Judas Priest – Painkiller (1990)

Article contributed to Death Metal Underground by George Psalmanazar, continuing his series of Judas Priest reviews.

Painkiller is Judas Priest‘s most consistent studio album coming out right after the band spent the entire decade of the 80s pandering to mainstream arena and glam rock fans. Slayer were a tremendous influence this time around; Judas Priest toured toured with them in the late 80s and subsequently listened to most of Slayer’s studio catalog. Painkiller there is a heavy metal album heavily influenced by the heaviest speed metal bordering on early death metal. Early power metal took a similar approach but in much more limp-wristed way.

Painkiller’s riffing generally follows the speed metal model of triplets interspersed with chord progressions or single notes in a melody. The dueling twin New Wave of British Heavy Metal guitars harmonize these in a much more melodic version of Slayer’s counterpointing. Leads are not polyrhythmic noise bursts like Slayer, Deicide, and Trey Azagthoth‘s in Morbid Angel but rather hyperspeed, sweep-picked shred versions of the traditional NWOBHM harmonized soloing that originated in Thin Lizzy.

A few songs are extensions of riffing ideas found in earlier Priest material: “Painkiller” from “Exciter” and “Night Crawler” from “The Ripper”. “Between the Hammer and the Anvil” is similarly inspired by Metallica‘s “Orion” off Master of Puppets. That being said, the material is excellent despite its overall heavy metal structure based around pairs of speed metal riffs; Painkiller re-contextualizes the NWOBHM and speed metal to forge a new cohesive whole, echoing how the best death and black metal were rapidly striding beyond riff salads to arrange their riffs as melodic narratives around the same period. The only letdown on the album is the out of place “Touch of Evil”, which sounds like a leftover from Priest’s glam 80s dark period.

Unfortunately, Judas Priest could not sustain their brief, Slayer-inspired revitalization and collapsed artistically after Rob Halford left to form the Pantera-inspired Fight. Underground metal bands would start following mainstream heavy and speed metal in sticking their heads in the toilet in only a few more years. The idea behind Painkiller, exceptional heavy metal played with aggressive speed metal technique and sensibilities, has not really been done so successfully since; most “melodic” “death” and “black” metal bands (exempli gratia Dissection) failed absolutely miserably at being even as aggressive as Iron Maiden, being actually sing-along bar rock bands who cargo cult copied their heavy metal heroes in hope of a shot of undeserved artistic glory that never came.  Painkiller, along with Rust in Peace, stands atop the ladder with works such as Arghoslent‘s Galloping Through the Battle Ruins rungs beneath it.

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27 thoughts on “Judas Priest – Painkiller (1990)”

  1. nigstomper88 says:

    To me Painkiller always felt like a desperate pander to their old metal base when they realized they couldn’t hack it as bigtime glam metal stars after those shitty synth albums. Betrayal is one thing, but crawling back and apologizing to those you betrayed is even more pathetic.

    Ok, forget the context, even if this was released in the 80s it wouldn’t be very good. The solos replace the melodic invention of their older stuff with random spastic neoclassical shred bullshit. Production’s somehow both muddy and glossy at the same time. Drum sound is plastic.

    It’s fast, it’s got a fancy 13920 bpm drummer, but where’s the soul? The creative song structures? Overcompensation: the album.

    1. nigstomper88 says:

      for added controversy, I’ll add: British Steel is a great album on its own merits, if you get over yourself and think of it as a Ramonesy retard-rock album. A good sellout > a soulless uninspired metal album.

      1. Exfoliation says:

        You are a massive faggot

      2. Parasite says:

        Don’t lie. I saw you tappin your foot, thrustin your hips and pounding your fist in the air to Metal Godzz.

  2. canadaspaceman says:

    When that Painkiller title track and video appeared in 1990, it ripped to shreds everything else that was on metal tv shows and radio at the time. That guitar tone was mindblowing. I was told that tour’s playlist was fairly good too.
    These days, Priest are boring prog-metal like newer Iron Maiden supposedly? I won’t even bother trying it.
    Would rather watch pop metal crap like this below.

