Saturday, July 21, 2012

Judas Priest: The 70's

Post #206
It is clear that heavy metal music has its roots in the late-60's and early-70's. However, it is truly the 70's where the course of metal music as a genre found its footing and began to branch down different paths of development. One of the most crucial bands in establishing metal's stronghold is Judas Priest. They had two very talented guitarists in KK Downing and Glen Tipton, but even more significant was their one-of-a-kind vocalist- Rob Halford. Halford had a vocal range of about 4 octaves, which is among the widest vocal ranges in metal music. Very early in their career, Judas Priest began making the most of these coveted talents, and helped launch a new era for the heavy metal genre which is still going strong today.

Priest released their debut album, Rocka Rolla, in 1974. Compared to most of the rest of their albums, this one is a little rough around the edges. Perhaps a bit before Priest would truly find their signature sound, this is still an interesting recording. Here you'll find a band existing somewhere between psychedelic rock and the heavy-blues rock from which metal would soon sprout.

My top picks from Rocka Rolla:
-One for the Road
-Rocka Rolla
-Cheater (on the compact disc this is part of medley also featuring- Winter, Deep Freeze, and Winter Retreat)
-Diamonds and Rust (an early version of their Joan Baez cover that would also appear on the Sin After Sin album a few years later, this song was added as a bonus track after remastering in the 80's)

With their second album in '76, Priest delivered a true classic. Sad Wings of Destiny still stands the test of time as a crucial album in the early landscape of heavy metal. No less than 4 tracks from this album have become concert set-list favorites over the years: 'Victim of Changes', 'The Ripper', 'Tyrant' and 'Genocide'. This is the album where Judas Priest really began to find their signature sound.

Sad Wings of Destiny is more than a keystone album for Judas Priest, it has been a major influence to the entire heavy metal genre since its release. Many of today's prominent metal bands still refer to Sad Wings when recounting the days when they discovered a love for heavy music. Particularly thrash metal owes a great deal to this album, for it's where many of the key elements of thrash were first revealed.

My picks from Sad Wings...
-Victim of Changes
-The Ripper
-Island of Domination

1977's Sin After Sin was Priest's first album for CBS Records (which would morph into Columbia Records in due time). With support from the record company Judas Priest by now were able to tour in the US, broadening their audience significantly. More importantly, they were carving their own niche as songwriters and had truly begun to pave a significant road for Heavy Metal music. One fact that illustrates this album's significance might be that thrash titan Slayer chose to cover the song 'Dissident Aggressor' from this album. It remains a concert favorite for both bands.

My Picks from Sin After Sin:
-Diamonds and Rust (The famous Joan Baez cover)
-Last Rose of Summer (This song shows the softer side of Judas Priest as well as any song they've ever written. Clean, melodic ballad showcases Halford's true vocal talent as well. Perhaps the last song by Priest that really sounds more psychedelic rock than metal.)
-Dissident Aggressor

-Race With the Devil
-Jawbreaker (Live)

Stained Class was released in 1978, and this is the album I have come to call my favorite among Judas Priest's work from the 70's. I rank it among my top-5 favorite albums from Priest overall. This album again features many songs that get repeated inclusion in concert set lists and compilation albums. 'Exciter' and 'Stained Class' being the heavier offerings on this album, but to my ears, the most memorable song here is 'Beyond the Realms of Death'.

'Beyond the Realms of Death' was the most unique song Priest had recorded by this point in their career. Primarily driven by melodic guitar phrases, and a somber minor-key tone, the chorus kicks into a heavy riff, and Halford's voice converts from soft vocal melodies to more aggressive screams. This song has even been referenced by Metallica as being a key to their pursuit of the clean/heavy/clean song structures they developed in the mid-80's.

Other notes of significance on Stained Class: It is the first album to feature Les Binks on drums. Binks also is credited as co-writing the aforementioned 'Beyond the Realms of Death' with Halford. It is also the first album to feature the now-classic Judas Priest logo. The album artwork (by Roslav Szaybo), seems to depict the famous head-injury suffered by Phineas Gage in 1848, although the angle of the rod-through-the-head is a little bit off.

My top picks from Stained Class:
-Stained Class
-Saints in Hell
-Beyond the Realms of Death (DO NOT MISS THIS ONE!)
-Heroes End

-Fire Burns Below
-Better By You, Better Than Me (Live)

1979 brought Hell Bent for Leather to the metal masses. Judas Priest were growing in popularity with each release at this point. This album is a great example of the band maintaining their grip with accessible, radio-friendly heavy rock, as it contains a few songs that are best described as anthems, while still pushing the edge of heavy metal. 'Rock Forever' and 'Take on the World' are those anthem type of songs. Conversely they still had several songs on the cutting edge of heavy metal, like 'Hell Bent for Leather' and 'Running Wild'. Keep in mind, however, that this was the 1970's, and the only way to achieve success was through radio air-play, so music couldn't get as aggressive as it can today and still survive.

Overall, the direction of this album would be right on par with much of the material Priest would write throughout the 80's, making Hell Bent for Leather a true classic of heavy metal.

My favorite tracks from Hell Bent for Leather:
-Delivering the Goods
-Rock Forever
-Hell Bent for Leather
-The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown) (A cover of a Fleetwood Mac song, and Priest make this one their own as well as they did on 'Diamonds and Rust')
-Running Wild
-Before the Dawn (Again, I recommend the softest track on the album. I can't help enjoying a band that maintains their versatility through the years.)

-Fight For Your Life
-Riding on the Wind (Live)

By 1979, Judas Priest had been touring the world with growing success for well over 2 years. They chose to close the decade with a live album documenting their well earned status as one of the best new heavy metal bands in the world. Unleashed in the East was that album, and it remains one of the best live albums by any metal band in the 70's.

When the Judas Priest albums were remastered in 2001, 4 bonus tracks were adding to this release. Also recorded live from the same tour, these extra tracks make this album and even greater masterpiece.

My top picks from Unleashed in the East:
-The Ripper
-The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)

-Rock Forever
-Delivering the Goods
-Hell Bent for Leather

No comments: