Sunday, August 20, 2017

Ashes To Ashes

Brent Woodward
Guitarist and NWOBHM Enthusiast

Photo Credit: Brent Woodward

Muthas, way back in 2013 I reviewed Night Demon's spectacular debut EP which featured the excellent guitar work of Brent Woodward.  That EP blew my face off and has become one of my all time favorites, in no small part due to Brent's ripping style. Brent also crushed skulls on Night Demon's full length album - Curse Of The Damned which was another triumph.

I had the good fortune to meet Brent when Night Demon came to Pittsburgh a few years ago, and we spent some time conversing about NWOBHM, USPM and other great metal.  Brent has moved on from Night Demon and is currently working on a new project.  He graciously agreed to an interview to discuss the best genre of music ever created - NWOBHM. 

Photo Credit: Metal Archives
MBOM: Brent, firstly, thanks for doing this interview! What have you been up to since you departed Night Demon?

Brent: No problem! It's my pleasure doing an interview all about NWOBHM.   For the most part I've been laying low since I departed from Night Demon. I moved to LA from Ventura to pursue a new musical project that better suits me. I'm still in the process of writing and putting it together. It feels like it's taking a long time, but I'll get something awesome going no matter how long it takes. I feel like every new band I've been in in my life has been a step above the previous band. So I have a very hard task of continuing that pattern. Hopefully you'll be hearing from me soon.

MBOM: I know that you are a huge NWOBHM fan, and I need to know - is Nuhwobum an acceptable way to pronounce NWOBHM, or is this some weird hipster millennial pronunciation?

Brent: It's acceptable. People have been pronouncing it like that for years. You even hear Malcom Dome refer to it as that. So it's cool. I always say the long hand version though, "New Wave Of British Heavy Metal."

MBOM: What song/comp/album started you on your journey of listening to and collecting NWOBHM?

Brent: Diamond Head Lightning To The Nations started it all for me. My brother was a huge Metallica fan back in the early 90's. He would buy magazines and read every article about them. From doing that he found out about bands like the Misfits, Blitzkrieg and of course Diamond Head. I stole his Lightning To The Nations tape when I was in the 5th grade and I never gave it back.

MBOM: What's your favorite NWOBHM single?

Brent: This is a hard one. There are so many good ones and I get stuck on one for long periods of time. Right now my favorite is Limelight Ashes To Ashes. I can listen to that title track over and over. I know it's a "Doctor Doctor" rip but is still amazing. It inspired me to write the music to the song "Mastermind" off of Curse Of The Damned. The B side is great too. "A Knife In Your Back" is a great 70's hard rockin' Uriah Heep jam.

MBOM: What's your favorite NWOBHM LP?

Brent: The first Iron Maiden LP. I know that's not an obscure one but it probably one of my all time favorite records ever made. I love the recording quality on that album. The guitar tone is amazing. Hearing the beginning of Prowler gets my blood pumping.

MBOM: What's your favorite NWOBHM compilation released back in the 80s?

Brent: Metal For Muthas Vol.1, just because it has Maiden, Angel Witch, Samson and Praying Mantis. I love the different versions of the Maiden songs.

MBOM: What's your favorite retrospective NWOBHM compilation released in 90s to today?

Brent: I had NWOBHM '79 Revisited on 2xLP like 10 years ago. I ended up giving it to a friend for his birthday who eventually sold his whole record collection. I kinda wish I would of just bought him a 6 pack or something now. Haha. I think I paid $20 for it at the time. I didn't know that classic heavy metal would explode in the underground. That's probably my favorite "newer" comp.

MBOM: Which band had the better debut album - Iron Maiden or Angel Witch?

Brent: Iron Maiden. I mean I love Angel Witch, but that first Maiden record is untouchable to me.

MBOM: Was Motorhead a NWOBHM band or are they a precursor like Judas Priest?

Brent: I see them as a precursor band. They were kinda before the whole movement hit hard.

MBOM: Who's your greasiest favorite - Tank, Venom or Warfare?

Brent: Tank

MBOM: Why did so many NWOBHM bands crap the bed when it came time to release their sophomore album?

