If Black Sabbath are the grandfathers of heavy metal, then Judas Priest is the father that outdid them in almost every way. If you ask me to show someone what heavy metal is, I won’t hand them a copy of Paranoid or Master of Reality. I’ll instead hand them a copy of Screaming For Vengeance, British Steel, or Painkiller. That’s what Judas Priest means to the heavy metal community. Without them we wouldn’t have a classic look for heavy metal with studs and leather.
Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash might have been the first to use the twin-guitar attack, but Judas Priest was the one that solidified it in the heavy metal sphere. K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton were and still are probably the best twin guitarists for any band. It was set to be the 50th anniversary celebration for Judas Priest this year. To make up for those shows being postponed, it’s high time for Judas Priest-A-Thon. The brother to the album by album reviews, Iron Maiden-A-Thon and the cousin to our series of Rush album reviews. You’re going to be getting a Judas Priest album review, every business day, until we’re all through.
Yesterday was the divisive Turbo. An album that brought Judas Priest even more into the mainstream while possibly alienating the 70’s and early 80’s fans that didn’t want to adapt to a new sound. The synths added a new wrinkle to their sound while somewhat taking away from the brash heaviness of their past records. Today’s album Ram It Down tries to rekindle that old sound mixed with a bit of the new. We’ll have to find out if it works.
Background on Ram It Down
You can’t talk about Ram It Down without going into what the album originally was. Twin Turbos was going to be a double album, with one half being the commercial hits of Turbo and the other half being more heavy metal and hardcore music. That idea was scrapped somewhere after recording, and while it would have changed the history of Judas Priest a little bit, we’re basically getting that second half of the album in Ram It Down. I’ll go into the songs on Ram It Down that would have made Twin Turbos later in the piece.
The album was also remarkable for Judas Priest using a drum machine in the studio rather than Dave Holland. This would cause a rift between the band and the drummer. The album was recorded back in the Ibiza Studios in Spain. The mastering and other finishing touches were done at Puk Recording Studios in Gjerlev. So it was a somewhat return to the place that had given Judas Priest a majority of their studio hits.
In addition to the reworked songs from Twin Turbos the band also experimented even more musically during the recording of Ram It Down. The band recorded a three song demo with famed pop producers Stock-Aitken-Waterman. They worked with artists like Dead or Alive, Rick Astley (yes, he had a number one album, and yes, he’s awesome), and Kylie Minogue. These demos aren’t fully released, but they show an even more radical change to the Judas Priest sound that even I, a lover of Turbo, might not agree with. That demo is below.
More Background On Ram It Down
While that’s an interesting take on Judas Priest, I’m glad that Columbia decided to not include it on the album. I would like to hear the full demo though. Ram It Down is sort of famous for having lots of outtake tracks that went on various re-issues of the band’s records in the later years. For fans that want to see what a Twin Turbos side II might have looked like, this is the best guess.
- All Fired Up (On the Turbo Reissue)
- Red, White, & Blue (British Steel Reissue)
- Prisoner of Your Eyes (Screaming For Vengeance Reissue)
- Turn On Your Light (Defenders Of The Faith Reissue)
- Ram It Down
- Hard As Iron
- Love You To Death
- Monsters Of Rock
- Heart Of A Lion (Metalogy Exclusive)
- Under The Gun (Unreleased)
- Fighting For Your Love (Unreleased)
Ram It Down was not nearly as successful as Priest’s previous records. The fanbase was big enough to push it to Gold status in the United States in 1988, it would be their first record in a long time to not reach Platinum.
The three tracks recorded with pop producers S-A-W, also wouldn’t see release, but they were: “Runaround”, “I Will Return”, and the cover of The Stylistics “You Are Everything”. In addition to this, Rob Halford later lamented that a cover of the Rolling Stones “Play With Fire” didn’t make the album. Finally, the band originally had a track called “Thunder Road” on the record but it was bumped off at the last minute by their cover of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”. Let’s get to the music.
1. Ram It Down
This song was supposed to be on some version of Turbo? “Ram It Down” is classic Judas Priest heavy metal. They haven’t played this song since the Mercenaries Of Metal tour in 1988. The middle sections show it as being closer to a Turbo song than not. Despite that, this is a speed metal maniac’s dream. Starting off with a Rob Halford scream, surely to make your ears bleed, and continuing with twin-guitar duals by KK Downing and Glenn Tipton, you can’t get off to a much better start than “Ram It Down”. It’s sure to make even the most hateful Judas Priest fan bang their head in approval. It’s why I started off my Judas Priest Dream Setlist with this track.
