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For a band as revolutionary in the heavy metal genre as Judas Priest, it may come as a surprise that their debut album, far from being a groundbreaking explosion, is a rather conservative album. Not just by the standards of our modern era where anything softer than Gorgoroth or Suffocation could be deemed "not heavy enough", but conservative for it's own time as well. Released in 1974, when Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple had been pumping out release after release of heavy blues rock since 1969, Judas Priest were late comers as far as record releases are concerned, and had yet to develop both the distinct musical and visual style that so many metal fans associate with Priest (look for a video of Judas Priest performing "Rocka Rolla on British television at the time and you will see exactly what I mean). What we have on "Rocka Rolla", their debut LP is fairly simple hard rock/early heavy metal in the vein of Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin and Ted Nugent, with subtle hints of the beast that was not yet unleashed.
There are two elements on this album that distinguish Priest from the other bands around this time, the first being the vocals of Rob Halford. Even early on, his range is fantastic and its clear that his voice has been the most consistent part of Judas Priest's sound (minus the time he wasn't in the band). His voice is better suited to the rockers than to the ballads on this album; his voice still sounds great on the soft parts of "Run of the Mill", but its when the guitars grow loud that he lets his voice loose.
The guitar work of K.K Downing and Glen Tipton is the second distinguishing factor, though to a lesser degree. In the riffs for the title track, "One for the Road" and the heavy sections of the other songs, they show traces of the guitar work they would be most remembered for. For the most part, there isn't much of the "twin guitar solo attack", and their style remains firmly rooted in the hard and progressive rock tendencies of the age. The occasional use of a blues harmonica and Pink Floyd-esque sound on "Winter Retreat" and "Run of the Mill" are reminders of the time the album was released, with the closest indicators of the classic Judas Priest sound lurking in "Cheater, the later half of "Dying to Meet You", and the title track. Though I'm not much of a production freak, I couldn't help but feel that the sound of the electric guitars was a little too tame for what Judas Priest appeared to be going for on this album-especially when the producer is Roger Bain, who produced the first three Black Sabbath albums.
If you are a huge Judas Priest fan but have not yet heard this album, I recommend that you do so to see the roots of one of heavy metal's greatest bands; whether you will actually enjoy the album will depend on whether you like early 70s hard rock with a few progressive influences. There is nothing in "Rocka Rolla" that is abysmal, and I rather enjoy the title track, but compared to what they would soon be releasing, "Rocka Rolla" seems too mundane and doesn't seem that much different from any other band at the time. You will definitely find a track or two on here that you will be listening to again and again, but it's unlikely that you will give the album as a whole the same treatment.
This is Judas Priest's very first album. The first from a band we would later regard as being "The Metal Gods". It was released during the time that the band couldn't keep a drummer for too long, and had just began to embrace the idea of having a second guitarist (Glenn Tipton was brought in during the album's recording to do some additional guitar parts). The band already had a lot of original material that won over their audiences during shows, and all that was left to do before going on an upward spiral of success was to record these songs in a studio and release them as an album.
However, things didn't quite turn out as planned. Priest ended up with producer Rodger Bain, who, although had production work for some of the classic Black Sabbath albums on his resumé, did a poor job here. He had too much control over the album and left off most of the fan favourites. The album's sound also suffered in the process, and it flopped upon release. It would seem as though the structuring/ordering of tracks wasn't properly thought out, either. "Winter", "Deep Freeze" and "Winter Retreat" form a single piece of music that doesn't really need to be split into three. There is no one part that is any better than, or much different to the others, really. "Dying To Meet You" contains a hidden song known as "Hero, Hero", though it is only the penultimate track on the album, whereas usually hidden tracks are found at the very end of an album. It seems unnecessary to combine these two songs when the "Winter" piece is split into three.
The material itself isn't all that bad, but it's a rather far cry from the powerful brand of heavy metal they would create in later years. Even its album cover is very unlike the iconic covers that were made for their later albums (Paying homage to Coca Cola on an album cover is hardly the sort of thing you'd expect from Priest). The music is much more in the vein of Led Zeppelin influenced hard/blues rock with some progressive elements. The straight hard rock songs here, such as "One For The Road", the underrated title track, "Cheater" and "Never Satisfied", generally work better than the songs that attempt to be progressive, and it is through the hard rock tracks that the band shines the most on this album.
