A brief retrospective of Slayer

September 13, 2014 –

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Slayer blasted their way into the underground metal scene in 1983. Metal had just shifted; the genre of Black Sabbath got taken over by the Led Zeppelin fans, resulting in glam and arena rock, and was just being taken back by a DIY movement via speed metal. Inspired by that speed metal movement, Slayer took their music in a slightly different direction.

“Heavy metal and British punk, that’s what we are.” The four young men from Southern California shaped their music by instinct, applying the techniques of punk to the most intense moments of heavy metal. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Angel Witch, GBH and Discharge. It all went into the blender and the result emerged more vicious than ever before.

Woodstock – Los Angeles, CA – March 28, 1983

The Keystone – Berkeley, CA – January 27, 1984

The Country Club – Reseda, CA – September 1, 1984

Heavy Sound Festival – Poperinge, Belgium – May 26, 1985

Dynamo Club – Eindhoven, Netherlands – May 28, 1985

The Ritz – New York City – June 12, 1986

Felt Forum – New York City – August 31, 1988

Clash of the Titans – Genk, Belgium September 22, 1990

Show No Mercy reflected more of a heavy metal bias, still hanging on to the grandeur of the 1970s. By Hell Awaits, Slayer forged their own style, inspired in part by the minimalism of the Haunting the Chapel EP. Even more, the band discovered a mythology in Satanic rebellion against a world where the term “good” meant obedient, oblivious and zombie-like in pursuit of individual pleasure at the expense of realism. They hated this world, and branded it with an inverted cross in rage at its existence. This outlook was healthier than the pleading resentment of the protest rock bands and less dead-end apathetic than what punk became. Metal had a new voice.

With the next album, Reign in Blood, Slayer pulled out all stops and most melody to create the ultimate hardcore album. The metal elements infused riff structure and song structure but its energy was pure hardcore punk, the raging album that The Exploited and Black Flag always had wanted to birth. In the 1980s, endorsing Satan and singing about the dark underbelly lurking beneath our happy commercial Utopia was in itself a life sentence of exclusion. Slayer wore it with pride and as people caught on to the new music, the most extreme band in underground metal headed toward the dead center of the genre.

In response, Slayer did what few bands have the guts to do: they backtracked from their nihilistic extreme and made a melodic album, but kept the melody constrained to a sense of dark atmosphere that would not be revisited until black metal exploded four years later. South of Heaven immersed the listener in pure mood and then manipulated it to create an unnerving experience of getting in touch with emotion by leaving behind all that is human. This was the peak of Slayer and represented the end of their emotional involvement with their own music, thus afterwards they pursued ideas that others had made popular and successful, hoping to make their own form of the alien.

Happy 63rd birthday, Rob Halford

August 25, 2014 –

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The legendary Judas Priest frontman (born 1951) is 63 years old today, August 25, 2014. Introduced to Judas Priest bassist Ian Hill by his sister, Halford became the vocalist for the group and quickly defined his iconic style of singing and found a way to adapt it to the new style.

With Stained Class, Halford adopted what became his trademark visual imagery, which is the leather and studs clothing that spread throughout metal after that time. He later expanded this imagery to include military gear, motorcycles, whips and chains.

Judas Priest defined much of 1970s heavy metal by taking its NWOBHM sound and adding the album-oriented stadium rock feel, giving the music greater accessibility, but simultaneously focusing on strong lead guitar and use of multiple riffs to create a puzzle-piece feel.

Without Halford, Priest might have accomplished this role but not in such an iconic sense or perhaps with such amazingly flexible vocals. Halford joins Ronnie James Dio, Ozzy Osbourne and Tom Arya among others in the category of legendary heavy metal vocalists. Happy Birthday!

Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls

August 16, 2014 –

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Judas Priest contributed much to the science of metal riffing. Where Black Sabbath strung together power chords into long phrases, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden re-introduced lead picking to this role as well with guitars that harmonized each other; Iron Maiden focused more on melody, where Judas Priest narrowed its exploration to the use of structure in riffs to get around the predictable patterns and rhythms still inherited from rock music. The band straddled the line between rock, hard rock and heavy metal.

