Friday 5 February 2021

Judas Priest - British Steel

Judas Priest were took the hard rock template defined by Sabbath, Purple and Led Zep, and refined it.  Along with Motorhead they were pre-cursors to all the Heavy Metal bands that appeared in late 1979/1980 under the umbrella of NWOBHM, and stayed at the top for a for while after, even getting a Live Aid appearance (between Crosby, Stills & Nash and Bryan Adams) into the bargain.  Yes, they were that big (certainly in America).

The pretty much defined the look (leather, studs, motorbikes) and sound (twin guitar, pummeling drums, and shrieking strained vocals), and were one of the first Metal bands to gain commercial success (particularly in the US).

They'd been building up to the sound and success of this album since their first release in 1974.  Chopping, changing, and refining, until they achieved peak Metal.  Since then it's been more of the same, a high profile US court case, Rob Halford leaving the band for a decade, and then coming out on MTV - he always looked a tad too comfortable with the leather and bondage gear (oops: unreconstructed statements a-go-go).  Since Halford's departure the albums continued, but were always perhaps missing "something" (his 4 octave vocal range perhaps?).  The eventual reformation saw the band pick up where they left-off with respectable album sales and sold-out arena shows. 

'Rock a Rolla' was their first release in 1974 - it's nice enough album - more Whitesnake blues-y than Hell Bent For Leather.  Second album 'Sad Wings Of Destiny' repeated the trick with more proggy elements, coupled with some heads down riffing that would become their stock-in-trade.
The limited success of the album caught the attention of CBS, and the debut major label album - 'Sin After Sin' - is another step closer to the recognised Judas Priest of yore.
1978s 'Stained Class' confirmed this, 1979s 'Killing Machine' underlined it, and the live 'Unleashed In The East' put the bells and whistles on it (not literally).

'Killing Machine' had more of a commercial bent than previous albums - no doubt at the insistence of CBS.
Just before the release of 'British Steel', the single "Living After Midnight" picked up plenty of radio play, a Julien Temple video, and appearances on Top Of The Pops.  It just missed the Top 10.
Second lifted single "Breaking The Law" had the same ingredients, and rose to the same chart position 3 months later.

The album opens with "Rapid Fire" - a typical pummeling start and setting the scene for the next half-hour of your life.  OK, it's not big on variety - walloping drums, moody - almost confrontational - vocals, and the obligatory guitar soloing, but it doesn't need to be.  It does what it says on the tin - it's British, and there is plenty of Steel (even if they hail from Birmingham, rather than Sheffield).  And there's even time to sneak a slower-paced, but no less shattering, anthem in the shape of "United" into the mix.  And closing track repeats the trick with the chest-thumping almost jingoistic "Red, White and Blue".  A Heavy Metal Jerusalem perhaps?

Whilst I have no firm recommendations after this one other than their 'Priest...Live!' from 1987, it's all much of a muchness with no faltering really. Formulaic may be a bit harsh, but sometimes it just needs a bit of a kick in the right direction.

If you only listen to 1 Judas Priest album, I heartily recommend this one

Living After Midnight


And as a head banging bonus - not from this album, but from the earlier 'Killing Machine':  Hell Bent For Leather

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