Sound: "Ram It Down", released in 1988, is closely related to its predecessor "Turbo", even though it's pretty hard to tell just by listening to it. Much of the album was written during the same sessions as "Turbo"; the band was preparing a double-LP called "Twin-Turbos", with one half being radio-oriented and the other showcasing the style of metal for which they were known and loved. But the record company recoiled at the suggestion, and Priest had to save the heavier side for later.
When "Ram It Down" finally appeared, it certainly proved to be the most metallic album Priest had recorded thus far. The guitar sound was thicker than ever, with razor-sharp leads. Most of the drums were actually recorded with a drum machine, since Dave Holland was struggling with personal problems. The drum machine is okay, although it sounds terribly sterile, especially on "Hard As Iron" with its double-bass drumming which really could have benefitted from a real drummer, like Scott Travis. And unfortunately, the music itself is a little bit disappointing. Many of the songs sound like the guys were just going through the motions; there is nothing fundamentally wrong with them, they just fail to excite me. But there are also some irresistible classics as well, which we'll get to in a minute. // 6
Lyrics: Rob Halford was at the peak of his vocal abilities during the late 80s, and his performance on "Ram It Down" is as untouchable as one would expect. However, he seems to be trying almost too hard; He screams so often it almost gets annoying in certain songs, like "Love Zone" and "Heavy Metal". But as long as he refrains from screaming entire verses, he sounds great.
But his lyrics are even worse on this album than on "Turbo". All the lyrics are completely uninteresting, except for the epic dystopian "Blood Red Skies". Some are even downright embarrassing; "Love Zone" is a tribute to the sex trade which makes Mtley Cre seem intelligent, "Love You To Death" makes me think that Rob actually made some poor engineer whip him during the outro, and "Monsters Of Rock" is just laughable. // 5
Overall Impression: As you may have gathered, "Ram It Down" certainly isn't one of my favorite Priest albums. I would even go as far as calling it the worst Halford-era album. There are just too many bland and/or pathetic, generic songs for it to deserve a more favorable review. "Come & Get It", "Monsters Of Rock" and "Love Zone" are all standardized, boring compositions from the bottom shelf. "Heavy Metal" is dangerously close to receiving the same judgment, but is saved by Glenn Tipton (who is brilliant as always).
That being said, the good songs featured here are enough to make up for the cheesy boredom of the aforementioned tracks. "Ram It Down" is a terrific opener in the vein of "Freewheel Burning" and "Rapid Fire", with one of the best duels Glenn and K.K. Downing ever recorded. These guys had just discovered sweep picking, and they're both shredding like crazy with their newly acquired skills. "Blood Red Skies" is a 7-minute, epic masterpiece. "Johnny B. Goode" is an entertaining cover, almost entirely remade as is usually the case when Priest do a cover song, and "Hard As Iron" is an overlooked speed-metal gem.
And there you have it, folks; "Ram It Down" is the worst album Judas Priest made with Rob Halford. But I still regard it as slightly above average; when you're Judas Priest, everything that fails to knock the socks off anyone will be among your lesser accomplishments. // 5