I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.
"The Broken Law: A Tribute to Judas Priest"
Redline Records (UK), 2012
(Originally released as Hell Bent Forever: A Tribute to Judas Priest by Deadline/Cleopatra Records, 2008)
14 tracks, 55:58
In the early 2000s, the L.A.-based indie label Deadline Records (an imprint of pioneering punk/electronic label Cleopatra Records) did pretty brisk business with a series of low-budget "tribute albums" devoted to '70s and '80s rockers like Def Leppard, Aerosmith, Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper, and many more. All of these albums tended to pull from the same talent pool of out-of-work L.A. hair-metal dudes, with an occasional slumming rock legend for variety's sake, and the quality varied greatly depending on which album you listened to.
Deadline tribute discs like Leppardmania: A Tribute to Def Leppard, Covered Like a Hurricane: A Tribute to Scorpions and Bat Head Soup: A Tribute to Ozzy were regular sights in record store used bins during the 2010s, and though I don't have a complete collection of the CDs, I will admit to owning an embarrassing number of them.
One entry in the series that I wasn't aware of till fairly recently was Hell Bent Forever: A Tribute to Judas Priest, originally released in 2005. Judas Priest is one of my all-time favorite bands, so of course I had to add it to my collection.
While scrounging around my favorite online CD vendors looking for the disc, I discovered that Hell Bent... had been re-issued by the U.K.'s Redline Records in 2012 with a new title (The Broken Law) and a re-ordered track listing, and it was actually cheaper than the original Hell Bent version. Sold!
Motörhead, "Breaking the Law"
The Broken Law kicks off nicely with the late, great Lemmy leading Motörhead through a high octane cover of British Steel's "Breaking the Law." I was already familiar with this track due to its inclusion on Motörhead's posthumous Under Cöver compilation album, but Lemmy rules and it's a nice, rattling rendition.
Next up are the sleaze metal mavens of L.A. Guns, who might seem like an odd band to cover "Living After Midnight," but Phil Lewis' vocal swagger fits this Priest classic better than expected and the band nails the musical end.
However, Mötley Crüe's Vince Neil, who's never been known for his vocal prowess, is clearly out of his element on "Desert Plains" (from 1981's Point of Entry), especially when he tries to hit the high notes, but the song is a deep cut favorite of mine that doesn't get nearly enough love, so I'll give ol' Vince a pass.
I had higher hopes for "Devil's Child" by Texas' Broken Teeth (who feature one-time Dangerous Toys vocalist Jason McMaster within their ranks) but the result was disappointing. McMaster's old-school metal snarl is definitely up for the challenge of aping the great Rob Halford, but the tinny, el-cheapo recording, which sounds like a demo by an inexperienced band, brings the entire thing down. .
Things pick up again as Fozzy, the metal band fronted by professional wrestler and metal fanboy Chris Jericho, turns in a legit take on British Steel's "Metal Gods," and Great White's reverent version of "Diamonds and Rust" is the biggest surprise of the album up to this point. So far, so good.
Great White, "Diamonds and Rust"
Things get a little wobbly in the album's second half, as the late Jani Lane delivers a workmanlike performance on "Electric Eye," followed by the Angel City Outlaws' run through "Heading Out to the Highway." I'm not familiar with the Outlaws but apparently they were a short lived "supergroup" featuring former members of Ratt (drummer Bobby Blotzer) and Motley Crue (vocalist John Corabi). "Highway" happens to be a personal favorite of mine because it was the first Judas Priest song I heard as a lad, and these guys do it justice.
Unfortunately I can't say the same for the Sin City All-Stars, who apparently have some connection to Faster Pussycat via guitarist Brent Muscat. They completely botch the cover of "Turbo Lover," which honestly was never a particularly great Priest song in the first place.
Jani Lane's former band Warrant also makes an appearance, with an entertaining rip through "Hellbent For Leather," but the CD's chintzy liner notes don't identify who was Warrant's front man on this track—is it Jamie St. James of Black N' Blue (who briefly replaced Lane in Warrant for one album), or Robert Mason (ex Lynch Mob), the band's current vocalist? The more I listen, the more I think it's St. James, but I'm still not 100 percent sure.
Firehouse's take on "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" is surprisingly heavy, considering those guys are best known for syrupy ballads, and then late '90s Priest front man Tim "Ripper" Owens pops in to roar his way through "Exciter," one of the heaviest tracks on this compilation. Of course, Tim over-sings it, just like he does with just everything I've heard him on since his exit from Priest.
I'm not sure how many people besides me remember Pennsylvania-based true metallers Icarus Witch, but their take on "The Ripper" is, unsurprisingly, respectful and full of piss and vinegar.
Finally, Brazil's Sepultura caps off the proceedings with a brutal—and damn near unrecognizable—cover of "Screaming For Vengeance," which apparently first appeared as a bonus track on the Japanese edition of their 2006 album, Dante XXI. Guitarist Andreas Kisser shreds all over this cover, but Derrick Green's guttural, hardcore vocal delivery makes this song stick out like a turd on a birthday cake, given the hair-metal slant of the rest of the album. I doubt that many Firehouse or Warrant fans checked out Sepultura after hearing this track, or vice versa.
Fozzy, "Metal Gods"
Summing It Up
As I expected, The Broken Law turned out to be a mixed bag of covers, some better than others. Fortunately the "good" covers outnumbered the "bad." Fans of any of the participating artists and Priest fans in general should find some entertaining moments within the grooves of The Broken Law.
© 2021 Keith Abt