Welcome to another “Album by Album Challenge.” For those that are new here, the “Album by Album Challenge” is where I take a band’s entire discography and listen to every album in order of release from front to back. With my unforgiving and well-aged ear, I call it how I hear it. In some cases, I find that what I once thought was good is actually pretty crappy and sometimes crap manages to age into something pretty kick ass. And in some cases, face melting is still just good ol’ face melting.
This time around we have a two parter as we dive into the Judas Priest discography. For over nearly four decades Judas Priest has been synonymous with heavy metal but like most Priest fans my age, I feel like I only know about ½ of this band’s amazingly long and influential career. My first album was Defenders of the Faith and while I worked my way back I never went further back than British Steel. This challenge was a really exciting one with plenty of pleasant (and unpleasant) surprises.
For Part I we’ll start with the band’s 1974 debut Rocka Rolla and we’ll end this round with 1982’s Screaming For Vengeance.
Enough of my gabbing. Let’s do this.
Release Date: September 6, 1974
The Good: One for the Road, Rocka Rolla, Winter/Deep Freeze/Winter Retreat/Cheater, Never Satisfied, Run of the Mill, Dying to Meet You, Cavier and Meths, Diamonds and Rust.
For my very first time listening to this album in full I have to say that this was a fucking massively awesome experience. I mean, I always knew that Priest was a much different band in their beginning years than the kind of band they became famous for being. The opening song “One For the Road” really took me by surprise sounding more like Deep Purple than anything and then all of the sudden “Rocka Rolla” comes along sounding like Purple fronted by David Bowie. Man, this is some weird shit but I love the fuck out of this. It’s so different and I can only imagine how fucked up this sounded in ’74. Things got really fucking wiggity whack with the song “Winter/Deep Freeze/Winter Retreat/Cheater.” This psychedelic prog rock epic absolutely blew my face clean off. Closing out with a cover of Joan Baez’s “Diamonds and Rust” just took it all to a whole other level of awesomeness.
Song for song Rocka Rolla really blew me away. The songs all have so much depth and the dynamic flow of this album is just unbeatable. I just can’t believe that all these years passed and I never listened to this album. It’s such a different kind of Priest but it’s a Priest that I want to hear more of. I’m really curious to hear the progression of this band to see just where their style evolved into the one that put them on the map as the metal icons they are. So far, this is a really fun and interesting start.
Sad Wings of Destiny
Release Date: March 23, 1976
The Good: Victim of Changes, The Ripper, Dreamer Deceiver, Deceiver, Prelude, Tyrant, Genocide, Epitaph, Island of Damnation
Whoa. Winds of change are blowing indeed. Sad Wings of Destiny totally has the Priest moving forward into a whole new stratosphere. This is some really crazy ass shit and I fucking love every lick of it. This album definitely shows a step forward toward a more heavy metal kind of direction. Halford’s vocals are just off the fucking charts insane and wow! Who knew that Ian Hill could actually play the fucking bass guitar? That boy does some great shit on the bass. It’s a shame he just became invisible and phoned it in for the majority of his career.
All the songs on this album fucking kill. “The Ripper” is so over the goddamn top that I had to hear that shit a few times. That intro just had me doubled over in laughter but man what a fucking song. I also noticed some Alice Cooper influence in the song “Epitaph.” That song is just flat out weird but again, I love it because it’s so fucking different. Who the hell is that singing on “Dreamer Deceiver”? Did they get the night janitor to sing on this or something? My god the only thing that saved the song was Halford stepping in to own shit and blow my mind. At this point, I have to say that this has to be one of the greatest fucking surprises of my music listening life. How I went all these years never hearing this masterpiece is beyond me.