Brent: I think that the musical landscape was changing by the mid 80's stage and these bands were trying to "make it". So they adapted their sound to American glam/heavy metal instead of making a more rough around the edges gritty hard rock/heavy metal like they were doing before. Plus a lot of them got signed to bigger labels. They had their whole lives up until that point to write their first EP or album. I'm sure once they were signed they only had an allotted amount of time to make the second. Producers probably had a lot to do with watering down their sound too.

MBOM: Which NWOBHM band was the most underrated/overrated?

Brent: I don't know how to answer this one. I think most NWOBHM band are great. I do think that some of the super obscure bands are as good. I've trolled YouTube for hours checking out random bands. A lot aren't good. I think it's overrated liking a band just because they fit into the genre and nobody knows who they are.

Photo Credit: Brent Woodward

MBOM: Please recommend a good playlist for a NWOBHM newcomer.


Iron Maiden - "Purgatory"
Diamond Head - "The Prince"
Holocaust - "HeavyMetal Mania"
Virtue - "Fools Gold"
Dark Star - "Lady Of Mars"
Def Leppard - "RocksOff"
Angel Witch - "Gorgon" 
Crucifixion - "Green Eyes" 
Blitzkrieg - "Blitzkrieg" 
Praying Mantis - "Captured City"
Le Griffe - "Fast Bikes
Witchfinder General - "Free Country" 
Iron Maiden - "Prowler"

MBOM: Do you think Def Leppard was a NWOBHM band? If so, what's their last NWOBHM album?

Brent: Of course. High and Dry is the last NWOBHM album. It's the last record with Pete Willis. He brought the rock. After that they lose my attention. They got more pop oriented on Pyromania. Not really my thing.

MBOM: Which of the classic "Black And White EPs" is your favorite - Paralax - White Lightning, Mythra - Death And Destiny, or Crucifixion - Green Eyes?

Brent: This is a hard one too! I think I'll go with Crucifixion. That such a great EP. The perfect balance of hard rock and heavy metal. Even though it came out in '84 it has more of a early NWOBHM sound. It could of came out in '81/'82.

MBOM: Which NWOBHM band that never released an album do you wish had released a full length? (Five bonus points for picking Trespass.)

Brent: Unfortunately it's not Tresspass. I'm going to say Virtue. That band kicks so much ass. I would of loved to hear a full length from them. That EP and the Fools Gold demo are so damn good and they were just kids when they made them. I am fortunate though that No Remorse put out that collection LP.

MBOM: Any cool NWOBHM rarities in your collection?

Brent: I stopped collecting records for a while when I was broke and playing music full time so I missed out on getting a lot of rarities. My MP3 collection is amazing. I do have a decent collection though. It's not that amazing but it's good. I have a bootleg of Iron Maiden Soundhouse Tapes and the Def Leppard EP. I have a bronze pressing of the first Angel Witch. I have Diamond Head Sweet & Innocent EP. I have a lot of reissues too which will probably be rare in like 10 years.

MBOM: Do you have a particular NWOBHM holy grail that you'd like to get?

Brent: I really want the Blitzkrieg 7". I just can't bring myself to pay $200 for it.

MBOM: Are there any recent albums from old NWOBHM bands that you like?

Brent: I haven't really explored the newer eras. I guess the one band I do like is Satan. Night Demon played a few show with them in Europe while I was in the band. They're great.

MBOM: Thanks for taking the time to talk about NWOBHM! Any last words or anything else to add?

Brent: Thanks for interviewing me. It was fun talking about my favorite style of music!


I hope you enjoyed the interview with Brent and it inspires you to listen to some NWOBHM gems!


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Like Thunder Through The Skull

Night Demon - Darkness Remains

Century Media Records - 2017

Muthas, in my not so humble opinion, Night Demon is one of the best new wave of traditional heavy metal bands in the world right now.  Their debut EP was an unbelievably good slice of retro NWOBHM and their first LP – Curse Oh The Damned – was simply excellent.  That brings us to the present where the band is scheduled to drop their all-important second LP on April 21st.  So, will there be a sophomore slump or another solid album of traditional metal?  Well, I was lucky enough to secure of promo of their new album – Darkness Remains – and after spinning it about fifty times, I am ready to render a verdict. 

