“Painkiller” – possibly the fiercest and in its time one of the heaviest albums Judas Priest had ever released, is amazingly past its 25th anniversary already. Furthermore it was the album that introduced their current drummer Scott Travis formerly in US- speed rockers Racer X.
For the album, Priest also had their first change in the production department since 1978, as Chris Tsangarides stepped in replacing long time producer Tom Allom. Tsangarides was not a completely new wheel in the Priest machine either, he had worked as co-engineer on “Sad Wings Of Destiny” 14 years earlier.
The album was recorded in early 1990, but eventually delayed for few months because of the ongoing court case in Reno. The judge ruling in Priest’s favour, the road was now clear for the band to blast back with another metal milestone. They did just that in September 1990 when “Painkiller” was unleashed to the world. The arrival of thrash and speed metal few years back had pushed a lot of the older acts into corner, some exited the stage completely, others swallowed their pride and moved from arenas to clubs and onto a smaller label in order to continue making music. Judas Priest in the meantime faced the challenge head-on and released an album that rivalled any of the speed metal bands in its power and conviction.
Scott Travis had definitely pushed the band to a more harder direction, and while their last album “Ram It Down” had been heavier and faster effort compared to “Turbo,” “Painkiller” was Judas Priest at its most hard hitting so far. The record was received exceptionally well world wide, press hailing it as one of their greatest albums and a return to form after two more commercial efforts. While long term fans may not have seen such a drastic change, (the song writing had remained on high level through “Turbo” and Ram It Down”) “Painkiller” was without a doubt a new checkpoint in a career approaching a 20 year-mark.
Yet while “Painkiller” was without a doubt a new exciting chapter in the band’s history, Priest had certainly not forgotten their long-standing fans and offered plenty of satisfaction for them as well within the record’s grooves. At first glance it did seem like Priest had totally reinvented themselves and usually the rapid-fire title track and “Metal Meltdown” are pointed out as examples of this. Certainly those songs see the band again charging into completely new territories. But the second to last track on the album, “Battle Hymn” right from the beginning, who else could it be but Judas Priest? Traces of this instrumental can be tracked right back to “The Hellion” from “Screaming For Vengeance” and “One Shot At Glory” which majestically follows it, is – quite simply – classic Judas Priest. “Battle Hymn” begins with a cracking sound similar to someone opening a door and then the doubled guitar harmony backed with keyboards appears. The intro lasts barely 40 seconds but as it slowly ends, the impact of the killer riff that follows is enormous.
Song kicks off with Scott Travis driving it along, his drumming is excellent throughout and nice change of pace after the double-bass playing already heard on several tracks before. Glenn Tipton plays a short entry lick before Rob Halford starts singing, first with his impressive mid-range, sinister voice and later from the “Let me feel the spirits soar” on moving to a higher register and alternating between mid- and high vocals from thereon. Pre-chorus is again sung higher, the band slamming out power chords behind him. The driving riff returns for the chorus, Halford sings with a more restrained, majestic feeling here but note the backing vocals (Rob simply doing a short “ah” in falsetto) here during the “One Shot At Glory” part. Before this the “remember, remember” from the pre-chorus is carried onto a higher level and remain in the background while Rob continues on with the chorus. A perfect example of creating a powerful effect through backing vocals without just doubling the main voice.
The guitar melody begins while Rob finishes the chorus, now the double bass drumming takes over from here on. Second verse begins with K.K.’s entry lick, his guitar seems to be screaming in pain, especially at 1:43-44. In the second verse Rob’s vocals are amazing during the higher parts, take a listen as he sings “I still see the banners fly” and alternates his falsetto three times during the short sentence! It manages to paint a bleak picture on the grace and glory of troops marching into war.
The pre-chorus this time around adds keyboards (notice how they build tension step by step and Scott does a fill right before the band launches to a chorus) and they add colouring to the main chorus as well.
