It’s the one, I think, that gets overlooked.
For most, Judas Priest is all about ‘British Steel’, ‘Stained Class’, ‘Screaming For Vengeance’ and of course, the big one. ‘Painkiller’.
OK, and maybe that other underrated gem ‘Defenders Of The Faith’ too, if you’re in the know.
But spare a thought for the album that came between two stools, and that gets precious little recognition. The album that didn’t quite know what it was, somehow involved Pete Waterman, and even has some tracks done on a drum machine. 1988’s ‘Ram It Down’.
For me it’s an album that just screams Saturday Night. The reason is that it’s got a good time, big metal vibe that’s sometimes hard, sometimes fun, and always engaging.
A lot of this is about the quality of the choruses on it.
We begin at the beginning though. Priest always did know how to make a statement at the start of their albums, and there can be no doubt that the electrifying title track is as good as ‘Painkiller’, or ‘Hellion / Electric Eye’ as an uproarious opening.
It’s absolutely frantic. Its tempo alone is frenetic, pounding and impossible not to love. It carries you along like nothing else.
It also contains one of the most accomplished, elaborate, fluid and masterly guitar solo trade offs in Priest’s entire, amazing canon. It’s worthy of the greats, with its arpeggiated and multi-string tapping that finishes into a wailing harmonic. From a guitarist’s point of view it’s an almost indescribably brilliant piece of work.
SHOUT IT OUT
One of the things Priest were best at was simply singing about heavy metal itself. The life and the love. On ‘Ram It Down’ they’ve got it nailed, not least on the pumping ‘Heavy Metal’, and ‘Come And Get It’.
The band bring us all together in a rock and roll union with their simple, easy chants that demand a singalong.
I’m not going to pretend I understand the beat that underpins ‘Love Zone’, but it’s yet another track that just swirls in dry ice and big stage lights.
So that’s the fun stuff. The easy stuff. Hell, even the ‘Johnny B Goode’ standard on here isn’t half bad, and went on to become its single.
PREPARE FOR PAIN(KILLER)
In many ways what I think is so interesting about ‘Ram It Down’ is that Priest were at a junction.
This album was reputedly supposed to be a double album of hard rock leaning tracks and some more heavy elements. It eventually got split into what became ‘Turbo’, and this.
That was clearly for the best. Because what I think ‘Ram It Down’ represented was a toughening of Priest’s attitude.They were getting ready to unleash the solid steel ‘Painkiller’ on the world, and this was the bridging album that got them there.
The track that says this best is ‘Hard As Iron’, which must strike anyone listening as a sort of prototype for ‘Leather Rebel’ or more likely ‘One Shot At Glory’.
”Blood Red Skies’ as well is a harder number, hinting at a bit of ‘Nightcrawler’, albeit with that dark synth pumping away. It’s classic 80s dystopia with Halford at his character led best. His vocal take in this track alone is a world beater.
THOUSANDS OF CARS, A MILLION GUITARS
So let’s think about why this album needs more love – or a bit more stature in conversations about Priest’s back catalogue.
It’s a celebration of the heavy metal way of life. It has an anthemic, celebratory quality that brings metallers irresistibly together. And when it wants to, it pounds like they never did before.
Listening to this album, it’s hard not to agree with Rob that no matter what
I’m a rocker – and no-one can take that away.
–Earl Grey ::: 06/07/14