If Black Sabbath are the grandfathers of heavy metal, then Judas Priest is the father that outdid them in almost every way. If you ask me to show someone what heavy metal is, I won’t hand them a copy of Paranoid or Master of Reality. I’ll instead hand them a copy of Screaming For Vengeance, British Steel, or Painkiller. That’s what Judas Priest means to the heavy metal community. Without them we wouldn’t have a classic look for heavy metal with studs and leather.
Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash might have been the first to use the twin-guitar attack, but Judas Priest was the one that solidified it in the heavy metal sphere. K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton were and still are probably the best twin guitarists for any band. It was set to be the 50th anniversary celebration for Judas Priest this year. To make up for those shows being postponed, it’s high time for Judas Priest-A-Thon. The brother to the album by album reviews, Iron Maiden-A-Thon and the cousin to our series of Rush album reviews. You’re going to be getting a Judas Priest album review, every business day, until we’re all through.
As we went over yesterday, Judas Priest’s first album, Rocka Rolla, was not a major success musically or commercially. That album was a production mess. Rodger Bain took too much control over their music. It had some great ideas, but at the end of the day, it’s a relic of it’s time. I found it hard to listen to some of it for that review. Skip ahead to 1976. Judas Priest are still locked in their record contract with Gull. It’s time for Judas Priest-A-Thon to kick into a higher gear and a more classic album, this is Sad Wings of Destiny.
Background On Sad Wings Of Destiny
The band was in dire straights financially. The record company gave them a budget of £2000 for each of the first two albums. They had played a song off Sad Wings, titled “Dreamer Deceiver” on the BBC show The Old Gray Whistle Test. That appearance was equally as NOT Judas Priest as the one shown in yesterday’s review. The BBC had volume restrictions for the bands playing on the show, so they couldn’t get the full experience across to the audience. They still didn’t have their full look yet. No studs. No leather. Rob Halford wore a pink satin shirt that he borrowed from his sister.
This performance would go better at least and show off some of the hallmarks of Judas Priest at the time. Rob Halford’s voice was effortless. The twin-guitar attack was forming it’s impeccable sound. They would go into the studio in November of 1975.
The band took up side jobs to make more money to feed themselves this time around. Glenn Tipton was a gardener. Ian Hill was a delivery van driver. Finally, K.K. Downing worked in a factory. Because of course someone in Judas Priest worked in a factory while they were recording this album.
More Background On The Recording
They recorded the album at Rockfield Studios in Wales. The band made marathon recording sessions out of it; working from 3:00pm to 3:00am. Jeffrey Calvert, Gereint Hughes, and Chris Tsangarides were apart of the production. Gull Records did something good for once with the commission of the album’s cover. Patrick Woodroffe painted the cover titled Fallen Angel.
The album was released March 23rd, 1976. It wouldn’t light the world on fire with sales, although it sold better than Rocka Rolla. Punk rock would begin sweeping the world, and caused a wave of destruction to these British rock bands for a couple years. The album went gold much later in 1989 in the midst of the band’s wave of popularity. Let’s finally get to the music.
1. Victim Of Changes
So you get the sort of disappointing Rocka Rolla out of the way. What’re you gonna start your second album with, it’s a big choice. Oh I’ve got an idea, we’ll start it with what could be the greatest Judas Priest song ever written. Yeah, that’s what sets the tone for Sad Wings of Destiny. Starting off it’s life as two separate songs, “Whiskey Woman” and “Red Light Lady”, the band decided to take the Al Atkins penned song and the Rob Halford original, and put them together. Leave it to Rodger Bain to not include this one on the first album.
When you get down to the first notes of this song all the way through to Rob Halford’s insane scream at the end, you can almost hear Judas Priest shedding that skin of the 70’s era space rock. It’s a progressive sounding song. Like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest can make that progressive, lengthy sound, into a weapon.
This one tells a story that you can interpret in many ways. It could be about a guy who has a crush on the “whiskey woman” at the bar and is blaming his alcoholism on her. It could also be about a man who’s been cheated on by an alcoholic and he’s lamenting his life. Finally it could be about woman that loses her man due to her hard drinking. Either way, it’s simply a masterpiece.
Victim of Changes Continued
The song follows along with a heavy beginning, a soft, mellow break in the middle, and the thrilling finale. That finale crescendos with one of the most brutal and violent sounding shrieks in heavy metal history. It’s symbolic in a way. It’s Judas Priest finally breaking out into their own territory. Territory that they would lay stake over for the next 50 years. Everything about this song is awesome and make sure to listen to a live version of it to hear what I can only describe as a “blood coming out of your ears” level scream from Rob Halford.
2. The Ripper
So how do you follow up “Victim of Changes”?
With “The Ripper” that’s what.
You know what you’re in for with the rest of this album. Pure, unadulterated heavy metal. “The Ripper” tells the first-person account of the Victorian era serial killer Jack The Ripper. This chugging masterpiece combines the twin-guitar attack with shredding solos, melodies, and another insane high scream from Rob Halford. It’s astounding how much this track gets in to the 2:50 runtime. Another Priest classic.
3. Dreamer Deceiver
This one and the next track “Deceiver” form one song in my mind. They flow into one another, so if you can find a version that just splices them together, do that. This song’s meaning and message are a bit of a message. It could be about drugs like LSD, it could be a cautionary tale of following this Dreamer Deceiver. Who knows?
