Ram It Down (Columbia/Legacy)
by Martin Popoff
And so the Sony years end, Judas Priest and pulpit delivering the final four of the 12 Sony reissues, the set designed to sit within a tidy box with booklet. Turbo kicks things off and out the door, the band delivering quite a different album to Defenders…: All pop, dumbed down yet again (count the times), but hiding a few gems in “Turbo Lover,” “Hot For Love” and “Reckless.” Unexpected is a ripper of a bonus track, “All Fired Up” being a non-LP speed metaller with scads of scorching guitar.
Next up was Priest… Live! which again, does well with the bonus tracks, offering a somewhat strange and rearranged “Screaming For Vengeance,” a spirited “Rock Hard, Ride Free” and “Hell Bent For Leather,” which can do no wrong.
Ram It Down is possibly the most ignored Priest album of all time, and you might ignore it all over again, given that both bonus tracks are live, accompanied with the inane “‘Night Comes Down’ and ‘Bloodstone’ were recorded live during one of our many world tours.” Nice match for Priest… Live!‘s “This Judas Priest concert is dedicated to you our fans,” Turbo‘s liner note “We survived these perils to complete an album that is now regarded by all as a heavy metal milestone,” and Painkiller‘s “‘Living Bad Dreams’ was recorded during the early years of our career.” Or maybe around the time of our 14th album. Anyway, thanks for the effort and thanks for the honesty. Moving from millstones to milestones, this wave of four ends with Painkiller, an album zooming up the charts in terms of historical weight, the band captured razor-ready by Chris Tsangarides, ass-kicking continuing at the double bass boot-end of new skinsman Scott Travis. Bonus tracks: A live “Leather Rebel” and a guitar-drenched power ballad, the aforementioned “Living Bad Dreams,” which is OK, but hey, Priest and ballads and the ’80s (’90s, whatever) go together like The Scorpions and world anthems. Each of these is remastered, with lyrics, a short preamble by the band, and often, a handful of new period pics.
[Editor’s 2¢: I printed all 12 reissues and I simply have to chip in an opinion or two. Painkiller smokes, is end-to-end the most consistently metal, and while old schoolers (and just plain old metal guys) complain that it’s following instead of leading, I’m just glad the tunes are as strong as their best material and the production is finally not the dry, brittle ’70s-style Priest hung onto long after other bands discovered the wall-of-guitar sound. Another thing worth mentioning is Ram it Down‘s awful cover of “Johnny B. Goode” and their inspired “Blood Red Skies.” Ex-Emperor artisté Ihsahn did a haunting cover of it with his art project, Peccatum (if you don’t follow underground metal, find this gem and realize that dark genius lurks on the edge of your vision and you are but one step away from discovery…). The original begins as a Floydian headphone experience and includes a chill dance beat (it’s ok, it’s ok). It builds into one of those kinda Top Gun things where fighter jets race at treetop level and scream between rock formations sideways and all that whoo-ha. The song is a continuation of the synth/glam prancing of Turbo with a dance beat (after Celtic Frost did “One in their Pride” on Into the Pandemonium, and then they too posed out with Cold Lake and then kinda redeemed themselves with Vanity: Nemesis, so just keep in mind that the times were killing good bands, ok?) mixed with the anthemic power ballad schtick and, well, kinda dry guitar production. I often wondered what Priest would’ve done had they followed-up this experiment, but they ended up releasing the punishing Painkiller to show they were bully.]