JUDAS PRIEST – Painkiller

JUDAS PRIEST - Painkiller


Release date: September 3, 1990

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Judas Priest was on a roll during the ’80s, releasing a string of popular and well-received albums. The winning streak came to an end in 1986 with the release of Turbo, an album full of mostly Pop Metal fluff, that while done well for that sort of thing, it wasn’t what Priest fans wanted from their favorite band. 1988’s Ram It Down was a much more solid — and heavy — release, but it was met mostly with indifference from the listening public.

Painkiller was certain to be an important album for Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton, K.K. Downing, and Ian Hill; they had to prove to the fans that they could still deliver the goods. Metal fans are very loyal to their favorite bands, but one more misfire from Priest could have caused even their staunchest supporters to look elsewhere for their daily allowance of Metal.

Prior to recording Painkiller, Judas Priest replaced long-time drummer Dave Holland with former Racer X drummer, Scott Travis. Travis played a huge part in Painkiller‘s ultimate success: his playing was fast, powerful, and intricate, and he nearly stole the entire album.

The presence of Travis seemed to light a fire under guitarists Tipton and Downing, as they both turned in the performances of their lives on Painkiller, tossing out great riffs, killer solos, and inspired lead work. Watch out! Those axes are razor-sharp. The twosome seemed to be trying to outdo each other throughout the whole album. There are some great guitar pieces on Painkiller; just check out the dizzying intro to “Metal Meltdown,” for example.

With Painkiller, lead vocalist Rob Halford reminds people why he’s one of Metal’s greatest singers — he may have sounded bored on Turbo, but here he sounds invigorated, infusing each song with the high-pitched wails and screams that fans have come to expect from their Metal God. Halford has great command of his voice, never overdoing anything, and his expressive vocals add a lot to the slower-paced “A Touch of Evil” and the spooky “Night Crawler.”

“Intense” would be a great one-word summation of Painkiller, but that would make for a pretty short review … from the now classic drum opening of the title track, to the last notes of “One Shot At Glory,” this album pins you to the wall and won’t let go. It’s pure sonic dynamite, but still maintains a sense of rhythm and melody. It’s super-fast, but never out of control. Even though Painkiller came out in 1990, it still sounds fresh today. Many bands have tried to replicate Painkiller‘s combination of speed and aggression over the years; some have come close (usually on the basis of individual songs, not entire albums), but close doesn’t count. Painkiller spawned an entire league of imitators and copycats, which is the highest praise anyone can give.

In 2001, Painkiller was re-released, along with several other vintage Judas Priest albums. In addition to new liner notes, photographs, and re-mastered sound, bonus tracks were included too. The Painkiller bonus tracks consist of a live rendition of “Leather Rebel” and the unreleased studio track “Living Bad Dreams,” which is an effective, dark ballad, featuring a good performance by Halford.

If you own Painkiller, congratulations! You know what a classic Heavy Metal album it certainly is. If you don’t own Painkiller, run for your life, because you can’t stop the Metal Meltdown. No one survives!


  • Gary McLean

    Gary was a reviewer here at Metal Express Radio, based out of the small Ontario, Canada town of Sault Ste. Marie, right on the border of Michigan, USA. When it comes to Metal and Hard Rock, Gary likes quite a few different bands, from stalwarts like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, to newer, hard-hitting groups such as Primal Fear, Hammerfall, and Paragon. Other favorites include the likes of Nightwish, Running Wild, Therion, Accept, Stratovarius, Dream Evil, Helloween, Rammstein, Dirty Looks, Crimson Glory, Tristania, and Gamma Ray. He thinks AC/DC deserves a paragraph all their own though.

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