In the early 2005 expectations for the first Judas Priest album by the definite line-up in nearly 15 years were sky high. In many regards meeting those was simply impossible since the band had never stuck to one formula before, one man’s meat was one man’s bad luck and so forth. What Priest did with “Angel Of Retribution” was something most people were too short sighted to expect – they created an album that was simply Judas Priest. Sure, the album drew heavily from group’s past, took credits right from 1970’s masterpieces “Sad Wings Of Destiny” and “Stained Class,” infused tasteful melodies of “Defenders Of The Faith,” furious speed of “Painkiller” and dark sounds of “Jugulator.” And still it sounded not quite like anything Priest had done before, it was just the band as they were meant to be. Sound confusing? Listen to the album (if you haven’t already) and it all becomes very clear.
During it’s first eight songs, the album displayed such variety of emotions a listener could only sit back and await with bated breath what would happen next. Thus we arrive to the topic at hand. Priest closed the album with a 3-minute “Eulogy” and a 13-minute “Lochness” – the longest number the band had ever laid down on tape. It was also somewhat misunderstood right from the beginning, yet ultimately it was carrying on in the grand tradition of Priest epics. We’ll come back to that later but first let us take a dive into the opening sounds of “Lochness.”
First off there’s the short piece titled “Eulogy.” While the subject matter on this song seems to be different, musically it fits in well with following track. Melodies are excellent here, this song could have been a great thing on its own but maybe its magic would be lost then. Who knows. It’s been a while since we have heard piano on a Judas Priest song, but it works. Keyboard dominates the proceedings until piano takes more active role from 1-minute mark onwards. The atmosphere on this 3-minute number is haunting, Rob sings it close to his 1970’s “Sad Wings Of Destiny/Sin After Sin” style and almost sounds like that throughout, deepness of course has come to his voice since those early days and paints a more melancholic, eerie picture.
After “Eulogy” fades out “Lochness” begins slowly – the feeling here is moody, almost doom-like. The song seems to born right out of “Eulogy,” just by closing the eyes one can imagine the fog drifting across the lakes, swamps and hills of Scottish countryside. Yet a dark figure is clearly present. Guitars – one strumming the rhythm, one wailing higher in the background, slightly lower in the mix – work together here building up tension. It perfectly conjures up images of misty lake with guitar piercing through the air. The silence is shattered at 1:11. The opening distorted guitar riff is a throw-back to the “Jugulator” – album and works well in this context ripping apart the image of a frozen, peaceful lake. Perhaps that was the intention, after all this is a song about a monster. The drums kick in at 1:40, instantly a listener can notice the heavy bottom end in this song. Ian’s bass is more upfront which adds to the heaviness and overall darkness. Guitars also sound really good here and notice the effect of a monster growling underneath at 1:48 and again 15 seconds later, classic stuff! After a short drum fill we move to a verse rhythm part. Rob’s singing and vocal melodies remain in lower desolate registers and again it is enhanced by an effect at “with eyes coals of fire,” the “fire” repeated in low whisper. There’s plenty going on throughout the song, some lead guitar work follows almost immediately after the whisper and Rob does the rolled “r” at 3:27, his British trademark not heard in a while. He follows it with a doubled high scream (the first in the song) and music moves slightly to a higher gear.
The bridge is great and I love the chorus, it’s sad and mournful, almost like this beast has eaten the whole village and there’s nothing left to do but to accept defeat – of course no evidence points to Nessie actually consuming any humans at any point in history. Rob’s higher voice on “monstrosity” part is simply great! Note Scott’s excellent drum fills leading up to chorus, they might not seem that important at first but listen carefully and they always mark the switch of gears in music and work essentially as part of the whole palette.
The first riff takes over after chorus, this part reminds me of Black Sabbath during their finest hour. More guitar work in the background during the second verse and “impassioned in the skirl” part sees Rob going lower than before in the song. Second time around the bridge has even more impact with repeated “mystery” and “empathy.” On to chorus again, it is interesting to notice how Halford emphasises the words just a tad differently each time.
More Sabbath-like riffs are thrown in after the chorus, before guitar solo begins from 6:55 onwards. Glenn plays a ripping lead, which lasts well over a minute with both guitarists joining together for harmonies towards the end. As with countless other Priest songs, the background during the solo is just as important as the lead work itself. This time around Scott really pounds the drums adding the extra heaviness, note the “Painkiller”-styled notes by Glenn at 7:30 while Scott switches the double bass on. Brutal and effective. Harmony part 10 seconds later returns the song to a more melodic track, one pictures a majestic creature swimming beneath the waves before the main riff reappears followed by the opening “Jugulator”- sounding guitar theme. Silent part begins as guitars wind down, echoing around the speakers and images of lake are again easy to capture. This guitar melody is beautiful, haunting, it feels like one could make a movie out of these parts. If ever there is a film made by the Loch Ness monster, then this track certainly has merits to be included – and not just because of the obvious subject matter. The music creates such a rich visual tapestry, the story is relatively easy to capture before your eyes.