Singer Rob Halford's vocals are consistently solid through the album, but are short of anything groundbreaking at this early stage in Priest's career. It's also worth noting that this was long before the world knew of Halford's homosexuality, and some of the album's songs are explicitly about women, the title track and "Cheater" especially, the latter in which he sings "You cheating bitch! Here's what I think of you!", likely an attempt to display masculinity. This does also mean that the album is somewhat on the cliché side, and Halford was yet to make an attempt at expressing his homosexuality through S&M leather and the like, and none of the other members were indulging in that stuff, either. In fact, they were going through a hippie phase during this time period!
Rocka Rolla is an album that is rather lacking in focus, which is not helped by the poor production, and the decision to cut down what was supposed to be a 14-minute epic to a meaningless 2-minute instrumental ("Caviar and Meths"). Half of the album has progressive tendencies that generally fall flat, whilst the other half does contain some solid hard rock with stellar guitar work from both Tipton and K.K. Downing. The band's potential isn't fully demonstrated here, but what we do hear of it is no real disappointment. This album has been ignored by most, picked up mainly by aspiring Priest completists, and it will likely remain that way. But some of the songs here are definitely worth checking out by any hard rock and heavy metal fan.
It's not every day that I review an album as old as I am. Sure, I've got a month on Rocka Rolla (the album, not the single), having emerged from the womb of my unknown mother (I like to think it's Satan) in August of '74, but I don't think that there's any question the Judas Priest debut has aged far better than I have. Not that I'm fighting back shocks of white plumage, mind you, but despite being one of my lesser loved albums in the British gods' pantheon, Rocka Rolla has such great production and vibrant songwriting that even today, some 38 years in the future, it still seems 'fresh' when I compare it to some of the most modern music coming out of the rock/hard rock field. That's not to say I'm giving this the most glaring of recommendations, as I find the track list somewhat inconsistent, but there have been far worse debuts to take for granted from longstanding, outstanding bands such as this one.
I'm sure that arguments have been made to disqualify Rocka Rolla as a pure 'metal' record, just as they have for many thus labeled, but of course this is all coming from a retrofit perspective which is not necessarily valid. In a world with Cannibal Corpse, it would be difficult to claim an album like this was even remotely heavy, but for 1974, there were not a whole lot of options. You had Sabbath, Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy a few lesser known groups who only today seem to get a nod and a welcome, and then the emergence of three more of the most influential 'hard rock' bands in all of history: Canadian progressive Rush, theatrical New Yorker man-whores KISS, and a bunch of Birmingham boys who had been kicking around since '69, bred on the hard blues of Cream and Hendrix and soon to shape the 'metal' sound in such a way that they would go on to influence so many in their wake that you might go less insane trying to count the stars on a clear night.
Rocka Rolla is iconic. The coke bottle cover image and admittedly lame old logo would be difficult to forget for any child of the 70s (or 80s), and this was the sole album to feature drummer John Hinch, who at that time was already the fourth to hold that position. The sound on a number of the cuts was much groovier in nature than what we've come to expect. Sabbath was the clear comparison, especially on songs like "One for the Road" where Halford's piercing pitch rubbed up against the bluesier based rhythm guitar not unlike. Or the conceptual trilogy of "Winter", "Deep Freeze" and "Winter Retreat", where huge mournful grooves explode out of a psychedelic din only to return to devolve into wailing experimentation and a smooth, clean closure. Zeppelin also plays heavily into the swaggering dirty blues metal of "Cheater", and there's a progressive and psychedelic Pink Floyd current flowing through the numbing "Run of the Mill" or solemn "Dying to Meet You" (before it explodes).
But, of course, none of those bands featured Rob Halford, who is all over this thing, showcasing the vast range and personality of his voice. He can brood sullenly against the bluesier undertow, he can scream off like a siren, and in general maintain an incredibly consistent higher pitch for just about as long as he needs. This is more than evident on my favorite tracks here: "Rocka Rolla" itself in which he measures off a lot of groovy swagger with a higher pitched counterpoint that cuts right across the throat like jagged glass, or the heavily atmospheric "Never Satisfied" where he's incredibly expressive across both the mid and upper registers, giving even a bark and bite once he arrives at the chorus before that giant Page-like bridge groove with the lead. "One for the Road" is another of the stronger pieces, with some nice percussion from Finch that really highlights the bluesy spit of the guitars and the more top heavy, resilient howls of Halford.
