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.
Yesterday was Hell Bent For Leather/Killing Machine, today is British Steel. Thankfully, we only have Judas Priest albums with uniform titles from here on out. Killing Machine was a precursor to British Steel in many ways. It signified the metamorphosis of Judas Priest from a very proto-power metal band into the studs and leather heavy metal that we know and love today. I gave that album a fairly middling (for a band like Judas Priest, 7.5 is middling) review. British Steel took what Killing Machine laid out, and made it better in every way.
Background on British Steel
Right away, even if you’ve never heard Judas Priest, grabbing a copy of this album and looking at it, you’re sure to know what it means. Normally I put the image of the album cover down at the bottom but this one is too good to pass up. Look at that thing. It’s in your face. You know what kind of heavy metal you’re getting. The kind of, as Rob Halford would put it, “Judas Priest style HEAVY METAL”.
The band had another lineup change before the recording of British Steel. Les Binks was replaced by Dave Holland. Binks was unhappy with the band’s management for not paying him for his performance on the live album, Unleashed In The East. Binks performed admirably on his albums and on that live release. Holland would be the drummer for the band’s most commercially successful era coming up.
Following up on that very radical commercial sound and tone change from the previous album, British Steel would take that formula and run with it. Some of that magic from the first four albums would still be present though. The band went in to the studio in December of 1979. The album was recorded at Tittenhurst Park. They recorded at Starling Studios on the grounds of the park. The band was unimpressed with the sound of the studio, so they moved to the house on the grounds. Who’s house was that? It was none other than Ringo Starr’s home. Here they recorded the bulk of the songs on the album, including the ambient sounds of milk bottles heard on “Breaking the Law”.
More Background on British Steel
This is the only Judas Priest album to be played entirely on a tour from front to back. Other albums have gotten to that distinction like the upcoming Defenders Of The Faith and Rocka Rolla. In 2009, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the record, they went on the British Steel Anniversary Tour. I saw this tour, and can say it was fantastic to hear all the songs on this album played front to back. Seeing Judas Priest and having them not end the show with some order of “Breaking The Law” and “Living After Midnight” was really refreshing.
The album was finished and released on April 14th, 1980. In the UK it was sold at the “bargain” price of £3.99. The singles released from this album were: “Breaking The Law”, “United”, and “Living After Midnight”. Finally, it was the most commercially successful album for the band at the time. It peaked on the UK Charts at Number 4, the US Chart at 34, and was certified Platinum in the US. Let’s get to the real meat of this album though. We’ll be using the much better UK tracklist over the US one, so if it looks strange to you, that’s why.
1. Rapid Fire
If you know one thing about Judas Priest, it’s that they’re going to start off their albums strong. There’s a reason that they kicked off their Epitaph World Tour setlist with this one. A song that’s just hard and heavy in every sense of the words. If “Exciter” was the beginning of speed metal, this is the next iteration on it. “Rapid Fire” seems to be about the end of the world or nuclear annihilation. The “final grand slam” are the bombs dropping. It also leads perfectly into the next track with the heavy sounds of metal clanging at the end of it.
This is a true Priest classic in every sense of the word, and it might be one of their most underrated tracks in the catalog. If you have to listen to Priest for the first time, this is one of the best introductions you can give.
2. Metal Gods
Rob Halford is known as the Metal God. Judas Priest are known as the Metal Gods for this song. If the end of the world wasn’t already happening, now the metal machines are taking over. They sound a lot like the Cybermen from Doctor Who. Man builds a machine, that machine becomes self-aware, and then enslaves mankind. It’s a typical sci-fi story that Judas Priest makes their own with this one.
The real legacy of this classic tune is the name for the band though. Like I said before, Judas Priest are the metal gods. It’s among the most classic of classics by the band, and so far they’re 2/2 on this front. I particularly like the weird twangy guitar tone during the chorus. It seems like it wouldn’t fit, but it works.
3. Breaking The Law
I’ll start off with the obvious. It’s a very silly music video where Judas Priest rob a bank with their metal. During the filming of the video, it’s been later shown that the band was drunk off their ass filming it. That helps it for the better though. It has a dreamy like quality that you can’t get anywhere else.
As for the song, is there anything I need to say about this one? It’s their most well known song and one that fans can sing without the band even giving them cues. Watch their performance from the Epitaph concert video and you’ll see this majesty in practice. No matter how jaded fans might get about them playing this song at every concert, it’s one of the highlights of the night. Every fan, young and old, rocks out with the rest of the band. Whatever biases or hatred you have that day, are out the window. It’s a great tune. Simple as that. 3/3 on classic Judas Priest songs so far.
This song can be seen in a variety of ways. It’s obviously the name of a very famous gay dating app, which has no relation to this song. With a lot of Priest songs, people keep coming back to Rob Halford being gay. This wasn’t known information until the 90’s. It was rumored and assumed up until then, but we didn’t have concrete information about it. So the band’s songs didn’t have those meanings back then. As with all art, it’s in the eye of the beholder. To me this song just sounds like another sci-fi sort of idea.
