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Class ?

Main Category: Heavy Metal
Also applicable: Arena Rock
Starting Period: The Interim Years
Also active in: The Punk/New Wave Years, The Divided Eighties,

From Grunge To The Present Day



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Year Of Release: 1974
Overall rating =

I'd love to see these guys as Coke distributors. "Coca Cola woman for a Coca Cola man!..."


Track listing: 1) One For The Road; 2) Rocka Rolla; 3) Winter; 4) Deep Freeze; 5) Winter Retreat; 6) Cheater; 7) Never Satisfied; 8) Run Of The Mill; 9) Dying To Meet You; 10) Caviar And Menths.

Let us put our brains together and guess the potential repercussions of the Beatles releasing their first LP not in 1963, but, say, around 1959 or so. Well, no repercussions, actually. But most probably every critical guide to the Beatles would be starting with a one-star review and acid lines like "this is certainly not the Beatles the way the world later learned to respect and love them" and be laced with predictable tags of "having yet to show their potential", "copycats lacking self-assurance", "far removed from the revolutionary inventiveness of the future", and the inevitable (in unpublished form) "fucking sucks". Oh yes, the greatest cliche of them all: "a historical curio".

This imaginary approach has in reality been applied to everybody from David Bowie to Tori Amos, but there are few bands to whom it could be applied better than Frankie Lee, er, I mean, John Wesley Harding, that is to say, Judas Priest. Some sources claim that the band actually invented the dual rhythm guitar attack on Rocka Rolla. Could be, but who the heck would care? The thing that matters is that Rocka Rolla is simply generic mid-Seventies hard-rock, with occasional lame claims for artsiness, occasionally annoying levels of dumbness, and a few fun tunes scattered here and there whenever the band isn't too busy wallowing in dated guitar effects or pointless instrumental jamming.

The sour news is it took the band about five years to rise on its feet, assemble a steady lineup, get a tink-tink in the songwriting department, and release an album - this? Little more than the humble sum of its influences, which are many indeed, ranging from Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple (hats off) to Uriah Heep and the newly-emerging Bad Company (hats back on). They even hired Black Sabbath's original producer, Rodger Bain, to give 'em the edge. But "sum" this is indeed: the band's biggest flaw is a complete lack of direction, which is, I must say, pretty disturbing when coming from a bunch of gritty axemen. One minute they're doing this brawny barroom stuff, then they suddenly launch into epic suites, then it's basic rock'n'roll and then a heavy rock mantra with signs of trippiness. I like my hard rock focused; when it's running all over the place, it's simply in no position to perform its main, vital, visceral function - namely, kick serious booty.

If they were actually to reduce the record to a 5-song EP I might have been wooed (then again, you'd never know because I don't review EPs unless they're turned into full CDs with massive amounts of bonus tracks - and what would be the use of that?). These five rockers aren't exactly crown jewels, but this is where you feel that yes, this is a band with quite a bit of playing expertise behind its belt. Loud, ugly, clumsy (in the good sense), and the guitar tones range from standard mid-Seventies to kinda freakish. What's that they be doing on the title track, for instance? Running the sound through a 220V outlet or something? And I actually heard they'd recorded all of this live? Nice going.

The one thing that sticks in my head the hardest is the looped riff to 'Never Satisfied'. Yes I'm ashamed. There's little else of interest to this song except for solos, echoes, and words, some of which are tied together to form virtual verbal Stonehenges like "love is gone, along with fun, now we're reaching for the gun". But the riff, whoo. Downing must have been heavy on Hawkwind fandom. Slow, draggy, druggy and it goes on for a period of time just enough for you to mash your occiput into a bloody pulp on the nearest wall. They never really tried it again because most of their fans would probably go mental and then where would Halford be picking up romantic pardners?

Speaking of Halford, I'm not at all satisfied with his performance on this album. (Not that I care - not that he cares - not that anybody cares, but then Mick Jagger still hasn't found satisfaction either and everybody cares about him, so evidently these two things are not interdependent). On the operatic numbers, he sings opera, and that's awful; on the rock'n'roll numbers, he sings rock'n'roll, and that's generic. He simply hadn't found the famous "hiccupy" vocal style yet and mostly sounds like a more tightly wound up version of Paul Rogers, you know, like a Paul Rogers that suddenly lost interest in the female part of his audience (gee, I wonder why could that be?) and simultaneously dropped all the silkiness and softness from his cords. At the very least, though, he doesn't directly ape any of his betters (Gillan, Plant, Byron, etc.), so we'll drop the case.

Back to the songs - 'One For The Road' and the title track can come in handy along with a Budweiser six-pack after a hard day's work at Burger King (boy, do I ever suck at elitist jabs), but, again, will hardly be of any use to classic Priest fans. The title track, in fact, is about woman love, which is just plain... wrong. It's like George Harrison singing Motorhead's 'Don't Need Religion'. And it's also got this weird minimalistic guitar solo which is just two or three notes repeated over and over, not because that's all Tipton could play at the time, but because they probably wanted to hit the pop charts with it or something. In the end it all looks so silly that I don't even have the strength to be offended.

The only song that remotely sounds like typical mid-Seventies Priest is 'Cheater' (and the resemblance is already well visible in the title; Judas Priest are known for their little weakness towards the nominal suffix "-er" just as Dylan is known for his passion for the adverbial suffix "-ly"). And from what I can tell, it wasn't even on the original album, although it is included on my CD. It's got the twin guitar attack and a far more aggressive, viciously attuned vocal delivery - but it's still much too bluesy to be in the correct ballpark.

