Ram it Down is considered one of the worst albums to feature Rob Halford on vocals. Not a lot of people have heard of it, and those who have don’t like it. This review goes into why it was so hated and its flaws, and why it is one of my personal favourite Judas Priest albums. I’m going to go over my Judas Priest experience first, just so you know who’s opinion you’re reading.
Razorfist the Rageaholic dropped a nearly hour long video on Judas Priest in the summer of 2014. I watched that video and later bought Redeemer of Souls from Wal-Mart. My friends and I rocked the album for months until I realized I needed more Judas Priest. So, I went to a real CD store and picked up Painkiller, British Steel and Defenders of the Faith in the late winter. I could listen to Priest for hours, and I did! It’s been almost two years since then and I’ve been picking up Priest albums to suit my current tastes as the months went by. In the fall it was Screaming for Vengeance and British Steel, in the Summer it was Turbo and Defenders of the Faith, then Later Nostradamus. During all of September and the stress of entering University, I listened to Demolition and Ram it Down. The album was there to give me Heavy Metal empowerment. Right now, I’m transitioning from Ram it Down into Angel of Retribution and Screaming for Vengeance.
When I heard Ram it Down the first thing I though was “wow, this sounds like Painkiller mixed with their older stuff!” I was wrong. At the time I hadn’t heard a lot of classic Priest, and I was doing some pretty heavy assuming. Ram it Down sounds like early thoughts of Painkiller mixed with a strange and unique sound of its own… the sound of “high tech” 80s synthesizers.
Like Painkiller Ram it Down was a very unique album, you could play a song from the album to someone familiar with it and they would be able to pick it out right away. An example would be the removed Thunder Road. When I heard it for the first time I instantly thought, “Hey, I don’t remember this song on Ram it Down, was there a deluxe edition or something?” After a quick Google, I found out that Thunder Road was a song that was dropped from Ram it Down in the early days, and replaced by the ridiculous Johnny B. Goode cover. Even Halford admits that song is just too silly for Ram it Down.
There are a lot of Judas Priest albums that have tracks I skip, just like anyone. Sometimes I skip Bloodstone on Screaming for Vengeance, Hell Patrol on Painkiller, and I always skip Eat Me Alive on Defenders of the Faith (That song makes me feel weird…). You get the point, there are few albums that I think anyone listens to completely, for me they are Redeemer of Souls, Nostradamus, British Steel, and Ram it Down. Well, if you switch out Johnny for Thunder Road. Even if you don’t. The album doesn’t have any truly bad tracks.
So in the end, Ram it Down was almost exactly what it wanted to be, a heavy album to counter the Rock and Roll nature of Turbo. Like turbo, it used a lot of state of the art equipment, but unlike Turbo, it lacked a drummer…
The biggest and most undeniable problem with Ram it Down is its use of a drum machine. On some tracks, such as Heavy Metal, Love Zone and the legendary Blood Red Skies, the synthetic sound of the drum machine kind of helps the atmosphere, and it works. For the most part, however, I feel that the album would have been better off with a real drummer. The thing is, Judas Priest likely agreed, as they used a drummer on the tour. The reason they didn’t have real drums was because their drummer had health issues at the time and couldn’t record the drum tracks, it wasn’t really on purpose.
The other issue is the state that Halford was in after 1986. His boyfriend had actually committed suicide in front of him, and he tried to do the same by overdosing on painkillers. It was sad times for Halford, and the high intensity of Ram it Down’s music and Lyrics shows this. From Love Zone, a song about gratuitous hookers to Blood Red Skies and Heavy Metal, some deeply atmospheric and empowering songs, you can tell Ram it Down was important to Halford. Rob took these dark times to make himself a better person though, quitting smoking and alcohol, as well as drugs, Halford boasts that he’s clean to this day. He quit for his music, and says that he would even go back to smoking and drinking after retirement.
Ram it Down is one of the many experimental albums in the Judas Priest Discography. The synths were later brought back for Demolition (another underrated album), and the high intensity emotion of the songs are right up my alley. It might be too much for some, but if you give Ram it Down a chance, I promise you won’t be disappointed.