photo & text by nacrowe
without doubt PAINKILLER (COLUMBIA, 1990) is my favorite JUDAS PRIEST record. right from the get-go with the opening title track, the sheer force of that double-kick courtesy of new recruit SCOTT TRAVIS of RACER X is an absolute transformative revelation. gone is the iteration of JUDAS PRIEST that is a slightly more uptempo BLACK SABBATH and in its place is a rhythm section that can compete in terms of power and velocity with THRASH METAL upstarts like METALLICA, SLAYER and MEGADETH.
and then there are the songs themselves. "ALL GUNS BLAZING," "BETWEEN THE HAMMER AND THE ANVIL," "LEATHER REBEL," "A TOUCH OF EVIL," "PAINKILLER" and "NIGHT CRAWLER" are all stone cold classics and among the best songs in their extensive catalogue. i remember discovering JUDAS PRIEST and NWOBHM bands in general in high school and being slightly underwhelmed by their pre-PAINKILLER material which sounded accomplished and more than competent, but not nearly as brutal or powerful as the popular GROOVE METAL bands i was used to at the time, namely WHITE ZOMBIE and PANTERA. that was my basic criticism of most of the NWOBHM crowd sans MOTORHEAD for a long time (i.e. im still not a fan of IRON MAIDEN, VENOM or DEEP PURPLE). PAINKILLER was another matter entirely, it felt like it could compete with anything that came in its wake to date.
speaking of PANTERA, it was during the PAINKILLER tour rehearsals in CANADA that singer ROB HALFORD learned of the band via a MUCH MUSIC television interview they did praising JUDAS PRIEST. after checking out their gig in the area he offered them an opening slot and the rest is history. it was the first big exposure for the legendary TEXAN GROOVE METAL outfit.
PAINKILLER arguably found the band at the height of its powers, but would be the last record with HALFORD's involvement until the reunion album ANGEL OF RETRIBUTION (EPIC, 2005) some fifteen years later. due to miscommunication regarding HALFORD's need for an outside solo project, the band fired him and went on for two touring cycle's with a soundalike vocalist to their eternal detriment. it was during this hiatus that HALFORD went public about his sexuality as a gay man, which for much of his audience was an unexpected revelation. this is interesting given his penchant for putting in overt clues throughout the years in JUDAS PRIEST songs such as "LEATHER REBEL," "RAM IT DOWN," "HELL BENT FOR LEATHER," "RIDE FREE," "RAW DEAL" and "JAWBREAKER." never mind the fact that his tour getup for years was essentially bondage gear. it just goes to show that an audience will see what it wants to see and that sexuality is culturally defined. riding on motorcycles on stage in leather getups to a hetero audience is seen as the height of macho, yet hyper heterosexuality really does start getting into homosexual territory on that circular model of human sexuality. its an interesting dynamic.
arguably all JUDAS PRIEST albums released since the reunion are in the sonic mold of PAINKILLER rather than what came before. i still listen to this record all the time and consider it their best work. an absolute classic METAL album that is well worth checking for anyone interested in the genre and its many sub-genres like GRINDCORE, DEATH METAL, BLACK METAL, PROGRESSIVE METAL, SLUDGE METAL, METALCORE, THRASH METAL and of course, NWOBHM.