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.
Judas Priest, like many metal bands of the 80’s, were facing a different landscape in the 90’s. They had a new lead singer in Tim “Ripper” Owens, and their previous album, Jugulator was not as popular as they thought it would be. It would take another four years for Judas Priest to return to the studio. In 2001, they released, Demolition. Is it better than Jugulator? Does it do something different? Let’s find out.
Background On Demolition
Ripper Owens cut his teeth as a Judas Priest cover singer, and then finally got the chance to be the real thing. His debut album, Jugulator was a mixed bag that didn’t really sound like Judas Priest. It was a sign of the times that they were moving into a newer, updated sound. That album didn’t sell nearly as well as the previous albums, breaking a multiple album streak of going Gold in the US. Judas Priest would take yet another hiatus and regroup in the studio in 1999. Going back to Silvermere Studios in Surrey, England, their next album would take much longer to record and release.
Demolition would eventually be released July 16th, 2001. It was the longest Judas Priest album up to that point coming in at, 70:44. Surprisingly, it was also the first and only Judas Priest album to have the “PARENTAL ADVISORY” sticker slapped on it. Even Defenders Of The Faith, with one of the songs behind that sticker in “Eat Me Alive” never got one. Ripper Owens says that it’s his favorite album he did with Judas Priest.
The reality of Judas Priest at this point in time was that they were floundering. The heavy metal scene at the time was built around bands like Korn, Slipknot, Linkin Park, and other newcomers. The old guard was being forced to adapt or die. Judas Priest took the first approach. Jugulator was built around the groove metal sounds of the time, while Demolition took inspiration from the Nu-metal scene. It didn’t sell well at all and led to a big decision for all involved in Judas Priest. But let’s get to the music first. We’ve got thirteen tracks to get to.
1. Machine Man
Holy shit. This is what I was expecting when I thought of Judas Priest with Ripper Owens as the singer. “Machine Man” was the lead single off Demolition and it shows. The song is awesome and gives a much better look at this era than the previous album. The song is one of the two on the album that have explicit lyric warnings on the iTunes versions of the album. “Machine Man” is a great opening song that tells about a cocky driver who drives to kill. It has an excellent riff that reminds me of classic Judas Priest. It’s the perfect mixture of old and new to me. Off to a much better start than Jugulator.
2. One On One
Another one that sounds like classic Judas Priest mixed with the sounds of the time. In a good way, “One On One” is a breath of fresh air. It’s a song about kicking ass and not standing down in the face of tyranny or oppression. “One On One” is another great song to start off Demolition, Judas Priest played this one heavily on the Demolition World Tour in 2001. It’s a fantastic song, and worthy of a place in the Judas Priest pantheon.
3. Hell Is Home
“Hell Is Home” continues the streak for Demolition with three straight solid to great songs starting the album. Richie Faulkner has stated this about the song:
It’s really heavy and the vocal melody is really great. I think Ripper sings it really well. It’s probably one of my favorite Priest songs of the Ripper era. ‘Hell Is Home’ — I really like that.Blabbermouth
“Hell Is Home” tells a story about an outcast that finds their way with a group of people. That would normally be the end of a happy recovery story, but the outcast now runs “Hell” and is going to take it to “Heaven”. You can see this as a direct story of Lucifer and the Devil, but it could also be someone in our life. Whatever you think of it, this is one of the finest songs of the Ripper era, it goes up with “Cathedral Spires” for me.
4. Jekyll and Hyde
Well if you can’t tell by the title, it’s about someone who works with multiple personalities. The narrator isn’t the person going around with two personalities though, it’s someone else. “Jekyll and Hyde” is another solid song that keeps the tempo going on this album. It’s a quick rocker that’s sort of needed on an album that stretches out over the hour mark. I enjoy this one.
5. Close To You
They slow it down with “Close To You”. This one falls more into the ballad territory with some very heavy elements. It reminds me of “Beyond The Realms Of Death” but with a modern touch. “Close To You” is about losing someone that you love very dearly. There’s no getting over losing someone who had such a large and meaningful impact on your life. You’re left with an empty feeling that you can’t shake. This is a powerful song that continues the march of solid songs on the record.
6. Devil Digger
So Judas Priest couldn’t shake the Pantera influence on this album still, because this one sounds straight out of one of their later career albums. Like I said yesterday, if there’s one thing I detest, it’s that style of metal. So naturally, “Devil Digger” isn’t one of my favorite songs on the album. It just sounds pretty generic, and I could have done without it on this record. Feel free to skip this one.
“Bloodsuckers” is not about Vampires. As much as that would be cool to hear a Judas Priest song about vampires, we’re actually talking about people who suck the blood of liberty, and whatever else. There are people out there who would rather suck the life out of people than do anything to help them or further mankind. Without getting too political, the same people who stand fully by the Constitution, are now the ones working to break it down. “Bloodsuckers” is a pretty heavy song, that manages to stand out from the pack with it’s riff and the screams from Ripper Owens.
8. In Between
“In Between” follows in the same vein as “Jekyll and Hyde”. Instead of being about someone who has a split personality, this one is about never being sure of what you are. It’s a gift to be split on things and have different viewpoints. The lyrics spell out different oxymorons or things that couldn’t really be. I like this one pretty well, it’s slower and heavier than some of the other songs from the Ripper Era. It’s definitely solid, but doesn’t reinvent the wheel.
9. Feed On Me
If you’re going to listen to one song from Demolition, it should be “Feed On Me”. In another bit of mystery, Judas Priest didn’t make this a single from the album and they tucked it in the middle of the album. It’s about a messiah or figure that people can look to in times of crisis or weakness. Outside of that lyrical interpretation, the song itself just kicks ass. It’s got that classic Judas Priest vibe with the new music of the times.