“Ram It Down”‘s lyrics have made some cameos in the banners that Judas Priest hangs up before their live concerts begin, so at least they haven’t forgotten about it there. I really hope they can bring this one out for their 50th Anniversary shows when they happen.
2. Heavy Metal
It’s surprising that it took eleven albums for Judas Priest to make a song called “Heavy Metal”, but it was sort of worth the wait. For a song that sounds like it would fit right in on Turbo, this one was actually one of the tracks written for Ram It Down. Starting with a face-melting shred by Glenn Tipton, it catapults into a decent song. It’s another stadium-screamer type that I don’t think follows in the same vein as the previous ones. Normally I’d say a Judas Priest song about heavy metal should be an instant classic, this one missed the mark by a bit.
3. Love Zone
Another song that I find it hard to believe that it wasn’t meant for Turbo. Even if it doesn’t have synthesizers, the whole musical dynamic feels very Turbo-esque. It’s definitely more hard and heavy than what would go on that record though. So that’s a plus for it, if you’re into hating the synth stuff. “Love Zone” has some elements that sound like they call back to older Judas Priest songs from the 70’s in the short period before the solo. Speaking of the solo, it’s fantastic. Holy crap. You can feel the power coming off of the guitars on that one. Overall, it’s not an amazing Judas Priest song, but not one that’s bad either. The lyrics actually tell you exactly what this one is about, and with a name like “Love Zone” I’m sure you can guess what it’s about.
4. Come And Get It
“Come And Get It” comes complete with one of the better opening riffs of this era of Judas Priest. It also comes complete with more lyrics that are thinly veiled sexual innuendo. Like a lot of Judas Priest songs, you can take them for face value, or you can slap a sexual tag on them and keep going. “Come And Get It” does a great job of getting stuck in your head and making you move and headbang with the beat. It’s not a song that I thought would enjoy, but after a deep listen for this review, it’s one of my favorite tracks on the album. If you want it, come and get it!
5. Hard As Iron
This one’s guitars, tone, and drums don’t feel like a Turbo era track. The lyrics definitely feel like one though. Add it to the heap of double-meaning tracks, and you can guess what “Hard As Iron” might mean. The rocking guitar riff over the back of the whole track really adds a groove to it that keeps you going. The guitar solos for this song are pretty top notch and the melodies that Tipton and Downing create are some of the best from Judas Priest. It’s just that the song itself is kind of middling. I like it enough, but it’s not one of my favorites.
6. Blood Red Skies
This is flat out one of the best songs Judas Priest has ever written. It combines all the elements that you know and love about Judas Priest in one package. You take the Terminator theme, the soft guitars flowing into a heavy riff, Rob Halford’s blistering screams, the twin-guitar attack, and a scream-along chorus, and you get one of their best tracks ever.
For me, this song was almost lost to time. It took Judas Priest including it on their Epitaph World Tour setlist for me to listen. I wanted to slap myself for not listening to it earlier. For those of you who don’t like the synths and electronic guitar sounds, this is probably what Turbo should have sounded like. Just look at this passage of lyrics:
As the end is drawing near
Standing proud, I won’t give in to fear
As I die a legend will be born
I will stand, I will fight
You’ll never take me alive
I’ll stand my ground
I won’t go down
You tell me that doesn’t make you want to get up and fight for something. I’m having an emotional reaction listening to this song again, and I’ve heard it probably 200 times. The best track on the album and it’s not close.
7. I’m A Rocker
“I’m A Rocker” is another inspirational track that has to do some heavy lifting following up the masterpiece that is “Blood Red Skies”. It’s a track that celebrates the history and the rigor of touring constantly. It’s also a track for fans of heavy metal to rally behind. Similar to “For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)” by AC/DC. “I’m A Rocker” doesn’t reach the heights of that song, but it’s in similar company. The song just makes you feel good listening to it, and it’s no wonder that it’s one of the two songs from this album that Judas Priest have played semi-recently in concert. Another of my favorites from the album.
8. Johnny B. Goode
I wanted to hate this song. I really did. “Johnny B. Goode” is obviously a cover of the Chuck Berry classic that basically spawned Rock and Roll, and to a degree, heavy metal. This was on the soundtrack for the 80’s Anthony Michael Hall comedy, Johnny Be Good. That movie was a flop and the song didn’t lead to very much media buzz for the band. It was the first single for Ram It Down released. It’s funny because Judas Priest thought that Top Gun was going to flop, so they pulled “Reckless” from the soundtrack to that movie. This isn’t a track that lives the test of time though, and is an interesting failed experiment by the band.