First things first though, there’s been a lineup change since we last heard from Night Demon. Guitarist Brent Woodward has departed and he’s been replaced by Armand John Anthony who was formerly with Gygax.  Also, main man Jarvis Leatherby has been busy fronting NWOBHM legends Jaguar, playing bass in Cirith Ungol and organizing the Frost And Fire Festivals for three years running.  Did the band lose focus with the new lineup and all their various outside activities and projects?  Thankfully, the answer is a resounding no! 

Darkness Remains is a tight collection of superbly executed traditional heavy metal and it’s crammed full of great riffs, catchy choruses, hooks galore, pounding drums and good vocals. There is a slight difference from their earlier material because Armand John Anthony’s playing style is heavily influenced by Thin Lizzy and his melodic riffing permeates the whole album.  However, it’s yet another cracking album from Night Demon that rivals the best efforts of the NWOBHM. 

The band rips right out of the gate with the lead track “Welcome To The Night.”  The song starts with a creepy intro and then blasts into a faster tempo.  It’s a quintessential Night Demon cut with varied tempos, a catchy chorus, a nice solo and occult lyrics.  Check out the excellent video for it:

“Hallowed Ground” is a speedy blaster featuring a pummeling riff that will definitely get your head banging with fury. ”Maiden Hell” is a very fun and peppy track that has lyrics which are all Iron Maiden references.  This song is very infectious and Jarvis even serves up a “Scream For Me!” Very cool!

“Stranger In The Room” is a mid-paced, epic spookster that reminds me of their song “The Howling Man” for their last album. The band is particularly adept at this kind of atmospheric track.  Well done lads! “Life On The Run” is one of my favorites on the album because it features some tasty and crunchy riffage and drops some really cool nods to other metal songs/albums in the lyrics – Thundersteel, Power Games, Hand Of Doom etc…  It also drops into a nice chugging riff at the midpoint and then transitions into a cool solo. 

“Dawn Rider” cruises along on the back of a “Heaven And Hell” style galloping riff and “Black Widow” is a classic “evil woman” song that has a regal/martial opening riff that dissolves into a killer up tempo pace that makes it another favorite of mine on the album.  “On Your Own” has a pure, classic 80s opening riff, “believe in yourself” lyrics and an earworm of a gang chorus that will lodge in your brain for days. 
“Flight Of The Manticore” is a sprawling, mid-tempo instrumental that definitely allows Armand to strut his stuff on the guitar.  I am a sucker for good instrumentals and this one is very good.  The final track on the CD and LP is the title cut and it’s quite the departure for Night Demon. The track reminds me of Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan” because Jarvis’s vocals sound like they are done through a Leslie speaker and the overall tone of the song is very melancholy. It’s quite the epic at 5:23 minutes in length and it fades out to some strings or synths at the end.
The digital download of the album also features two bonus tracks – a cover of Sabbath’s “Turn Up The Night” and a cover of Queen’sWe Will Rock You (Fast Version)” which is a very cool idea!

I also need to note that the album artwork is seemingly a homage of Iron Maiden's Somewhere In Time because it features loads of Night Demon references.  There's the band's mascot Rocky from the EP cover, the Curse Of The Damned cover, the band itself, and the building is the Ventura, California city hall. I'll have to pore over the LP cover when I get the vinyl, because there's a lot I can't see in the tiny digital picture I have.  I dig it! 


The Bottom Line: Night Demon has released another great LP with Darkness Remains and it’s well worth your hard-earned coin. I am sure this will be in my best of 2017 and you should pre-order the album at the links below if you don't want to suck at life:

As always, MAKE MINE METAL!   

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Come Heavy Or Don't Come At All

Overkill - The Grinding Wheel

Nuclear Blast Records - 2017

Muthas, that unstoppable wrecking crew – Overkill – is back with their eighteenth (!) album and it’s an absolute skullcrusher. The Grinding Wheel was originally slated for a November 2016 release, but thankfully it was delayed due to some scheduling issues.  Why thankfully you ask? Well, because it had the potential to be lost in the shuffle during the old school thrash-o-rama of 2016. Overkill didn’t have to compete with Metallica and Testament for the limelight last November. The band has all eyes on them and they deliver the goods and then some.  Did anyone doubt they would?! 

