Legends of Metal
A Tribute to Judas Priest (Century Media)
by Scott Hefflon
Inspired by the long-awaited follow-up to Painkiller, the most fleshed out Judas Priest album to date, Century Media is releasing the first ever J.P. tribute album. Unlike many a gimmick-ridden tribute, not to mention the countless comps of fresh-faced, nondescript bands, A Tribute to Judas Priest compiles established metal bands who were obviously inspired by Priest and fought by their side as true defenders of the faith. While many of the bands paying homage have been through more line-up changes and embarrassing lapses in musical judgment than Judas Priest in their quarter century career, even die-hard fans will trust the “interpretative liberties” some bands take with classic Priest songs. Including oldies only the fogies will remember as well as timeless metal masterpieces, this tribute sheds new light on the original songs and the artists that cover them.
Helloween‘s “The Hellion/Electric Eye” captures the guitar sound so perfectly, it’s almost unsettling. While I’m not much of a fan of the new singer, the dueling guitarists have long been a favorite team up – these guys do Glenn and K.K. justice.
I still have trouble coping with how heavy Testament has gotten. “Rapid Fire” rampages like a high-octane super tough metal anthem should. Few singers can get away with roaring about battering rams and final grand slams, but Halford did and Chuck Billy does. Fates Warning chooses “Saints In Hell” from Stained Class, and thus earns the pretentious honor of out-archiving everyone else. Lots of falsetto, delay, arty fills and changes. Yup, it’s Fates Warningesque. Mercyful Fate slinks and slithers through the back alley streets of “The Ripper.” While the King’s voice ain’t what it once was, he’s developed a distinctive mid-range vocal style to accompany his schizophrenic growls and harmonied shrieks. The song has long been a favorite of mine, and Mercyful Fate not only play the notes, they flow with the dark undercurrents. One of the best songs on the album, it’s played in Mercyful Fate’s sound and style, yet retains the essence of the original. Very appropriate. Unfortunately, Strapping Young Lad doesn’t go anywhere with “Exciter.” A “live” recording of a song that’s oh-so-fun to play, but not especially the most interesting to hear. Knowing Devin’s caustic wit and less-than-complimentary take on the goons of heavy music, I’m surprised he did such a straight rock-on-leather-boy cover. Sure, the “kiss my ass” closing and goofy hacking afterthought are amusing, but Devin is usually a contortionist producer with tongue firmly planted in buttcheek and this just ain’t up to par. Doom Squad cover “Burnin’ Up” and sound like Priest fans jammin’ out. Each of the three “stars” involved barely touch upon the inner spark that made them “famous.” Anthrax’s Scott “Not” Ian plays foot-stompin’ rhythm guitar, not amazing, but not incompetent. John Bush (now in Anthrax) only occasionally reaches for the barrel-chested battlecry that made early Armored Saint kick ass. And look what the cat dragged in – Ugly Kid Joe’s Whitfield Crane. Sounding more like Rod Stewart with a bad sore throat every time I hear him ruin yet another song, Crane’s once-novel rasp now sounds battered and beaten.
Seemingly full of surprises, Nevermore takes “Love Bites” to such depths of hellish dirge that it’s only remotely familiar. Formerly shred and screech powermetallers Sanctuary, Nevermore shows they can plod heavily and work the subtler elements of a song. Earning tenfold the respect I already had for them for stretching “Love Bites,” a simple, melodic song to begin with, to its limits, and stretching themselves as well. Slower, heavier, and kneading Warrel’s vocal cords in a lower register than usual, this is a great version of a great song. Overkill cover “Tyrant” much like they did in the old days when they were a metal cover band. It’s a decent cover of a rockin’ sing-a-long. They don’t really tailor the song to their style, and much of their own personality is lost in the process. Picturing Kreator as fist-pumpin’ Priest fans is as charming an image as a wide pan shot of Japanese teeny-boppers going ga-ga over big American rocks stars. “Grinder” has never grinded more (let’s not talk about Six Feet Under’s attempt, OK?), and Kreator show they can rip out the anthemic rock as well as anyone. With only a few Kreator flourishes, this is a damn fine cover. But I still like them playing their own material better. Having Iced Earth cover “The Ripper” after Mercyful Fate’s phenomenal version was just plain dumb. Iced Earth sound like a bunch of poofy-haired glam fruits swaggering through over-dramatic motions and milking every note in comparison. While they’re highly proficient at recrossing terrain Ronnie James Dio covered almost 15 years ago, and their well-enunciated, foot-on-the-monitor-and-reach-for-the-heavens style is very good at being what it’s supposed to be, these young ‘uns don’t hold a candle to the King.