30 Years Ago: Judas Priest Get Tough on ‘Ram It Down’
When Judas Priest released their 11th album, Ram It Down, on May 17, 1988, few people outside of the band’s inner circle had an inkling that the storied British heavy-metal institution was standing at a crossroads. The band's previous record, 1986’s Turbo, was as successful as it was divisive, simultaneously broadening Judas Priest’s audience and alienating fans of the band’s older, heavier style with its wholesale adoption of synth guitars and other pop-metal trappings.
So imagine how those unhappy fans would have reacted had Priest gone with its original inclinations of making Turbo a double album and then using some of the leftover songs on Ram It Down.
Fortunately, many of those unused songs reflected Judas Priest's tougher and more aggressive side. So naturally they were left off Turbo. Old-school fans were relieved to hear Ram It Down’s potent title track opening the new album and quickly achieving speed-metal velocity, ignited by a paint-peeling scream by singer Rob Halford.
The album's second song, "Heavy Metal," launched by Glenn Tipton's blistering shred solo, lacks imaginative lyrics, but the rest of Ram It Down’s first half bristles with muscular metallic anthems onto which the band welds catchy choruses (see "Love Zone" and "Come and Get It") on their way to the astonishingly vicious "Hard as Iron."
But the album's second half doesn't maintain this consistency, dipping sharply into a needless cover of Chuck Berry’s "Johnny B. Goode" (which the group originally recorded for a movie soundtrack), a forgettable "Love You to Death" and the ponderous closer, "Monsters of Rock" after a strong start behind "Blood Red Skies" (a brooding, sinister epic) and "I’m a Rocker," a simple bur effective head-banger.
In other words, Ram It Down was a patchwork collection of songs -- old and new, good and bad. But for all its inconsistent songwriting and inspiration, the LP’s general revival of Judas Priest's heavier side was music to purists' ears.
In any case, major changes were coming, as Halford, Tipton, co-lead guitarist KK Downing and bassist Ian Hill readied themselves to dismiss long-serving drummer Dave Holland and producer Tom Allom in order to escalate their metallic renaissance on 1990’s jaw-dropping Painkiller. If nothing else, Ram It Down marks the end of an era with class and dignity.