That’s what these albums should have aimed for. Instead of being something they’re not, take advantage of the fact that you have a new, young, singer and keep the elements of Priest that everyone loves, and mix it with the new generation. That would have worked wonders instead of just throwing out the sound that you already had. “Feed On Me” challenges “Cathedral Spires” for the top song from this era of the band.
“Subterfuge” starts off slow but then descends into a riff that drives the rest of the song. It’s about refusing to conform to society’s views and sticking it to the man. The song itself is pretty generic, but I can’t really say anything too bad about it. It’s just a rocker that kind of exists, and the riff is cool, but the rest of the song is kind of meh. Ripper Owens gives a good performance on this one.
11. Lost And Found
Another slow number here, “Lost and Found” is about losing someone or losing yourself. I just can’t find myself getting into this song. I don’t really feel like it’s anything more than a generic ballad on the record. It doesn’t do much different than a majority of the ballads out there. It has a much lighter tone than the rest of the album as well, so it sort of sticks out among the rest of the tracks that are being as heavy as possible. This is one a skip for me.
The first and only song co-written by Scott Travis, “Cyberface” is not good. As much as the only other song written by a drummer in Judas Priest’s history, “Beyond The Realms Of Death”, is awesome, this song is derivative, boring, and just flat out shouldn’t be on this album. Ripper Owens puts in a good vocal performance, but when working with material that isn’t great, you won’t get a great song.
13. Metal Messiah
“Metal Messiah” starts off with a strong riff that quickly turns into an experiment that shouldn’t have left the studio. Mixing Judas Priest with rapping is not something I thought I would see. The experiment musically is welcome, but in this case, it shouldn’t have seen the light of day. The music behind the rapping and lyrics is top notch, this could have been a much better song without some of the extra crap that’s tacked on. It doesn’t end the album on a good spot, and frankly none of the last couple songs do. I prefer for albums to start and finish strong. This one starts strong, but doesn’t stick the landing.
Analysis Of Demolition
Demolition has some of the ingredients to be an album that made good on the Ripper Owens era of Judas Priest. I’m sure the most hateful Judas Priest fans will dismiss this one outright, but if you sit down and listen to it, it has some good tracks. Like Chinese Democracy by Guns N’ Roses, that album might have benefited more from being labeled as an Axl Rose solo album. If this wasn’t a Judas Priest album, I guarantee it would be seen in a better light. Ripper Owens gives a great performance vocally. The band sounds heavy and hard. The issue that it comes down to, is that the music at times is just too long, and too generic.
Having an album like this, less would be more. Coming in at 70:44, it was the longest Priest album at the time, a lot of this could have gotten cut out. Songs like “One on One”, “Hell Is Home”, “Machine Man”, “Feed On Me”, “Jekyll and Hyde”, and “In Between” show off what this era of Priest was capable of. The other tracks on the album come in at either middling or downright embarrassing. I’m always about giving things a chance, and I don’t think that Ripper Owens was given the fairest of shakes. Fans immediately were not on board with someone following in the footsteps of Rob Halford.
I get that. I really do. But your favorite bands are your favorite bands for a reason. If they felt that Ripper Owens was up to snuff, I would give him a shot. It’s the same thing with Iron Maiden and Blaze Bayley. Give the guy a shot, and they’ll probably be better than you think.
More On Ripper Owens And Demolition
If you look back at what Ripper Owens has done since his time in Judas Priest, he’s proved himself as a great singer in the heavy metal sphere. He went on to sing in Iced Earth, and is now the singer in KK Downing’s version of Judas Priest. His time in Judas Priest is now mostly forgotten or ignored by the band. While these albums are not as good as the previous albums or the ones that come after it, the time isn’t so bad that it has to be forgotten.
Demolition and Jugulator aren’t horrible albums, but they are products of a horrible time for metal. Groove metal and Nu-metal are blights upon the grand scheme of the genre in my opinion. Instead of trying to replicate those sounds, Judas Priest should have gone with what they know.
Score For Demolition
The album is better than Jugulator. It doesn’t deserve to be maligned like it does. The album has some good tracks and it is heavy as hell. I’ll give it a 7/10. If there was a way to cut out some of the fat on it, it might have gotten a better score. For now, it remains an album that I don’t revisit a lot, but the tracks that do make the cut in playlists, are the best ones from the album.
Judas Priest would undergo a major, major development shortly after this album. Bands like Iron Maiden and Twisted Sister were reuniting with their classic and most famous lineups. Rob Halford was busy during his time away from Judas Priest. He released albums with the band Fight and had solo albums as well. Those solo albums are great material that showed what Judas Priest might have looked like if he stayed in the band.
Rob Halford returned to Judas Priest in July 2003, the band celebrated with the release of the Metalogy box set. Owens and Judas Priest separated amicably, with Owens taking over the mantle of lead singer in the band Ice Earth.
Conclusion And Legacy Of The Ripper Era
It would take a couple years after this reunion for Judas Priest to make another album however. You’ll have to read more about Angel of Retribution tomorrow. The Ripper years of Judas Priest were marked by low sales and a dip in popularity for the band. I, however, am grateful for the time that Ripper gave to Judas Priest. Without the Ripper, things might be vastly different for Judas Priest. The band would not have lived on taking an extended hiatus like that.
The return of Rob Halford was a needed one, and it led to a period of renewed interest in the band. We’ll have to see where that takes us when Judas Priest-A-Thon comes back tomorrow with 2005’s Angel of Retribution.
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All images and audio are courtesy of Judas Priest.