Over the years, the band has unlike any other metal band explored any influences it could make meaningful. In the 1980s, Judas Priest explored electronic sounds and applied them to a type of hard rock/metal tinged with industrial and synthpop influences. In the early 1990s, the band took on Slayer and death metal with perhaps its highest musical point, Painkiller. Two decades later, the band both returns to its roots and attempts to find new directions for an artform which has lost sense of its urgency.

Redeemer of Souls begins with a pure hard rock track that shows off bluesy guitars and familiar rhythms and riff forms from 1970s-1980s radio hard rock. Perhaps the idea is to start the album slowly, or to have some track that can make it onto radio, but this track probably turned off most actual music fans because it is the metal equivalent of a cliché. After that, the band launches into more ambitious fare that quotes from the past styles of Judas Priest but tries to work in the rock appeal that marked its earliest albums. Hints of Ram it Down merge with a mainstay of pulsing rhythms from the Painkiller and Jugulator years slowed down to fit within the more sedate pacing of early Judas Priest.

Occasional citations can be heard to diverse metal bands including Metallica and at least one riff that sounds like later Iron Maiden. The band experiments with a number of variants on the theme citing mostly from rock favorites, such as the ballad and classic country, as well as working in a number of rock tropes in lead guitar and rhythm. Halford’s vocals take on a more restrained and sentimental approach. Tipton’s influence emerges through a style that fits classic Priest with a leaning toward the bluesy over the progressive or more metallic structured solos of the past. Where more intensive metal riffing emerges, it tends to lead not to an expansion on the same, but to a more vocal-centric and slower-paced take.

Redeemer of Souls like many later albums from groundbreaking bands revisits many successes of the past and mixes them in with known crowd pleasers, but seems focused more than Judas Priest in recent memory on fusing rock and metal to escape the sterile and eclectic but unfocused material of the jazz-lite fusion years of recent metal. While Redeemer of Souls has moments of power, its focus on breadth and variety leaves it feeling less like an album and more like a collection of singles, and experienced Priest fans may find it both approximates past releases too much and fails to leap to their level of intensity.

Judas Priest announce Redeemer of Souls

April 28, 2014 –

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Legendary heavy metal band Judas Priest have released their first new music following the departure of longtime guitarist K.K. Downing. Entitled “Redeemer of Souls,” it is the first single off the upcoming album of the same name. It reveals a band simultaneously keeping with modern expectations of heavy metal composition and production and staying loyal to their roots in the NWOBHM movement.

“Redeemer of Souls” will trigger mixed reactions. While it shows some updated sound, this track at least is standard heavy metal fare, avoiding the later attempts of the band to update their sound after the explosion of speed metal reshaped the metal landscape. In a statement, guitarist Glenn Tipton confirmed the conservative nature of the album:

Sometimes in the past we may have come under fire for being too adventurous musically – so we have listened…From start to finish, Redeemer of Souls is 13 songs of pure classic Priest metal.

Judas Priest achieved its universal acclaim for its development of heavy metal into a cogent, distinct art form. Later to become one of the two main pillars of speed metal’s foundation (along with punk), the band has maintained its central status as a metal icon for decades, despite perhaps a natural decline as the band goes into its fifth decade. Redeemer of Souls will be released in America on July 15th via Epic Records.

Judas Priest guitarist invents solution to the unknown local band problem

May 31, 2013 –

k_k_downing-birminghamK.K. Downing, one half of the legendary guitar team from NWOBHM band Judas Priest, is launching “The Future of Heavy Metal,” a business dedicated to showcasing new bands and helping them get discovered. Along with longtime promoter Dave Coleman, his new venture is essentially a mini-tour that collects promising local bands and delivers them to clubs in exchange for a fair payment to the band.

“In the past when you had some interest from managers or record companies you could get advances. Record companies would give an advance to buy instruments or make a record. That’s not happening any more,” said Downing. “It’s going from bad to worse too and bands are actually being asked to pay to buy onto a tour which goes against the grain. But to find the money to pay as a guest is not do-able unless they have got rich parents.”

The first crop of bands being showcased include Midland acts Hostile, Under Blackened Skies and Fury, along with French band Moray Firth. According to an article in his local paper, Downing considers Birmingham and the Black Country in the Midlands to be the spiritual home of heavy metal, and accordingly, is helping perpetuate the movement into the future.

