Hall of Fame Countdown: Judas Priest’s “Painkiller”

No one really saw it coming, but in 1990, Judas Priest cut the crap and released a no-frills metal album that bordered on thrash at times, had—if we may use some food references—minimal cheese or fat and pretty much everyone agreed was a rager.

The album was Painkiller, it ruled then and it rules now, which is why our own Adem Tepedelen inducted it into our Hall of Fame in our January issue. Today, we take a look at each song on the album and rank them from worst to best.

10. Battle Hymn

56 seconds of slow-burn guitar work; it’s cool enough, but where else is it going to go but at the bottom of our list? Works okay in the context of the album, though.

9. One Shot at Glory

The album ends off with one of its weakest tracks, “One Shot at Glory” taking way too long to really get anywhere, although the guitar work is, naturally, great, and the drum performance, naturally, airtight. The players were absolutely on point on this record, and every song is worthy, this one just beats around the bush a bit too long, even if Halford’s Paul-Stanley-meets-The-Chipmunks vox are absurdly awesome.

8. Metal Meltdown

It’s wild how this album is just banger after banger, “Metal Meltdown” a double-bass-led air-siren attack on the senses at the album’s midpoint. The chorus is a touch hokey, and the “metal meltdown” chant at the end only half works, but those verses? Forget it. Pure metal glory. The intro guitar solo would just be stupid elsewhere, but here, Priest, unbelievably, make it work.

7. Between the Hammer and the Anvil

I always sort of want to like this song more than I do, because I just love that title. And while it places relatively low on our list today, there’s certainly nothing wrong with this, the band honing in on everything that worked so well for them at this time, such as killer choruses and a streamlined and focused mid-to-fast tempo that doesn’t try to thrash too hard but also avoids becoming a trad metal trope. Fist-pumping riffs? Of course. Killer Priest melodies? You bet. Simply another life anthem on an album full of ’em? Horns up.

6. Hell Patrol

This wildly dependable and sturdy mid-paced anthem is pretty awesome, if not slightly comfortable, the band settling in and hammering it out, a nice change of pace after the red-hot mania of the opening title track. “Hell Patrol” hits the melodies perfectly, Priest laying down a very enjoyable razor-wire metal slice and dice here.

5. Night Crawler

This song inches higher up the list some days due to its chorus vocal line alone, Halford totally nailing the melodies in a subtle and spooky sense, the guitar solo a rare lesson in restraint on this very unrestrained record, everything here riding the perfect Priest pace to another victory. The riffing in the chorus reminds me of hearing my older brother listen to Priest records in the ’80s, but here delivered with a more modern metallic sensibility. Glorious.

4. All Guns Blazing

Alright, the vocal intro is a bit absurd, but it fits with the go-go-nowgo! attitude that the band was flying loud and proud at this unlikely point in their career, so, sure. Here, the chorus kicks a whole lotta butt, and the verses just fly past in metallic glory, the band settling in the perfect mid-to-fast tempo that they had nailed down incredibly hard at this time, and still do to this day.

3. A Touch of Evil

Yes, it’s a bit of an outlier on the album, “A Touch of Evil”’s slower groove and synth flourishes definitely hinting at an album or two previous to Painkiller, but, man, I love this song. Great verse, and then the chorus takes it up a notch to total glory. And among the album’s full-throttle ragers, it’s great to have this one for a bit of fun breathing room. Works better in the context of the album as opposed to listening on its own, but it’s a hell of a moody banger either way.

2. Leather Rebel

This song takes all of Priest’s old motifs—lyrical and musical—and filters them through the Painkiller-era molten metal with great success: the chorus is huge and memorable, but the attitude is still enormous, the band not getting fluffy at all here on this most shining metallic of tracks. Nowhere near as talked-about as the title track, but it’s right up there for pure Priest perfection.

1. Painkiller

So, to the surprise of absolutely no one, here we have sitting at the top of the pack a total classic metal banger, an anthem for every day of our lives, just total victory set to music. “Painkiller” is heavy but still fun, something that Priest have had a hard time pulling off ever since this album. But, man, turn this one up, from that ridiculously good drum intro to the for-the-ages chorus. “Painkiller” is a classic, a Priest re-energized, and a song that encapsulates all that is great about heavy metal.