And then the real fun begins! An EIGHT AND A HALF MINUTE song, for instance, appropriately titled 'Run Of The Mill'. Don't tell anybody, but I actually think that some of the endless soloing on that track is kinda neat. It isn't just bluesy guitar heroics, it's atmospheric and minimalistic, and sometimes there are two guitar parts, quietly musing and conducting their quiet little countermelodies against each other, nonchalantly unaware that in a few minutes the fun will be ending and you'll have to listen to long winding vibratos out of Halford's throat when you could have been enjoying a first-rate La Scala performance instead. Then I come back to my senses and realise that, oh sweet Jesus, I used to scoff at motherfuckin' Led Zeppelin for doing those things, and now I'm praising Judas Priest for them? What the heck is my problem? Might as well be praising them for the completely non-descript folk-rock (sic!) instrumental 'Caviar And Meths' that closes the album. (Rumours say that it was originally much longer but the nasty producer had them cut it down, maybe because it was lulling him to sleep, in which case I do empathise).

First prize for ridiculousness, though, unquestionably goes to the 'Winter' suite. Okay, please don't laugh: Judas Priest actually wrote a mini-symphony about a harsh, cold winter and how it ended and the birds began singing again. I said don't laugh - put yourself in these guys' shoes in mid-'74 and God only knows what you'd have to be writing mini-symphonies about. Even Frank Zappa was writing about winter. (Okay, so he was writing about Eskimos eating the yellow snow, to be precise, but that was just his take on the subject). The thing is, that gives them a good excuse for some guitar hooliganry and a sissie ballad chunk as an added bonus. Yes, of course it's horrible, but at least it's curiously horrible. As is the album in general, I guess. No wonder it took them a whole two years to follow it up with something - so that the world could forget all about it and critics wouldn't be bringing it up with every next review. Wise move.

Well, supposedly the law people in Coca Cola had their own reasons when they complained about the album cover - who'd want their brand's name associated with such a Quasimodo of an album? Although, on the other hand, the cover is unquestionably the most stylish thing about it. Makes me thirsty just to look at it.



Year Of Release: 1976

Now this is certainly the beginning of the true Judas Priest, although they're actually just starting to find their new face. There are still lots of Deep Purplisms and Black Sabbathisms here, but looks like the guys had been taking their clue from Rainbow and Rush as well, with all kinds of cheesy stories and epics and Goth and D&D elements. Not to mention more simplistic praises of violence, like an ode to Jack the Ripper or two.

Essentially, though, this is still good old Seventies metal; no thrash metal or speed metal elements in full flight on here, i.e. the Priests haven't yet begun to tighten up their screws to become the ass-kicking hair-leather monsters of a few years later. Yes, Sad Wings is a departure from the far more bluesier and less idiosyncratic Rocka Rolla, but it's not a 'revolution' in sound as some put it. (Actually, Judas Priest didn't really advance in 'revolutionary' moves, but that's another story). It's just a collection of good metallic rockers and laughable power ballads. Perhaps I'm putting it a bit too straightforward, but that's just to satisfy the interests of those who wouldn't want to read any further.

In any case, the album opens with two of the best songs this band ever did. 'Victim Of Changes', in particular, is considered to be a near-classic, an eight-minutes long metal anthem that doesn't sound all that different from, say, a particularly venomous Sabbath monster on first listen, but as you listen further, you realize that it's actually a perfect transition phase from the classic mid-Seventies Sabbath sound to the classic Eighties' metal sound, predicting a large part of that scene. It also kicks a solid amount of ass, with well-constructed riffs, solid interplay between Downing and Tipton, and Halford's operatic screaming in full flight; here he is, the prototypic heavy metal screamer - Robbie Plant, eat your heart out! (You gotta NOT take this too seriously, ya understand: I do like the song, and since the Priests were basically the first to introduce that style, they're certainly better at it than miriads of their successors).

'The Ripper' is pretty good, too, although I could do without the background screaming, but it struts along at a nice pace and... basically, that's it, it just has a nice aura around it, that's all, I think. A nice aura of blood and destruction. I don't know what else to write about the song.

The rest of the album is constructed around two 'suites' - one short, one long. The ideas, lyrics and atmosphere of both suites suck; but then again, if you're into Judas Priest for the lyrics or atmosphere, you're a dangerous member of society and I wouldn't want to have anything with you, much less have you on this site. Another problem is that 'Dream Deceiver' is just a rhythm-enhanced primitive ballad that doesn't develop or go anywhere at all (the only development is that Halford's technically perfect voice gradually goes from low growl to high scream, but while that might sound good on paper, it's not really a pretty sight). The good news is that 'Dream Deceiver' finally gives way to the rocking stomp of 'Deceiver' proper, which sounds almost like Uriah Heep, but it just a wee bit better - the wee bit consisting in that Downing and Tipton certainly beat out Mr Mick Box on guitars. Before we go on, I'd just like to state that these comparisons with Uriah Heep are very much justified - Judas Priest took as much from that band, at least for these early formative stages, as they did from any other bands; however, their superior playing skills, somewhat better and catchier attempts at songwriting, and innovative priorities certainly plant them far ahead of the Heepsters.

The second suite features the band's miraculous decision to incorporate a piano in their sound... not that they're as good at keyboard playing as they're at guitar picking, but it's not often that you meet piano-based tunes on records by notorious heavy metal bands, and there are at least two here: the short 'Prelude' and one of the band's better ballads, 'Epitaph'... not to be confused with the FAR FAR FAR superior 'Epitaph' by King Crimson, but definitely not bad if you're in for pleasant, relaxative Queen-esque atmosphere; they even make a nice vocal harmony arrangement.

