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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Judas Priest

The Essential Judas Priest

Review by Gary Hill

Riding high on a resurgence from the reuniting of the band with vocalist Rob Halford, Judas Priest are releasing a 2 CD collection called "The Essential Judas Priest." The set has two songs from their latest studio release, Angel of Retribution, which make a nice addition in the form of bookends. While the box set Metalogy seemed to be geared more towards long time Priest fanatics with its inclusion of a lot of unreleased material, this one seems geared more towards the more casual listener, and perhaps new fans picked up during their recent tours with Ozzfest and headlining. On any set like this it's never really possible to say, "this is the definitive set of the band." Frankly, the song list would be different no matter what person put it together. No two people will ever feel that the same set of songs is the perfect "essential" grouping. So, we won't discuss that here. The truth of the matter is that, this set makes for an excellent introduction to the band. Pretty much all the albums that the band ever released have at least a song or two here - Rocka Rolla being the most glaring omission. Well, also the set focuses on the Rob Halford incarnation, ignoring the two studio discs that featured Ripper Owens. That said, it does a nice job of showcasing the varying sounds and moods of Judas Priest. So, what is the overall result? Well, since there are no previously unreleased numbers here, the odds are that the Priest fanatics already have everything on this disc. So, for them, unless they are total completists, this one is probably a "never mind." However, for those looking to get a nice cross section of what Judas Priest is all about, this is a great, reasonably priced, place to start. Essential? That's tough to say, but this is definitely a strong collection. Since I've already covered the vast majority of the songs here in previous reviews, for the sake of consistency the track by tracks here, where appropriate, are taken from those reviews.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Judas Rising
They open and close this set with songs from their latest Angel of Retribution. This song, "Judas Is Rising" just screams out of the gate. It begins with a dueling guitar sound that feels a lot like something from Priest's Sad Wings of Destiny days, but then jumps into a stomping metal scorcher with Halford screaming over top to kick it into gear before dropping back to a more sung vocal line. This one feels a lot like something from the Sin After Sin disc, with a bit of the more modern Priest sound thrown in. The guitar sounds on this cut are so typical early Priest and oh, so tasty!
Breaking the Law
One of a couple Priest songs that are so well known as to be considered almost part of the mass consciousness of the modern world. I've always found this one to be stronger than "Living After Midnight" and really like it quite a bit. If you haven't heard this one, you have probably been living in a cave for the last twenty or so years.
Hell Bent For Leather
This frantic Priest classic is a smoker and always a personal favorite. If this doesn't get you on your feet, dial 911 and have them send the ambulance. The guitar solos here are awesome, as is the vocal arrangement.
Diamonds and Rust
Coming from the Sin After Sin album, this cover of the Joan Baez song is slower than the one found on Unleashed in The East. It comes in with more a classic rock, than a metal sound, with basically clean guitars. Halford's vocals on this are somewhat restrained, but still extremely powerful. The cut bumps it up a few notches as it carries on and is pretty darn potent. I've always liked this version a lot, but preferred the live one.
Victim of Changes
A quirky fade-up leads into a riff based verse that seems to tip this way and that in a nicely off-balance manner. Although seeming to address how the changing of an individual alters the status of their relationship, it is hard to tell who is leaving whom. The number is certainly metal, but full of unique meanderings in all directions that keep it far from clichéd. The song drops into a balladic form which builds slowly in intensity (including some unusual vocal work) before leaping head-first back into the energetic main song structure. Rob Halford's to-the-stars vocal style shows up in the latter parts of the composition.
Love Bites
Starting with a tentative pounding sound, this one has a stripped down arrangement on the early portions. There are signs of techno music here, too. This one does manage to rock out at points, too, though. The later segment where Halford rapid fires several lines of lyrics is pretty strong, and he does manage to get in a scream or two. This has never been a favorite of mine. I think at least partly because the more rhythmically based Priest songs (like this one) just seem to work not as well as some of the other stuff. Still, there is some tasty guitar work on show here.
Heading Out to the Highway
This is a straightforward metal cut that holds up well, but is not exceptional.
Ram It Down
Priest's album after Turbo seemed an apology for the previous release, coming in harder rocking and more straightforward than a lot of their other material. This title track opens with a patented Halford scream that sets the tone for the fast paced metal frenzy that follows. This one is a definite screamer.
Beyond the Realms of Death
A balladic verse segment makes up the early moments here. The chorus turns to quite a strong metal screaming segment. The song alternates between these modes in one of the best of this style track.
You've Got Another Thing Comin'
Now for something completely different, I have always felt that this cut is one of the most empowering and strongest from this period in Priest's history. It still holds up every bit as well, even years down the road.
Jawbreaker
Rob Halford has said in interviews essentially that he had tried to "come out of the closet" with some of his lyrics. Looking back to songs like this one - how did we not get it? This is a frantic rocker, and the lyrics are pretty blatant.
A Touch of Evil