The band possesses a signature sound much in the same way Motorhead did - you know what you are going to get - but they always manage to make it interesting.  Overkill never really succumbed to trends in any sustained way, and because of this tenacity they’ve enjoyed a long career while the vast majority of their peers packed it in decades ago.
The Grinding Wheel is a bit different from their last couple of albums in that the songs are longer and feature a good bit of variety.  I wouldn’t say the tracks are progressive, but rather they approach the epic with many tempo changes and vocal nuances.  The opening track “Mean, Green, Killing Machine” ably demonstrates what the album is all about. It sounds like classic Overkill with a couple of tempos and Blitz uses a couple of different vocal styles including some actual singing at the midpoint of the cut. All of this unfolds over seven and a half minutes of excellence.  Check out the lyric video:

“Goddamn Trouble” is one of the best songs on the album and it’s quintessential Overkill - loads of fun, a bit of punk, a bit of thrash and hooks for days. I’m not surprised that it’s already featured in their live set and I would imagine it’s going to stay there for a while. Check out the equally fun video:

“The Long Road” has a great intro that is begging to be played live because of its sing-along woah-oh vocals and blistering riffs.  The lyrics feel autobiographical because they are about never stopping and always moving forward.  Onward and upward indeed!

Another noteworthy cut is “Come Heavy” which is groovy and swaggering with loads of Black Sabbath influence that the band usually features on a couple of tracks per album.  This song will definitely get your head bobbing while you sing along.

The title track closes things out in epic fashion with a mid-paced groove and then finishes off with a another sing-along chant/chorus and then dissolves into a mournful string section.  It almost reminds one of something Iron Maiden would have come up with, believe it or not.

I should also note that the production by Andy Sneap is stellar and the album sounds amazing. If you were looking for some dirty thrash sounds you are out of luck, but if you like razor-sharp, clear production than you will be thrilled.  I hope he’ll be on board for future albums as he really captures the band’s sound well. 

Also the album is wrapped in nice artwork that features a stylized Chaly in between interlocked green gears with sparks flying.  It definitely evokes the sounds contained on the album and it a step up from the usual Overkill artwork which can be uninspired. Well done fellas.


The Bottom Line: This is a great album and certainly equals their recent classic Ironbound if not some of their 80s albums.  If you are a fan of the band, a thrash fan, or a fan of heavy metal you should enjoy this immensely.  Go buy it and catch them on tour!


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Stand In The Fire


We Want You: The Best of 2016

Muthas, 2016 has bit the dust and I’m back with a list of the best albums, live albums, reissues and album covers.  Enjoy!

The Best Albums of 2016

Bat – Wings Of Chains

Do you like greasy, dirty, raw thrash metal that sounds like Motorhead + Venom + Warfare?  If so, you will love this LP.  I previously reviewed their demo and this picks right up where that left off with a refreshing and fun blast of speedball metal.  Another great band from Ryan Waste.  Check out “Primitive Age.”  Raw future indeed!

Diamond Head – Diamond Head

Well what do you know? After releasing a couple of crappy albums that didn’t reflect their classic sound, Diamond Head comes roaring back with a cracking album that is replete with good songs.  Thankfully, the vocalist – Rasmus Bon Andersen – sounds a lot like Sean Harris, and Brian Tatler has penned some great songs. Check out “Bones.”

Grand Magus – Sword Songs

It seems that Grand Magus wanted to answer some of the complaints about their last album being too “epic” because Swords Songs is a return to more straight ahead, faster material.  It’s a very good album that features many anthemic cuts that will be sure to get your head banging.  Check out “Forged In Fire – Crowned In Iron.”

Gygax – Critical Hits

Arising from the ashes of the now sadly defunct Gypsyhawk is the excellent Gygax which play a tasty selection of heavy-70s metal that is heavily influenced by Thin Lizzy. Sinewy, twisting dual guitar leads are everywhere and the songs are catchy as all hell.  Oh, the splatter vinyl is quite simply the most stunning I have ever seen. Check out “Draw Breath.”