Although, of course, it's still the rockers that make the grade - 'Tyrant', 'Genocide' and 'Island Of Domination' all sound as cheesy as their titles suppose them to be, but they're all riff-based and make you stomp your foot, locking your will in a steel casket. They're not excellent songs, mind you, or else I'd give the record a higher rating; they're just solidly written. Considering that by 1976, the older metal bands were creatively exhausted (Zeppelin, Sabbath; Purple were no more), and the newer metal bands like Rainbow were placing a bit too much emphasis on the 'artsy' sides, adding spaced out synths ('Stargazer', eh?) and stuff like that, Sad Wings really made some impact on the metal scene. It's dated, though. Somewhat.



Year Of Release: 1977

Definitely not the most typical of Judas Priest releases, and in some ways a regress from the vicious slam of Sad Wings; they would never be the same after this, tightening themselves up and assuming an ultra-aggressive, ultra-vicious stance beginning from next year. Thus, hardcore metal fans tend to dismiss the album, complaining about its relative "sissyness"... now the fact that I give it such a high rating can actually mean one thing: Halford, Tipton and Downing used to be good, even very good songwriters. Yup, that's what happens on Sin After Sin, maybe their most well-balanced album of all.

In fact, I can count only one serious misfire: the overblown operatic ballad 'Here Come The Tears'. It's fashioned so disgustingly in accordance to the classic laws of all power ballads that it simply reeks. Opening melancholic acoustic guitar? You got it. Screaming "emotive" vocals? Sure, especially in the laughable 'I want to be lo-o-o-o-ua-ua-ua-ved!!' section. An onslaught of monotonous power chords and an obligatory 'cathartic' guitar solo? Right away, sir. I hate this song, it's so dang worthy of similar efforts by Aerosmith...

Which is not to say I hold similar emotions for 'Last Rose Of Summer'. When I first heard the song, I couldn't believe my ears... I almost figured I was listening to a San Francisco band like Love or a particularly expressive Stevie Winwood ballad. The song's got impeccable harmonies, gorgeous vocal hooks, blistering guitar interplay (slightly 'phased out' acoustic rhythm and economic, but tasteful electric licks woven around), and a lengthy coda which burns into your brain as one member of the band chants 'last rose of summer' and Halford wails in the background a la Robert Plant. Certianly the least idiosyncratic song in the entire Judas Priest canon, it's really a masterpiece of a ballad, and one way to prove that these guys had talent - and an untrivial one, too.

Of course, the main emphasis is still on the rockers; don't you get the impression that Sin After Sin represents a soft-rock sellout. And for the most part, the rockers kick ass. 'Sinner' opens the record with a riff stolen from 'Whole Lotta Love', but slightly changed and sped up, so it brings us one step closer to the classic thrash techniques. The band's unexpected cover of Joan Baez' 'Diamonds And Rust' is supposed to be a classic and had quickly metamorphosed into a stage favourite, but it's a bit too melodramatic for my tastes, and there's really no need for the song in the light of a whole bunch of similarly-sounding Nazareth epics all based on the same chuggin' fast tempo and brooding power chords. (Which reminds me - Sin After Sin might also be called the most 'second-hand' Judas Priest album, with Zeppelin, Purple, Sabbath, Nazareth, Uriah Heep and Aerosmith influences all competing with each other, and only a very limited bunch of original ideas to sweeten up the pie. Gee! These guys sure could steal).

The two highlights, of course, are the two fastest numbers. 'Call The Priest' has Tipton and Downing engage in lightning-speed Blackmore-style riffage, but the exact riff belongs to none else but Judas Priest, and if you don't pay attention to Halford's lyrics (which aren't exactly bad but are, eh, a bit befuddling, if ye happen to know what I mean), it will kick your ass in a way no previous Priest song could... not to mention that it ain't actually aggressive: the spirit of the song is essentially a celebratory one, a song of optimism and hope. Not so with 'Dissident Aggressor', a song later covered by Slayer of all people; this one's a typical hellish nightmare, the heaviest and most violent track on the album, apparently telling a tale about a brave soul braving the Berlin Wall (?). I could certainly do without the goofy Uriah Heep-style falsetto, but heck, this is the New Wave of Heavy Metal coming on. How can we have our heavy metal devoid of falsetto? Ugh...

Just in order to mention everything, I'll conclude by saying that 'Starbreaker' never really managed to break my personal star, and 'Raw Deal' is a pretty cool rifffest, although I'm not sure if crossing heavy metal with barroom rock was such a good idea. Well, you gotta try everything in your life, don't you? Truth be told, 'Raw Deal' is also one of the most complex songs in the Priest catalog, running through several different sections and trying all kinds of gimmicks, even sounding remotely 'psychedelic' at several points.

Which, in the end, means that Sin After Sin is the band's most diverse album, the kind of album that gives heavy metal, even hair metal, a good name, although the genre's most ardent favourites will hardly agree with it. It might even have been the best heavy metal album of 1977. Who knows? Who really cared about heavy metal in 1977? What with punk and everything?.. Hey, just kidding. Metal fans have always been a pretty consistent bunch of people. You gotta respect them for being so tough, even if you sometimes want to have all of 'em shot. (No, that's not me. I was just trying to capture some of the fluids...).



Year Of Release: 1978

Okay, this one brings us even closer to the band's "metal gods" status. The transitional period is over; the ballads are sung and the experimental approach has been applied, for better or for worse. Now we're just kicking ass! All the nine songs on here are rockers, some slow, some fast, some riff-based, some not exactly, but all of them loud, ecstatic and milking the guitarists' talents for all their worth.

In a certain sense, Stained Class is simply the album that opened the door for Eighties metal. Fast, rip-roaring, with all those lightning-speed solos, shrill high vocals that revel in hysteria... nobody really tried it that way before this band. Oh sure, Deep Purple did: in fact, the lead-off track, 'Exciter', once again reminds me of that band's hyper-speed approach, most notably on songs like 'Fireball'. But Deep Purple never concentrated that much on this sole 'ass-kicking' aspect of the whole shenanigan. And I must say that, just as every groundbreaking album, Stained Class is tons of times better than most of the things that followed.

