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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Al Atkins

Demon Deceiver – The Sin Sessions

Review by Gary Hill

Let’s get one point out there right away, Al Atkins was the lead singer of Judas Priest before Rob Halford. That puts him in the formative period before the group recorded. In fact, if you look carefully at the songwriting credits on the early discs, you’ll see his name. Well, he has released his latest disc and it stands up to his former bandmates’ stuff admirably. I guess one does have to say that Atkins doesn’t have the set of lungs that Halford does – but my god, who in the world does? In my opinion Rob Halford is the greatest metal vocalist in the world (possible contenders being Geoff Tate, Bruce Dickinson and Ronnie James Dio). Atkins comes close to making that elite list. So, in other words, he can hold his own very well. While he does still have elements of Judas Priest in his sound (since he was part of the formative period that influence is natural) there are other sounds here as well. Overall, this is a very strong disc, with no bad tracks. There are a few that fall a little short of greatness, but really I don’t see any complaints here. If you like classic metal you should give this one a chance. If you are a big Judas Priest fan then that recommendation is even more pertinent.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Demon Deceiver
Electronic sounds open this, like science fiction sound effects. Then an acoustic guitar enters to create a balladic structure. The lyrics are read as a poem by Atkins with a slowed down sort of effect on his voice. After a time the band comes in with a bluesy metallic grind that works quite well. This merges out into rather Satriani-like section. Then it moves back out into the earlier mode again. This doesn’t remain for long, though, the band instead turning back towards the Satriani sort of mode but ramping up the intensity into a killer metal jam to carry onward. From there it drops back to the balladic for a short segment and the cycle (minus the poetry reading) starts again. This one is quite a dynamic piece of music and a great disc opener. It eventually drops back to the acoustic modes to end.
Money Talks
This one is more of a standard heavy metal arrangement, feeling a bit like early Priest meets Dio. Atkins voice comes in with a more bluesy metal approach. This one is a solid metal jam that feels quite a bit like the 1980’s variety, but not the “pop metal” stuff – more “true steel.” While I wouldn’t consider this to be a standout track, there’s nothing wrong at all with it. It’s quite solid, just not stellar.
Blood, Demons and Whiskey
Now this is more like it! The overall mode isn’t changed dramatically, but the main riff here is both catchier and heavier. The vocal performance on it reminds me quite a bit of early Judas Priest – think “Cheater.” This is a killer track that is definitely one of the standouts on the disc.
Drown
While this one is not as catchy as the last two, it’s late ’70’s epic metal approach is a refreshing change of pace. I’m again reminded of Dio’s arrangements on the choruses. While this cut doesn’t work as well as “Blood, Demons and Whiskey,” and it feels just a little awkward, I like it a lot. This turns really heavy on the guitar solo segment.
Sentenced
This one comes in heavy and dramatic, if a bit tentative. It shifts gears to a heavier take on the type of riff one found frequently on the first Priest disc. This is another of the highlights of the disc, a real smoking metal classic. This also has a mellower, moody segment that works quite well, too. This might be the best number on show here – period. If I were Atkins I’d put this one out there as an introductory track. While it’s got some of that classic Priest sound to lend some familiarity to it, it’s also modern in texture and just plain killer. I’d say I like this as well as anything on Priest’s Angel of Retribution CD, and as much as I liked that, it says a lot.
Victim of Changes
Judas Priest fans should recognize this one – it’s the same track that Priest released on their Sad Wings of Destiny album. While this rendition loses some of the subtleties of the JP take on the track, it has some other things going for it. Atkins puts in some impressive screams, showing that Halford’s not the only JP vocalist to pull those off (OK, before anyone says anything I do remember “Ripper” Owens). The lyrics on this are a bit different – my guess being that these were the original lyrics.
Bleeding
This stripped down metal rocker has something in common with JP, but I also hear a little of the Scorpions in this mix. It’s another strong one.
God Help Me
When Atkins says, “God help me through this” to open the track it feels a bit like Geoff Tate to me. As it launches into the song proper, though, I hear one part Priest and one part AC/DC. The chorus and pre-chorus segment, though feel more like Priest and even a little along the lines of Fight. The instrumental section here is stellar with melodic guitars weaving lines of sound in tandem. It moves out into a short space rock noise segment after this before pounding back out into the main song segment. This is another contender for best song on the disc, and another that Atkins should be putting out in the public eye.
Cradle to the Grave
The gritty riff that leads this one off is another screamer, and overall this is another choice for first exposure to the CD. It’s also another that’s a strong contender for “best song.” It’s quite straightforward, but also a major killer. The guitar soloing on this one is especially tasty.
Dreamer Deciever
Another song that Priest recorded on Sad Wings…, it has always been a favorite of mine. Again, I think I prefer the JP rendition, but a lot of that has to do more with studio tricks and arrangement than performance. Atkins’ voice doesn’t leave me wanting at all. I hear a couple changes on the lyrics here, too – but also there seem to be some points where the lyrics are easier to understand on this version. The backing vocals and keys later are a nice touch. From my perspective I’ve also always felt that “Dreamer Deceiver,” coupled with “Deceiver” from Priest were almost like one song – you couldn’t have one without the other. For that reason I was afraid that this might feel incomplete here. Interestingly enough, by fading down the soaring segment of the piece to close it off, this version seems to have achieved a different means of lending completeness to it. All in all, this one is to be treasured almost as much as the JP version.
 
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