Metal Church – XI

The long awaited return of Mike Howe did not disappoint in the slightest!  XI is a phenomenal album that is one of the better comeback albums in the history Metaldom.  It’s great to hear Mike’s powerful voice ladled on top of choice power/thrash compositions once more.  The songs are excellent and Metal Church are back to reclaim their rightful throne!  Check out “Killing YourTime.”

Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake

If you’ve liked the previous two Testament albums you will love this one.  It’s in the same vein as Formation and Dark Roots – Chuck Billy roaring over a superb rhythm section and great guitars.  There’s lots of thrashing to be heard here and several of the songs form a sort of concept album about lizard people?(!) The songs are heavy and catchy with several memorable choruses that will worm their way into your brain. (It’s probably because of unholy influence of the lizard people.)  Check out “Stronghold.”

Striker – Stand In The Fire

Fun! Fun! Fun!  Striker once again unleash an album that is just damn fun and high energy!  These guys know how to craft great power metal in the vein of Vicious Rumors or Leatherwolf and the cuts are full of great hooks.  The songs are very upbeat and positive and are sure to lift your spirits.  More people should be talking about these Canadians, so get out there and buy this album.  Check out “Too Late.”

Metal Massacre 14

A compilation in a best of list?  You’re damn right!  Metal Blade has finally released a worthy follow up to their classic 80s series of compilations by focusing on lesser- known traditional metal bands on small or independent labels.  If you are a fan of the NWOTHM many of these names will be familiar to you, but there are several gems here by Stone Dagger, Savage Master, Crypt Sermon, Gatekeeper and others.  Check out “The Demented Force” by Assassin’s Blade.  Buy or die!

Megadeth – Dystopia

Maybe the album of the year.  Full review here.  It’s so much better than the other Big Four releases it’s not even close.  What about Metallica you say?  It was a big pile of meh.  Not list worthy. 

Eternal Champion – The Armor Of Ire

Sweet Odin’s Raven this is good!  I’ve had a hard time listening to anything else for the last three months.  Eternal Champion is from Austin, Texas but they may as well have been born in the Hyborian Age because their music is a virtual soundtrack for Conan and Kull.  This is the way epic metal should be done – songs with fantasy based lyrics and killer music.  Thick, pummeling rhythms abound and the songs are very catchy.  I have nothing to criticize here – the artwork is great and there’s even a map included!  Album of the year?  Sure, why the hell not?  Check out “I Am The Hammer” and buy this album you knaves!

The Best Live Album

DirkschneiderLive – Back To The Roots

Good old Udo is back with a live set of Accept classics and some not so classics to close the books on the Accept stage of his career.  Udo sounds great here and so does his backing band, and he even pulls out some tunes that haven’t been played in years - when was the last time you got to hear “Monsterman” or “T.V. War” live? Pick this up and you’ll be able to compare it to the soon-to-be-released Restless and Live from Accept. Check out "Breaker."

The Best Reissues

Banshee – Cry In The Night + Race Against Time

Divebomb Records thankfully released the debut EP and LP from Banshee with beautiful remastering and a nice, thick booklet.  This is top notch USPM that was mostly lost in the shuffle back in the day and deserves to be heard by the metal faithful.  Definitely pick up this absolute gem of a two CD set.  Check out “We Want You.”

Skol Records NWOBHM CD Replica Single Series

Great idea from Skol Records and Bart Gabriel to release these cd replicas of NWOBHM singles.  Each CD has the original cover art and tracks from the vinyl singles, and they haven’t picked totally obvious singles either - who thought Hellrazer would ever be reissued for instance?  I hope they continue with this series in the future!

The Biggest Disappointment

Anthrax – For All Kings

What a mess.  I had high hopes, but they crapped the bed.  Full review here.

The Best Album Cover

Megadeth – Dystopia

Robot Samurai Vic Rattlehead in a dystopian future? Yes please!  Stunning cover art for an excellent album.  Kudos!


That’s it muthas! Thanks for reading and I’ll see you back here in 2017.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Curio Cabinet Of Metal #3

Iron Maiden - The Wicker Man (U.S. Promo)

Muthas, Iron Maiden has always released multiple singles from each of their albums, and this was true in the year 2000 when the band released their Brave New World album.  In the United States they released this album on the Columbia Records imprint Portrait.  This imprint had recently been resurrected as a heavy metal label with the signings of Ratt, Cinderella, Great White, and The Union UndergroundMaiden moved from CMC Records to the label when Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith rejoined the band.  Anticipation was through the roof when a new album was released and the metal world eagerly awaited hearing anything from the album. 

