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Judas Priest: Firepower 2018 NORTH AMERICAN TOUR, Saxon (Official), Black Star Riders
Judas Priest is a pioneering British Heavy Metal band and was a forerunner in the ‘New Wave of British Heavy Metal’ movement, laying the groundwork for the speed and thrash metal of the ’80s and ’90s with numerous classic albums.
The band was formed in Birmingham, England in 1969 by guitarist John Perry (who died shortly after and was replaced by Earnest Chataway), bassist Bruno Stapenhill, drummer John Partridge, and singer Alan Atkins, who created a band name from Bob Dylan's song 'The Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest'. In 1970, guitarist Kenneth K. K. Downing and bassist Ian Hill (2) joined, replacing Chataway and Stapenhill. Later, in 1972, Rob Halford and drummer John Hinch joined to replace Atkins and Partridge, respectively. A second guitarist, Glenn Tipton, was also added to the line-up in 1974 as compensation for its record company’s (Gull Records) suggestion to add a horn section to the first album, Rocka Rolla.
The band featuring Halford, Downing, Tipton and Hill would go on to record 14 albums from 1974 through to 1990. Priest went through a considerable amount of drummers between its formation and 1980 when Trapeze drummer Dave Holland joined and stayed until 1988’s Ram It Down. In early 1990 Racer X drummer Scott Travis joined the band and recording began on its Painkiller album. In mid 1990 the band was taken to court over the attempted suicide of two young boys in Reno, allegedly driven by subliminal messages on its Stained Class album. The case was eventually thrown out of court and in September 1990, Painkiller was released.
Halford left the group in 1993 to pursue a solo career but the band was determined to find a suitable replacement vocalist. Tim «Ripper» Owens, an Ohioan tribute band singer was chosen after a lengthy auditioning process and the band recorded 4 albums (2 studio, 2 live) with Owens.
In 2003, Judas Priest’s 1990 line-up was restored when Rob Halford returned to the group after rekindling the relationship during work on Judas Priest’s 4-CD career retrospective “Metalogy.” In 2004 the band played Ozzfest and released a CD of new studio material entitled Angel of Retribution and an accompanying live DVD in 2005, enjoying a successful world tour that year. This was followed by the 2CD concept album Nostradamus in 2008 and the release of its fifth live album in 2009.
Saxon have never dealt in half-truths or incomplete missions.
With Sacrifice they filled your heads with heavy metal thunder, and now Saxon want nothing more than to crush them with their very own, hand-crafted, not-safe-for-children brand new album, Battering Ram. Not. A. Problem.
With Biff Byford singing as well as he ever has, Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt making full use of the term ‘shredding’ with their guitars and the lock-steady rhythm of Nibbs Carter’s bass and Nigel Glockler’s drums, the future and the past crash together in an ear-scintillatingly engaging, raucous, melodic-yet-classically heavy ten songs collection which will instantly be hailed as a Saxon classic. The title track, with its delectable twin guitar assault heralding the album’s commencement, gives the listener an instant crack around the chops, whilst traditionalists will be delighted to hear such a perfect marriage of old, classic Saxon with the newer, fresher invective in such riff-fronted fare as “Destroyer” and “Stand Your Ground”, but there are still moments of space and exploration which fans will love.
“This one’s a natural progression from Sacrifice,” says Byford, “There’s a bit less rock’n’roll and a bit more ‘heavy’ on it. We wanted to keep focused on a style rather than moving around too much.”
Produced by Andy Sneap (Megadeth, Testament, Exodus Accept) at his Backstage Recording Studios in rural Derbyshire, Saxon were able to hone in and whittle down any excess, finding the sonic space and balance to let Battering Ram’s riffs and melodies get the necessary space to scream front and center, Sneap bringing a crispness to the sound which evokes memories of the early ‘80s without for one moment sounding dated. “Yes, Andy has been in charge of everything with this album, I keep on overview of it all, but he’s done a great job and we’re both pleased with the results. We have a great partnership.”
