How Judas Priest Revitalized Their Career With ‘Painkiller’
Judas Priest radically transformed their sound with the unexpectedly devastating Painkiller. The album arrived on Sept. 3, 1990, reinvigorating their career trajectory virtually overnight, while simultaneously silencing everyone who’d bet against them. Painkiller was a statement record, and it’s no coincidence that it surfaced from various musical and personal crises within the Priest camp.
From a personal standpoint, the band had been forced to sit on their completed album for several months while contending with a traumatizing civil lawsuit brought against them by the parents of two troubled teenagers who’d embarked on a suicide pact — inspired, as the parents alleged, by lyrics from Priest’s 1978 LP, Stained Class. By the time the charges were thrown out, the band was understandably ready to get back to business, but that would require wiping clean some missteps taken in recent years.
It started with 1986’s polarizing Turbo, where Judas Priest had made a calculated decision to play the pop-metal game and see how far they could take it. They eventually returned to more familiar and a much heavier sound for 1988’s Ram It Down, but as the ‘90s arrived, the band realized it had two options: continue courting the mainstream metal audience or prove that they were still leaders, not followers.
Energized by a new drummer, former Racer X member Scott Travis (who replaced the “physically unable to perform” Dave Holland), Judas Priest unleashed new songs like “All Guns Blazing,” “Leather Rebel,” “Metal Meltdown” and the title track -- all of which brought thrash's twin kick-drum velocity to the band's melodic metal mastery. It was all given a refreshing reboot by the radio-ready “A Touch of Evil,” the aptly titled “Between the Hammer & the Anvil” and the colossal monster mash of “Night Crawler.”
The reception was just as colossal, as fans and metal critics were knocked out by Priest’s renewed power. They soon headed out on a world tour that ranks among their most successful and gratifying. What’s more, the group had shown remarkable prescience in choosing an uncompromising musical direction, which would help it navigate the troubled waters that would overwhelm the music industry like a tsunami, driven by the gale force winds of Hurricane Grunge.
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