Judas Priest – Turbo Lover (1986)

I guess it’s true for many people that their taste in music progressed over time. And so did mine. And I had a phase where I was a headbanger, a metal-head – of course! So this new episode of my “music to play loud” series is a homage to that era… πŸ™‚

I think my metal phase began around the age of 14 or 15, after we moved from South Tyrol back to Germany, and the federal state of Hessia (Hesse) to be precise. One of my best friends was a little older, and he was pretty much into Hard Rock and Heavy Metal*. Quite naturally, that influenced me a lot, just like friends do at that age.

And I guess Judas Priest’s back then brand-new “Turbo” album from 1986 was and is reason for much controversy. While the cover art is somewhat similar in style to “Screaming for Vengeance” and “Defenders of the Faith”, the music is anything but. Heavy on synthesizers and effects, many Judas Priest fans somehow felt that it was betrayal.

And granted, it certainly cannot compete with its predecessor “Defenders of the Faith” – still one of the best JP albums of all times if you ask me. Nevertheless, at the time when “Turbo” was released and me and my friends got interested in (primitive) home computer music on the C64 and generally found electronic sounds appealing – and the amount of synthesizers and effects on “Turbo” was something like a marriage of two extremely different genres that we found intriguing.

Apparently, a lot of fans slammed Judas Priest for the sound of this album, which went more into the “glam” and “hair metal” style. I couldn’t tell back then – I just liked it. Maybe because before I got more into Heavy Metal, I liked Billy Idol’s rock-pop/synthesizer mixture too, in particular on the “Rebel Yell” album. Also, there was no internet and no review or fan websites or newsgroups – how would one know that fans were displeased with the album? Ah, the world was so much simpler back then. πŸ™‚

Anyway, we liked it, it was very different, and went much further than Iron Maiden’s “Somewhere in time” – the other British heavy metal band which also used some (tame) synthesizer for the first time then. Here’s the track that I recommend to play loud!

(this is a fan video – the official video is so utterly idiotic, I cannot bring myself to embed it here)

So imagine that you like Heavy Metal, and that you like electronic sounds – and then you hear these sci-fi “intergalactic star ship engines powering up” sounds in the first 2-3 seconds of “Turbo Lover” – good heavens, electrifying!

I wish the song would have different lyrics. Something in JP’s previous, science-fiction and/or fantasy style, a la “Electric Eye” from “Screaming…”, or even the metal-glory type lyrics from “Defenders…”, anything! Anything but the part-cheesy, tacky and embarrassingly full of innuendo lyrics of “Turbo Lover”. The entire album departed from previous lyrics themes, but Turbo Lover really is the worst.

But – the song can’t do without the lyrics, or more precisely, Halford’s voice. His voice and singing partially melts into the guitars/effects and merges with the build-up of the song. It’s like another instrument in the mix, and cannot be removed. An instrumental version just wouldn’t be the same.

And the build-up is what this track really is about, and the reason why I say it must be played loud. As the track begins (after the star ship engines powered up;-) everything except for the drums is pretty much held back and only gets more intense during the first verse: guitar staccatos are added, and with each progression, more elements are added and increase in intensity. Around 1:20 the rhythm guitar is freed from the confinement of the heavy staccato, and with Halford’s “…other” (that merging that I mentioned) it begins to really roll, into the first refrain. Flanger and phaser effects are ornamenting the arrangement continuously, add energy, building and releasing anticipation with every rhyme and turn.

And of course it does not stop to build after the first refrain. At the end of the first refrain the guitars wail like sirens for a second or two as they bridge into the next verse – and then a bass pad is added to the mix. That’s such a gorgeous sound, and when you realize that it is not a bass guitar being plucked, but a continuous drone of bass you just have to crank up the volume, to hear and feel more of that sound. It’s just gorgeous, so rich and fat!

Then it’s time for another refrain, harmony break and solo time where the two guitar heroes are doing a great job. And the final verse adds yet another element – chords, on synth-pads, in the background but lush and beautiful, before the track returns into a final refrain. Synth pads. Bass pads. Staccato phaser effects. It must have driven the metal purists insane! πŸ˜€ But the energy! I love it.

As a whole though, the album… isn’t that great. A lot of the tracks (or maybe all of them?) are a bit cheesy, and a lot of it has to do with the lyrics. When I was 15, it was cool of course. A new album from one’s favorite band was enthusiastically cherished upon its arrival. πŸ™‚

Anyway. Three tracks of the album passed the test of time, the opener “Turbo Lover” (obviously!), the B-side opener “Out in the Cold“, and the closing track “Reckless“. The latter is a pretty solid piece of Heavy Metal and the synthesizers aren’t apparent to me there at all. The B-side opener “Out in the Cold” is a wonderful, a bit melancholic metal ballad with a guitar-synth heavy intro that I find quite amazing because you can hear that it is a guitar from the way it’s played – but the sounds are from a synthesizer. I’m not a purist. I always loved electronic sounds, so I found that most fascinating. A guitar-synthesizer?! How amazing!

Mosh on! πŸ™‚

*) (the other thing everyone was into was HiFi stuff, and Dual was the brand to have πŸ˜‰


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