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I'm not sure what force lurked in Judas Priest to be able to release two albums in one year, let alone two albums with different sounds from each other. Bemusement at their workaholism aside, Judas Priest's "Killing Machine/ Hell Bent For Leather" ("Hell Bent For Leather" is the title it is given in the states, where it has Fleetwood Mac song "Green Manalishi" as an added track) is a different machine than it's (very immediate) predecessor "Stained Class". Like their previous effort, you have Judas Priest with their own energetic heavy metal sound and a clean production. While I consider myself no expert when it comes to music production, I would argue that this album boasts an even cleaner production than it's immediate predecessor. Not that it's a bad thing, mind you; the guitars have an added crunch in the songs, which counterbalances the otherwise commercial tendencies of this album.
To a certain degree, I wonder if the two albums were released for two different audiences: "Stained Class" for Judas Priest's core fan base up to that point, and "Hell Bent" (I know the American title better) for whoever else would listen. Not that the music is devoid of metal of course, as you have "Delivering the Goods" the roaring opener that immediately catches you as being even more aggressive than "Stained Class", due to the volume on the guitars being turned up and Rob Halford giving his voice a bit of a snarl. The track "Hell Bent For Leather" has a sound that is reminiscent of Ted Nugent's "Stormtroopin", down to the guitar lick in the chorus, and is a celebration of the visual presentation that Priest had carved for themselves. "Take on the World" almost brings Manowar to mind, especially "Die For Metal" and similarly catchy mid-tempo metal anthems. The blues roots of their sound come back in 'Rock Forever" and the Led Zeppelin sounding "Evil Fantasies", but the guitars have enough of a crunch in them to avoid sounding like their previous bluesy material. The commercial elements really come in on the title tracks for both versions of this album, as well as "Evening Star", with it's clean, ballad like intro, and the actual ballad of the album, "Before the Dawn", which, despite a well written guitar solo, doesn't stand up to the musical complexity of "Beyond the Realms of Death" from "Stained Class".
There are two things this album lacks, however, that I felt defined the artistic triumph of "Stained Class". The first is the lack of true high speed rockers, as even the fastest songs on this album seem to be at a comfortable moderate pace compared to "Stained Class". The other is high pitched vocal attack of Rob Halford. Not that he rejects his classic high range entirely, and at certain points he really lets loose the way he does best. On this album, his voice mainly stays a comparatively lower range, with an added bit of the aforementioned snarl to give it a bit of attitude.
All things considered, "Killing Machine/ Hell Bent For Leather" is a solid record by both Priest and traditional heavy metal standards. I would recommend listening to this before the superior "Stained Class", if only because following this up with "Stained Class" would lessen your appreciation for this album as a whole, making it instead something to be compared with their previous work. This was undoubtedly an album made for hard rock and heavy metal fans not yet familiar with the work of Judas Priest, and it is certainly a good way to be introduced to the band. It has its fillers (mostly the straight forward hard rock songs and "Before the Dawn"), but you have to give credit to a band that has the talent to make even fillers sound awesome.
Streamlined and simplified is the most obvious way to compare this album to the band's previous works, and while I'm usually leery of simplification for sales purposes, this is still quite nice. This is pretty distinct from the albums that came before, and it ushered in a new era for Priest. This was the beginning of their most successful period, but not their best in terms of musical quality.
The most obvious difference is in that of the songs. Prior to this, Priest had a progressive influence that showed up in the way of epics and relatively atmospheric ballads. Gone is Beyond the Realms of Death, Sinner, and Dreamer Deceiver. These are replaced by songs like Evening Star and Before the Dawn. This album brings in much more hard-rock influence. A song such as Killing Machine brings to mind some of Kiss' more grooving numbers, and their first stab at an anthem bears a stinking resemblance to one of Queen's weakest moments, the bane of every sport's fan. Whereas previously Priest were trying to get heavier and faster, here they get much lighter. Delivering the Goods and the other title track are fairly fast, but they both come with a more "fun" vibe than before.
It's worth stating now that I don't view this shift as a complete loss. The two title tracks and Delivering the Goods are the three best songs on here, but the album as a whole isn't as out there and boundary-pushing as the previous albums had been. Priest are still making good music, but there's no sense of awe at the artistry and craftsmanship like their was before. Instead of engineering the future of metal, they're creating a Frankenstein out of 'roided-up parts of AC/DC and Kiss. As my analogy implies, this just isn't as consistent and cohesive as the last three albums had been. It's very fun and catchy, but it lacks what the "S" trilogy had backing up the music.
