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British Steel. Love it or hate it, you have to admit it’s an important (if overrated) piece of music history. Though it is quite overhyped, the fact remains that this is a decent album – with flaws, of course. It really is much better than Point of Entry and the blasphemous Turbo.
Here Priest scraps the progressive epics in the vein of “Victim of Changes” and the ballads such as “Beyond the Realms of Death” for more concise songs. Halford doesn’t scream here (maybe once), though he proves quite versatile in songs such as “Living After Midnight,” displaying a bit of variation from his typical wail – meanwhile, the variation within the album is less present than without. The interesting basslines that dominated Killing Machine also have disappeared, leaving Ian Hill with not much to do but fulfill the purposes of his instrument. The drums aren’t that special, either. Here it’s the guitars that do the talking. They really expand on the album title – this is undoubtedly the most “metal” sound Priest has had (in the literal sense); the guitars sound much like clashing steel. The riffs vary in quality, from the substandard to the awesome, while leaving the solos to relish in their continued quality. The results of these changes are inconsistent at best.
Starting on a good note is “Rapid Fire.” With its fast pace and heavy tone, it’s a wise choice for an opener. The main riff here is pure gold, as are the unabashedly metal lyrics:
“Pounding the world like a battering ram
Forging the furnace for the final grand slam”
Screaming muscle and might”
The best part of this song, though, is the middle section filled with highly impressive mini-solos. Blazing fast, they grab your attention completely. At the end of the song, Halford holds an excellent final note.
Another good moment is the immediately recognizable “Breaking the Law.” Every person on earth and their dogs know the immortal main riff and lyrics. Concise yet effective, the only thing missing is a guitar solo (luckily, some live versions have a great one). This song is probably what people recognize most about British Steel.
The absolute magnum opus of British Steel, however, manifests itself in “The Rage.” After an odd opening bassline, the best riff on the album comes in, crushing the listener’s skull with its might. “The Rage” comes complete with raging lyrics and a brain-numbing solo. The climax comes after the solo, where Halford delivers his sole scream on the album as Priest “shake with rage.”
Unfortunately, the rest of the album is of questionable quality. Take the single “Living After Midnight,” for example. This here song isn’t even metal – more like a song off Turbo sans a little bit of the suck. Sure, it’s great for parties, but so is every other glam song. There are too many choruses and not enough variation to keep the listener interested, and despite a decent classic-rocking solo, the repetitiveness kills the song.
Other atrocities include the nauseously inane “Metal Gods” refrain (Priest sounds bored out of their wits!) and everyone’s favorite punching bag, “United.”
The latter song is (almost) the worst pre-Turbo song Priest ever unleashed. It opens with a promising riff reminiscent of the title track of the previous album, and then proceeds to embarrass the band with its shameless crowd-pleaser chorus. Its saving grace is its fortunate advantage in quality over “Take On the World.”
Once British Steel was through, Priest began the most turbulent phase of its career. Priest could not keep up the quality from this point on. First came the awful Point of Entry, then the masterpiece we know as Screaming for Vengeance. Next we got the inconsistent Defenders of the Faith, followed by every headbanger’s nightmare from which Priest never recovered. We may never see Priest’s glory days again… at least in the studio.