One certainly needn't pay much attention to Halford's lyrics, by this time they're the usual kind of apocalyptic pretentious balderdash; one should, however, note that Judas Priest at least evade the usual "Look-at-Me-I'm-Satan" routine, as most of the lyrics are social-critique-oriented. Never mind, though. What matters is that Tipton and Downing do not try to hide behind the loudness of their instruments, really playing those guitars in a superb, professional manner. And Halford actually sings, not just screams his head off. That's a plus.

'Exciter' is truly an excellent tune, quite in the tradition of Priest opening their albums with an explosive classic. I'm pretty sure that unless you're an age-tested, beer-soaked metal fan, Halford wailing 'stand by for Exciter!' for a few dozen times will get on your nerves eventually, but until then, it's just a nice rocker with a funny "poppy" mid-section, killer solos and that classic speed-metal drive that's so hard to resist when it's done well. Now sue me, I really like 'Exciter'. That said, it's about the only tune that really sticks in my head. The following songs simply expand on the same formula. They're all well-done, I simply can't blame them. See, I can't deny there are all kinds of complex and excellently developed metal riffs on there, now can I? Plus, I can't deny Halford's vocal talents. I can't deny that Tipton and K.K. really understand the essence of metal.

So apparently, it's just my own problem that these songs don't manage to thrill me as particularly memorable. I can just say that I like the overall sound they got going on here, and the overall vibe doesn't strike me as offensive. As usual, the problem with Eighties' metal was that too many people mistook the accents - many thought that the 'New Wave of British Metal' placed the main accent on heaviness, speed, shocking image and provocating Satanic lyrics. While I know nothing about Judas Priest' image in 1978, I can certainly say that the main accent in this album is on writing a solid metal composition and performing it in an energetic and involving manner. This is no Poison, I tell ye!

Okay, I'll go ahead and try to figure out a couple highlights, even if that's a near impossible task for me - everything is so even. 'Hero's End', the album closer, is pretty good, I think, with a decent lyrical message, a steady, unerring mid-tempo drive, and cool distorted onslaught of overdubbed guitar solos. The quintessential heavy metal number. 'Saints In Hell' possesses a nice vocal hook, that is, if you're not alergic to Halford's intonations. Perhaps a particular standout is 'Better By You Better Than Me', another kind of song that shows why we needn't despise the band. The repetitive double-tracked riff definitely rules, effectively making its point and never overshadowed by any particular arrangement details; the lyrics deal with love passion, but not in a macho or misogynic manner; and the pompous mid-section isn't at all overbearing or inadequate.

Overall, though, I wouldn't call Stained Class a major artistic success. It's a huge step forward in terms of developing the band's sound, but Judas Priest were the kind of band that used to separate 'innovation' and 'quality' and either make an 'innovative' album (Sad Wings) or a 'quality' album (Sin After Sin). Meaning that it actually took them some time to expand on a fresh idea. It ain't too bad, now is it? We can't all be like the Beatles. Hey, some bands never really make that second step towards maturity at all. Heck, some bands never even make the first step.



Year Of Release: 1978

Hey there! The ballads are back! 'Before The Dawn' is an acoustic medieval-styled ballad! Echoey production and all! And IT SUCKS!

Well, maybe not exactly sucks. It's just that when you do these things, you're supposed to do them in such a manner that the listener be stunned, shocked, left breathless and bloodless. Otherwise, you'll look like an amateurish sucker who just decided to play something 'gentle and romantic' on his six-string. That's more or less what they achieve with that song, although, granted, it's still pretty and inoffensive. Rather like that amazing anthem of universal vanity, the immortal 'Dust In The Wind' by Kansas. Or wait, did I mess up something in my head?

In any case, don't think that the album is all dedicated to these ballads, otherwise, it'd hardly sport the title Killing Machine. On the contrary, it features some of the band's meanest, fastest and most 'grinding' rockers up to date. As usual, it begins with a devastating metal classic, 'Delivering The Goods', where Halford finally founds his voice. Ooh, how we love thee, Terrible Metal Monster. Disclaimer: the lyrics on the album are again totally inoffensive. It's all about partying and making rock'n'roll and fearless bikers and maybe having some, you know, once in a while, but not that often. 'Delivering The Goods', of course, refers to the Devil's music, not at all to 'big ten inch records' or something like that. Cool song, all that a solid heavy metal thumper should be. Only the guitar solo sounds somewhat uncertain and floundering. Maybe K.K. forgot to deliver the goods, after all.

Another instant classic, of course, is 'Hell Bent For Leather', the band's biker anthem that served as the title for this album in the U.S. If you don't get a fit from hearing Halford growl 'hell bent, hell bent for leather' in his well-expressed sadistic intonations, you have no sense of humour. (I don't even WANT to think about these guys taking themselves seriously... hey, we're all in it for the fun). And then there's the title track, which is a bit slower, but maybe somewhat more effective; if I get it right, Halford sings about the adventures of a paid killer, and it makes my skin crawl in a few places. Just a few, though. The riffage on this number is really heavy, I mean really really, as in a Tony Iommi riff. Funny it took them so long to get the right tone and pitch and volume.