Halford is still great on this album, though his performance isn't as good as the ones before. He utilizes fewer screams on this album, but he doesn't abandon them completely. What he does abandon is the spectral quality. Halford continued to have great vocals, but he never went for the spectral approach after Stained Class. Binks is an interesting case on this album. This is his other studio album with them, and it's not as good of a performance as previous. His sacking was an interesting circumstance of a band actually wanting a simpler performer, and Holland certainly fit that bill. Delivering the Goods actually has a drum solo at the end of the song. In of itself, it's not particularly interesting or impressive, but it takes on greater meaning in the context of the surroundings. The solo allows you to really feel Binks' frustration at the shift in sound and the restrictions that it imposed on him. It's a shame they didn't go back and get him when they beefed it back up a few years later.
There are a few similarities and even improvements that can be found on here. The production is like that of Stained Class but better. Everything on this album is definitely crisper and louder than that of their previous albums. Yes, this does mean that you can often hear Hill. In particular, he does a nice job on Hell Bent. He doesn't have any fills, but he provides the groove to even that speedier number. The guitar players are in a partial transition from their more epic days into their commercial, but their skill and creativity has lost nothing. For as short as it is, that Hell Bent solo is one of their best. Tipton and Downing both wrote some pretty good stuff, both speedy and groovy. That's actually probably the main appeal of this album. Priest could turn on the groove for a song or two, but this is the first time they attempted for the groove to carry much of the music. On Killing Machine, Green Manalishi, and Burnin' Up, it works exquisitely.
This simplification took away a few of Priest's strong points, and they would forever more write lyrics of this reduced quality, but it was not by any means a total loss. They did increase the hard-rock and grooving portion of their sound, so depending on which of their styles you prefer that's a plus or a minus. Frankly, if you chose to consider it as or compare it to hard-rock it wouldn't diminish this album. The hard-rock of comparable quality in 1978 was almost as rare as the comparable heavy metal. All in all a good outing by Priest, and every fan of early metal or hard-rock should have at least a few of these songs.
That Judas Priest could follow up a masterpiece like Stained Class with another great album so quickly was nothing short of a miracle, so I can probably forgive this 1978 successor if it does possess a marginally higher ratio of filler to the truly captivating material. By this time they had proven to be one of the most productive and consistent acts in the hard rock spectrum, destroying peers like Black Sabbath who were starting to dive in quality around this time, and continuing to expand the number of unforgettable songs they could fuse into their existing live sets by at least 3-4 on this very disc. For once, also, we Americans didn't get the short end of the stick: we got the version with the better title, not to mention the Fleetwood Mac cover. Yeah, yeah, fuck you, across-the-ponders.
I kid, of course, but though Killing Machine was a decent and extreme cliche for a metal record in the 70s, Hell Bent for Leather is simply put one of the best album brands I've ever seen among the tens of thousands in memory. However, either is a fitting label for the amount of aggression Priest have put into this record, the primary characteristic which differentiates it from its direct predecessor. Stylistically, there's not much of a gulf between the two, but the chords hit a lot harder, the heavier songs seem a lot more gnarly and vicious. One of the reasons for this is Halford's delivery, which on a tune like "Hell Bent for Leather" or "Take On the World" was downright nasty as he focused more on placing a gritty, barbaric edge to his lower and mid ranged. In fact, the screams don't really define his presence on this album like they did on Stained Class: truly, they still existed, but there is admittedly more variety in general with this album. Not that the vocals are better, necessarily, but it's good to know that Rob had no intention of discontinuing his growth.
I always caught a vibe of an almost science fiction, apocalyptic undercurrent to this record which likely stems from the tapping/effects used in tunes like "Burnin 'Up" or the title track, but really the album seems to travel all over the place. "Take on the World" could be viewed as a progenitor to the whole Manowar, muscle metal trend, since lyrically and musically the New Yorkers have spent over half their career simulating it (even the vocals seem like they had a huge influence on Joey DeMaio). The anthem-esque shouts of the vocal harmonies, the simple cadence of the war drums, and the simple chord structure. They do a huge Zeppelin groove in "Evil Fantasies", an almost KISS-like swagger to "Killing Machine", and a further, bluesy boogie to "Rock Forever" with wild, almost conversational vocals in the verse that burst into incredible screams and chorus harmonies. There's even a straight up, psychedelic/prog rock ballad in "Before the Dawn", which while admittedly is one of the least interesting or impressive on the album, shows that they've still got that same dynamic range they did years earlier on the debut.
