I've been collecting hard rock and heavy metal CDs since the late '80s.
Judas Priest, "Demolition"
Release Year: 2001
Label: Atlantic Records (USA), SPV (Europe)
13 Tracks, Run Time: 70:50
When Judas Priest released Jugulator in 1997, it looked like they'd pulled off the impossible task of replacing their iconic front man, Rob "The Metal God" Halford.
After a five year search for a new singer, Priest had plucked American vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens from the Ohio-based JP tribute band British Steel, and his dynamic performance on Jugulator quickly silenced nay-sayers who said there could be no Priest without Rob. Jugulator sold more than 100,000 copies worldwide and was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Metal performance (for the track "Burn In Hell") in 1998. Judas Priest was back, and more bad-ass than ever, thanks to the new, younger blood in the machine.
...which made it all the more puzzling when their second studio album with Owens at the helm, Demolition, landed with a resounding "thud" in 2001.
Behind the Scenes
Jugulator may have been a quiet success, but the band seemed unsure of how to follow it up. In his memoir Heavy Duty: Days and Nights With Judas Priest, guitarist K.K. Downing admits that he and fellow six stringer Glenn Tipton had become increasingly estranged during the band's five-year layoff, and the lingering resentments he felt returned while the band was on the road for Jugulator. As a result, K.K. took a reduced role in the writing and production of Demolition. Downing is only credited with writing on four of Demolition's thirteen tracks, and in Heavy Duty, he says he mostly "went through the motions" during this period, and that deep down he "knew that it probably wasn't going anywhere."
This behind-the-scenes turmoil might explain why the Priest went from the finely-tuned, fangs-bared, spine-ripping metal machine of Jugulator to the tired sounding combo heard on Demolition in just four years.
Demolition kicks off well enough with the motorcycle-themed "Machine Man," which is not a great song, but at least it's a the type of straight-ahead metal number that listeners would expect from Judas Priest. When I first heard it back in 2001, I remember thinking that if this was the best opening song they could come up with, I might be in for a rough ride... and I was right.
After that shaky start, Demolition turns into a mixed bag, with Priest seemingly trying their hand at every then-current metal trend, from uninspired groove (see: "One On One," "Feed On Me," "Devil Digger"), grungy ballads ("In Between" and "Close To You"), chugging industrial aggro-metal ("Subterfuge" and the absolutely god-awful "Cyberface," the single worst song the band has ever recorded) and even rap-metal (the closing "Metal Messiah," which actually has a nice chunk to it, believe it or not). Aside from the aforementioned "Machine Man," the only songs that sound like traditional Priest are the middling "Jekyll & Hyde" and the ripping "Bloodsuckers," a Painkiller-esque barn burner whose lyrics were apparently inspired by the 1990 trial in which Priest were charged with causing the deaths of two fans by placing "subliminal messages" in their music.
All in all, it seemed like the Priest were trying to cast their musical net as wide as possible, hoping to snag as many fans as they could from the various metal sub-genres. The result was a confused mess that appealed to no one. I've been a Judas Priest fan since 1981 and I used to think that 1986's pop-metal experiment Turbo was their worst album. However, it only took a few spins of Demolition to declare, "We have a new champion!"
Reviewers at the time mostly blamed Demolition's schizophrenic nature on Tim Owens, but in his defense, he didn't write any of the songs. I'll give credit where it's due and say that Owens does his best to elevate a mostly-bad batch of material, but honestly, aside from a couple of tracks I doubt that even Rob Halford could've saved this album.
Demolition barely scraped the lower rungs of the Billboard album charts upon its release in July 2001, registering at an anemic #165 (by comparison, Jugulator peaked at #82). A tour to promote the album was delayed until early 2002 due to the 9/11 attacks, and when it finally commenced the Priest found themselves playing to small crowds in even smaller venues. Clearly, the writing was on the wall.
In 2003, Judas Priest announced that they were reuniting with Rob Halford. Tim Owens went on to perform on two albums by American power-metal kingpins Iced Earth and he has been an in-demand journeyman vocalist ever since, appearing on albums by Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force, Tourniquet, Beyond Fear, Charred Walls of the Damned, and Spirits of Fire (to name just a few).
Tim Owens summed up his Priest experience to Metal Maniacs magazine by saying, "Rob needed Priest, Priest needed Rob, and I needed to do something else."
© 2020 Keith Abt