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So now, we come to the album that put Judas Priest on the map, a band that has already trudged the murkiest of waters and paid their dues for twelve years finally gets their just dues. That story is a commonly told one in the entertainment business it is heart-warming and humorous. Nevertheless, with popularity always comes debts, and a band is always bound to piss off some fans whenever they achieve a substantial amount of success. It has been beaten into the minds of record buyers that if an album sells well then it is because the band has ‘Sold Out’ and it’s not worth buying, another comparison with the ‘underdog’ theory.
What does this have to do with British Steel? Everything if the majority of people had any sense of music, credibility just about everyone would put British Steel right where it belongs, at the very top of any metal list. What sets this album apart from the loads of highly overrated material is the fact that the band never changed their original sound to achieve success.
No, what we have here is a nine-track album, eleven if you have the Re-Master, which is 100% Priest 100% of the time. Therefore, so what if the album does not sound like Stained Class it is not supposed to, it is supposed to sound like British Steel. Besides Stained Class currently ranks number fourth on the ‘All-Time Most Overrated Albums’ list but that is a different review.
The bottom line is one should expect such large debates since this album appeals to a much broader scope of people. Face the fact you are not going to hear FM Radio play Beyond the Realms of Death before Living after Midnight; is that a bad thing? That is up for the individual listener, but I can sympathize with one little fact they often mention, the better songs on BS are sadly overlooked for the lesser ones, but such is life.
There is a different track listing depending on which version you buy but the version I am reviewing is the commonly known, beginning with Breaking The Law on side one and You Don't Have to Be Old to Be Wise on side two.
We begin with the simplest of all songs here that was the logical choice to open the album, simple yet effective. While this is a metal anthem it is not your typical one, it is not about ‘Everybody Rise and Scream for Metal’ garbage, no it’s actually very progressive. The chorus is simple but the story is about… well you know. The 1:35 mark is the best part as all the build up finally reaches the point of no return as we are told we do not know what it is like and an abundance of sound effects hit us. The main riff returns and brings us back to the chorus that effectively ends the song. Okay so it is not Exciter but you must remember that Judas Priest is a band that will do their best to not always sound the same. They do either something they have never done before or something they have but update it with whatever year their in, which brings us to…
Rapid Fire, a song that screams metal from 1982 - 2007 more than anything before it does, including Stained Class. Poetic lyrics, fist pumping rhythm sections, heart-stopping vocals, astonishing percussion as the band roars at full throttle. The guitars are louder, crisper and much more demanding of your attention than at anytime in the past. Interesting to note that the 1:51 mark begins what some could argue helped jump-start the whole rapping of the vocals in any given metal song. Overall, the song is fabulous and the following five songs all follow in that nature, yet have a life of their own, which leave us with the last two.
Never before in metal was their a song quite like the Rage, dramatic, pretentious, childlike and… reggae?
The explosive and second best song on the album begins with a bass intro, something we would not see again for four years, that extends into a reggae journey. Dave may be simple but for drummers they understand how effective he is in creating the backbone of all the songs here, but this one in particular. We would have never been given these outstanding riffs without the simplicity of Dave’s drumming. Some of the best lyrics ever conceived by Priest are located here and it is because they and the riffs are allowed room to breathe instead of changing faster than a person and their underwear. By doing so, the song is allowed to go where it needs to, keep even those who are not Priest fans, interested in the twists, and turns the tracks take. The song also gives a chance for KK to show his licks and ability to play a slower, bluesier and meaningful solo without being crazy; essentially, he is trying to beat Glenn at Glenn’s own game.
However, in typical Priest fashion they save the best song for last, a head banging ferocious monster otherwise known as Steeler. This song is that of an angry monster ready to sink his slime-covered jaws into your cranium and swallow it completely, it is that demonic and very creative. While the riffs are like that of the other songs, simple I mean, they interplay with each other so well you lose your mind in them. The lyrics are once again very poetic and make your imagination open up, but the true greatness of the track begins at 1:36, that pseudo thrash break is flooring. The vocals are the pinnacles of Rob’s career, never before or after will he so naturally go through four lines of aggression and poetry. Each line is louder and harder with the same riff thrown in again before Dave gives us a drum roll and the final verse begins, except this one is that much more aggressive. The riff returns and then ends at 2:46, so the last 1:42 is single-handedly the greatest part of the record. Never before had their been a single pedestrian riff repeated a billion times sounded so refreshing and buoyant, complete with electrifying whammy bar work that reaches in and grabs your most inner desires and strangles them. With each drum roll, the music becomes louder and even more evil sounding before the ending finally climaxes with a scream and explosion. The only Priest song in the entire catalog that can match this one is the final track from Turbo, otherwise known as Reckless, but that is a whole other story.
There are also two bonus tracks, which is my only complaint, the quality of the material was brought down by doing so, but once again so is life. The first is 'Red, White & Blue', a very patriotic song recorded in 1985 (I have no clue why it was included on an album from 1980). The first time I heard it, I fell in love with it, it is has a very uplifting feeling to it and the use of crowd noise and interaction was great. In addition, the second track was from the DEFENDERS OF THE FAITH tour at the Long Beach Sports Arena, Long Beach, California on May 5, 1984. The original song may be from the album but the tour it came from was not, Rob’s vocals are embarrassing. Moreover, a more deserving song from here could have been added, like The Rage or Steeler, mostly because we already have a live version of Grinder elsewhere.
So there you have it, an album crafted in fine style by a band that had it’s core members together for six long years at this point. A drummer who may not be as skilled as the two previous ones, but was veteran so he brought that to the table and he was stable. An album that deserves to sit on your mantle, forget the whole talk of it being overrated, the only reason that is mentioned is that it sold well and continues to do so.
Besides it has the greatest Priest song ever recorded as the final track, that being Steeler, with only Reckless coming close. Do yourself a favor and get the album if you do not have it already, then again if you do not… what is wrong with you?