Breakin' the law, breakin' the law. breakin' the law, breakin' the law.
Back when punk was taking the piss out of the establishment and scaring rock radio into a regressive, corporate state, one band was laying the foundation for the ultra pop metal craze that would soon sweep the world. Raw, hard, and most definitely cocksure, this Birmingham England brotherhood of working class blokes did the grunt work, dwelling in near obscurity and carving out the foundation for the 1980s' answer to New Wave, Nu Metal. As the link between old school UK jive like Saxon and Uriah Heep and the soon to be everywhere hair bands and death metal, Judas Priest (along with Iron Maiden) lifted rock and roll out of the corporate gutter, around the antisocial stance of the Sex Pistols set, and injected a new sonic sound, a swirling electric energy into what had once been considered a dead dinosaur. Judas Priest: Electric Eye is a time capsule to a long gone and mostly forgotten phase of said music, of an era when leather, spandex, and f***ing-A attitude was taking the place of elaborate blues workouts and drum solo swagger. More smitten with Sabbath than Zeppelin and directly challenging the hardcore movement with its own sonic speed and sound, Priest (and the myriad of bands who soon followed) meshed power pop, hook driven guitar mania, and last angry man mannerisms into a potent potable that literally redirected the entire genre.
Basically divided into three sections, this DVD offers a look at Priest's video output, a live concert circa mid 1980s and a nostalgic trip back to witness some of their very early British television appearances. In light of lead singer Rob Halford's recent disclosure that he is gay, many of the clips from early on in Priest's career betray a very subtle "same sex" set of sentiments. From the leatherman outfits and weightlifting preparation of "Living After Midnight" to the oddly anti-female focus of "Don't Go," you can see some alternative lifestyle seeping in around the mad machismo of the typical heavy metal pose. But not everything here is filled with secret sexual agendas. Some of the mini-movies, like the Beavis and Butt-head favorite "Breakin' the Law" to the MTV standard "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" are standard if explosive representations of rock and roll as a violent, vehement force for rebellious behavior, especially when viewed in light of the cautious, curt English social system. While other clips represent nothing exceptional or groundbreaking and are occasionally uninteresting and grating (whose idea was it for them to do a near techno-pop version of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode"? And what about that blurry, far too busy mixed media mess called "Painkiller"?), having all these clips on hand will be heaven for the typical fan. While not complete ("Parental Guidance" is, oddly, not here, nor do we get any samples of replacement vocalist, "Ripper" Owens' work), it is still a credible offering of a band that was far better live.
Not that 1986 Fuel for Fire tour offering Priest…Live! will prove that. While encompassing many of Priest's best musical moments (and filled with expert musicianship), this is a disappointing performance piece. Part of the problem with the concert video portion of the disc is that it has the ripe scent of "product" all over it. Instead of just giving us Priest live in the raw so that their inherent power and musicianship can win us over, the presentation is all funky camera tricks and directorial machinations. Shots are mixed in the worst MTV meets ADD construction so that you lose sight of who or what you are supposed to be focusing on. Random, unnatural jump cuts mesh with overused freeze-frame and slow motion sequences that offer nothing except excessive visual variation to the performance. Indeed, the "camera is everywhere" feel to the footage undermines the actual concert. More times than not, this feels like a far too fancy "live" long form video. Priest were an excellent live act and they didn't require strange optical zooms, jagged editing, and cinematic stunts to sell their savagery. But as an artifact of the new filmmaking language ushered in by music videos, Priest…Live! is a decent enough souvenir. Fans may argue as to whether this is Priest's finest live hour, while others will ignore the merchandising moves and merely enjoy the sonic wail. But since this is Priest's first foray into DVD, something a little more substantial and less stylized would have been nice.
As for the final section, the BBC-TV performances are a revelation. They show Priest in all manner of mock-up, from the dirty hippie phases of "Rocka Rolla" to the show metal moves of "United" and highlight the most important aspect of Priest: the mesmerizing front man moves of Rob Halford. It is easy to see why many feel he continues to set the standard for heavy metal rock god vocalizing. Part perfected growl, past castrated scream, his assured phrasing and image idol making mannerisms defined what a serious rock singer should be like (and with his then secret lifestyle, a hidden showmanship flair for flamboyance). The polar opposite of someone like David Lee Roth or Brett Michaels, Halford made you feel the sonic surge in Priest's music and offered a stylized appearance, part biker, part bitch that was certainly a trademarked theme for Judas Priest as an entity. No one really recalls the rest of the band, but Halford's chrome meets chain mail persona, draped in black and aided by a receding hairline, acts as instant recall. To see the look progress, from the dingy blond tresses to slick backed baldness and all lengths in between is a fun, and informative trip down follicle lane, a chance to see the band grow from unsure upstarts to overlords of the power chord. Of all the items included on Judas Priest: Electric Eye, the BBC performances are the most telling and the most entertaining.
Visually, this package is pretty decent. The videos all look fairly good, as if derived from the original masters. The early film clips do look nearly 20 years old, but later offerings (like "Another Thing Comin'") retain a nice, new sheen. Priest…Live! looks like a VHS version of the concert, meaning that as an actual piece of cinema, the source material was weak and worn out. As for the BBC material, it is visually arresting, really capturing the time and feel of the era from which they come. But the best aspect, by far, of the entire enterprise is the pristine, powerful sound. The aural offering, in either Dolby Digital Stereo or remastered 5.1 Surround, is incredible. The throb of the bass, the blast of the guitars, and Halford's hyena with a hernia vocals are crystal clear and wonderfully strong. This DVD really captures the authority and anthemic quality in Priest's work, and you'll find yourself, B&B style, chanting "Breakin' the Law" long after the video has ended. More a sonic scrapbook than a visual feast, Judas Priest: Electric Eye makes sure that the thing that made the band what they are—the music—retains its dynamic presence.
But the bad news for fans is that there are no bonus features here. No interviews, no commentary tracks, no deleted footage or behind the scenes discussions. While the discography is nice, giving you a chance to sample an entire track from each album as you peruse the overall listing, there is nothing else here to persuade your pocket to pony up the pasha. It would have been wonderful to hear Halford comment on the clips, or at least discuss the band's dissolution and recent reformation. We get some of that in the very self-congratulatory liner notes Halford penned, but to hear him reveal the queer agenda behind some of his looks and video ideas would have really made this a special package. As it stands, fans of Priest will be more than satisfied, those without much of a Judas jones will tend to skip the set and those in the middle, those fair weather fans that pumped their fist at certain old stalwarts but never truly embraced the group will still sit on the fence. Judas Priest: Electric Eye is an enjoyable outing from a forgotten forbearer of heavy metal. And if you think this is the last you've heard from this pioneering band, you truly have another thing coming.
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