Hard Reviews
by Martin Popoff

Fresh Metal

Judas Priest - Meltdown: '98 Live

Nothing less than a jaw-dropped love-in with the new guy, Meltdown is a Ripper-fest of inspiring metal proportions. Goddamn, 23 tracks sampling one of the world's best catalogues, a new urgency to prove themselves, and like I say, this formidable weapon called Ripper. Minor complaints: Ripper's in-between stage raps are dumbed down so far, you'd think this was pre-school, the mix suffers here and fro, especially with respect to Tipton's guitar, which is too quiet (thanks Bryan, for pointing that out!), and You've Got Another Thing Coming kinda falls flat. But what a groove (remember, this is your first sermon with techno-whiz Scott Travis), what stake-through-the-heart metal fanaticism, and like I say, what songs (we'll excuse the Jugulator material; I fully expect better next time, I really do). The crowds (these are all European tapes) are a gas, gas, gas, in their inimitable call, respond and hooliganize Bruce Dickinson-trained glory, left in full-bore, pushing Ripper ever forward in his effortless quest to fill Rob's walked-on-the-wild-side booties. Ponder this one: the mix sounds like Turbo. Now go live after midnight.
Rating 9

Riot - Shine On
(Metal Blade)

I must admit, I've really lost touch and subsequent enthusiasm for what's going on with Riot. Although Reale and DiMeo are an admirable team, this competent self-important churn does little for me, especially (and surprisingly) the oldies Swords And Tequila and Outlaw, which actually prove inferior to the originals, even if Warrior can't help but rock. But the rest is from a different band, one that grafts Varney-carny Shrapnel to Angra and comes out the other end sorta like Manowar with chops, precision and a Joe Lynn Malmsteen complex. Two more positives: the vocal harmonies and the axe harmonies. One more negative: the un-electric honesty of the mix.
Rating 7

Jag Panzer - The Age Of Mastery
(Century Media)

Strange, chopped-up history for this Colorado institution, Jag Panzer leaping quickly to the fore with their debut masterpiece back in '83, a little chest-ripping nugget called Ample Destruction. But then total drift, guerilla bootlegging of their work, two comeback records, and now The Age Of Mastery. Heck, everybody loves these guys, especially now that Harry's back wailing like Manowar. Mark Briody's musical mayhem is the same tried, steel and true metal classicism, again, somewhere between Manowar, heroic Priest, even more heroic Savatage, Nevermore and Iced Earth. Briody's stated claim this time was the curious credo of allowing everybody to do exactly what they ever wanted to do on a record, as long as it was outrageously metal. The results are just that. Production values are left to the wayward vagaries of wattage, all teeth and torn muscle, while the band leans mission-bent into riffs, leads and pounding rhythms that understand so well the magical pin-prick of metal. Probably the band's drain-a-beer best.
Rating 9

Witchery - Restless & Dead

Crackly, stringent traditional thrash metal is the order of the day, as Witchery take their leather booties to the snobby underground pretensions of their blacker-than-thou counterparts, many of which call Necropolis home. Another one of these convenient crosspaths, Witchery features Patrik Jensen, now in the Haunted, Mercyful Fate's Sharlee D'Angelo and the remnants of Satanic Slaughter, all gathered to quench their inner '80s demons. So one hears Grave Digger, Destruction, Sodom, old Voivod, Entombed, all liquored up and ready for battle. A better kind of 10-year-old camp than Hammerfall or Primal Fear, this one's more about spooks and goblins, right from the cover art through flamethrown crunchy frogs like "The Reaper‚, "Midnight At The Graveyard‚ and "Into Purgatory‚. A fortified, maniacal, funtime elixir, brewed for those screeching, leadfoot death-drives into the snowstormed night.
Rating 10

Hard Reviews Part 2