The first single released from the album was “The Wicker Man” and in the United States it sounded like this:

I loved it!  It was a bracing blast of old, peppy Maiden of the kind that I love and that they rarely seem to do anymore. I ran out and bought Brave New World on release day, but, much to my dismay, the version of “The Wicker Man” on the album is different from the promo version!  WTF? Here’s the album version for comparison:

Notice that once the chorus of the promo version is different than the album version.  The promo version features the lyrics “Thy Will Be Done” following “Your Time Will Come” and eliminates a guitar part from the album version in the chorus.  I think the promo version is superior to the album version and I have no idea why the promo version wasn’t chosen for the album, and I can’t find any explanation for the difference in the research I’ve done.  By the way, the Iron Maiden song “The Wicker Man” is completely different from the Bruce Dickinson solo song “Wicker Man” which was recorded in 1997 but not released until 2001, just to confuse everyone further. Check out Bruce Bruce’s “Wicker Man” below:

I wanted the “Thy Will Be Done” version of “The Wicker Man” but where could I find it?  It clearly wasn’t on Brave New World so that led me to the single versions of the song.  I figured that the label probably put this video version on the various singles that were released.  Unfortunately, CD singles were rarely released in the United States by the year 2000 and “The Wicker Man” was no exception to this as Portrait/Columbia records didn’t release it as a single.  Well, my next step was to get some import singles from Europe because Iron Maiden was still releasing singles in Europe and they were fairly easy to get in the States.  Thanks internet!

I ended up ordering the following singles:

EMI Cat. No. 7243 8 88687 0 9

This is a four track single released in Europe on May 8, 2000.  This is part one of a two CD set and features the following track listing:

1.       The Wicker Man
2.       Man On The Edge (Recorded Live – Ed Hunter Tour 1999)
3.       Powerslave (Recorded Live – Ed Hunter Tour 1999)
4.       The Wicker Man – Enhanced Video

I eagerly cracked it opened to listen to track one hoping that it was the “Thy Will Be Done” version, but alas, it was the album version.  The track four video is also the album version in glorious 2000-era pixel vision! It’s beyond horrid. So this single was a dead end, but at least it did have a poster with the band and these ladies:

This left me with part 2 of the single release:

EMI Cat. No. 7243 8 88688 0 8

This is another four track single, but it came packaged in a clear pvc sleeve rather than a jewel box like part one. The disc is a cool looking clear picture disc featuring Eddie as a wicker man.  The track listing is as follows:

1.       The Wicker Man
2.       Futureal (Recorded Live – Ed Hunter Tour 1999)
3.       Killers (Recorded Live – Ed Hunter Tour 1999)
4.       Futureal – Enhanced Video (Footage Taken From The Ed Hunter Tour 1999)

Once again I was out of luck with this single because track one was also the album version.  So much for that idea!  I was at a dead end and I put the search on the back burner for a while.
Well, some years passed and I became aware of the fact that there was a promo only version of “The Wicker Man” which was issued in the US to radio stations only.  I don’t remember how I found this out, but I started a search for it at that point.  I finally tracked it down at a tiny online vendor that I had never heard of and I ordered it.  Luckily for me it was a legit shop and in a couple of days I had this in my hands:

Portrait/Columbia Cat. No. CSK 12766 

This promo has the following tracklisting:

1.       The Wicker Man (Radio Version)
2.       The Wicker Man (Radio Edit)

I popped it in my CD player and finally I heard the “Thy Will Be Done” version of “The Wicker Man!”  It had only taken a couple of years for me to track this down. Hooray!  Clearly the artwork is from the session with a similar cover to the European single.  The back cover features the wicker man but this time it’s unburnt unlike on the back cover of the European single.

