As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve recently been digging up a lot of classic heavy metal albums, particularly from the golden ’80s age of metal. In doing that, late last year I enquired: what is the best starting point for Judas Priest (and am I showing my ignorance or what)? Iron Maiden is the greatest band that ever was (don’t argue the point) and I love traditional heavy metal. Yet I just kind of never got into Judas Priest.
According to my sources, Painkiller was the definitive item in the Judas Priest discography, whereas the Screaming For Vengeance album was the most commercially successful. I promptly Painkiller album and not long after was left with a feeling comparable to “where has this album been all my life”.
I won’t go into excruciating detail about what I think makes the Painkiller album so great or why it’s so fantastically memorable — and so utterly goddamn metaaal! People who have been banging heads to it longer than I have can give you a view that’s better informed than mine, or even one that dissents from the usual praise norm.
That silver bloke on the cover? He’s that Painkiller chap you’ve heard so much about.
Historically, Painkiller was Judas Priest’s glorious 1990 move to heavier, proto-power and speed-ish metal after a couple of albums spent meandering around what was touted as a dated and overly happy or even synthy sound. Many fans nowadays feel it contains some of the best Judas Priest songs ever recorded, or at least some of the most popular, what with several cuts going on to become Judas Priest live staples. Personally, my favourite element on Painkiller is Rob Halford’s soaring operatic voice. It’s genuinely extreme — not because it sounds brutal or guttural (which it totally doesn’t), but because his almost comical high-pitched vocals manage to re-create inhuman sounds that most of us would never even contemplate attempting with our mere mortal vocal cords. Add to the mix the fact that Halford is wailing a dozen tales about, metal, leather, defiance, fire, come uppance and more metal, not to mention the fact that there’s all that other stuff going on, from the tremendously heavy opening drums on the title track to the superbly tight guitarmanship and, and, and… the whole experience is just so goddamn freakin’ METAL.
Painkiller is widely regarded as belonging right up there with classic metal albums. At the risk of getting all academic on the topic, I feel it’s a romanticised embodiment of everything that is great about heavy metal. And I’m a better for finally coming across a copy.
Not bad for an album that’s 23 years old