Other tracks aren't as impressive, but the good news is they differ in mood significantly so as not to give you the same bored look you could get from listening to Stained Class. Give the guys some credit - trying out diverse approaches on a hard rock album and coming out with an intact reputation is not something that any metal band is able to perform. 'Take On The World', for instance, is Judas Priest's attempt to make themselves a 'We Will Rock You', and features an equally infectious chorus. The only difference is that it's less commercially oriented than 'We Will Rock You', so it'll hardly be used to open football matches in the nearest few hundred centuries. (No, I don't like the song, but I just wanted to point out how arbitrary the popular decision is - here is a song that's totally and absolutely equal to 'We Will Rock You' and yet one is loved by millions and the other only by thousands of Judas Priest fans).

'Evening Star', on the other hand, begins as a ballad and then transforms into an upbeat pop-rocker, also with a slightly Queenish look, but with trademark Tipton and Downing interplay instead of Brian May's fantasies. The rest is familiar - 'Rock Forever', 'Evil Fantasies', 'Burnin' Up' - endless variations on the same topic. And, of course, how could a band as reckless as Judas Priest not write a song entitled 'Running Wild'? Heh, heh.

One thing I find real funny about Judas Priest is that, starting from Sad Wings, almost every next album of theirs can be said to be 'the beginning of the real Judas Priest'. Stained Class first introduced the massive emphasis on speedy frenzied guitar assault; Killing Machine makes the change complete by adding brutal vocal twists and fatter, more brutal guitar tones. Nice move - so the fans could rejoice with every new album that their heroes were becoming even less chained and retained than before. And oh, I haven't explained the rating yet? I like the two or three fast classics very much and despise, but don't hate the ballad and the stupid arena rocker. The rest is... again, the rest is well-constructed. Cool riffs, dude. One thing they lack is genial simplicity - these riffs rule, but only while they're on: they're way too complex and technically-oriented to trigger real specific emotional references. Like, you know... that 'Sweet Leaf' riff of Tony Iommi's which always gives me the feeling of giant waves crashing on a desert seashore. That's cool. These guys just play for aggression. They know their parts and they work well, but where are the disturbing emotional references? Gimme some specific disturbing emotional references! Now! Like Britney Spears' navel or something.



Year Of Release: 1979

Live this time, in Japan, as it seems. What's the difference? Don't think I can really tell. Okay, they can really rip it up on stage and all, but here's a crucial, as it seems, difference between classic early Seventies hard-rock and this "new wave metal": there's far less opposition between studio and live material than used to be. Where bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple would go with extreme caution in the studio, polishing all the sound and often reducing the general energy level in order to let the melody shine through more thoroughly, Judas Priest from the very beginning were keen on making their studio sound as loud, aggressive, vicious and violent as possible. Contrary to expectations, this doesn't make their music more powerful - it only makes their talents for songwriting (which are certainly existent) less easy to appreciate.

And then there's this live problem - for my money, albums like Unleashed In The East are friggin' useless. Detailed listenings and careful comparisons of the live versions of these songs with their studio prototypes will probably bring some differences to light, but who the hell needs 'em? The only big surprise on the album is Judas Priest's take on Peter Green's 'The Green Manalishi' (unless it was previously issued on a single, it can only be found here) - slow, riff-heavy, evil, blunter and dumber than the original, of course, but not without a charm of its own.

The rest is pretty much predictable - big hits and stage favourites from albums starting with Sad Wings Of Destiny, all lengthy, all heavy, not all speedy, but all energetic and stuff like that. In fact, four out of nine songs are from the 1976 album, as if to mark its utter importance in the Judas Priest catalog, and only a few from the more recent albums, so, actually, Unleashed In The East doesn't adequately represent Priest at the height of their Bash-It-All Metal Power. Of course, if you're mostly interested in the relentless speed-metal of albums like Screaming For Vengeance, this puppy would work well as an introduction to, or a solid representative album of Priest's "early" period - except that I'd love to see them perform 'Last Rose Of Summer'. Hey, does anybody know if these guys ever actually performed 'Last Rose Of Summer' in concert? I'll be damned if they did!

Oh, and yeah, the album does suffer from overdubs. Thus, Halford's vocals are said to have been completely re-recorded in a specially arranged live-in-the-studio session (which raises the question of authenticity - we all know re-recording your vocals for a live album in the studio is a cheap trick, but what about 'live in the studio' takes? How does your personal ethics bear with that?), because the stage sound wasn't properly captured in the mix, tee hee hee. The guitars are more or less authentic, though, which certainly says a lot about Tipton and Downing's experience at the time, but, like I said, they play in the exact same way as in the studio, so who really gives a damn?

Although yeah, I do give a damn - I think Halford sounds way better in the 'regular studio recording' state than he does here. The guy's got a lot of theatricality in him, but on most of these tracks the theatricality is gone, intentionally or not, I don't know, but mostly he just screams his head off. Just play the studio and live versions of 'Exciter' or 'The Ripper' back-to-back and you'll see what I mean. Ah, whatever, you simply don't need this album. I still give it a fair rating because the songs are not bad and they do them full justice, but maybe you would do better to proceed right through to a video of said period or something like that. Then again, if the album cover here is indicative at all of the band's typical live show (and it probably is), I'm not sure if purchasing a video of a Judas Priest concert is a worthy idea. This is, after all, hair metal. These stupid 'bifurcated' guitars and all. Just buy a couple studio albums and save your psyche.



Year Of Release: 1980

At this point, Judas Priest just wanted to kick ass, nothing else. No ballads, no soft spots; kick ass through and through. Together with Back And Black, this is easily the most energetic, frivolous and - consciously? unconsciously? - hilarious album of 1980. Full to the brim of mean and lean rockers with ridiculous lyrics, defiant vocal deliveries, and half-metallic, half-punkish guitar interplay that's second only to the Young brothers onslaught. Ah shit, let's just drop all the pretense and say: Judas Priest weren't really a "dumb par excellence metal band", they could occasionally do a good ballad, but it's the crunchy metallic overdrive that they do best, and for British Steel they have mobilized all their forces. The riffs have never been simpler than on here, but they have also never been more reaching and actually unpretentious. Hey, come on, Tipton and K.K. would never reach Metallica status anyway, so let 'em do what they do best.