Lyrically, Battering Ram covers a variety of social situations, like the screaming fans who rage at the gig barriers (“Battering Ram”) or engaging in some good old fashioned myth (“The Devil’s Footprint” — a 200 year old tale of people waking up in winter snowfall to see unexplained hoof prints which they followed, looking for an answer in vain).
“When I’m writing lyrics I like to switch back and forth between complex things, reality and rock’n’roll,” says Byford, “I thought the whole folklore behind “The Devil’s Footprint” made it great material for a metal song, being that it’s both historic and mythical.
“With “Queen of Hearts” I wanted to write something around Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland, and it’s about the chess game that happens in the story. I wanted it to have prog-feeling in the way of its ambiance and mood. Then you have songs like “Destroyer” and “Hard and Fast” which are ‘80s inspired songs with that modern slant on it. I’m a big fan of Marvel comics, and I wanted to write a song around the character Destroyer, and with “Hard and Fast” it’s as the title suggests, about driving fast! I do like to tie the lyric into the song, so if it’s going to be a song about driving fast, well, it has to be a fast, hard song!”
There is also the album’s closing cut, haunting, gripping, melancholic tale of the First World War, “The Kingdom of The Cross”, where a poem unfurls the feelings and horrors which comprised this most brutal of global conflicts. “This year is the centenary of the end of the First World War. Nigel had a piece of music which he played on a synthesizer for a couple of years that I really liked. We had an actor (and singer), David Bower from the band Hell, read the poem and I sang the choruses. I didn’t want it to be typical Saxon, so it is just keyboards, bass, me and Dave.”
Wonderfully uncompromising, with Battering Ram Saxon have once again established their rightly-venerated credentials as Kings and vanguards of heavy metal music.
Black Star Ryders
Black Star Riders are back in the saddle again.
On 23 February 2015, the band’s second album, The Killer Instinct, is released via Nuclear Blast. Produced by Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Rush, Mastodon, Alice In Chains), The Killer Instinct is hard rock in the classic tradition. And as guitarist Scott Gorham says: “We’re so confident about this album. It’s a step up in the evolution of Black Star Riders.”
It was in 2012 that Black Star Riders was formed by four members of Thin Lizzy – Gorham, lead vocalist/guitarist Ricky Warwick, co-lead guitarist Damon Johnson and bassist Marco Mendoza – plus former Megadeth and Alice Cooper drummer Jimmy DeGrasso. The band’s debut album All Hell Breaks Loose was released in 2013, and drew widespread acclaim in Classic Rock, MOJO, Metal Hammer and Kerrang!
But now, with The Killer Instinct, Black Star Riders have taken it up another notch. “We’ve gone to the next level with this record,” Ricky Warwick says. “It’s the album that really defines Black Star Riders.” And Damon Johnson is equally emphatic. “This is the band I’ve dreamed about being in all my life,” he says. “A lean, mean, dirty rock’n’roll band. And I really feel that this is a great album – a huge step in the progression of this band.”
The Killer Instinct represents a coming of age for Black Star Riders. As Warwick explains, the band had a different mindset going into this album. “When we started writing for All Hell Breaks Loose, we still weren’t sure if it was going to be a Thin Lizzy album,” he says. “This time, we didn’t have that pressure. We knew we were making a Black Star Riders album, and on a creative level, that opened more doors for us.”
Thin Lizzy is in the DNA of Black Star Riders. That much is undeniable: and for Scott Gorham, especially so. When Thin Lizzy rose to fame in the 1970s, led by legendary frontman Phil Lynott, it was Gorham – alongside Brian Robertson and Gary Moore – who defined the band’s trademark twin-lead guitar sound on landmark albums such as Jailbreak, Bad Reputation, Black Rose and Live And Dangerous. And in Black Star Riders – in the partnership between Gorham and Damon Johnson – a part of that sound lives on. “That mystical, legendary twin-guitar thing,” as Johnson calls it.