But none of those songs are the best here, and in fact a number of them settle into the 'above average' range which ensured you wouldn't be seeing them on a whole lotta set lists. There are four in particular which shine brighter than the remainder. "Delivering the Goods" flexes a little of Glenn Tipton's whammy wanking and tapping as it drives from a memorable, saturated blues metal lick into a total bad ass (though obvious) chorus. "Running Wild" is a prototype power/heavy metal song that even bands like Iron Maiden would emulate (in the central riff), not to mention that, like "Exciter" on the previous album, would transfer over to provide the musical inspiration and moniker of another legendary metal outfit. "Evening Star" has a gorgeous intro with clean guitars that sounds like something The Cult would pull, but explodes into a friendly but truly catchy chorus. And last but not least, one of the finest rock-to-metal transformations in history in the band's cover of "Green Manalishi (with the Two-Pronged Crown)", so good that I feel it surpasses the original Fleetwood Mac version. Pure, mid-gait fuel injection rock & roll under a wailin', bluesy salsa with Les Binks riding that hi-hat for all it's worth.
Ultimately, this is not the crown jewel in the Judas Priest legacy, but it's got enough value that I still find myself listening decades down the line, even through its entirety. The pacing of the record is pretty sweet, but there are only a few points at which it creates that same level of breathless exhilaration that I felt from Sin After Sin or Stained Class. The lyrics are marginally more generic, creating a biker/party atmosphere that lacks the same depth, and it almost seems as if they were providing a blue collar alternative to their more heady material. That said, when it does shine, we're talking 'greatest hits' good for the songs I mentioned in that last 'graph, and the iconic cover image and status as the Les Binks 'swansong' with Priest ensure that it belongs in your collection alongside the more refined ambitions of its elder '78 sibling.
Before Killing Machine (or Hell Bent For Leather) was released Priest's previous albums were musically, sometimes complex and maybe even a little progressive from time to time. Sad Wings Of Destiny, Sin After Sin and Stained Class were all classics, but by the time the band released Killing Machine, the band decided to take a more straightforward, slightly commercial but heavy direction. In my opinion, Killing Machine is not a letdown. Yes, I loved the last 3 albums, but to me, this is up there as one of Priest's finest records too.
The heavy and simple sound works perfectly. Most of the songs pack a lot of punch, with naturally awesome vocals from Rob Halford, sharp riffs and precise solos from Glenn Tipton and KK Downing, and more impressive drum work from Les Binks, who also performed on the Stained Class album. The songs are also most definitely more catchy than anything the band had released before hand, making it more radio-friendly. This is not an issue because although it's definitely more commercial than the older material, it's still just as heavy as before and is still unmistakably Priest. Also, the album’s sound is light-years away from the likes of the ultra-slick Turbo which WAS a radio-friendly metal album.
Every song on Killing Machine sticks in your head. 'Delivering The Goods' is a hard and heavy album opener, with a cool intro and simple but memorable chorus. 'Rock Forever', in my opinion, sounds a bit like it could be off Stained Class, with more complex riffing from Glenn and KK. It's a short but sweet number. This song is followed by probably the most commercial song on here. The softer, melodic but excellent 'Evening Star'. Halford sings brilliantly on this song. This song definitely is commercial, but very good.
'Hell Bent For Leather' on the other hand is damn heavy with an excellent solo and a kick ass chorus. It's a shame it's less than 3 minutes long, because this song is easily a true stand-out! 'Take On The World' reminds me of 'United' from the next album, British Steel. 'Take On The World' is a big anthem with a huge sing-along chorus and simple power chord riff structure. 'Burnin' Up' is slightly less catchy to me, but very cool none-the-less. Halford is more relaxed and laid back here, mainly during the verses. 'The Green Manalishi' is regarded by many as a Priest classic. It's actually a cover, but a great one. It's heavy, basic and features some trademark twin guitar solo-sharing. This track is also a highlight. I do like 'Killing Machine' a lot too, though it isn't as great as it's other title track ('Hell Bent For Leather'). There is however, some excellent variety in riffs.
'Running Wild' is fairly fast when compared to much of the album. This song is simple again, but still means business. I suppose you could say it's a good fun gap-filler. 'Before The Dawn' slows things down, a bit like 'Evening Star', however, this song is light and acoustic and Halford's vocals fit perfectly with the melodic sounds of the song. 'Evil Fantasies' is an OK album closer, but not as impressive as much of the other material here. Halford is the best thing about this song. The riffs, to me, are a little uninspired for some reason. It's still decent though of course.
As far as the more radio-friendly sounding Priest goes (Killing Machine up to Turbo, and possibly Ram It Down), this is definitely one of the best albums during the era, although my favorite during this period would have to be Screaming For Vengeance. Killing Machine is a heavy metal classic, and the slight change in direction does not make the album any less strong.