It could very well be a song about sex, BDSM, S&M, whatever you want to think of it, but at the end of the day it’s another hit off this album. The song sounds even better live, like this whole album. If you get the chance listen to the live recording of it on the special edition of the CD. It’s fantastic. 4/4 now.
“Take On The World” was a failure of a song in my mind. It was clearly meant to be a copy of “We Will Rock You”, and it didn’t do a great job of copying the style or magic of that song. “United” takes that idea further but makes the song into a Judas Priest sing-a-long. It’s no longer got that clear coat over the sound and it fits with the rest of the album. In addition, some of the charm of “Take On The World” was because it was so goddamn silly. “United” is not silly, it has meaning.
It’s a song that asks for loyalty among fans of Judas Priest, metal, and in general. A populace united is better than one divided. It’s a simple song structurally and lyrically, but it contains a wider message. In addition to all of this, it’s one of the better “rah-rah” songs that Priest has ever made. 5/5 on great songs.
6. You Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise
One of two songs on this list that before the British Steel Anniversary Tour that were lost to time. All the other songs (besides “Steeler”, until the 2019 leg of the Firepower World Tour) on this album have been concert staples at one point or another throughout the time of Judas Priest. It starts off unlike any of the songs on the album. You don’t get vocals for almost a minute, you just have to riff along with Tipton and Downing.
It’s a song about telling people who are older and telling you what to do, that they might be older, but they’re not better than you just because of that. You have to take control of your own life and do what you want to do, no matter what anyone else says. It continues the streak of great songs for the album.
7. Living After Midnight
Another no brainer song. Judas Priest routinely closes their shows with this one, and it’s the best song for that. You leave feeling like you just went to a rocking party and the entire crowd participates in singing. The story about the song comes from Rob Halford and Glenn Tipton. Tipton was up until 4AM one night playing guitar. Halford told Tipton that he was “really living after midnight” and the song was born.
It’s about the rebellious spirit of that time period. People were out routinely past midnight, and that meant that their nights were only starting. It’s one that you can’t get out of your head, no matter how many times you’ve heard it. The song is just a straight up good time to listen to. 7/7 on classics now.
8. The Rage
Now for the only song that could really be considered a “ballad”. It’s not one that has easily discernible lyrics. I know “The Rage” has been a song I turn to when I’m fuming or pissed. It just lets those emotions run and is a cathartic experience for me. I judge the lyrics as someone who’s just been wronged and is mad as hell. The song is probably one of the heavier tracks on the album. It’s a great one to hear live and while it might be the “weakest” song on the album, the weakest song on this album still equals a Judas Priest classic. Going on 8/8 in amazing songs for the band here.
Judas Priest saved my favorite track on the album for last. Now that’s a selfish thing to say, but this is my favorite track off the album. You get the most heavy, fast, rocking tune on the album with this one. In addition to the heavy guitars and vocals, the lyrics of this track are spot on. The breakdown at the end of the song has almost caused traffic accidents, broken necks, and multiple bodily injuries for me and the people around me.
Be careful who you trust in this life. You might have someone who takes advantage of you. There are always going to be people like this for everyone. It’s a simple song that has a powerful meaning and tone. It’s a very fitting way to end this album. They went a full 9/9 in great tunes on this album.
Score, Conclusion, And Aftermath of British Steel
If there’s a perfect metal album out there, British Steel is it. It’s undeniable that this album is what Judas Priest and heavy metal are all about. I mention it at the beginning of every Judas Priest-A-Thon article, that if someone were to ask me what metal is, I might give them a copy of British Steel. All nine tracks are perfection. The sound that was brought on with Killing Machine/Hell Bent For Leather is perfected and weaponized here. You have a song for every mood, any person, any time here.
It’s no coincidence that British Steel was the first gold selling album for the band. They found the perfect blend of commercial sound with heavy metal tone and attitude. It’s a lot like AC/DC and the way they make rock albums. It’s no coincidence that Judas Priest toured with AC/DC in 1979 and were influenced by them to make this album. The album begins and ends with the two heaviest songs to draw in all but the most jaded of heavy metal maniac. You have “Breaking The Law” and “Living After Midnight” to catch the attention of the brand new metal fan. There might be other candidates for best metal album ever, but British Steel could take the cake.
That’s a debate for another day, but British Steel gets a full grade, 10/10 from me. You have to be acting or just plain crazy to not like this album.
Judas Priest Following British Steel
The band wouldn’t undergo a lineup change like normal, but the commercial sound and success of British Steel would cause some issues. Their next album Point Of Entry wouldn’t reach the same heights as this album, but really, what album would? To hear more about that, you’re going to have to check in tomorrow.
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