But as Warwick says: “We know who we are. We want to move forward and find our own way, our own sound. It’s important to us to retain the spirit and the soul of Thin Lizzy. We’ll always have that because Scott’s in the band. But we’ve got a lot of shows under our belts as Black Star Riders, and that’s helped gel the band.”
Gorham puts it very simply: “Black Star Riders is its own thing. You just have to power ahead and write what you write and not have to think about history.”
Gorham credits Nick Raskulinecz as a key figure in the creation of this new album. “Nick had so many great ideas – he became the sixth member of the band.” In addition, he says that new bassist Robert Crane has fitted in seamlessly as the perfect replacement for Marco Mendoza. “Robert just nailed it straight off the bat.” And with this team in place, the goal for Black Star Riders was simple. “We wanted this to be a better record than the first one,” Gorham says. “And it is – there’s no doubt about that.”
The Killer Instinct was recorded at Rock Falcon, the studio in Nashville, Tennessee, owned by Nick Raskulinecz. The whole album was cut in 21 days, but after All Hell Breaks Loose was done in just 12 days, that extra time proved beneficial. “But with this album,” Gorham explains, “we could do a basic track, sit back, think about it, work on additional parts, and then lay ’em in there.”
The results speak for themselves. “This album,” Gorham says, “has more depth.” Damon Johnson concurs. “We had more time, had a blast making it, and you can hear it. It’s not just the groove in the music – it’s the groove in the writing, in playing together as a band.”
Johnson and Warwick are the primary songwriters in Black Star Riders and have been since day one. “When it comes to writing, Ricky and I do the heavy lifting,” he says. “But Scott is the foundation of this band. This thing doesn’t happen without Scott Gorham.”
Johnson cites the song Soldierstown as an example of the kind of “monster riff” that Gorham brings to this album. “It’s very grand in its scope,” he says. “It has the feel of some of those classic Thin Lizzy songs – Black Rose and Emerald.”
Soldierstown is also an example of the depth that Ricky Warwick brings to Black Star Riders in his lyrics. The subject of this song is terrorism – for the Northern Ireland-born singer, a subject of profound personal significance. Warwick says: “The scenario in Soldierstown is one that has happened so many times in history, and it still happens now. Terrorists come to a house and say: ‘Give up your strongest son, he has to go and fight.’ There’s that expression: you lose a finger to save a hand.”
There are other songs on the album that Warwick describes as “storytelling” – such as Charlie I Gotta Go, its title a reference to Charles Manson. But much of what he writes is drawn from his own life. “I got a little more personal on this record,” he says. And this is most powerfully illustrated in a song that is destined to become a Black Star Riders classic: Finest Hour. “It’s about my first girlfriend,” he says. “We were living in Glasgow, we were sixteen, into music, and we’d go to gigs at Barrowlands. That song is me reaching out to her and saying: they were good times, I hope you remember them, and I hope you’re okay.”
For Warwick, the beauty of Finest Hour is in its simplicity. “There are only three chords in that song,” he says. “The best songs are like that.” And the emotive quality in it is echoed in what Johnson describes as this album’s most leftfield track, Blindsided. “It’s an epic song,” Johnson says, “with an epic Ricky Warwick lyric. And that beautiful guitar figure is Ricky’s. It gets me like Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd or Tuesday’s Gone by Lynyrd Skynyrd. It’s one of those classic guitar statements.”
In fact, the album as a whole is a defining statement. Above all else, The Killer Instinct proves that Black Star Riders is a classic rock band in its own right.
“We’ve come a long way in two years,” Gorham says. “And you’ve got to feel good about that. I trust these guys with my life. We’re like brothers, and that’s a big thing in a band. When you have that trust in each other, that’s when you’ve got a fucking great combination.”
With The Killer Instinct, Black Star Riders have truly arrived. “There’s something really special about this band,” Gorham says. “And it has the potential to keep on evolving. We’ve made a great record – and I still think there’s more to come.”