What I do know is that this song, while similar to the “Winter Trilogy” off the previous album, is much more well executed than those songs. It’s a beautiful enigmatic song that brings the listener on a journey with whoever the speaker is.
You go on the journey with the Dreamer Deceiver. You’re brought into a stupor and a wonder by everything on the song. Finally you realize that what that Dreamer Deceiver was doing was just to trick you. And as soon as you’re lulled into that false sense of security by the beauty of the guitars, the vocals, and all the ambiance, you’re thrown to the ground and the next song begins.
Whoever or whatever that Dreamer Deceiver tricked, is pissed off now. If it’s drugs or some spell that was cast, it’s wearing off. Our narrator retells how they’re stuck in space now. Comets and meteors are dying around them. In one of the most powerful vocal performances of his career (and trust me, there are some more coming up), Rob Halford wails like a banshee stuck in the vacuum of space here.
The song chugs along at a brisk pace and leads up to the finale with Halford screaming “I can’t say, here today, we shall stay forever”. And just like that, we’re back into the false sense of security with a light guitar playing us back into space or wherever it is that we’re trapped.
It’s sad that Judas Priest hasn’t busted this one out live since the 70’s. It’d be a fantastic one to hear again after all these years.
After floating in space for the rest of eternity, we’re given a powerful instrumental track. Layered piano and organs play as you hear the slight sound of pounding drums in the background. This would normally mean that the next song and this one are musically intertwined, but that’s not the case here. It just makes for a great intro to the next track. There’s not much to say about this one, but it’s a nice break from the aggression and length of “Dreamer Deceiver”.
“Prelude” fades into the thundering attack of “Tyrant”. One can interpret “Tyrant” any way they want to. It’s about someone who holds power over man and wants to keep that power. Whether that means it’s Satan, God, some dictator, or whoever. Whatever you think the interpretation of the song is, it’s undeniable that this is one of Priest’s best tracks.
The song thunders along immediately and it’s another sign of what’s to come for Judas Priest. The lyrical content paints a wonderful picture of just how evil and controlling the tyrant is. Judas Priest used to close their shows with this song a lot, and it makes sense. It’s a powerful song that a crowd can sing along to. I’m glad I got to hear it on the third leg of the FirePower World Tour in 2019.
A straight-forward rocker in the vein of “Woman From Tokyo” or “Burn” by Deep Purple, “Genocide” is about the horrors of humanity. It goes into pretty graphic detail (for 1976) of what genocide entails. People cry out for help in the middle passages and their cries are answered by more violence and heavy riffs from Downing and Tipton.
“Genocide” seems to have been lost in the Judas Priest catalog but it definitely belongs in the company of some of their more classic songs.
Now for something completely different than anything else Judas Priest has done. A full on piano ballad about the lives of the young and old. You can 100% hear the influence of Queen on this song. A man mourns his painful memories at the end of his life. Someone who gave up on their dreams and chose to do something monotonous. It’s a sad look into the psyche of an old man. I’m not the biggest fan of this song, as it just sounds like Judas Priest had to include this one to catch the wave of Queen at the time. Listening back after all this time, it’s not one that Judas Priest would be able to play live now either. It just sort of sticks out, and is a good song, but just not a Judas Priest song in my mind.
9. Island of Domination
The piano fades into one last guitar riff on Sad Wings of Destiny. One of the heaviest songs on the album, it’s thunderous and gallops along. Out of all the tracks, it might show off the twin-guitar the best. With one guitar playing the main riff and another shredding a lick. The lyrical content is definitely chock full of sexual innuendo. You can guess what kind of sex acts are described by just taking a quick look over the lyrics but I don’t think this one has a deeper meaning than that.
It’s a lost gem that gets glossed over by the likes of “Tyrant”, “The Ripper”, and “Victim of Changes”. It doesn’t quite reach those songs, but it’s a worthy track and a great ending to the album.
Aftermath, Final Thoughts, And Review Score For Sad Wings of Destiny
Sad Wings of Destiny is Judas Priest. It is heavy metal. If you can hear heavy metal’s birth during the opening riff on “Black Sabbath”, you can hear it growing up on Sad Wings of Destiny. The onus wasn’t on heavy riffs over stoner space rock anymore. It’s about thundering guitar and wailing vocals like Rob Halford’s. The tracks on this album show just how out of touch Rodger Bain was on his producing for Rocka Rolla. You have a wall to wall classic that only “stumbles” once. And that stumble is still a fine Queen knockoff.
This album is a landmark in not only the history of heavy metal but in music in general. It took the groundwork that Black Sabbath laid down and ran with it. If you give it anything other than a perfect score, you’re not listening hard enough. Sad Wings of Destiny gets the highest mark of 10/10. It doesn’t matter that “Epitaph” doesn’t sound like Judas Priest, the rest of the album makes up for it.
The band would look to break their contract with Gull Records after this. This album didn’t sell well either and they were in more financial trouble. That saga would end with the band losing the rights to these first two albums. A large price to pay to get out of a terrible contract.
Tomorrow we’ll get into their next album Sin After Sin. Could they make a followup to Sad Wings of Destiny that lives up to the thunder and power? You’ll have to find out later.
For more on Judas Priest, heavy metal, or any other general pop culture, make sure to check back to That Hashtag Show.