Columbia Records, 1980
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/21/1997
"Boy," the reader must be thinking, "Chris's been listening to a lot of metal lately."
Well, you can blame today's selection on loyal reader Trent Nakagawa. Last time he and I corresponded via e-mail, he mentioned that we hadn't reviewed anything by seminal British heavy metal screamers Judas Priest. Names of albums like Stained Class (complete with the alleged hidden message in the album... we'll talk about those when I do review that album) and Unleashed In The East.
Well, the only reason that British Steel was chosen was because that's what was the first tape my 18-month-old grabbed out of a box she knows not to go into. (Sorry to my friend at CMC International Records, who is probably disappointed I didn't wait one week for Jugulator to come out. Hey, Brian, I still have a backlog of discs you sent me that I'm working on.)
British Steel could be seen as the first album in Judas Priest's glory days. A major marketing push by Columbia, combined with the popularity of the track "Living After Midnight" brought Rob Halford and crew out from the club circuit where they had been paying their dues since 1969, when the group first formed. The band was also going through yet another change on the drum throne: out was drummer number four, Les Binks, and in was drummer number five, Dave Holland. (Sonething must have clicked -- Holland remained the band's drummer until 1989.)
Judas Priest's two-guitar attack of founding member K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton was the key to this band's sound, though on British Steel the crunching guitars are toned down a bit. For that matter, the whole production on this one takes a hit for the worse (though a portion of my cassette liner was missing when I bought it, so I can't nail the producer responsible). And it's not just the guitars that take a hit in the mix; I would have preferred Holland's drums to have more treble.
The songs themselves on British Steel show some improvement for the band. While efforts on early albums like Rocka Rolla and Sad Wings Of Destiny were a bit immature in the musical department, British Steel has some good, solid efforts. Besides "Living After Midnight," cuts like "Breaking The Law," "Steeler" and "Grinder" are all numbers that show how much this band grew.
Their connection to their fans has always been evident, but is brought out to the front for what I think was the first time in the song "Don't Have To Be Old To Be Wise." Halford and Judas Priest have always let their fans know that the kids are what matters, especially in the realm of heavy metal. The song itself is a decent track, though it may seem corny to the parents who just wouldn't understand. I should know; I'm one of those parents now myself.
Halford's vocals, normally running through all levels of hystrionics, are quite controlled on British Steel. He seems to be concentrating more on the song than seeing how loud he can scream - a fact which sometimes made a Judas Priest song special.
But while British Steel shows how far the band had grown to that point, they still hadn't reached perfection in their craft. Some of the songwriting flashes back to their early, more melodramatic days, like "Metal Gods," while other pseudo-speed metal numbers like "Rapid Fire" don't work as well as similar efforts in that vein (one that comes to mind is "Exciter")
This isn't a bad album -- not by a long shot. It is a solid effort for the heavy metal genre, and is a decent snapshot of the metal scene just before it exploded into the big thing of the '80s. But something in my brain tells me that there would be limited draw for this album -- either for aging metalheads like myself (who was testing the eardrums of other drivers with this tape Monday afternoon) or kids getting into metal and looking to rebel against their parents.