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.


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