On July 1, 2009 the CD Odyssey officially began with my first review. It was Judas Priest’s “Screaming for Vengeance.” Now, 984 discs later the Odyssey continues to roll, but our journey with Judas Priest is (at least for now) officially at an end.
Disc 984 is…Ram It Down
Artist: Judas Priest
Year of Release: 1988
What’s up with the Cover? This is one of my favourite album covers so far. A vengeful god rams it down on an unfortunate planet. Don’t worry, though, the planet being bashed is not earth – there’s too much orange.
How I Came To Know It: I knew this album briefly as a kid, but in 1988 I was already transitioning from metal to folk, and I didn’t pay it much attention. I only bought it about five years ago when I was fleshing out my Judas Priest collection.
How It Stacks Up: I have twelve Judas Priest albums. Of those twelve, it is at the top…of the bottom half, so seventh. Since I’ve now reviewed all my Judas Priest albums, here’s the full recap:
- British Steel: 5 stars (reviewed at Disc 272)
- Defenders of the Faith: 5 stars (reviewed at Disc 35)
- Killing Machine: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 261)
- Screaming for Vengeance: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 1)
- Rocka Rolla: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 41)
- Sad Wings of Destiny: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 461)
- Ram It Down: 3 stars (reviewed right here)
- Turbo: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 471)
- Stained Class: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 195)
- Sin After Sin: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 319)
- Point of Entry: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 424)
- Nostradamus: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 594)
Ratings: 3 stars
After the synthesizer-fueled fun of 1986’s “Turbo,” Judas Priest seemed determined to re-establish their heavy metal cred on “Ram It Down.” From the pounding blue fist on the cover through the blistering guitar riffs that seem to suffuse and dominate every song, “Ram It Down” is an album that follows its own advice.
The songs on the album feature everything you’ve come to know and love about 1980s Judas Priest: visceral energy and anthems that encourage you to raise your fist and cheer on the metal revolution. In short, it is good, honest, semi-clean fun.
That this album doesn’t achieve the same level of greatness as classics like “British Steel” or “Defenders of the Faith” is not a slight, so much as a recognition of how great those records are.
The record opens with the title track and quickly signals that Priest is ready to pound out some heavy metal. The song boasts “Thousands of cars and a million guitars/Screaming with power in the air” and sets a clear tone; everything on this album will be big, bold and loud. Rob Halford isn’t called on to do anything spectacular, but he sings with his usual power; one of the few voices that can hold its own against not one - but two - lead guitars.
The album’s style heavily recalls “Defenders of the Faith” with many of the songs having similar pounding beats and the same solid mix of speed riffs and rising anthems. The songs aren’t consistently as good, nor are the melodies as interesting, but they’re solid.
The best anthem on the record is “I’m a Rocker” which is an unabashed celebration of the band’s years on the road. No subterfuge here; they are rockers and they have spent their lives…rocking. It’s a song that proves you don’t have to overthink what makes a good song. Just rock out, and tell the world about it.
At the other end of the spectrum is the almost eight minute epic “Blood Red Skies.” The song has a slow build, starting with a power ballad that grows into a rising crescendo of rock and a chorus that is gloriously triumphant. This song made me think about what it must feel like to be a gladiator, standing victorious in the Roman Colosseum, soaking in the adulation of the fans. No, the song isn’t about that but it evokes that feeling. Also, I just watched a bunch of documentaries on ancient Rome, so give me a break.
“Ram It Down” also features a cover of “Johnny B. Goode”. This song has been done by so many artists over the decades, but my favourite has always been this one. It is powerful and ballsy, infusing eighties metal power chords into a song that is tough enough to take it and then some. It is a worthy tribute to Chuck Berry in the week of his death. Rest in peace, Mr. Berry, and thanks again for rock and roll. We still like it.
This particular edition of the CD has two live bonus tracks tagged onto the end that I could live without. Both “Night Comes Down” (from Defenders of the Faith) and “Bloodstone” (from Screaming for Vengeance) are good songs, but I’ve got them on their original albums already. Tagged on the end here they are awkward and make the record feel a bit too long.
Despite this and the fact that there are better albums in the Judas Priest discography, “Ram It Down” is a solid entry in the band’s career. There are no bad songs and plenty that are genuine head thrashers. It is well worth adding to your collection if you’re looking to expand your Judas Priest collection.
Best tracks: Ram It Down, Blood Red Skies, I’m a Rocker, Johhny B. Goode