Sin After Sin
Release Date: April 23, 1977
The Good: Sinner, Diamonds and Rust, Last Summer Rose, Let Us Prey/Call for the Priest, Raw Deal, Here Come the Tears, Dissident Agressor
Sin After Sin. Ok, the metamorphosis (or shall I say, metalmoprhosis?) is really starting to take shape here. Right out of the gates “Sinner” is nearly the Priest that I connected with in the 80’s. I love how they go from these powerhouse tunes like “Sinner”, “Diamonds and Rust”, and “Starbreaker” and then slide right into this little Captain Beyond sounding ditty “Last Rose of Summer.” Before we go on, can we just talk about “Starbreaker” for a second? What the fuck man? Are you just trying to test me to see how many times you can yell “STAH BRAY KAHHHH” before I just pull all my hair out and punch myself in the nuts? If I never hear that song again I will be a totally happy man.
Aside from “Starbreaker”, the Sin After Sin album is a fuckload of win. My personal highlight was “Let Us Prey/Call for the Priest “and that just may be the song that set the pace for Judas Priest being the band that they would eventually become. Even though I know it’s inevitable I am really going to miss this sound of Judas Priest. These first three albums are some of the best and most inventive hard rock/metal music I’ve ever laid ears upon and I even feel like I have a greater understanding and appreciation for the massive influence that Priest had and continues to have on countless bands.
Release Date: February 10, 1978
The Good: Exciter, White Heat Red Hot, Better By You Better Than Me, Stained Class, Invader, Saints in Hell, Savage, Beyond the Realms of Death, Heroes End
Stained Class blew my fucking mind (see what I did there?)! In all seriousness, this is obviously where the metamorphosis as completely take shape and Judas Priest as we know them really took form and laid the foundation for the rest of their career. Kicking things off with “Excited” and into “White Heat, Red Hot” it’s almost like hearing a totally different band. Gone is the avant-garde psychedelic undertones and complex arrangements and present is the rooted structure of classic heavy metal Judas Priest.
“Better By You, Better Than Me” is every bit as amazing as I remember it but I have to say that “Beyond the Realms of Death” is by far the highlight of this album for me. It has just a tinge of the Priest that I have come to love so much in those earlier albums yet it is without a doubt a metal classic in its own right. Stained Class is a solid fucking album and again, I feel that this album is where Priest was reborn and continued to grow and evolve into the band they became. This is such a fantastic listening experience and it’s an album that will get many more spins from me for sure.
Killing Machine (Hell Bent for Leather)
Release Date: October 9, 1978
The Good: Delivering the Goods, Rock Forever, Hell Bent for Leather, The Green Manalishi, Killing Machine, Running Wild, Before the Dawn, Evil Fantasies
The Bad: Take on the World,
The Indifferent: Evening Star, Burnin’ Up,
And here we go. This was the first time I have ever listened to this album in its entirety and I have to say that, once again I was pleasantly surprised. Killing Machine (aka Hell Bent for Leather here in the US) is a exactly what I thought it would be. Based on the progression and steady change in sound from album to album, HBFL was the next logical step musically and creatively. There are ZERO progressive elements to this album so it’s safe to say that this aspect of Priest is gone and buried. “Delivering the Goods” opens the album with a fucking bang and I was quickly reminded why this is one of my all-time favorite songs. What a monstrous song that totally set the pace for the rest of this album. “Hell Bent for Leather” still remains to be as facemeltingly awesome as it always has been and the Fleetwood Mac cover of “The Green Manalishi” kills as always.
What surprised me most about this album was that the meat of this album really lies in some of the more obscure tracks such as “Killing Machine, “Running Wild” (again, another NWOBHM band doing a “running wild” song?), and the absolutely beautiful “Before the Dawn.” I never even heard that song before and I immediately found myself repeating this track. Another great surprise was the album closer “Evil Fantasies.” This song was a bit out of context and actually reminded me of a Bon Scott era AC/DC jam and I loved that. The only stinker on this album was “Take on the World.” This seems like the band’s first attempt at writing an anthem and it just left me rolling my eyes and kinda laughing at just how silly they sounded.