And the best is, of course, when they're playing fast proto-thrash metal. Like on 'Rapid Fire', every metal lover's dream. I'm almost scared to admit I could almost take the song seriously. The lightning-speed riffage while Halford growls out 'pounding the ground like a battering ram, forcing the forge for the final grand slam' certainly blew everybody's minds in 1980, not to mention the ominous doom-laden riffs in between the lines. Rarely do the lyrics match the atmosphere of the melody so well - this is the band's 'Hell's Bells', except that the lyrics aren't so cliche-ridden as Brian Johnson's and the vocal delivery isn't so utterly hysterical, leaving enough space for "serious" interpretations. That's one hell of a metal tune.

Of course, you can't take stuff like 'Grinder' seriously in any case. 'GRINDEEEEEEEER! LOOKING FOR MEEEEEEEEEAAAT! GRINDEEEEEER! WANTS YOU TO EAAAAAAAAT!' gotta be the dumbest chorus I can remember with my short memory. But if you actually accept the hypothesis that the song itself is a celebration of Halford's homosexual ways, the lyrics suddenly become less idiotic... to a certain extent, at least. Watch out for that syncopated riff as well, one of the best that Malcolm Young never played (although he certainly played a lot that were quite close). Butt-ripping slower tunes also include 'Metal Gods' and 'The Rage' both of which are quite interchangeable but that's the essence of an uncompromising metal record for you. They're not the highlights on here anyway, but I definitely don't mind them, especially not 'Metal Gods' with its funny clanging of armour at the end of the tune. Peter Jackson should have taken that tune to illustrate the Orcs pouring out of the Black Gates.

'Breaking The Law' is also a classic - you could actually dismiss its main melody as stolen from Black Sabbath's 'Paranoid', but you know, this is essentially, what, "unexceptional thrash metal", and it all tends to sound the same like the blues, so you gotta watch the atmosphere rather than the chord sequences. And the Priest atmosphere, when supported by tight playing, rules immensely. Add to this some really impressive, really tight, really unnerving drum patterns from new cymbal annihilator Dave Holland, and you got yourself something there.

The biggest positive surprise is 'Living After Midnight', which actually has a very cheerful pop-metal chorus - 'living after midnight, rockin' to the dawn, lovin' till the morning, then I'm gone', as if these guys were Kiss or Van Halen, at best. But then the chorus surreptitiously changes to aggressive power chords, and the mood switches to "miscreant" in the blink of an eye. It's not over-excessive creativity by any means, but it's a pretty cool twist to merge the generic barroom rocker with the generic metal thunderstorm.

The biggest negative surprise - and the only tune on the entire album that openly sucks the asses of all the cattle in the neighbourhood and then some - is 'United'. What's up with bland anthemic crowd-pleasers? These guys were singing about Grinder, Looking for Meat, a minute ago, and now, as if nothing has happened, they cheer: 'united, united, united we stand, united we stand one and all' as if they were at a freakin' revival of all things? I can't exactly say they didn't bother to think of a melody for that song, because they did, but what good is a melody if it's used in a stupid populist fashion? That's the same thing that bugs me about Fleetwood Mac's 'Don't Stop', and you know, there is something common between these two songs. Hey, that's all right by me if you're writing a sissy ballad, but anthemic arena-rockers are definitely out of the question. Even bad taste knows its limits.

Regardless (well, I just learned to edit 'United' out of the playlist), this is still a classy album. Well, okay, essentially a trashy (thrashy?) album, but it does have class. Like a brutal fist clenched together, that kind of class. A big commercial success too, and for good reason. Any solid fan of Back In Black should definitely get this stuff.



Year Of Release: 1981

I'm gonna refrain from making a gay joke here because I could care less about the sexual orientation of Judas Priest, but I'm just gonna say I really dig Rob Halford and his cooky voice. I mean, heck, there's just something unique about the way he strings his words, something that nobody else does. Maybe it's the excessive rising of the intonation on the last word of each line. Maybe it's the way he forces his glottis and then "bursts it open" at the last syllable. Anyway, he's got a really neat way of expression, totally non-generic and totally butt-kicking.

Which is a good thing to notice at the beginning of the review for Point Of Entry, because apart from the singing, the album's just not really that hot, well, not in direct comparison to British Steel, at least. Maybe the riffs are somewhat more blunt, or maybe they just abuse the power of syncopation; too many songs seem to be based on the same "take three or four chords and put them at a solid distance from each other" principle, which shouldn't have been an absolute value in itself. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. How the heck am I supposed to like 'Turning Circles', for instance? It has about as much pure melodic value as 'I Can't Explain', but without the catchiness and the freshness, and I actually never knew that the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was supposed to take its inspiration in three-chord garage rock at any given moment. Umm, what about a little technical proficiency out there? The minimalism just kills me. Same goes for 'You Say Yes', which sounds like anything but a contribution from the world's leading heavy metal band. 'You say yes, I say no!' This ain't no fuckin' Beatles, for sissies' sake. Or if you're gonna transform into a pop song, drop the silly grittiness and the distortion at least.

Of course, my complaints do not apply to 'Heading Out The Highway', the album's highlight and easily in the Top Five Judas Priest songs ever written. This time, the looping grinding riff really works, but it ain't so much the riff or even the chorus as the verses that are really stunning. Not only are the lyrics really cool (I mean, it's no T. S. Elliot, but it's still neat to see a metalhead guy unfurl a pretty complex life/road metaphor for three complete verses), but also the way Halford spits the words out is terrific, with sentences carried over from one line to another and those cool intonations and all. I dunno, the song just deserves a more meticulous analysis than what I can allow myself on here, so see for yourself.