After releasing "Stained Class", Judas Priest decided to put out, in the same year, "Killing Machine" and there are definitely lots of differences between the two. While "Stained Class" relied more on relatively complex song structures and on pure heaviness, "Killing Machine" is a lot more accessible and, at times, even commercial, with shorter (and simpler) tunes. That said, this is definitely the same band, so to speak, that released "Stained Class": Halford's vocals remain incredibly strong, the guitar playing is always excellent and the drumming very strong, even though less intricate. Still, Les Binks delivers a nice performance, adding some new nuances to the songs with his fills and varied beats. He's an excellent drummer and it's a pity he left Judas Priest after this record. Holland, a less original musician, occupied his place then.
Moving on, the songs on the record are all quite short, but there's a fascinating diversity here: the tunes are easily distinguishable from each other, which is a plus in my books. The commercial side of Judas Priest is represented here with "Evening Star" and "Take on the World", both hits. "Evening Star" is a little power ballad with an incredibly catchy chorus. That said, it still is an enjoyable song, even though the record contains much better ones. "Take on the World" sounds like "We Will Rock You", albeit stronger (yeah, I've never been a Queen fan anyway). Ironically, those two tracks are the blueprints for many of the songs on "British Steel", an album on which Judas Priest adopted an even more commercial and accessible sound. "Evening Star", particularly, is quite similar to "United", even though the latter is a tad heavier. As for the other tracks, they represent the heavier side of Judas Priest, all straight-forward, energetic heavy metal tunes. "Delivering the Goods" opens the record perfectly, with a nice long drum fill near the end. The cover "The Green Manalishi (and the two-pronged Crown)" is another killer song, with excellent, sing-along vocal melodies. Judas Priest used to release some pretty good covers back in the day ("Diamonds and Rust" on "Sin After Sin", "Johnn"... well, forget it) and this one is no exception (proof: the band still plays it live, nowadays). The highlight of the album is "Hell Bent For Leather" though: one of the best Judas Priest songs ever (that's saying something), together with heavy metal classics such as "Painkiller", "Exciter", "Victim of Changes", "Sinner", "Beyond the Realms of Death", "Rapid Fire", etc. Everything about this song is mind blowing: the solo, the catchy chorus, the main riff, everything.
The catchiness is, finally, the most important characteristic of this album, all the choruses being quite catchy. I remember every one of them, really. So, I like "Killing Machine", and that's quite surprising, since I generally prefer more developed and complex songs (my favourite songs are very long, etc.), but this album is a notable exception to the rule. Straight-forward and simple? Yes. Quite commercial at times? Yes. Weaker than "Stained Class", "Sin After Sin" or "Sad Wings of Destiny"? Yes. Bad? No, definitely not. If you like your metal extremely catchy and straight-forward, yet quite heavy and solid, get this album: I definitely recommend it.
Concluding, two notes: Iron Maiden ripped off the first riff of "Running Wild" (check out "Wicker Man") and the first vocal lines of "Burnin' Up" incredibly sound like something Dave Mustaine would come up with: really, listen to it and tell me that Halford doesn't sound like Dave there!
Best Moments of the CD:
-the solo of "Hell Bent for Leather".
Judas Priest returns after their classic "Stained Class" with a very worthy follow-up album. Killing Machine contains several Priest staples, each of which can actually be found in better form on the 1979 release "Unleashed in the East". The first thing one will notice is the better production than the previous Priest releases. The guitar sound is much heavier than that of Stained Class, and the mix also contains more bass. The faster parts sound fresh and heavy, and the vocals are not too high in the mix (a la Sin after Sin).
Now for the songs themselves. Well, I shall get the bad out of the way first. Before the Dawn is crap, it really goes nowhere, and I don't say this simply because it's a ballad. It's just a crappy ballad, medicore guitar work and minimal drumming. Even Halford sounds strained on this track. With the bad out of the way, the good is very, very easy to focus on. Depending on which version you own, the title track is either Hell Bent for Leather or Killing Machine. Both songs are equally great, with the latter being my favourite on the album.
Hell Bent for Leather is a fast paced number with a heavy as fuck intro, that nicely slides into speedy verses and one of the most catchy choruses this side of Breaking the Law. The solo in the middle is also one of the best that Priest recorded, especially the tapping bit. My only problem with this classic is the length, which only clocks in at a measly 2:39. Killing Machine is a much slower song, but even better due to the subject matter of the lyrics and the evilness of the guitar work. That part at 0:39 (I got a contract...on you!) is an absolute audio orgasm. This combined with rather unorthodox vocal work from Halford (rather low and midpaced) makes for a tremendous song.