Release Date: April 14, 1980
The Good: Rapid Fire, Metal Gods, Breaking the Law, Grinder, You Don’t Have to Be Old to Be Wise, Living After Midnight, The Rage, Steeler
British Steel was the oldest Judas Priest album I ever owned. When I first got into them in 1984, this was as far back as I went. With that being said, I think the 80s was probably the last time I heard this album in its entirety and I’m honestly pleasantly surprised as to just how strong it still sounds after all these years. This album is chock full of what would eventually become Judas Priest staples. “Metal Gods”, “Breaking the Law”, “Grinder” and “Living After Midnight” all sound as great as they ever did so that hasn’t changed.
This also appears to be the album where Judas Priest FINALLY perfected their anthems. Even as lame as “United” is, it doesn’t flat out suck but man, “Breaking the Law”? “Living After Midnight”? “You Don’t Have to Be Old to Be Wise”? Goddamn these are great songs and these songs would quickly become the soundtrack to ever panel walled basement party, every burnout driving a Camaro, and every after school smoke session with the dudes. This is the album where I feel that Priest connected with the youth and became a band for those kids that needed one. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing is subjective but in all honesty, they fucking nailed it with this one!
Point of Entry
Release Date: February 26, 1981
The Good: Heading out to the Highway, Desert Plains,
The Bad: You Say Yes, All The Way
The Indifferent:Don’t Go, Hot Rockin’, Turning Circles, Solar Angels, Troubleshooter, On The Run
Wow. I really wasn’t prepared for just how much I was going to NOT like this album. “Heading Out to the Highway” is such a fucking great, iconic Priest song so I was totally prepared for a face melting but instead I just feel like I got a big ol heaping pile of “meh.” It really starts out so strong with “Heading” but then it just falls completely flat sounding so forced and contrived. The next truly good song didn’t even come for another 3 songs with “Desert Plains.” That is a great song but again, once it was over we found ourselves back in the deep end of the suck swimming pool.
Was this the album where Priest was trying so hard to be a friendly, “hit” band? It sure sounds like it because these are some of the lamest, most uninspired “anthems” I have ever heard. Their attempt and writing these catchy, hooky songs just doesn’t sound natural. While most of Point of Entry is totally forgettable and just flat out lame, I didn’t think the songs full on sucked… except for “You Say Yes” and “All The Way.” Oh my god I couldn’t wait for this album to be over. For a band who has put out some pretty awesome shit up to this point I found this album to be a total bummer. This is making me nervous.
Screaming for Vengeance
Release Date: July 17, 1982
The Good: The Hellion/Electric Eye, Riding on the Wind, Bloodstone, (Take These) Chains, Screaming for Vengeance, You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’, Fever, Devil’s Child
The Indifferent: Pain and Pleasure,
I’m so not sure what happened here but man, Priest must’ve just figured it all out for Screaming for Vengeance. This album is a complete opposite mindset from Point of Entry. This sounds like the heavy metal classic that I remembered it being. This album is chock full of great songs with only a couple of duds. Even the duds, while not nearly as good as the “good” songs on this album, don’t flat out suck. I just found them to not be nearly as strong as the other songs.
Right out of the gates with “Electric Eye” just set the pace for the rest of this album. That is such a great fucking song. I also found myself really enjoying some of the more deep cuts like “Bloodstone, and “Take These Chains.” Those are two songs that I had totally forgotten about over the years and found myself re-discovering my love for them. “Fever” is a really cool song as well with a really cool, unforgettable melody to it. I really don’t remember this song either and I found myself really loving this song. You also just can’t go wrong with the title track. Why Priest chose to just totally ignore that song over the years is beyond me. This song should’ve been a staple of their live shows as much as any of the other classics. This was a really great listen and it totally redeemed Priest from making that craptastic Point of Entry album. This is a great listen and again, I can totally see why this album is considered one of their most iconic releases.