9. Love You To Death
I’m glad that this one didn’t make Turbo and was instead unceremoniously dumped on the back end of Ram It Down. This track is bad. It’s lyrics don’t hide that it’s about sex. It’s uninspired, and generic. The guitars do everything they can to try to prop up the song, but this one falls well short of what I would consider to be a good song. Skip it.
10. Monster of Rock
The last of the two tracks planned for Twin Turbos, “Monster of Rock” should also be a perfect pairing of Judas Priest and that imagery. It doesn’t meet that mark, or anywhere close to it. It’s a slow plodding track that doesn’t add anything to the album. Closing it with this song, is like a wet fart. It just makes me mad listening to the album and hearing how bad these last two songs are. I’m a firm believer in closing out albums strong, but Ram It Down doesn’t do that at all.
Ram It Down Conclusion, Score, and Legacy
Ram It Down is an album plagued by interference, inconsistency, and it might have too many ideas for it’s own good. Being an amalgamation of material from another album, and other projects, it was just at a point in the history of Judas Priest where there was turmoil in the metal scene as well. Glam metal acts were still all the rage, but Judas Priest didn’t simply want to make Turbo II. That’s never been what they’re about. As a result there were a lot of songs that were left off Ram It Down that could have made the album better. Because I love all my great readers, you’re gonna get a bit of a bonus. Here are some of the tracks that got left off Ram It Down that I think should have made the album instead of the last two stinkers.
Fire Burns Below
Now I might be including this one because it has a very “Blood Red Skies” theme to it, but like Iron Maiden innovating on Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, Ram It Down could have followed that mold. Keeping some of the synths or a bigger use of keyboards makes this track feel more epic that the others on the album. “Fire Burns Below” is a mystery why it didn’t make the tracklist over some of the bad songs on the back half of the album. This would have been a much more fitting and better conclusion to the album over “Monster of Rock”.
Heart Of A Lion
This should have been the lead single for Ram It Down. It blows my mind how Judas Priest and their management couldn’t get this track on the album. It’s an earworm. It plays to the casual and heavy fan of the band. Just take a listen to that chorus. Rob Halford used this one to great degree during his solo time outside of Judas Priest. This would go along great with the rest of the album and give it a true lead single for Judas Priest to hang their hat on. It might sound even better and heavier re-recorded with the 1988 mixing and recording on Ram It Down.
Score And Legacy For Ram It Down
Ram It Down is a weird album like I said before. It’s trapped between two eras of Judas Priest and kind of bridges the gap in a weird way. For fans that wanted Turbo to be heavier and more like old Priest, you kind of get that here. For fans that liked the synths and commercial sound of Turbo, you kind of get that here. What I hear when I listen to the album is the inklings of what’s to come for the band. You can slightly hear Painkiller in some of these tracks. That album was the manifestation of fury, anger, rage, thunder, power, and all the different adjectives that you can think of from Judas Priest.
To get to Painkiller, you need to have Turbo and Ram It Down though. While it would have been nice to get a Judas Priest double album, and then another in 1988 that wasn’t Ram It Down. The way that Judas Priest did it, is the way that we’re left with. At the end of the day, I don’t enjoy some of the songs off Ram It Down as much as I do other Judas Priest albums. It has some highs and lows. The album is heavy as all hell. Glenn Tipton and KK Downing rip up the riffs on the album, trading solos and power chords with the best of them. It contains one of the best ten Judas Priest songs ever, but also probably two of the worst ten.
I’ll give Ram It Down a 7.5/10. The album has three fantastic songs in “Ram It Down”, “Blood Red Skies”, and “I’m A Rocker”. It has some middling songs like “Hard As Iron”, “Love Zone”, and “Come And Get It”. Finally, it has the totally putrid “Monster of Rock” and “Love You To Death”. This album is treated like a speedbump on the way to Painkiller, but it should be looked at more like a stepping stone.
Legacy And Aftermath Of Ram It Down
Judas Priest would lose two of it’s long standing partners after Ram It Down. Tom Allom, long-time producer would step down and be replaced later for Painkiller. Dave Holland would leave the band in 1989. His drum tracks on the album were kept to a minimum and he was replaced on most of the tracks by a drum machine. Scott Travis of Racer X would step in to fill that void. Ram It Down isn’t a great Judas Priest album, but it’s a sign of greatness to come. Changes and controversy were ahead for the band, however. You’ll have to read more about that tomorrow.
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Rock Hard, Ride Free, and keep defending that heavy metal faith.