By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
JUDAS PRIEST – RAM IT DOWN (1988)
In the week leading up to the writing of this article, thanks to a big storm I had no power for 3 days. So my original plans to pull a cassette out of The Big Box of Cassettes and write about that was kind of sidelined.
I couldn’t really do any research on an album I wasn’t familiar with already. So this week’s write up on the Judas Priest album Ram It Down comes from my own personal cassette collection and it is an album that I am indeed rather familiar with. I still had to do some research but at least I knew the album beforehand. In fact, it was the first Judas Priest album I ever bought. And that might be at least part of the reason why it still stands the test of time for me and remains one of my favorite albums from the band.
I didn’t really know much about the band until I got this album. Pretty much my first memory of the band was when I was attending Boy Scout camp (try not to laugh at that notion) and one of the counselors had a cassette holder full of Judas Priest cassettes. I didn’t hear any of them at the time but I remember seeing the line up of albums in the holder. I don’t remember the counselor’s name but he was a huge fan of the band as you might imagine.
Of course, my lack of knowledge about the band was turned around when I got the Ram It Down album. Before I’d even listened to any of the music, I was struck by the stunning artwork. I love the visual of the fist crashing down from the sky onto the planet (presumably Earth itself). You can’t say it doesn’t catch your eye.
But for all that I love the art, when the album started I found myself immediately hooked. Right from the Rob Halford scream on the title track that opens the album, this was an album I knew I was going to love. But it wasn’t just that scream that made the “Ram It Down” song stand out to me. The song’s rip-roaring frenetic pace captured my imagination as well. The speed at which the guitars pummelled your ear drums was just relentless.
The track “Heavy Metal” is the kind of anthemic rocker you might expect from Judas Priest if you have any kind of history with the band. I loved the killer guitar solo that powered the intro to the track. The fiery pacing of “Love Zone” and “Come And Get It” made the tracks winners in my eyes back in 1988 as well as when I listened to it for this article.
When I decided to write about the album, I mentioned to a friend of mine that I was working on an article that would be as hard as iron and as sharp as steel. Which is of course a lyrical line from the Side One closing number “Hard As Iron”. The song has a nice little edgy feel to it and Halford delivers those vocals superbly.
The first side of the album is just one great track after another in my book and there’s not really much of a let up when you flip the tape over to Side Two.
For me, the song “Blood Red Skies”, which opens the second side, is one of my favorite Judas Priest songs. I loved the way the band established the song with a moody atmospheric opening part. But as the vocals kick in, you can’t help but imagine that the song is the blueprint for a science fiction screenplay or novel set in some kind of dystopian future. After the first verse of lyrics, the song does grow into more of a straightforward rocker but in all, this is just an incredible song.
I’m also a big fan of “I’m A Rocker”. It’s another anthem track, this time paying tribute to the rock and roll lifestyle but it can also be easily adopted by the metal fandom as their own musical declaration of intent too.
I don’t know how the rest of the Priest fanbase feels about the band’s cover of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” but I’ve always kind of liked the song. It was done for the comedic movie Johnny Be Good starring Anthony Michael Hall but it also ended up on Ram It Down as well. The thing I vaguely remember about the song is that upon its release there was an article that had the band saying if they didn’t like how the song turned out as they recorded it, it never would’ve seen the light of day. I have no idea where I read that but it has stuck in my memory all these years.
The song “Love You To Death” is a bit slower in tempo than most of the other songs on Ram It Down but it still has a beat to it that kind of makes you want to stomp your feet to it. And the inclusion of the sound of a whip in the mix drives home the fact that the song can have more than one meaning to it.
In the more than three decades since the release of Ram It Down, I’ve always considered the album closing “Monsters Of Rock” track to be the one real down note about the album. It always seemed so plodding in nature that it just felt completely out of place alongside the rest of the material. And while the song certainly hasn’t changed tempo in all these years, for some reason as I listened to it for this piece, I found myself struck by how much I was actually appreciating the song. Perhaps it just hit me just right this time, the result of years of listening to the song. But I really was quite surprised to find myself enjoying the song. It was almost like I was “finally” hearing it for the first time.
Ram It Down was my first Judas Priest album and to this day it remains one of my favorites. It is just chock full of great material fueled by a killer rhythmic foundation, screaming guitars from Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing and the vocals of the Metal God himself, Rob Halford. If you can’t appreciate the greatness of this album, I just don’t know what there is left to say to you. But in all honesty, you really have to give the album a new listen and I think you’ll discover that it is just as strong an album as the more readily acknowledged classic albums from the band.
NOTES OF INTEREST: Despite not being overly well received by critics, the Ram It Down album did achieve gold certification. The 2001 remastered CD edition has two live songs included as bonus tracks. (I own that remastered edition as well as the cassette edition.)
Two songs recorded during the Ram It Down sessions that didn’t make the cut for the album did eventually get released on the remastered CD editions of other Judas Priest albums. The song “Thunder Road” appeared on Point Of Entry. Meanwhile, the song “Fire Burns Below” showed up on Stained Class.
According to the online information about the album, though he is credited on the album, drummer Dave Holland didn’t play on many of the Ram It Down songs. The band opted to use a drum machine for the most part. This was the last album he was a part of with Judas Priest. Holland passed away in 2018.