    BABYMETAL & Rob Halford – Painkiller, Breaking The Law
    Alternative Press Music Awards 2016 Jul 18
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KG_fqkyJ-wo

    1. GGALLIN1776 says:

      I’m always afraid to give any new albums from the classics a listen. Any new slayer, priest, gaytallica releases go unlistened because that always tarnishes the good shit for me.

      It is funny however, for all the flak pantera gets on dmu they never went gay (aside from pre-cfh, maybe they learned their lesson early on or Phil raped them into the right direction). They stayed true to their sound & only got more abrasive with each album which you can’t say for any of the bigger bands to receive worship here.

      1. thomasw says:

        naw, got to disagree pantera was lame from start to finish. pantera was glamrock lame at the start, and by 1990 the groove-metal crap lameness ‘to which they remained true’ was oozing forth like pus from an infected wound. the only question is at which point were they the most lame?

        1. canadaspaceman says:

          I actually like SOME Pantera. Would rather hear the plain heavy metal / “glam” years these days.
          The reason why they are hated so much is because somehow in the 1990s when almost all metal was blacklisted from major TV and radio, they got airplay, maybe as much as Metallica. How the heck does anybody do that?

    2. Wasted Mind says:

      Underaged asians
      Rob Halford
      Breaking The Law

      I don`t see what could go wrong here.

      1. GGALLIN1776 says:

        Asian Invasion Vol.3

        1. Wasted Mind says:

          Is there a metal band only consisting of ladyboys?

          1. LostInTheANUS says:

            Yes, just check NWN, they’ve got tons.

          2. ugh says:

            Yah there are literally shitloads of brutal dm bands from Thailand.

    3. Memoncy - Joined in Dankness says:

      is there a single live performance of painkiller where halford doesnt sound like shit?

      1. I never recovered from Angra's split says:

        Best live version ever was by Angra : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17g6ApQb2fE
        shitty phone recording but played as was intended.

  3. C.I.L.L. says:

    Painkiller is the best Priest

    All their ideas grown up, given power by S L A Y E R riffs and tropes

    BUT

    Their early work is better to have on a shop radio if you gotta get shit done

    1. GGALLIN1776 says:

      Does hot rockin get your wrenches turning, C.I.L.L. ?

  4. GGALLIN1776 says:

    Title track shreds my scrotum.

  5. horrible dick and ball torture says:

    There is some pandering on this record, but at least it’s pandering to metalheads and not glam rock fans. I guess they realized the only song anyone liked on “Ram It Down” was the title track, so they decided to make a whole album of just that. Not great but could be worse…

  6. Anthony says:

    Oh, I keep forgetting that we’re all supposed to think Dissection is trash now even though Sacramentum is still in the top black metal albums list. Silly me!

    1. picture a normal-ass tabby with a horsecock the size of an half-bratwvrst says:

      Well don’t fuck up again, my nigga.

    2. LostInTheANUS says:

      Nutsackramentum and Penis Dissection are very different musically, my man.

    3. Memoncy - Joined in Dankness says:

      the only thing they have in common is a general aesthetic approach. underneath the surface dissection play kiddie metal for overgrown neckbeard teenyboppers, sacramentum play majestic hymns of nocturnal heroism for restless souls.

    4. Attention Defecate Disorder says:

      And where’s the fun of taking on sacred cows if everyone’s just going to rush to create a new orthodoxy as soon as the pixels dry? It can’t be both ways.

  7. jonathan David Clayton says:

    Judas Priest have always tried to progress beyond the simple pigeonholing evident here.Being one of the founding fathers of the whole genre they weren’t afaid to try some different approaches. Needless to say, depending on your own preference, some of these forays have not been so successful. The Painkiller album came out at a time when Priest’s popularity was on the wane. They were perceived by many to be old and irrelevant to the current metal scene. This was their attempt to show otherwise. The album was not a commercial success and has only achieved it’s status as a milestone in metal in retrospect.

  8. Cynical says:

    The ’70s albums are still the only Judas Priest albums I could ever imagine listening to again.

    1. Are you gonna go hot rockin’?

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