HardReviews 2
by Martin Popoff

A Touch Of Evil - Live (Sony)

Here's what the tired and trodden of Priest's army, the beat up by Nostradamus, those who have heard and had to agree that at some shows Rob wasn't singing so good... here's what they didn't need, another live album, and a single disc'er with a stupid title at that. But the tables have been turned - A Touch Of Evil - Live is Priest's best live album since Unleashed, a corker molten of metal mix, slammed up and serving 11 hot rockin' tracks gorgeously non-obvious and rendered with a classic metal kill factor that is inspiring (and by the way - I saw the band live just last night and it was the most powerful and assured and triumphant Halford performance I've seen among say the last five shows - he's killin' it!). Yeah, turns out this is a strange bit of brilliance keeping it to a single disc and exactly an hour long. I mean, I'd go so far as to say herein lies the definitive version of 'Beyond The Realms Of Death' (punchy, trenchant, thespian), the only semi-ballad song on a record of grinders and none of the band's poppy stuff. 'Riding On The Wind' has to be singled out as well (wait, can you single two things out?), with Rob finding new carnal, Killing Machine-pirate-proud ways to sing these things in his early 60s, without ducking notes, but craftily playing with registers and phrasings and never tentatively. And you know what else continues? The band's - and the world's - gradually, inexorably building celebration of the Painkiller record, which provides three songs of the 11. The Nostradamus tracks... no, they don't sit right here unfortunately, standing out by trudging and with spooky keyboards, among too many obscure Priest classics like 'Dissident Aggressor' and 'Eat Me Alive' and the suddenly mosh-inducing and anthemic 'Hellrider' from Angel Of Retribution (although I'm still not diggin' 'Judas Rising', here as opener). I don't want to give too much credit to Tom Allom, because I still can't forgive him for his mechanical and dated sounds of the low (brow) '80s, but man, if he's been part of the performance-picking and the hard-charging electric unleashing of the band here, then some of his sounds and simplifying of Priest is forgiven. Fact is, A Touch Of Evil - Live, against all odds, brims with a cool factor that cannot be denied (you know, in the way calling Black Sabbath Heaven And Hell just sorta tingles), whether you're a newbie or a demanding watcher of the band for decades.
Rating 8.5

Into The Valley Of The Moonking (Steamhammer/SPV)

Magnum have always skirted the shores of full-on prog, adding a pop sensibility like Saga but more through ELO-lush vocals than the Canuckers' prancy keys and quick-picked guitars. Into The Valley is a most splendid example of the band at their best, playing to their strengths, and those would be the passion-filled songwriting of guitarist Tony Clarkin and the Jon Anderson-transcendent (but manly!) vocals of Bob Catley. Seriously, track after track on this damn thing gives up some of the greatest gold record hooks since Journey and Kansas at their best, and speaking of Journey, this driving, life-blood album soars like the recorded equivalent of an ecstatic Arnel Pineda performance - like the Philippine firecracker ebulliently fronting that band, these songs enthusiastically run, skip and painterly act, across the stage and back again until you feel like you've just been holy watered at some sort of progressive rock Baptist church service down the dirt road to the deafening buzz of big grasshoppers in surrounding tall grass. Witness the chorus of 'Cry To Yourself' and 'All My Bridges', the verse progression of 'If I Ever Lose My Mind' and especially all of 'Feels Like Treason' a song and a set of melodic lines played and performed like the life of the planet depends on it. Wow... and don't miss its Steve Hackett-classy guitar solo at the 2:24 mark. Elsewhere, there's pomp, blues, balladry, pop (and yeah, most of it imbued with churning power chords), and they all give the album necessary peaks and valleys, but this is a record of which the peaks... it's hard not to obsess and just play them over and over, as transcendent glimpses of immortality bootstrapping the solid, if mortal, remains.
Rating 9

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