Judas Priest – Jugulator (1997)
Jugulator is the sound of consistency. One of my beefs with the album before this (Painkiller) was that it was ridden with filler that didn’t really live up to the promise that the title track gave us. On the other hand, this is a fairly dramatic stylistic change for Priest – it’s a ‘groove metal’ album that probably would be more at home in 1994, and it’s not that far off from what Rob Halford did with his first post-Priest band (Fight). Most people note Tim Owens taking over for vocals and place the weight of change on his shoulders, but I’m told the musical changes on this album were actually ushered in by the guitarists of all people.
Regardless, this is obviously slower and downtuned compared to the entirety of Priest’s discography before it. Tim Owens sounds very similar to Halford in his high register, but otherwise he relies more on modern hardcore influenced shouts. The riffs are also rather different from on Painkiller – not particularly melodic but not particularly percussive either; at times they remind me of a less mechanical and aggressive take on what Fear Factory did on Demanufacture. Given that this album also uses occasional synthesizers in the background for emphasis, it seems like a reasonable comparison. Meanwhile, the drummer introduced on Painkiller (Scott Travis) puts in another solid performance, even adding an occasional blastbeat; while his performance isn’t as technical here, it does add some needed dynamics and textural variation to the album.
What Jugulator ends up being is an entirely derivative product putting even recently-reviewed Darkane to shame. However, any lack of aesthetic creativity is negated by the fact that by 1997, Judas Priest had been around for over 20 years, and its main core had gained massive amounts of experience with their chosen genre. While this didn’t prevent them from the occasional misstep (like the snoozefest that is “Decapitate”), it did mean they’d developed respectable pop sensibilities and could handle basic songwriting formulas enough to get good results out of their new aesthetic. Perhaps there was more conservatism in the air than usual; combined with a less theatrical aesthetic, many of the potential lows here were avoided. Ironically, the album’s best moment may come in its oldest inspirations; while Priest had occasionally brought out an extended song after Stained Class (their last album to have any real prog rock influence), “Cathedral Spires” neatly ties together many of the ideas this incarnation of Priest worked with in a 9 minute package.
In retrospect, the fact that this didn’t have anything as painfully bad as “A Touch Of Evil” was a major attractant, and the album is worth at least a few spins for its better tracks. I don’t think most would say it’s as good as Priest’s ‘classic’ albums; it does lack some of the pure creativity that makes ’70s Priest interesting by virtue of playing it safe. Then again, if you approach Judas Priest in a similar way to me and don’t like this album, you probably won’t get much out of Painkiller either.
Highlights: “Dead Meat”, “Death Row”, “Burn in Hell”, “Cathedral Spires”