While I don't think Tipton and Downing had quite come into their own here, still adapting the signature dual style they are so known for, both are pretty solid at emulating the grooves of their individual influences. A lot of Clapton in there, even more Hendrix, but it works very well against the impressive rhythm section. 40 year veteran Ian Hill has long been one of the less outspoken members of the band, and I've often heard or read the guy being criticized for his low key stage presence, but he really got a chance to shine here, his subtle strutting perfectly accommodating the bright and rich tone of the guitars. If there's any real problem with this record, it's only that in hindsight the songs are nowhere near as striking and effective as the heavier style they would evolve towards on later records. Not all of them are equally memorable, and if you took Rob out of the equation, Rocka Rolla might well have been any of several other bands in this period.
Still, the production and performance ensures that, while it's never to be hailed as some great masterpiece of psychedelic heavy blues or proto-metal, Rocka Rolla has a timeless nature about it that should sate most people who find themselves in a mood for some of the harder 70s sound. Blues, progressive rock, hard rock, all can be found frothing in the spirit of these musicians, and there's a sense that this is one of the most 'honest' of their works. It's not the hi octane, fire breathing, S&M strapped Judas Priest we'd all come to recognize and worship, but a group of guys carving a sincere, dynamic and refreshing piece of the pie from their own forebears. It's not very consistent. There are few if any 'hits'. Nor is it as musically wealthy or important as other debuts like Iron Maiden, KISS, or Black Sabbath, yet it weathers the decades like a diamond, in whose facets one might glean the firestorms to follow.
You would, after all, have expected Judas Priest's debut to have hit the scene with an earth-shattering kaboom as opposed to an unenthusiastic thud. The fact is that whilst the essential elements of the band's sound is in place, they're not quite firing on all cylinders yet. Tipton and Downing's twin lead guitar playing is all present and correct, and shows a certain influence from Wishbone Ash (who'd been doing the twin lead for years in a folk-rock/prog-rock sort of style), though of course with more of a metallic edge than usual, though except for on the title track or Run of the Mill they never quite manage the full roar of their usual sound. Likewise, whilst Rob Halford's high-pitched singing voice is already developed, he never lets rip with the sort of shrieks we are used to hearing from him.
Compositionally speaking, the set isn't particularly compelling either, being mostly rooted in the sort of blues-influenced hard rock that was hardly uncommon in 1974, with the occasional nod to fellow Birmingham residents Black Sabbath spicing things up. According to the band, they wanted to include some of the material which would eventually appear on Sad Wings of Destiny on this album, but were pressured into delivering a more commercial album to start off with; I don't know whether that's true, but I can certainly believe it, because there's a lack of enthusiasm evident on this record which is absent from the followup. A piece of metal history, but one that has not aged at all well.
If you've not heard Rocka Rolla before, Judas Priest's debut, but you have heard the likes of Painkiller, British Steel etc, then you will be in for a shock. Rocka Rolla sounds nothing like what was to come. Even so, it's still pretty decent. Rob Halford is there for vocal duties of course, Glenn Tipton and KK Downing are in on guitars as you'd expect and Ian Hill is serves on bass as usual. John Hinch does all the drum work, but this is the only album that he appears on.
Rather than sounding like the full-on 100% heavy metal band they are, Rocka Rolla has a different, rock/bluesy feel to it. Of course, there are plenty of heavy metal elements to it, but there's no way you could actually label it '100% heavy metal'. Although instrumentally this isn't trademark Priest material, Halford's voice is instantly recognizable so you still know your listening to that band.
None of the songs on here are particularly bad as such, but none of them are up to the standards to be known as Priest classics or fan favourites. In fact, the band never, ever play anything off the album live and haven't for years. Maybe the fact that it sounds so much different to the rest of their material means they deliberately try to avoid it. I doubt most fans would like to hear any songs off this debut on the band's live setlist, but I personally wouldn't mind hearing one or two tracks off here.
'One For The Road' is kicks things off in a very UN-Priest style, sounding more like a blues rock band than a heavy metal band. Even so, the main riff is catchy and the song still rocks. The title track follows, sounding a tad more metal-ish but still sounds nothing like Priest. The chorus is great, and the lyrics are cool. The short intervals 'Winter', 'Deep Freeze' and 'Winter Retreat' all form as one song and in my opinion are one of the main highlights of the album. They have a slight atmospheric sound and the riffs and vocals are excellent. 'Cheater' has a more metal-sounding riff to it, but also includes some harmonica work.
'Never Satisfied' is my favourite track on here. The riff sticks in your head, Halford lays down some decent vocals and it is an overall good example of how early heavy metal was played. 'Run Of The Mill' is a bit overrated in my opinion- it is notable for it's progressive rock sounds however and clocks at over 8 minutes. 'Dying To Meet You' is interesting too- Halford sounds very strange at times and the song has some Black Sabbath style-melodies at times. 'Caviar And Meths', the album's closer is a dull instrumental that is only around 2 minutes long.
