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Any 'Real' Judas Priest fan must cringe when they hear or read someone reviewing one of their albums, because the vastly overrated 'Stained Class' is bound to be mentioned. Sin After Sin introduced me to the band in 1977 and my first impression of the band was that they were awful, then Stained Class made me give them a chance a full year later. But it was this album, which I first heard in the middle of '79, that hooked me forever on Judas Priest. The US version, titled Hell Bent For Leather, is far better for two reasons. The sound seems different and the inclusion of The Green Manalishi, which even though is not as good as the Unleashed version it still belongs here.
The only thing I will agree with the other reviewers here is that this album has no underlying story or consistency. Their second, third and fourth albums all seemed to be loosely concept, but this one just seems like a bunch of songs thrown together. But do not misunderstand, some of Priest's best material EVER comes from this album...
Delivering the Goods starts things off in fine style, with the lyrical content describing the bands concerts. Most people pick on Priest's lyrics, but this is one that nobody could ever pick on, the lyrics are strong and are sung almost demonic. The rhythm is very funky-ish and is great to head bang to. The solo is out of this world, with Glenn picking up right where he left on Stained Class. The vocals are some of the best right after, with Rob almost giving a rapping performance, powerful is an understatement. By this time Priest proved they knew how to start an album. Also don't forget the awesome drum solo by the godly Les Binks at the end.
Rock Forever follows as is ever bit as fast, but for me it took a while to get used to. I much prefer the beefed-up version on Unleashed to this, but the dual guitar solo is amazing. This song is an excellent way to prove to all the masses who doubt Priest's ability to include melody in their metal. The best of the song is easily the middle section with the backing vocals and all, ending with the powerful statement of 'Now get it right, boys'. Overall a great song, but then comes the song Evening Star, which I feel is somewhat of a letdown. The beginning is beautiful and if it had stayed that way it would've been a masterpiece but it never picks up the pace until the solo. The verses are simplistic and the chorus is even more so, don't get me wrong it's not a bad song but there is better on the album. However the solo is a true highlight, going from heavy to a soft melody with Glenn providing some very heartfelt leads. The second slow verse is also very beautiful and shows an excellent contrast in styles.
Hell Bent for Leather picks the album back up and demonstrates just how good of a writer Glenn Tipton really is, this is easily the best song on the album and deserves every bit of praise it gets. The main riff is extremely catchy and Rob's voice is very surprising due to the aggressive deepness of it. The energy in this song is unmatched by 90% of the bands catalogue, however it's far too short. The solo in the song is also something every guitarist should take note of, how to properly shred.
Take on the World follows and is a precursor to United and is far better as well, the rolling drums and simplistic verses make it enjoyable, while the chorus' only strength is the ability to sing along with it.
Burning Up comes next and proves to be the second best song on the album, what an underrated gem. This pseudo-sex tale has all the right elements, great groove with a memorable main riff. Somewhat seductive vocals in the verse and aggressive vocals in the chorus. But the true highlight is that slow spoken section which shows Rob's ability to grab the attention without high-pitched screams, his voice is out of this world. K.K.'s solo here is also one of his best, very energetic and intricate and it's impossible not to air-guitar along with it. This song would've made a great video.
Killing Machine did have a video and for good reason, another awesome rocker, written solely by Glenn. Rob's erotic movements fit the structure well and even though it's not a song about sex does have a very exotic feel. The song is actually about a hit-man and is one of the best on the album. Running Wild is godly but not as good as the version on Unleashed, but by this time that is obvious. Another one written solely by Glenn and is better than the previous. Evil Fantasies is a good song with great hooks and style but like all the others falls terribly short to the live version, however the slow solo in the middle is grandiose.
Before the Dawn is the ballad here and does not get the praise it deserves, emotional and not overdone. Rob's voice is shocking here as he delivers the vocals all in different octaves but never gets high-pitched, however it is very heartfelt and is bound to shed a tear. But the highlight here is perhaps the most emotional solo KK has ever done, which is shocking due to his usual craziness, but once you hear it you will never again question the mans skill. There is also keyboards to give this rather short song a surreal epic feel. Overall one of the greatest ballads the world will ever hear and one that deserves to be played live.
So there you have it, eleven tracks of pure signature Judas Priest who finally had the opportunity to work with a producer who knew what he was doing. What is even more shocking is James Guthrie has very little to do with any kind of metal, although he has produced four of Pink Floyd's greatest albums. And to all those 'Stained Class' worshipers, no song on that album has survived every tour since it's release, in fact only two Priest albums have that distinction. Screaming For Vengeance(with Electric Eye and Another Thing Coming) and this(with Hell Bent For Leather and The Green Manlishi). Just imagine how good Stained Class would've been had it been produced by James Guthrie...
This is highly recommended by me as this was the album that hooked me forever on Judas Priest a full 28 years ago and will never get old.