32 years ago: Judas Priest releases ‘Painkiller’

In the mid-1980s, British metal pioneers Judas Priest it seemed like they were running out of ideas, or at least losing focus. The 1986s Turbo featured chirpy keyboards that sounded new wavey and 1988’s Ram It Down was a little heavier, but marred by subpar songwriting and out-of-place synths, and featured a terrible cover of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.”

Just when it seemed that Judas Priest had been dethroned by a new wave of thrash bands that included Metallica, Megadeth, Kills and Anthraxhit the metal defenders back with their 12th album, Pain relieverwhich was released on Sept. 3, 1990.

In an attempt to regain the credibility they once held so highly, Judas Priest turned up the tempo, increased their aggression, and wrote a series of songs that approached the ferocity of speed metal. Right out of the gate, Priest fired on all cylinders with a flurry of pounding double bass drum beats, blowtorch guitars and banshee vocal screams.

“I just think the early thrash metal movement was a sign that the industry had to keep evolving and moving, and so do bands,” ex-guitarist. KK Downing told me in 2010. “It’s just the natural progression, and at the time I just thought that something new is always good. I remember playing gigs with Slayer in the early 80s and I guess I resigned myself to accepting that it had to go this way. So when Priest did it Pain relieverit was definitely an inspiration for many bands to go faster and heavier.”

Judas Priest, “Painkiller”

Iconic vocalist Rob Halford still considers the title track, a startling showcase of speed and agility, to be one of his favorite Priest tunes. The song tells the story of a shining metal angel sent to avenge humanity from the evils of the world. “I think it’s a wonderful statement. It embodies what metal is – it’s everything a full-on screaming metal track should be,” he told Kerrang! magazine in 2013. “Everybody’s going a million miles an hour on it, and yet the melody still emerges. It has become a very important song for Priest, and also for metal, I think.”

Other tracks, including the chunky, brooding “Hell Patrol” (about American pilots in the first Gulf War), the guitar-blasting “Metal Meltdown”, the charged, melodic “Between the Hammer & the Anvil” and the slower, hook-laden “A Touch of Evil” was instrumental in proving to old fans that the band could smash and maim with wild abandon, then step back and deliver a more deliberate blast of mid-tempo songwriting.

Judas Priest, “A Touch of Evil”

Pain reliever marked the debut of drummer Scott Travis (ex-Racer X), who brought more urgency and flair to the band’s songs than Judas Priest’s previous drummers, perfectly complementing the band’s renewed energy and immediacy. Travis, who has been with the band for 25 years, is Judas Priest’s longest serving drummer.

The group began to write Pain reliever in late 1989 and entered Miraval Studios in Correns, France, with producer Chris Tsangarides (Anvil, Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath) in January 1990. Three months later, the band finished the record at Wisseloord Studios in Hilversum, Holland. Judas Priest would be released Pain reliever as soon as possible so fans could know the songs as the group embarked on summer tours.

However, CBS Records decided to delay the release of the album until the verdict of Vance Vs. The lawsuit against Judas Priest came in. The lawsuit involved two young adults in Reno, Nevada, who made a suicide pact in December. 23, 1985 after receiving “so-called” subliminal messages from the song “Better By You, Better Than Me” on Judas Priest’s 1978 album Stained class. The case was dismissed for lack of evidence on August 24, 1990, and CBS immediately found a slot on their release schedule for Pain reliever.

Judas Priest, “Hell Patrol”

The album entered the Billboard album chart at No. 26 and went gold four months later. To date, Pain reliever has sold over two million copies worldwide. Judas Priest toured the world throughout 1991, but during that time tensions grew between Halford and the rest of the band. The singer wanted to pursue his own brand of thrash-influenced metal with a side project, and his bandmates felt he should devote himself exclusively to Priest, especially since the group appeared to be making a comeback. Distraught, Halford resigned in 1992 via fax and continued his metal career, first with Fight, then with Halford.

Judas Priest took some time off, then returned with new vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens in 1996. Interest in the band waned and the venues they played dwindled. Twelve years after quitting, Halford returned to Judas Priest to play Ozzfest and the band’s career was effectively revived.

Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the author of Raising Hell: Backstage Tales From the Lives of Metal Legendsco-author of Louder Than Hell: Metal’s Definitive Oral Historyas well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthraxand Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, The Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.

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