One issue that haunts Rocka Rolla is the production job. It is rough to say the least. Often, poor production can make some metal albums sound more aggressive, but here, it does not help this album. The volume levels are kind of messed up in places. In order to enjoy this album more, you will need to find a decent remaster job. Some versions of the album have 'Winter' and 'Deep Freeze' stopping too early.
The original Coca-Cola bottle album art is cool, but there is also an alternate cover released later on, which has some of the dumbest, most un-related art i've seen in a while. I don't know why this different album artwork was introduced either.
If you can find a decent remaster, then Rocka Rolla is recommended, but it isn't essential. It is however a good listen for anyone interested in early heavy metal.
I really like this album... No... I actually LOVE it. It's one of my favourite albums ever. The only problem is, that it's not Judas Priest. Well, of course it's them, but the feel, the sound and the music is just not Priest. The album is soft and inspired by the 70's progressive rockbands. I have heard from people that the songs in "real life" e.g. when played live, where a lot more powerful, and I easily can imagine that. But for me, there's nothing missing on this album with the production, sound and songs, except that I am a bit dissapointed since Caviar and Meths (which is actually a great short track) were supposed to be an epic 10 minutes+ song. It was later released by Priest's first singer Al Atkins on his album Victims of Changes in a long version (around 8 minutes).
It should be noted that some of the CD-issues of this albums has wrong track-splits in Winter, Deep Freeze and Winter Retreat, where Deep Freeze is actually the last bit of Winter, and Winter Retreat is both Deep Freeze and Winter Retreat.
The first track "One for the Road" is simply just one for the road. Nothing special here, just a hard rocking track.
Rocka Rolla, the title track, clocks in at 3:06 making it a short track compared to the others on the album, but it still is one of the strongest on the album. The sound is rocking, though there is a bit hiss on the production. The lead-guitar solo stuff that starts around 1 minute sounds a bit "happy" but still work very good with the song.
Winter - Starts out quietly where Halford sings some lyrics that's hard to hear. Then the song it self starts out and contains one of the best, most rocking riffs on the album. This is also the first time we really hear Halford's voice with the caracteristic sharp tone, though it's not the classic Priest scream. The guitar, bass and vocals stops and a quite boring and not very talented drum "solo" is added, until a bridge riff make the song return back to the inital riff and a final verse.
Deep Freeze - Just some guitar play-around in a couple of minutes. I cant really see the reason to include this track on the album, when Caviar and Meths could have been longer, and would have been more important to include.
Winter Retreat - Short song, with soft sound and lyrics. Nothing special, though you hear a side of Halford's voice you never heard before.
Cheater - Great song and in my opinion it has the most catchy line: "She was a cheater!" Well... You'll have to hear it to understand.
Never Statisfied - A track with a very weak sound on the guitars. I think it would be a great rock song with more power. The guitars just fall in with the drums and bass, and doesn't really creat any melody or such. Even with the powerless sound it's in my opinion a very very good track. After the first part of the song, it moves over to the most heavy riff on the whole album, the best in my opinion. A solo is played and the song returns to it's initial riffs and sound.
Run of the mill - The track is slow, quiet and somehow relaxing and has got a bluesy feel to it. It's too long though. At 8:32 it could easily have been cut a minute or two. The intro is in my opinion not necessary, as is the very very very long solo part in the middle. I think this mostly because I am a bit dissapointed that Caviar and Meths were not included on the album in it's intended length. If they had room for both tracks on the album, they should definitely not cut this one. It's still a good song. At the end you really hear halfords voice screaming with power, and that's something i really enjoy with this track.
Dying to meet you - A track with two parts, that I actually think could have been to different songs, since the first part is a bit in the same lane as run of the mill with slow riffs and soft sound/voice. Halfords voice in this part, is quite deep and I actually think this is one of his best vocal performances that I have ever experienced. The second part is faster and with Halford singing a lot higher than before.
Caviar and Meths - I think I have mentioned it a couple of times above. This track should have been included in it's originally inteded long run. Still this short instrumental part of the original track, is actually very awesome. I think it could have been extended and maybe even have been made to an instrumental Priest track. It's soft, relaxing, simple and yet very melodic. Because of it's short length (2 minutes) I often play it two or three times just to enjoy the soft and relaxing feel it has to it.
