Judas Priest’s Painkiller (1990) album is the first to feature drummer Scott Travis, who replaced Dave Holland in 1989. It is also vocalist Rob Halford’s last album with the band until Angel of Retribution (2005). I never realized how common it was for band members to leave and return to the band years later. It happened with Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith from Iron Maiden, Joe Perry from Aerosmith, Phil Rudd from AC/DC, David Lee Roth from Van Halen, and Rob Halford from Judas Priest. Does that mean Richie Sambora could eventually return to Bon Jovi one day (maybe replacing Jon Bon Jovi on lead vocals)? Wait, sorry that conversation is for another time. Let’s go back to Judas Priest!
The line-up that played on the Painkiller album includes Halford on lead vocals, Glenn Tipton on guitars, K.K. Downing on guitars, Ian Hill on bass (sort of, but not really), and Travis on drums. Hill was sick during the album’s recording sessions, so keyboardist Don Airey played most of the bass parts. Travis does indeed play on all of the album tracks, including the bonus tracks, which are from the same era. Without further ado, let’s get on with the music!
The album kicks off with the banging title track and dang, this song is intense! The guitars are going nuts, Travis’ use of double kick drums gives the song a whole new level of heaviness, and Halford’s vocals sound so bada** that it hurts your throat just listening to him sing. “Hell Patrol” is less intense than the previous track, but not really. Halford doesn’t sing in the higher register throughout the whole song, but Travis goes beast mode on the drums, which I am fine with. “Black thunder / White lightning / Speed demons cry / The Hell Patrol.”
If the first thing you hear is Halford screaming with no music, that’s how you know tracks like “All Guns Blazing” are going to be epic! I can’t find the words to describe this track, just know that the chorus is really simple and there are a lot of screeching guitars throughout the track. I kind of wish there were sound effects resembling gun shots, but at the same time, the track is fine the way it is. What the heck is “Leather Rebel” anyways? I don’t get this track and I’m not a fan of the chorus. If I want to sing an insanely catchy Judas Priest song, this ain’t it! Not even Travis’ drumming can save this one for me.
I think “Metal Meltdown” could make a great song for a wrestling match; I don’t know if that’s weird or not. The lyrics, especially the chorus, are perfect for hyping up the crowd and introducing the wrestlers as they enter the ring. “Night Crawler” isn’t my favorite track on the album, but I still think it’s pretty good. It’s a bit of a breather because Halford doesn’t sing high the entire time, the guitars aren’t all over the place, and Travis’ drumming isn’t as intense.
My favorite part of “Between the Hammer & the Anvil” is the instrumental before the last verse because the band does this sound effect that resembles a giant hammer smashing rocks; it’s really cool. There isn’t really a chorus, which kind of bugs me and I kept looking at my phone while listening to this track. Not because I think this track is entirely boring, but I think this a step down from the previous killer tracks I’ve heard so far. “A Touch of Evil” has a good beat for a slow headbanger, yet it’s still intense. The chorus is a massive improvement from the previous track, I like the lyrics, and Halford delivers his signature screams without overdoing it.
Next up is the “Battle Hymn” and I can’t really comment about this one since it’s less than a minute and it’s not really a song, but the instrumentation sounded cool. I used to despise “One Shot at Glory” because I thought the theme of the song was too heroic and happy, but I’ve grown to enjoy it a little more overtime. Plus, there are some things that I like about this song like Travis’ double kick drum usage and Halford’s screams here and there.
Finally, we have the bonus tracks. We have “Living Bad Dreams,” which was recorded during the Painkiller recording sessions. It’s really slow and the lyrics don’t really sound heavy metal. “You look so weak and fragile / You seem to drip and sway / But you swept me up into your arms / And carried me away.” Plus, Halford’s high-pitched vocals don’t seem to fit the slow and low-key vibe of the song.
Lastly, we have “Leather Rebel” live at the Foundation’s Forum in Los Angeles, California on September 13, 1990, according to Wikipedia. I don’t even like the song, to begin with, and the live version doesn’t even sound as intense as the studio version. Halford’s vocals sound lazy too, don’t hate me!
So, I enjoyed 8.5 out of the 12 tracks (“Between the Hammer & the Anvil” got half points), which is about 71 percent. With that in mind, I’ll give the Painkiller album a rating of 3.55 out of 5 stars. Also, the reason why I include the bonus tracks for my ratings is because they’re part of the listening experience. If I didn’t include the bonus tracks, then I wouldn’t be rating the entire album, technically. If the album didn’t contain bonus tracks, that would be another story.
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