Judas Priest – British Steel (1980): Review

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Produced by Tom Allom
Label – Columbia

Speak to most heavy metal fans and they’re sure to offer up dozens of reasons why any one of many individual records by Judas Priest is the definitive release. Some will cite the importance of any one of their mid 70s rough edged hard rockers from “Sad Wings Of Destiny” to “Sin After Sin”, to the more urgent “Stained Class” or even 1982s arena conquering “Screaming For Vengeance”. In reality, 1980s “British Steel” remains the worldwide introduction to the band, and without it, few but the select hardcore would have recognized their contribution to heavy metal music. It’s release coincided with a huge upturn in the genre, termed The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal which introduced a string of successful acts including Motorhead, Iron Maiden, Saxon and Def Leppard. The most significant change in approach for this collection to previous releases is a stronger pop element, with more streamlined commercial arrangements and hooks, all produced under the watchful guard of former Black Sabbath engineer Tom Allom. In addition, the band’s natural bombast was delivered with a degree of self effacing humour. Just watch the promo video to “Breakin’ The Law” to realize that the band understood the stereotypical visual requirements for a sweaty HM group, and they applied every leather and denim clad, axe wielding as weaponry image with hilarious results. It remains the band’s most recognizable song, with Glenn Tipton’s memorable riff complementing singer Rob Halford’s swaggering narrative to the disaffected legion.

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Judas Priest were by this stage in their career, an amalgam of all the well known acts, both past and present. There’s a heavy Black Sabbath influence on the doom infused “Grinder” and “Metal Gods, the direct party atmosphere of Kiss is realized on “Living After Midnight”. They mix in an odd, but bizarrely well suited reggae intro to “The Rage”, and the opener “Rapid Fire” is a suitably adrenalized start to the proceedings. There are however, misguided jaunts into areas the band fail to convince the listener on. The attempted Queen knock off (“United”), sounds too flat and dreadfully contrived, and “You Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise” panders too much to the safe FM world that was occupied by Foreigner (Halford’s vocal could be mistaken for Lou Gramm’s). The asset of two top class guitarists works wonders in filling the spaces for some powerful, punchy accompaniments that, even during extended solo’s, never outstay their welcome.

“British Steel” is still a worthwhile slice of heavy metal, and a valid document of a band that have survived not necessarily on their originality, but on Rob Halford’s passionate delivery and the band’s skillful instrumental abilities. Whether it’s their best is a source for conjecture, but one thing for sure, it brought them new listeners.

7/10

Track Rating
1 – Rapid Fire (8)
2 – Metal Gods (8)
3 – Breaking The Law (9)
4 – Grinder (7)
5 – United (5)
6 – You Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise (6)
7 – Living After Midnight (8)
8 – The Rage (8)
9 – Steeler (8)

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