Neither do they apply to 'Troubleshooter' or 'On The Run', two mid-tempo menacing rockers that close the album. Now these two, particularly 'On The Run', are classic examples of minimalistic songwriting, because they have the drive and the bounce which the lazy sluggish 'Turning Circles' completely lacked. 'On The Run' has the swing, you know, the kind of mood that really makes you wanna tap your foot or play your air guitar or strangle your neighbour or do some other similar joyful things. Still, even so I can't get rid of the naggin' feeling that the guys rely on formula a bit too much on here. Crunchy riff, untrivial but not too catchy verse melody, powerful anthemic chorus, short economic solo from Tipton or Downing and then it's the end.

Wait! Silly me! Did I mention 'Hot Rockin' yet? It's the second best song after 'Heading Out The Highway'! It's the fastest thing on the album (another thing, too - where's the goddamn speed on this album? They made 'Exciter' several years earlier and nothing on here comes close in speed!), and it just totally defines the "basic rock and roll as we the leading metalheads of the Eighties understand the concept". There's no need for you to get all serious and pompous and fire cannons and scream 'for those about to rock, we salute you!' when you wanna make your own anthem to the devil's music. Your best bet is to scream 'I wanna go, I wanna go, I wanna go hot rockin'!' and speed up the tempo just a little bit and make the guitars sound scary, and there you are. Ooh. Had KISS written a single song like that throughout their entire existence, I might have ended up a cheerful fun-lovin' humble bourgeois rather than the sick mean-spirited mofo who can't take one word of critique in his address. I blame YOU, Paul Stanley, for ruining my life!

Before I go start sulking in the corner, I'd just like to mention that 'Desert Plains' is a good mid-tempo rocker, too, and a nice pretentious bombastic distraction from all the risky three-chord fun/boredom of the rest of the album. Great drumming throughout, and if you're not able to appreciate the way Halford massacres his chords on the 'From desert plains I bring you lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ove!' chorus, you're just as close-minded as all those dudes who prefer judging Britney Spears by her beautiful teenage eyes rather than her singing.

Oh sorry, did I say 'singing'? I certainly wanted to say 'wonders of plastic surgery'.



Year Of Release: 1982

You never know what kind of a pure chance might actually launch you into orbit; with Judas Priest, while their albums sold pretty well among metalheads as such for quite a long time, it was the hit single 'You've Got Another Thing Coming' that turned them into overnight superstars. And man was that ever a deserved stardom. The song is the band's 'You Shook Me All Night Long', one of those overdriven, over-super-duper-exciting party anthems that was made for constant radioplay as well as for blasting out of your car at full volume. The funny thing is, the style of the song is nothing particularly new: the same unnerving grinding mid-tempo metal beat, the same weird jerky-yell singing, the same cold, cruel, gruesome, jagged guitar lines, the same overdriven soloing, everything you can find on British Steel and earlier records. It's just that this time around they managed to gel all of those elements in a topnotch way, with nothing sounding out of place. Even the lyrics (expanding on the standard "rock'n'roll is my life, baby" thematics) are well-written.

But make no mistake, that's not the only thing about the album that's good. In fact, it isn't even too typical of the album. Here, the Priests tighten up their act some more, this time by making a huge emphasis on the production. No, don't fret, they're not adding synthesizers yet; guitars drive everything on this record. They just make their guitar sounds less 'basic' - the tones are "fatter", they're starting to use a lot of 'devices', play their instruments through electronic gadgets, I guess, to make the overall effect more brutal and more wall-of-sound-like than it was before. This is seen from the very beginning, when the forty-second instrumental 'The Hellion' opens the album with a loud burst of HEAVY bass rumbles and two guitars distorted like there were no tomorrow - and with that primitive, but already pretentious instrumental, you'd think the band were starting to metamorphose into Iron Maiden or something, but no, their basic rock/proto-punk roots were still too strong for that. So there's plenty of death and destruction on the album, but no bright swords or numbers of the beast.

The rule of thumb here is that the gritty rockers on Screaming For Vengeance are all good, very good even. 'Electric Eye', with the strange contrast of Halford's "smooth" singing in the first half of the verses and "jerky" singing in the second half, and the electronically encoded catchy 'I'm elected electric spy' chorus, is one hell of an album opener. But it's not really any better than 'Riding On The Wind', where Tipton and Downing raise total hell trying to impersonate the traveler through space Halford is singing about, with unbeatable riffs throughout and supercool cheesy solos. I know we all got that ironic little smile kept safe in the corner of our mouth to be unleashed whenever the n-th goofy hair metal guy leaps in the air and starts tearing at his strings a million notes per second without actually caring if the sequences he's playing make any kind of melodic sense, but geez, Tipton and Downing originated that style, so they obviously did it better than everybody else - they actually knew which strings they were tearing at. And since the basic parts of the songs are good, the speedy solos only make them better.

Then there's also 'Bloodstone'. You know how cool 'Bloodstone' is? Well, listen to this: in their entire career, AC/DC never wrote a song half as powerful as that one. Once you get past the hiccupy vocals (which I by now totally dig: you gotta admit Halford is a totally unique vocalist), there's the great driving riff and the devastating apocalyptic atmosphere. Yeah okay, so I said no numbers of the beasts here, but 'bloodstone' is merely an allegory for the fact that the world is fucked up. Of course we knew that already, but the way Halford and co. tell us about it is breathtaking. I'm particularly a sucker for that coda where Halford keeps going 'Bloodstone! Bloodstone!' for what seems like ages and the guitar riff keeps grinding its way through your eardrums and then finally it stops at the exact point you were wishing it would stop, not stupidly fading away or anything.