The first Hessian event: Heavy Metal Day (May 29, 1983)

May 30, 2013 –

heavy_metal_day_1983_u_s_festivalI wasn’t old enough to have figured it out at the time, but according to this entertaining report, Steve Wozniak of Apple fame cobbled together a festival in 1983 whose goal was to showcase new styles of music, and in the process, showcased metal blowing away the willowy music of the previous ten years.

This isn’t to say I dislike New Wave or any of those other styles. They have their place. But in 1983, metal was raging to take over. The Cold War was in full nuclear terror of instant radioactive death, the world was unstable and conservative, and as a result most people were getting ready to go into full kumbaya mode. Metal to the rescue, with warfare, doom, death, disease, horror and hedonism!

Heavy Metal Day featured Judas Priest, Van Halen, Triumph, Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, Scorpions and Ozzy Osbourne raging across a massive stage with spectacular amplification. In short, it was the MTV metal of the day, or the stuff you’d see on the then-new invention of MTV with its music video channels, and that meant it wasn’t as extreme as what we have now, but for then, it was like a giant backlash against the gradual creeping “love will save us” mentality of 1970s music. With metal, war was back, and it was angry!

The ever-pointed Vine Neil of Motley Crue told one reporter that the significance of Heavy Metal Day was that “It was the day new wave died and rock ‘n’ roll took over.” 670,000 people attended the event, but over half of them came for Heavy Metal Day alone. The power of metal was established, and would only rise from this point onward as the world waited for the wavebreak of Slayer, Metallica, Bathory, and Hellhammer which was about to come crashing down about its ears.

Perhaps May 29 should be remembered as the day metal rose up in power and struck down the opposition to assert itself.

Judas Priest launches “Epitaph” live concert film

April 30, 2013 –

judas_priest-epitaphLegendary heavy metal band Judas Priest has announced that they will be releasing concert footage off their last tour. Entitled Epitaph, it features the band playing selections ranging the scope of their long career. The film will be screened at select theaters starting in May, culminating in worldwide release on May 28 on DVD.

Says the band: “The Epitaph world tour came to an exciting conclusion at the renowned Hammersmith Odeon (now known as the Apollo) in London. Knowing our fans around the planet recognize that venue for many legendary metal moments, and of course with Judas Priest being a British metal band it was the perfect gig for us to film and record. Big thanks as always to you our metal family of fans – so start banging your heads one more time with us as we scream together ‘The Priest is back!’”

As one of the earliest heavy metal bands, many later genres were influenced by Judas Priest. The band was one of the first to use rapid palm-muted riffs and connecting structures that later inspired speed metal, death metal, and proto-black metal bands.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame snubs metal again

April 19, 2013 –

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Despite having inducted Metallica, AC/DC and Guns and Roses, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame shows that it’s geared more toward rock, blues and RNB than metal, which continues to have its legions of influential acts excluded despite being more popular and influential than many already on the list.

Entertainment Weekly noticed the conspicuous omission of Judas Priest (and several other notables) from the ranks of the elite among rock’s historical and present acts. EW then went on to note that other classic metal bands have not been recognized.

It might be too much to expect what is basically a moneymaker for Northeast Ohio’s tourist industry to induct, say, Deicide or Morbid Angel; it’s arguable that heavy metal is outside rock ‘n’ roll, and doubly so that death metal is. Even more, asking them to include something like Demilich would counteract their mission of making material available that the vast majority of people would be inclined to enjoy on an aesthetic level, since there’s no evidence that mainstream culture adores labyrinthine riffs and low-end vocals.

Qualifications required are few, but the process is ultimately a popularity contest among a small elite. The only objective requirement is that 25 years have passed since a band’s first release. At that point, an internal committee of experts vets the suggestion and then passes it to a vote of 1,000 rock historians and other experts worldwide. Since most of these are rock fans, and rock fans traditionally disparage metal, it’s unlikely they’ll vote for a metal band.

However, it might be nice to see recognition of metal. It’s possible that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the wrong place to do it, and that metal needs a hall of fame on its own. Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Slayer at a bare minimum need to be in there. Of course, if it were metal-based, it could even have more diverse listings, such as a “Best of Death Metal” so we can finally expose mainstream America to Demilich.