In the quiet section, Rob’s very silent singing gaps the “Sad Wings Of Destiny” and “Sin After Sin” era. He repeats each of the four lines twice and on the last one “your secret lies safe with me” the volume rises and the final “me” is left echoing alone as guitars smoothly fade out from underneath. There is a 2 second complete stop in the music, just enough for a listener to gasp a quick breath of air until the bridge kicks in seemingly a notch heavier than before. The final choruses are great to hear again, it seems there’s at least 3 or 4 Rob lead vocal tracks doubled here. Keyboard is also present here and pay attention to Scott’s drumming while Rob raises his voice to a crescendo during the “on and on and on” – part (10:51- 10:58). This is classic Judas Priest – three instruments, voice and drums and now noticeably keyboard moving up for just a short while. The whole melody remains unchanged but one instantly hears it more powerfully, more gracefully and is almost forced to sing along! Again minor changes in delivery by Rob and few extra drum fills (11:23 is a good example) complete it in style.
The guitar riffs deliver one more cycle and K.K.’s solo begins at 11:56, circling between the speakers following his trademark style. From 12:33 onwards we get cool 1970’s influenced lead work and whammy bar action, rhythm section displaying remarkable tightness underneath. The song and the album fades away after a 13-minute mark has been reached. The silence which follows is haunting. There is literally nothing more to say, immediate reaction to many might have been an amazement but in fact this was exactly the right way to end the album. Some are still trying to get the point, but that has always been the beauty of Judas Priest’s music. The scales and scopes, and just enough room between them to make your own assumptions. One can find traces of seventies era Priest right back to “Sad Wings Of Destiny” here, plus like said it contains “Jugulator” – guitar sounds as well so in many ways it brings together the early and later days of the band.
Rumours of a huge animal living in the loch have existed for centuries. The earliest known reference can be traced back to 7th century when an attack was reported. More recently the infamous Loch Ness-monster – or more affectionately known as Nessie – was first discovered in 1933 sparking off a new modern interest. Sightings continued through the next 30 years, both in the land and in the water. No trustworthy photographs or film portraying the monster have ever been released to the public. The most famous photo later titled as “The Surgeon’s photo” was revealed to be a hoax over 10 years ago. However, video footage continues to appear and so far during 2007 two more films have been released claiming to feature the Loch Ness monster. There is even an official web site dedicated in finding the truth about the creature possibly roaming the deep waters of the lake. During the summer of 2007 there was a one million pound reward offered to anyone who could provide conclusive evidence of Nessie’s existence to the London’s Natural History Museum. Odds are 250-1 against such evidence showing up. However it continues to prove the fascination people still have for the unknown.
We could write a whole essay on the Loch Ness dragon, but let’s not get sidetracked here. It’s time to explore Judas Priest’s tale of the legend. The seeds of the song were reportedly sown a long time ago as Priest were touring around the area, camping outside the Loch one night. The surroundings inspired Rob to write down few words that years later formed the basis of the track. Thus in the composition, the Loch Ness and the mystery it contains are treated with appropriate grace and respect. The main character in the song is obviously aware of the lake’s power and swears to retain its legacy for generations to come. The opening verse creates the image: grey mist, mirrored surface moving followed by a legend’s appearance. During second verse it rises from the surface “with eyes set coals of fire.”
In the chorus the character is speaking to the lake itself, and throughout this part you get the impression that Loch Ness is a living, breathing entity containing the secret of the monster. In the second verse we get deeper into the mystique surrounding the creature, the fact that it has become a myth, a legend which is talked about “on and on and on.”
From halfway through the character senses the creature does not want to be discovered and swears: “Your secret lies safe with me.” This is again imploring that the witness has indeed seen something but to prevail the mystery is vowing to keep silent. This is furthermore referred later in the final lines “A legacy to rest in peace.”
But indeed if the creature is harmless then why the chorus states it to be “Terror of the deep”? Perhaps the true terror is the fear of man and not anything that may or may not lie beneath the surface of this particular lake. In any case, it is something to ponder about.
As the song states during the second bridge, the Loch Ness dragon “retains a lost world’s empathy” – being the last of its kind. It is somehow connected to mankind’s fascination of lost world – the age of dinosaurs in this case. This enabled the three Jurassic Park movies to reach success, and fourth film is actually in production. It is simply about the fear of the unknown and yet the fascination of it at the same time. “Lochness” the song succeeds in taking this somewhat worn out subject and return much craved mystique to it.