Then there's also the unstoppable speed-metal title track - not very memorable, but certainly ass-kicking to the ninth degree; the already described immortal hit single; and the closing 'Devil's Child', whose mighty refrain - 'I BELIEEEEEEVE YOU'RE THE DEVIL! I BELIEEEEEEEEVE YOU'RE THE DEVIL'S CHILD!' - I challenge you to get out of your head after listening to it the requisite three times (granted, I listened much more than that - hey, I like the album!). In among these good-to-excellent tracks comes a bunch of filler in the form of power-metal-ballads like '(Take These) Chains' and 'Pain And Pleasure', which few people really like and I'm not an exception, even if 'Pain And Pleasure' is kinda catchy in a perverse way. However, even if they're unmemorable and just saddle back the album with their lumpy, slow clumsiness, they're not really nasty or anything. It's not exactly populist "raise-your-lighters" kind of stuff which usually represents hard rockers at their absolute worst, just a couple of slower and less successful songs. They certainly don't prevent me from digging the rest of the album, a deserved commercial success if there ever was one. Judas Priest's best album? Sin After Sin and British Steel would certainly want to fight for that honour as well, but in any case, you gotta respect a band that's managed to stay consistent for such a long period.



Year Of Release: 1984

Mmm, I don't really like the way this album is produced. They have settled into a pretty dangerous groove with Screaming For Vengeance; all of their preceding albums were really down-to-earth, with loud flashy crunchy guitars that punched you in the nose and the singin' guy spittin' broken teeth in yer face. Then along comes the 1982 album, and hoopla, there's denser, more compressed production, and a more detached and distant way of singing, as if this time around Judas Priest had something to hide. Fortunately, the songs themselves were still so good the production actually didn't bother me.

But here, the songs are not as good, and the production is hideous. You know, Tipton and K. K. are really good guitarists, but it's pretty hard to single them out in this mess when the mean "barroom groove" is out and this constant muffle-the-instrument attitude is in. And Halford is a really cool singer, but he prefers to go and hide himself in the corner. Yeah, the Eighties are upon us and all, but compared to the Priests' main competition (Iron Maiden released Powerslave that same year), this record just doesn't cut it all that well. Add that the band finally starts running out of riffs, and you'll see why Defenders Of The Faith marked the end of an era and initiated the Priests' creative decline (not too soon, anyway - heck, they've been going upwards for ten years, so let's cut 'em some slack).

That said - there's still a lot of good things to be said. The songs may not be as inventive, but they're still catchy, one catchy chorus-rocker after another, and each and every one has enough headbanging power for everyone to stay satisfied. In fact, the first seven songs on the album are pretty much all interchangeable, but they all rule anyway, and I can't even pick a favourite. I think - although I can't really be sure - that my favourite just might be 'Some Heads Are Gonna Roll', maybe just because I like the title. Admit it, that's not just a simplistic cliche when it comes to aggressive evil rock. And Rob sings it with full conviction, too, without overdoing it, almost reciting it - 'some heads are gonna roll... some heads are gonna roll...'. Don't you just love it when a metal band takes the time to find a classy hook when it could have gotten by on aggression and exaggeration alone? And actually, the verses themselves are pretty poppy, after which they effectuate a smoothless transition into the mean grinding chorus.

Of course, that's just one song. I also like 'Rock Hard Ride Free' a lot, even if it's essentially just a stylistic upgrade of the immortal 'Hot Rockin' - again, with a transition from verse to chorus to die for, with Halford again demonstrating why he is deserving of a top spot in the best metal vocalists of all time league. 'Eat Me Alive' is VERY stupid and VERY dumb and VERY straightforward, just like its forefather 'Grinder' was, but that's part of its charm, just don't take the message too seriously (or too literally - no, this is not about cannibalism, you sick Satanic fuck-o). 'The Sentinel' is the most Maiden-like track on here, with the band allowing themselves to have a little fun with the dungeons & dragons imagery, and unsurprisingly, it's also one of the most complex songs, with unexpected tempo changes and even a quiet mid-section dominated by synth loops (an ominous precursor of worse things to come). The quiet mid-section totally sucks, but when the song does kick ass, then ass does it kick. More than enough.

There's also stuff like 'Jawbreaker' and 'Freewheel Burning', okay rockers that don't move me much but at least don't "sell out" the band or anything. And also a relatively slower-paced song called 'Love Bites', which is catchy enough, but there's something really ugly about the way Rob growls out 'in the dead of night, love bites, love bites', so I don't really like it a lot. Gotta admit it's moodier than the rest, though, with a nice supportive use of threatening keyboards and an inventive way of soloing (with K.K. and Tipton weaving their guitars around each other).

But really, the album only goes for shit towards the very end, with an uninteresting gothic-influenced power ballad ('Night Comes') and the idiotic anthem at the end ('Heavy Duty'/'Defenders Of The Faith'), which combines cock rock cliches with banal party ideology in an almost KISS manner. Yeah, it's pretty heavy and all, but it's like Judas Priest are trying to make their own version of 'We Are The Champions' or something. Maybe they just felt they needed some "bick-flicker-quality" kind of thing, because they lacked it in their setlist. Something, you know, slow and ecstatic. Okay, can't really blame them for that - every band wants an anthem to lead the fanatic crowd in a trance - but it doesn't mean that the "suite" itself isn't corny as hell, as well as melodically primitive.

Fortunately, it's only about four minutes long; the meat of the album still lies in the first brutal seven rockers. Granted, they're already nowhere near as brutal as before, due to the lifeless production, but still, they're pretty much alive compared to some of what would follow.


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