Rocka Rolla

Judas Priest

RCA Records, 1974

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Any time you have an established band, no matter what genre of music they play, chances are people will be disappointed when they go back to that group's first album, hoping to hear the same style of music the group is playing in the here and now. I've fallen victim to this myself; it's far too easy a trap to stumble into.

So, let's take things with a grain of salt as we talk about Rocka Rolla, the 1974 debut from British metal gods Judas Priest. (This has recently been re-released on Koch; I'm working from a cassette I bought years ago.) Don't expect to hear crunching guitars, Rob Halford's constant screeching or some serious double-bass work on the drums. Instead, free your mind from what you know Judas Priest to be, and try to remember what the music scene was like in 1974 - when metal was in its infancy.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Musically, the songs on Rocka Rolla are a cross between Deep Purple's semi-progressive style and Lonesome Crow-era Scorpions. In other words, Judas Priest really didn't have any type of a musical road map to follow, and had to figure out on their own just how to shape their music. And, in all fairness, there are times they do a pretty good job. Oh, sure, diehard fans could argue that songs like "One For The Road" and "Rocka Rolla" are no "Breaking The Law" or "Living After Midnight" - but they did show two distinct things. First, these two particular tracks do give a glimpse into what Judas Priest would eventually become. Second, they showed that the band was fair to middling in the songwriting department. The use of some more challenging time signatures is also interesting to listen to, especially on "Rocka Rolla".

But Rocka Rolla does indeed have a fatal flaw - and it is linked to the band's musical discovery. When they leaned on the progressive side too much, things tended to fall apart, as on "Run Of The Mill," with its extended bass-and-guitar solo lines. (Note that I'm not knocking the guitar work of K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton; while they weren't shredding their guitars yet, they were working their way towards that goal.) Likewise, the suite of songs that is "Winter" - well, it just reminds me too much of an early Rush concept piece gone terribly wrong, like when the song features nothing but guitar distortion. It's almost as if Downing or Tipton bought a new effects pedal, and decided to record themselves playing with their new toy. (To be fair, "Cheater," which closes out that suite, is a well-done selection.)

It's unfortunate that Judas Priest fans who worship British Steel or Jugulator will probably turn their noses up at the more simplistic sound of Rocka Rolla. And while it's definitely not the shiniest penny in Judas Priest's piggybank, it's not a terrible album, and has some truly interesting and entertaining songs on it. I still occasionally dust this one off to clear out the pipes - and it is worth checking out, if merely to hear how Judas Priest got their start.

Rating: C+

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© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of RCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.