’s not a huge Naruto fan).

8.    You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’:
Speaking of badass, this is an ode to how badass Judas Priest are in general, and how not acknowledging that could be your doom.  This song is so awesome, manly, badass, daring, and other adjectives for awesome that it eats Drake’s “The Motto” like gummy bears (not the cartoon, the candies).  Screw, YOLO, this song’s title is the motto to live by.  I could explain how the savage yet accessible riff, the sense of cool, Rob Halford’s vocal delivery, the driving drums, and the guitar solo from Glenn Tipton that should be learned by every aspiring metal guitarist (thanks for making it DLC, Rocksmith), but every critic has dissected this song like a dead daredevil due to its quality.  All I can say that the combination of Guitar Hero and the first Monsters of Rock compilation (you know, those hair metal CD compilations from a while back) is how I was introduced to this track and its majesty, and it ensured my growth in musical badassery.  The only drawback is how rushed it may fell due to it being demanded by the label, but like “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and “Cherry Pie”, this is a definite classic and a sign of Judas Priest’s talents (specifically Rob, Glenn, and K.K.) as a whole.  A true badass anthem from a badass band for badass people with equally badass mottos that aren’t YOLO!

9.    Fever:
Like “(Take These) Chains” this starts with a clean, near-acoustic guitar intro with a subdued vocal delivery from Rob Halford that gets more intense in the chorus and in the final verse.  Then the drums kick in and the song’s status as heavy ballad comes into play, as the song deals with how someone causes Robby to feel all warm inside, comparing it to a fever, hence the title.  May it be a good or bad thing, we don’t know, but it becomes clear that’s it’s bringing him both pain and pleasure.  The driving beat, the guitar interplay, including a guitar solo with moments of harmony, and a really catchy chorus that goes well live, and you get one hell of an underrated Judas Priest track, and somehow it tops both “(Take These) Chains” and “Pain and Pleasure” in quality with everything that happens.  Overall, this one monster ballad is proof that if you have a fever from bad mainstream music, your best prescription is Judas Priest.  A badass medication from a badass band for badass people with bogus conditions that prevent badass actions.

10.  Devil’s Child:
I almost forgot, apparently metal involves Satan in some manner.  Here, Judas Priest sing about a person that is a lot like him or a child of Beelzebub.  But gathering what I know from the lyrics and Robby’s delivery, I get a vibe that screams this:
With a driving beat (expect this when they are not emulating their 70s work), razor-sharp guitars cutting through the song, and Rob Halford’s flattering language and combination of normal and high-pitch singing, they paint a picture that compares a person that’s screwing Robby over or treating him like a house elf to Lucifer or any of his kids.  Let’s just say that’s it’s an angry song, and K.K. Downing decided to play lead guitarist this time around (I haven’t forgotten about you buddy).  He’s great on this track as well.  In short, without “Prisoner of Your Eyes” (aka. The original printing), this serves as an excellent ending to a badass album filled with badass anthems by THE badass heavy metal band for badass people whose hearts are pure.

11.  Prisoner of Your Eyes (Bonus Track):
For certain prints, this is between the studio version and a live version of “Devil’s Child,” and apparently, this was recorded during the Turbo sessions.  Unlike the other “love” songs on the album, this is more consistent as a ballad (despite being 7 minutes), and it makes for a true love song you can serenade to your special someone, even if you’re having issues with them.  Unlike the other songs on the album, this is proof that Judas Priest are not just badass, but have enough of a sensitive side that allows for some beautiful tracks, even if they were recorded during the sessions meant for their arguably worst album.  The guitars are in ballad mode, the drums are nice, the use of keyboards and synthesizers is well used, primarily for atmosphere, where they are used best in heavy metal, and Rob Halford provides on great vocal delivery.  Also, the guitar solos are good.  In short, it’s a great showcase of Judas Priest at their most sincere.  A badass ballad from a badass band for badass people with badass feelings like love and affection, because love is badass.

12.  Devil’s Child (Live) (Bonus Track):
Do I even have to repeat myself from last time, but this the live version of the album’s closer that they released for the reissue, and it’s arguably as savage, if not more, than the studio release.  I don’t need to say anymore, I’ve already said my piece.  In short, we get a live version of the last song on this badass album by a badass band for badass people that do badass things.

If my recurring claims of badass mean anything, then this song has aged not just extremely well for 80s metal, but for me as well.  It’s as enjoyable now as it was then (both at the moment in life I’ve referred to and the early 80s).  The production is spectacular, giving the audial clarity and distortion that helps give the album punch.  Every band member, even their latest in line of drummers at that point, is on fire here.  It’s nowhere near as accessible as British Steel, nor as aggressive as Sin After Sin or Stained Class, but it does an amazing job at being both accessible and aggressive.  In short, this is one of THE metal albums that provides the foolproof template for mainstream-friendly heavy metal with bite for the 80s and beyond.  If there’s a track that’s strongest, I’d have to give it to “The Hellion” and “Electric Eye” at the same time, “Bloodstone”, “Screaming For Vengeance”, and “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’”.  If there’s a weakest, it’s hard to say as there’s no filler on this track, but “Pain and Pleasure” may be the weakest on the virtue that it’s good/great on an album that’s consistently great/awesome, but some may make the claim for “Prisoner of Your Eyes” to be the weakest when discussing new prints.  If you haven’t bought this album yet, DO IT!

Final Rating: 9/10 (Awesome slab of heavy metal).

Next time on Let Them Eat Metal: The Number Of The Beast By Iron Maiden

Until next time, this is the Rock Otaku.  Live Loud, Play Hard, and Eat Metal.

All used references are done under the rules of fair use and are owned by their original creators.

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