Guitar theme returns and is extended with harmonies, again tension is slowly created and listener drawn into the song. The riff immediately following (from 3:25 onwards) drives on powerfully, it varies from the main riff slightly and I must admit sounds even better. This guitar riff (with numerous variations) is the core in which many traditional metal bands nowadays base their songs to. Of course back in 1990 there were already groups like Running Wild who persisted but only 10 years later it was almost the sound of mainstream.
Guitar solos are up next. Until this day fans debate on the fiercest and greatest solo on “Painkiller”. They make their case for Glenn Tipton’s melodic and dramatically cold lead on “A Touch Of Evil” or title track’s aggressive, annihilating solos. Yet for this writer the two main solos on “One Shot At Glory” represent the finest examples of Priest’s unrelenting axe power in 1990. Like the song itself, everything that has gone on before, still remains. But there’s also a new kind of heavier sharpness to the licks Downing and Tipton play here, during the next minute or so it almost seems like the song is about to charge off into a completely different direction pulled by the piercing guitars, before the more familiar harmonies pull it back and send it off towards the final verses.
Guitar duel in “One Shot At Glory” is one of the greatest ever recorded, and another sure-fire example of Glenn and K.K’s distinct personal styles, Ian and Scott also provide excellent backing during the lead break, straight ahead drumming is the key here. After roughly 30-second spots from each, guitarists join together on the harmony (drums switch on to double-bass mode again) scanning across the war zone with a short lick signalling the end of middle part and the first riff brings the song back to a full circle.
Pre-chorus returns and chorus is done twice. There’s another fill by Scott (5:19) which sounds like cannonballs hitting the target. Listen how Rob sings that final part and effortlessly slips into a higher note at 6:01, while Glenn’s brilliant outro solo immediately begins at the same time. Rob screams “One Shot At Glori-ii-aah!” and also pay attention how the music behind him switches gear as well! This is another thing that from the beginning separated Priest from other heavy metal bands. The dynamics of the music always follow the vocals closely, a listener will hear the breathtaking screams of Halford while the effect is largely enhanced, sometimes even created by guitars, bass and drums behind it. As this is most of the time not noticed during the first playback, it is great to go back and find these moments within the songs.
The track comes to a closure fittingly (note the change in drum mode once again) with Halford singing “I Still Hear The Battle Cry, I Still See The Banners Fly.” He sounds like the angel of death bringing salvation (in some form or another) to the soldiers left in the battlefield – the echoes of the character in “Painkiller” are clearly heard here. The poignancy of it is felt even more clearly when one considers it would be the last vocal sung by Rob Halford on a Judas Priest album for nearly 15 years. The song ends quickly with sounds of purgatory taking over after the attack, wind throws the ashes around and all that’s left are the bodies of the dead. The fade-out is quick, as was death luckily for these men.
War with it’s reasons and repercussions has been one of the most used topics in heavy metal. Specific moments in history have been brought into the songs, and the psyche of the soldiers has been discussed in great detail. The war songs always resonate with people as of course most of the countries have gone through a time of conflict. The greatest war songs in metal and rock field such as Magnum’s “Les Mort Dansant,” Running Wild’s “War And Peace” and Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” all speak for the masses and the poor who always get pushed into battle. And of course already back in 1969 Edwin Starr was singing “War! What is it good for, absolutely nothing.”
In Judas Priest’s case “One Shot At Glory” was one of their first purely war themed songs, although especially their 1970’s albums contained several songs with references to war. “One Shot At Glory” took a personal view on the triumph national leaders were often aiming at in starting a war. Many soldiers apparently did so as well, it represented a chance to have their moment in the sun, and many were totally oblivious to the horrors that were awaiting them.
“Let Me Feel The Spirits Soar” was the sentiment many based their certain victory to. God was on their side and would help their country to destroy the enemy.
“This day will last forever, deep in the hearts of men” – it would, one way or another. “Courage and Victory, remember, remember” – Soldiers were marched onto battle with promises of a shot to glory, yet many times they returned in body bags.
