Judas Priest's 1990s got off to a phenomenal start with this album, which still stands up today as one of the greatest Heavy Metal albums ever recorded. It is also one of the most 'Metal' albums ever created, with literally every single aspect of every song pushed to the absolute limit. The songwriting is stunning, but it is the performances of each individual band member which are the most astonishing thing about the album.
It had never been in doubt that Rob Halford was a great vocalist, or that the twin guitar assault of Glen Tipton and KK Downing was formidable, but when this album landed, jaws dropped. Introducing drummer Scott Travis (formerly of Racer X) into the fold, "Painkiller" explodes with the first seconds of the title track and doesn't let up until the final note of the album fades into nothing.
Produced by the legendary Chris Tsangarides, every aspect was mixed and honed to be as metal as possible, and the results are stunning. "Hell Patrol", "Metal Meltdown", "One Shot At Glory", "Touch of Evil" and the rest are glorious additions to the Judas Priest pantheon, every song filled with ultra-precise shredding and pounding drums. Rob Halford really lets rip throughout the album, pushing his voice to insane extremes.
In fact, I think Halford set the bar too high with this album to a certain extent, as it has been increasingly difficult for him to hit the same deranged high notes in recent years, although the passion still burns bright. From the artwork to the lyrics and the gigantic singalong choruses, "Painkiller" is a relentless exercise in precise and ferocious traditional Heavy Metal.
It was to be Halford's last album with the band for many years, as he left soon after its release to form the short-lived Pantera clone Fight and then embark on various other different projects while Priest replaced him with Tim "Ripper" Owens for two studio albums and one live disc. Halford would eventually return, but the band's recent output is yet to match the flat-out brilliance of this defining album. "Painkiller" is Judas Priest at their fastest, angriest and arguably their best.