Starting slow and a bit melancholy and mysterious, this one is a slightly generic, but still quite strong rocker. The addition of keys, along some quirky changes actually adds to the effectiveness of this one, moving it beyond generic basis. There are points where this feels just a little bit like Iron Maiden.
Delivering the Goods
This is a solid and gritty metal number. It's quite effective and features a great guitar solo break. I've always loved the latter verses on this one. It gains a lot of energy as it carries on.
United
Another of those "rhythmically based," cuts, this one has always reminded me of a cross between Judas Priest and Queen's "We Will Rock You." Still, the lyrics on this are empowering, and there is some tasty guitar work. The anthemic chorus, though, has always seemed way too generic to me.
Turbo Lover
The Turbo album is arguably the weakest disc in the Priest catalog. In the view of this reviewer only the strong vocal performance makes it listenable. This cut is actually one of the strongest from that disc. With that mind, the comparison to the rest of the material here is a dramatic contrast.
Painkiller
With drums bringing this one in, it is one of the most frantic and hard-edged tracks the band has ever done. This one is a standout, even on as massive a collection as this is.
Metal Gods
This is a rather plodding cut, and the sci-fi lyrics are a bit clichéd and juvenile, but somehow it still works remarkably well. The solos on this one are quite meaty.
Disc 2
Hellion
This very short instrumental (42 seconds) serves as dramatic, hard-edged intro to "Electric Eye." I can't picture either song without the other. That's probably why on the box set they are included as one track.
Electric Eye
This is a killer frantic hard-edged song that works so well with its other half that it's almost scary. When this one was originally released its big brotherish tale of electronic surveillance seemed like science fiction. In today's world it has become a grim reality.
Living After Midnight
Starting on drums, this rocker is another of the band's best-known pieces. I am not crazy about it, but I'm probably biased after having rehearsed it hundreds of times in various cover bands. That kind of repetition can kill any song for you.
Freewheel Burnning
Fast and furious, as the opening line declares, this one is a full on smoker. It's one of the most frantic cuts the band has ever produced, and still works every bit as well today. The guitar duel in the middle segment is stellar.
Exciter
This screamer is a frantic rocker. It never wavers and has an awesome musical texture. This has always been a personal favorite. This has one of the latest examples of the early Priest guitar sound.
Green Manalishi (With the Two Pronged Crown)
Who would expect Judas Priest to cover Fleetwood Mac? Still, this one was from the psychedelic blues Peter Green era of that band. The original is slow and rather creepy. The Priest ramp up the volume and intensity, but keep the song pretty well intact otherwise. Halford's higher than the heavens take on the outro vocal becomes a trademark of Priest, and the guitar solo on this one purely smokes. This really becomes all Priest and a killer classic metal song at that.
Blood Red Skies
This metal ballad has always had a killer forlorn texture that makes it a favorite of mine.
Night Crawler
This one comes in feeling a lot like something you might hear from a Goth metal band, but as the song proper emerges, this is all Priest. A later segment feels like creepy late period Alice Cooper.
Sinner
A noisy intro gives way to the meaty fast paced riff. This studio version has never been as strong as the cut is live, but it still packs a solid punch. This one has some killer changes and intricate musical segments. The slower section, with its screaming guitar jabs has always been a highlight of this cut, almost a metal band's take on space rock and Grateful Dead type jamming. I love the fact that the guitar still screams out in soloing fury during the vocal segment here.
Hot Rockin'
Not exactly a standout track, this one still packs some punch. I've always found it to be a bit trite lyrically, but still it has the potential to get you on your feet. The chorus has a nice guitar sound, too. The quick paced bridge later is also a killer addition.
The Sentinel
Feeling hard-edged and a bit dark, this cruncher plods along at times, but it is a strong one nonetheless.
Before the Dawn
A beautiful acoustic guitar driven ballad, I've always fancifully thought that this one seemed like it was about a vampire. While true metal heads might be put off by this, the arrangement and song structure, with Halford's killer performance and a smoking guitar solo make this one a real winner in my book.
Hell Patrol
This rocker is really heavy and a killer track. While the lyrics definitely have a certain amount of "cheese factor" they've always worked well for me. The main riff is extremely meaty and Halford is in top form here. The end result is an often overlooked, but quite powerful number. The bridge is faster paced and oh so tasty. So is the instrumental segment that follows with some more extremely cool guitar work. It's amazing to me how much cool material they pack into a less than 4 minute song.
The Ripper
This track does a wonderful job of capturing musically the psychotic menace of the lyrics (a tale of Jack the Ripper). Insane sounding guitar opens the piece, and, as the song continues, little sounds feel as if they jump at the listener frequently, seemingly from here and there. The effect is that of adding a slightly paranoiac edge to the cut. "Hear my warning, never turn your back on the ripper". A short song, The Ripper seems to come, do the work it set out to do, then fade back into the shadows.
Screaming For Vengeance
Taken from the album of the same name, this is, appropriately, a screamer. It is frantic, angry and a standout cut.
Out in the Cold
This ballad, another from Turbo, is actually one that works. However, there is still something troubling about keyboards on a Judas Priest song.
Revolution
The other inclusion from Angel of Retribution is the single "Revolution." While many consider it too "nu metal" for Priest - frankly, I think it smokes! This one is much more modern in texture, but still has a classic Priest feel to it in many ways. The chorus is a definite sing along waiting to happen. This one also features some very crunchy guitar sounds, albeit amidst a more commercial soundscape.
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