Rock Forever is another honourable mention, with a sweet riff carrying the song through the intro and after the chorues. Halford brings in another incredible vocal performance, definitely another catchy Priest classic. And of course, who can forget the Priest live staple The Green Manalishi. Think AC/DC meets Iron Maiden, with Halford on vocals. Nice lyrics too. (Yes, I realize it's a cover).
Get this album, it's high on the list of classic Priest studio albums, with only Painkiller, Vengeance and Destiny beating it out.
In the late 70's I'm sure all the Metal fans were interested to hear what Judas Priest had up their sleeve after the amazing Stained Class, I know I would have been. Released as Hell Bent For Leather in North America, Killing Machine proved that Judas Priest were not going to go away after a couple of solid releases. Killing Machine was largely a release full of varied musical influences and styles that fully experimented with the current (at the time) forms of Rock and Metal music.
The blues and hard rock side of Judas Priest show up a lot more on Killing Machine than it did on Stained Class. Both "Rock Forever" and "Evil Fantasies" are almost more Hard Rock than metal, as is the arena rock, very Queen sounding "Take On The World". This isn't really a bad thing though, "Rock Forever" does have it's moments, including some nice double bass, but overall it's one of the weaker songs on Killing Machine; on the other hand, "Evil Fantasies" is a very underrated Judas Priest song that I find myself liking a lot (I see Danzig being very influenced by this track). The more straight classic Metal tracks of course populate Killing Machine with killer riffs, leads, and melodies... although each of the more straight forward Metal songs still have a slight blues tinge as well as early Speed Metal tendencies. Songs like "Hell Bent For Leather", "Killing Machine", "Riding On The Wind", "Burnin' Up", and "Delivering The Goods" are Judas Priest classics; "Killing Machine" in particular being very underrated. Much like Stained Class, Killing Machine features an amazing cover- this time it's a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown)" that to this day remains a fan favorite. In the form of "Evening Star" and "Beyond The Dawn" we hear Judas Priest experimenting with softer sounds, with "Beyond The Dawn" being a full-on ballad. The ballad is successful, while "Evening Star" is a weak track in my opinion.
Halford's vocals are further refined on Killing Machine as we hear a lot of different styles; every song is a highlight from that perspective. Everyone else turns out a quality performance, with Les Binks once again laying the groundwork for Speed and Thrash with his drumming. The lyrics are typical Heavy Metal/Hard Rock fair and are a step down from Stained Class.
The remaster contains an excellent song entitled "Fight For Your Life"; how this song did not make it on an actual release is beyond me- it's really good. The live song is the classic "Riding On The Wind". The sound is decent with only slightly awkward sounding vocals (more due to the sound system I think). Overall, Killing Machine has a lot of great Judas Priest classics and is also home to many underrated songs, however, "Rock Forever", "Take On The World", and "Evening Star" are a step down from the rest of their material. At times Killing Machine is more commercial sounding than Stained Class, but the quality of the songs is still high so I'm recommending this to anyone with an interest in classic Metal even though there is dip in quality when compared to Stained Class with certain songs.
This album is no Stained Class - the songs are far simpler, and not nearly as consistent. Also, since it's a studio album from before 1979, I must mention that any song found here and on Priest in the East will sound far better there.
And there are a lot of songs on here that are on there too: six in fact - "Delivering the Goods", "Rock Forever", "Hell Bent for Leather", "Green Manalishi", "Running Wild", and "Evil Fantasies".
On here, Hell Bent for Leather totally rules, as it always does - that little solo in the middle is completely godly. Green Manalishi and Rock Forever are far more fun with the crowd singing along. Delivering the Goods and Running Wild are nice here too. Evil Fantasies is pretty mediocre in the studio, it's about 100x as good live.
As for the songs here but not there: Evening Star is a fun little ballad with a nice sweeping chorus. Burnin' Up is pretty average midpaced Priest with silly lyrics. Take on the World is "We Will Rock You" except not by Queen, and I have always found it horrible. Killing Machine is midpaced Priest and generally well executed and catchy, and Before the Dawn is kinda forgettable.
Overall, it's one of their weaker albums, though it does have its definite highlights. "Hell Bent for Leather" - it really doesn't get much better than this as far as speed metal is concerned, it's a definite canonical example of how to play fast, furious, and right to the point. "Delivering the Goods" is probably the other great song, and "Running Wild" is pretty nifty too - must be to have given the name to such a great speed metal band!