This is probably the rarest Iron Maiden piece in my collection as this version of the song has never appeared anywhere else since the year 2000.  Add to that the fact that it was a U.S. only radio promo and its rarity only increases. I don’t really think it’s that expensive – it might go for $35-$50 – but that’s a pretty hefty fee for one song! I would imagine that it will eventually appear on a future reissue of Brave New World as a bonus track.  Have your credit card ready Maiden collectors!

I hope you enjoyed this bizarre little oddity from the Iron Maiden discography and another installment in The Curio Cabinet Of Metal.

As always, MAKE MINE METAL! 

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Curio Cabinet Of Metal #2

Judas Priest - Painkiller: The Sharpest Cuts

Muthas, it’s no secret that Judas Priest is my favorite band, however they’ve never been a band that issues a whole lot of promos, limited editions, picture discs, etc., unlike Iron Maiden for instance. However, Priest has issued a couple of interesting rarities over the year and I happen to have one of the stranger ones – Painkiller: The Sharpest Cuts.  Check out this thing:

It’s a CD printed to look like a toothed sawblade (a motif that the band recently revisited) and it’s on a cardboard background mocked up like the packaging of a rotary sawblade, including stating “Coarse Tooth (nonferrous metals)” and even having the hole punch at the top center to be hung on a peg board at the hardware store.  Now that’s some cool attention to detail! It also reflects the sawblade wheels of the serpent bike that the Painkiller himself was riding on the cover of the album.   
The back of the packaging has the tracklisting and a description for each song, as well as the usual promo label – “Demonstration – Not For Sale” and a list of all the Judas Priest albums put out up to that point (1990) by Columbia Records. Clearly this disc was intended to promote the Painkiller album which was released in 1990. Painkiller was much heavier and thrashier than the band’s prior couple of albums and was hailed as a triumph upon its release.  Priest was clearly highly motivated when this album was released and it was quite the scorcher.

Over the years, I’ve heard some criticism of Painkiller as a “thrash sellout” in the same way that Turbo was a “glam sellout” back in 1986.  I have never really agreed with that notion because most critics fail to mention/remember the atmosphere that Painkiller was recorded in.  Priest had just emerged victorious from the costly and farcical subliminal message trial brought against them by the estates of Raymond Belknap and James Vance.  The teens had both attempted suicide while listening to Judas Priest’s Stained Class album.  Belknap died immediately, but Vance lingered for three years before passing away. 

The plaintiffs’ attorney eventually claimed that there were subliminal messages on the whole album, but focused on the track “Better By You, Better Than Me” which apparently contained a backward masked message to “Do it.”  I am assuming the hapless attorney didn’t even realize this was a cover of a Spooky Tooth song.  Be that as it may, the band spent $500,000 in attorney’s fees defending themselves!  That’s enough to piss anybody off and the band were still pissed about it in 2001 when they penned the tune “Bloodsuckers” about scumbag lawyers. 

It was in this atmosphere that Priest cranked out the most aggressive album of their career.  Who can blame them?  According to Rob Halford the label was as pissed off as the band was and put out marketing taglines for Painkiller such as “The Antidote To Annihilation” and “Awesome! Backwards or forwards.”  This brings us to the back cover of Painkiller: The Sharpest Cuts which contains a couple of interesting track notes.  First, the song “Better By You, Better Than Me” says, “The Most Talked about track from the controversial Stained Class release. Listen to it! Listen to it! Listen to it!”

The other interesting note is track 10.  You can see that it’s only listed with a backward question mark and two asterisks.  What’s that all about?

Well, in another giant middle finger to the whole Belknap/Vance trial, it’s “Better By You, Better Than Me” backwards!  How awesome is that!  Clearly Priest and Columbia Records were all out of fucks to give. 

Apparently several thousand of these were pressed and a cassette version was also released.  There is one note of caution if you’d like to acquire this piece of Priest’s history – while all copies list ten tracks on the tracklisting, only some have the backwards version of “Better By You, Better Than Me.” Many copies omit the tenth track and the cassette version doesn’t seem to have ever been issued in a ten track version. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell the nine track version from the ten track versions short of putting it in a CD player. Caveat Emptor!  

One more note, I own two copies and mine have ten tracks.  Hahaha!


I hope you enjoyed this little sliver of Judas Priest history and another installment in The Curio Cabinet Of Metal.