Thursday, May 01, 2008
Black Sabbath may have invented Heavy Metal, but it was their 'little brother' band, fellow Birmingham natives Judas Priest who kept the flame alive during Sabbath's late seventies decline.
In 1974 the fledgling Priest, consisting of founding members KK Downing (guitar) and Ian Hill (bass), Rob Halford (vocals), Glen Tipton (guitar), and John Hitch (drums) recorded their debut LP 'Rock a Rolla'. The album was barely noticed by the public or the press, but it does contain a few gems. 'Never Satisfied' and 'Dying to Meet You' are worthy tunes. At this stage Priest was very much a heavy blues band. They had yet to develop into the Metal Gods they would become.
In 1976, after a couple of years playing the European hard rock circuit, another small label gave them another chance to record. The resulting 'Sad Wings of Destiny' fared better. The style was much the same, but the strength of songs like 'The Ripper' and 'Victim of Changes' showed an improvement in composition.
The promise that 'Sad Wings...' showed resulted in a major label deal. Judas Priest signed with Columbia Records and returned to the studio with Deep Purple's Roger Glover producing, drum legend Simon Phillips behind the kit, and a proper budget.
Glover, who had produced a couple of successful Nazareth albums ('Razamanz', 'Loud and Proud', and 'Rampant'), brought a much improved quality of production. Their efforts culminated in 1977's 'Sin After Sin'. Equal in scope to it's predecessors, 'Sin After Sin' is ambitious in it's composition, and like it's predecessors, it doesn't really know what it is. Up to this point Priest had been leaning much more toward the Zepplin standard than to that of their elder brethren Sabbath.
There are moments, flashes of what would come. Songs like 'Sinner' and 'Starbeaker' not only were beacons in the Hard Rock wilderness, they established a Judas Priest tradition of song titles that end with 'er'.
'Stained Class' followed in 1978, and the die was cast. 'Stained Class' is my favorite Priest record. The addition of Les Binks (drums) is a major factor in the vast improvement this record showcases, but clearly the band had discovered who they were. 'Stained Class' is a Heavy Metal record. 'Exciter' kicks it off at breakneck double kick drum velocity. The band is searing white hot metal. This, in 1978, was something wholly new. Sharper and faster than Sabbath, and way heavier than Zepplin, Priest had broken new ground.
'Stained Class is relentlessly good. 'Invader' is a touch less than stellar, but cuts like 'Heroes End', 'White Heat, Red Hot', and 'Stained Class' alongside of classics like 'Beyond the Realms of Death' and 'Saints In Hell' comprise a record incredible depth, focus, and wailage.
Then they turned around a year later and threw 'Hell Bent For Leather' at us. They had no mercy. 'Hell Bent....' further solidified the Priest sound, and in turn did the same for Heavy Metal. The album opener, 'Delivering the Goods', perfectly surmises the whole record. Probably a stronger record than my beloved 'Stained Class', 'Hell Bent...' is leaner (read less progressive), meaner, and bears one of the all-time greatest album covers.
As the record's title suggests, this is where the leather shows up. Studded leather would become a Metal staple, and it all began with Rob's visit to a London fetish boutique.
On the verge of The Big Time, Judas Priest put out a live album recorded during the Japan leg of thier world tour in support of 'Hell Bent for Leather' (in Europe the LP was titled 'Killing Machine'). 'Unleashed in the East' cemented the band's place as the Hard Rock top dog, and primed the marketplace for their next record. Basically a live greatest hits package, 'Unleashed in the East' showcases Priest's broad dynamics and sheer power.
In 1980 Judas Priest was primed for the coup de gras, and they did not fail to deliver. 'British Steel' is a landmark record. It is ground zero for the 'New Wave of British Heavy Metal'. What Priest had been doing, the standard they were bearing, the trails they were blazing had accumulated it's share of disciples. Heavy Metal bands were coming out of the woodwork, and elsewhere.
There's no denying the greatness of 'British Steel'. It's a masterwork of Metal. It's also the beginning of the end. 'British Steel' not only became the blueprint for Metal at large, it became the blueprint for Judas Priest.
1981's 'Point of Entry' marks the end of growth for Judas Priest. It was the last moment of exploration, the last examples of innovation. Priest went pop, and admirably so. 'Point of Entry' is still Metal, it's still Priest, but it's decidedly nicer than previous efforts.
Reaction to 'Point of Entry' was a bit cool. It sold well enough, but there was some confused fans. Where did the heavy go? To their discredit, the band listened.
Hey, I bought 'Screaming for Vengeance' when it came out (1982). I gave it many spins. Everyone did. It was all 'Hurray, Priest is heavy again'. A year later, however, we were all listening to a different record, any other record, but not that one. It had no lasting appeal. 'Screaming for Vengeance' was an attempt by a band to recreate a past success, in this case 'British Steel'.
1984's 'Defenders of the Faith' suffered the same disease, and ultimately the same fate.
These records don't suck, per se, they just aren't vital, because they aren't alive, they are photostats of impressions of past glories.
We don't discuss, or acknowledge any ensuing Judas Priest releases, if in fact they do exist, ......Sir.
Great rundown. I didn't really get too excited about British Steel, perhaps because it was being overplayed all the time and I thought 'Breakin' the Law' was so lame that it brought the whole effort down a bit.
Screaming for Vengence? Bloodstone is the only worthy cut IMHO.
Point of Entry? I was, and remain, infatuated with 'Desert Plains'. I worked up an acoustic version of it a while ago and thought Johnny Cash would have sounded good doing a stripped version of it.
If you leave off 'Livin' After Midnite', 'Breakin' the Law', and 'Grinder', 'British Steel' is fantastic.
From 'Point of Entry' I dig 'Turning Circles', 'You Say Yes', 'Solar Angels', and your 'Desert Plains', which I agree, Johnny would have done it justice.
I can't really stomach much from 'Screaming....'
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