On the second verse, songs protagonist states proudly that he’s “Fighting on with dignity, amidst the blood and steel.” He also states that “the battle’s always won.”
Many saw dying gloriously in war as the ultimate victory, in here showing the true power most dangerous leaders of the world always possess. The talent to captivate people.
The final words of the song are “I still hear the battle cry, I still see the banners fly.” This can be interpreted in two ways, on the other hand it draws a bigger picture; wars are going on all the time around the world. And it speaks of one person, a soldier returning home from the battle, in good health maybe but forever scarred inside. He will hear and see the sounds of war probably for the rest of his life. And no doubt at some point he wants to scream like Rob does in the end. They had their shot at glory but it came with a price.
As with most of their records, Priest inserted heavy dose of “Painkiller” into their set-list for new tour. No less than six of its nine proper songs were given airing, one of the emissions was unfortunately “One Shot At Glory” which was perhaps seen as too lengthy number. In addition it is a demanding to song for a vocalist to sing and on the Painkiller-tour 1990-1991 Rob Halford certainly had his work cut out for him.
While many correctly praise Judas Priest’s earlier efforts as cornerstones of the heavy metal genre, it is important to point out how much influence “Painkiller” has had on several successful metal bands in this millennium. The waves caused by the record in 1990 are still hitting the shores especially in Europe. During the last five years it has become almost common to find metal albums lifting few riffs or melodies straight off “Painkiller. “ A great tribute to the power of Judas Priest if there ever was one.
“One Shot At Glory” can even be seen as the epitome of war songs later on used on several power metal albums. While traditional metal had another upsurge in popularity starting from late 1990’s, group’s like Gamma Ray and Primal Fear were hugely influenced by tracks on “Painkiller.” For reference listen to Gamma Ray’s “Heart Of The Unicorn” (“No World Order” 2001) or Primal Fear’s “Angel In Black” and “Kiss Of Death” (“Nuclear Fire” 2001) These are all great songs and wear their influence happily on their sleeve, yet one has to wonder whether those tracks have the same effect in the metal field 10 or 20 years from now.
Over 25 years after its release, “One Shot At Glory” now sounds nothing less than timeless – as it did when it originally closed “Painkiller” in magnificent fashion.
With acknowledgements: Judas Priest Info Pages
“One Shot At Glory ” stats
• Written by Glenn Tipton, K.K. Downing & Rob Halford
• Recorded at Miraval Studios, Brignoles, France January-May 1990
• Produced By Chris Tsangarides & Judas Priest
• First released On “Painkiller” album in September 1990
“Now here is a song with a title that, I am sure everyone can relate to in their lives. I can remember feeling particularly up, when we were working on this song because of the sentiment it that relates to; also I really thought it was a great way to finish an album like Painkiller, and as for the solo, it was a great opportunity to mix up some scales, for the guitarists I have managed to dig out my original working tab, its not too difficult so why not have a go, I would like again to thank Ville for his excellent text about this song and to the magical times when Priest had the privilege yet again to put some metal in the forge for all of the fans around the world, I feel rest assured that we Judas Priest will be the lucky ones as once more in the future we will hope to have another One Shot At Glory.”
“One Shot At Glory ” lyrics
Let me hear the battle cry
Calling on the wind
Let me see the banners fly
Before the storm begins
Let me feel the spirits soar
Destroy the enemy
Striking at the evil core
For all the world to see
This day will last forever
Deep in the hearts of men
Courage and victory
One Shot At Glory
In the crossfire overhead
Fate stands before me
Words have all been said
One Shot At Glory
Driving hard and seeing red
Destiny calls me
One night of fire, one shot at glory
Fighting on with dignity
In life and death we deal
The power and the majesty
Amidst the blood and steel
I still hear the battle cry
The call goes on and on
I still see the banners fly
The battle’s always won
I still hear the battle cry!
I still see the banners fly!