No matter what you think about the legend or the way the band tackled the difficult subject, the album closer created by Judas Priest cannot be overlooked. “Lochness” deserves another reassessment. Give it a listen.
After the release of “Angel Of Retribution” this song was infamously slammed by some reviews. Others understood the grand style it portrayed and its thought-provoking lyrics and praised the whole album as one of Priest’s greatest efforts – which it was. Yet the bashers seemed to forget the traditional last songs on Priest albums had often been lengthy epics such as “Monsters Of Rock,” “Cathedral Spires” or “Battle Hymn/One Shot At Glory.” Make no mistake, from the beginning this song divided opinions, you either loved it or hated it. No one was sitting on the fence. Plus the song’s bold subject matter was enough for some to reject it. However, the fact that many fans regard this as one of the most underrated tracks in Priest’s history speaks volumes.
Furthermore, if one sets aside the story for a second it cannot be argued that this track more than anything is integrating several aspects from Priest’s past and yet pushes them to a new direction. Rob’s vocals are a highlight of his latter day credentials. Its length may have been a problem for some, a track stretching up to 13-minute mark (the longest ever for Priest). But bands like Iron Maiden continuously turn 4-minute tracks into 10-minute marathons, nowadays usually repeating the chorus over and over again. This is nothing new.
While Priest brought in half of the album for their live set, understandably “Lochness” wasn’t among that group of songs. The arrangement certainly presents a challenge but there’s no doubt it could be interpreted in a concert surrounding with some tweaking, an acoustic version comes to mind as an interesting possibility.
The future generations might give this track another look but regardless it will remain a special gem in the band’s output. It closed the chapter of Priest’s return with Rob Halford and set the stage for their next project “Nostradamus.” “Lochness” consistently proves that Judas Priest were never afraid of taking risks and yet come out with astounding success in the end. Like Rob Halford said at the time of the album’s release: “It’s a bizarre idea – who else but Judas Priest could tell the story of the Loch Ness monster?”
With acknowledgements: Judas Priest Info Pages
For those interested in further information about the Loch Ness mystery, check out the following web sites:
• Written by Glenn Tipton, K.K. Downing & Rob Halford
• Recorded at The Old Smithy, Worchestershire, England & Sound City, California, USA 2004
• Produced By Roy Z & Judas Priest
• First released On“Angel Of Retribution” album in February 2005
“I think that every time one hears the name Loch Ness images of fantasy and mysticism are conjured up in all of our minds. I guess this was the obvious attraction for Judas Priest, wanting to musically embellish these ghostly images, after all Priest has a history of musical monsters of all breeds, The Ripper, Nightcrawler, Monsters of Rock, Jugulator, etc. And it is great fun to take on the challenge of attempting to make these enigmatic images come alive through the vehicle of music.
I have always liked to listen to music as I did back in the 60’s & 70’s; every time I returned back from the record store with my latest acquisition I would run to my room and close the curtains, put on the headphones and just kick back and drift off into the world that the artist wanted to put me into. I think my ultimate experience literally was Jimi Hendrix and Electric Ladyland; anyone that ever heard that album will know what I am talking about. And it is that kind of listening that I think has become to some extent a thing of the past… and understandably, if artists no longer supply the listener with adequate imaginative listening material, it was bound to happen. Maybe as I say I evolved from an era when music was everything, so much so that many peoples lives were totally governed by music and no wonder because it was all there was. No computers or 42 inch plasma televisions, etc. Therefore as musicians I think that it was important to be able to create what we call “mini movies” with our music – so that the listener can enjoy their listening more by being absorbed into the atmosphere of the moment.
And we certainly would like to think that many of you joined us on that dark cold and misty night when we made our journey to Loch Ness.”
Grey mist drifts upon the water
The mirrored surface moves
Awakened of this presence
Dispelling legends proof
A beastly head of onyx
With eyes set coals of fire
It’s leathered hide glides glistening
Ascends the heathered briar
This legend lives through centuries
Evoking history’s memories
Prevailing in eternities
On and on and on
Your terror of the deep
Malingers what you keep
Lochness protects monstrosity
Lochness confess to me
Somehow it heeds the piper
From battlements that call
From side to side it ponders
Impassioned in the skirl
This highland lair of mystery
Retains a lost world empathy
Resilient to discovery
On and on and on
This legend lives through centuries
Evoking history’s memories
Prevailing in eternity
Your secret lies safe with me
This creature’s peril from decease
Implores to mankind for release
A legacy to rest in peace
on and on and on