The first release from Judas Priest is quite different from the sound and image they would very soon become associated with, as the loud young Brummies ditched their hippie look, prog aspirations and disappointing drummer and producer to begin recording the definitive albums of early heavy metal. ‘Rocka Rolla’ is an infamously flawed record, but this is largely due to unexpected problems with the studio equipment and personnel more than the material, which is often of a surprisingly high standard. Even if the band members themselves look down on this release, they are the first to admit that there are some great early classics scattered throughout... it’s just that the whole thing doesn’t sound quite right.
Having established a large local fan-base with their loud, melodic, masculine rock, the burgeoning Judas Priest were quickly manhandled into a studio and assigned the famous local record producer Rodger Bain, whose results with the early albums of their contemporaries Black Sabbath are justifiably praised. Gull Records were confident that Bain would capture the heavy sound they were hoping to promote and gave him totalitarian control of the recording process, something the band looks back on as a big mistake as they were completely under his thumb. Nevertheless, it was a decision they were understandably content and confident to go along with at the time, if it meant paving the path to fame. Unfortunately, Bain’s eventual results were severely disappointing, failing to capture the energy of the studio and ending up with a very thin sound that affected all the instruments. He also unwisely, and for whatever reason, decided to eliminate the band’s most popular songs from the track-list, requiring them to come up with what often sounds like filler, rather than the timeless material that would eventually find its way onto ‘Sad Wings of Destiny,’ commonly seen as the first ‘real’ Priest album.
‘Rocka Rolla’ should not be easily written off, especially as part of the band’s problem with the album is their lack of ownership or royalties from its sales, something Gull Records have taken full advantage of over the years with far too many re-releases attempting in vain to remedy a thirty-year-old problem with new technology. The band’s dissatisfaction even extends to the original cover art, a bottlecap design with the album’s title written in copy-cat Coca Cola font, which for some reason they later decided to swap for Mel Grant’s ‘The Steel Tsar,’ an average-looking image that may have had the right apocalyptic message, but wasn’t quite as cool or distinctive as the original, especially as Grant’s painting had also been used for a book of the same name, and for a random early video game box. The band’s dislike of the album’s overall style may be due to its association more with traditional rock than metal, something that is partially appropriate in this mixed bag of radio-friendly pop rock and high-concept suites. It may lack the distinctive Priest sound, but it’s an interesting listen, and it’s clear the band is really onto something.
1. One for the Road
2. Rocka Rolla
4. Deep Freeze
5. Winter Retreat
7. Never Satisfied
8. Run of the Mill
9. Dying to Meet You
10. Caviar and Meths
The album begins on a disappointing note with the repetitive and bland ‘One for the Road,’ based on a tedious blues riff that lacks the usual Judas Priest energy in all areas apart from Rob Halford’s voice, which is up to its usual high standards regardless of production. After taking far too long to fade out, the album begins to reveal its real charms with the great title track, a typical Priest song about love and rock with plenty of great harmonies, solos and riffs from Glenn Tipton and K. K. Downing. It’s a little derivative, with contemporary influences all over the place – the verse sounds like Roxy Music, while the chorus sounds like David Bowie – but the guitars are distinctly Priest. Halford even offers a brief harmonica section similar to Black Sabbath’s ‘The Wizard,’ completing this eccentric and enjoyable, but sadly forgotten piece.
The most creative section of the album comes in the ‘Winter’ suite, spanning tracks three to five but almost always mislabelled or wrongly edited on CD releases. In its true form, the opener ‘Winter’ is a good slow song that unfortunately can’t really be described as heavy due to the production, though that was certainly the intention. The introduction is haunting in a primitive way, with whispered vocals before the drum kicks it into a ‘proper’ song, and once again Halford steals the show. ‘Deep Freeze’ is essentially nothing more than a spacey interlude between the two halves of the suite, similar to Sabbath’s ‘FX’ in that its target audience will be easily impressed stoned people who enjoy the effect of a guitar whine fading in and out of volume for a minute and a half (‘woah dude, he’s going closer to the microphone, and then moving far out. Do you have any bread?’) Overall, the effect is closer to depicting a UFO than anything winter-based. Unfortunately, the final piece of this trio doesn’t live up to the first, attempting the kind of proggy soft song that would be perfected later in the album but coming off as somehow unconvincing, Halford’s voice sounding less impressive in a more downbeat style. It was still an interesting experiment overall, but perhaps explains why the band hasn’t attempted anything similarly conceptual since (at least, not until next year’s highly anticipated Nostradamus album).
‘Cheater’ is the first song that really sounds like classic Judas Priest, with a fantastically simple and violent subject matter – a man finds his wife in bed with another man, and shoots them both in primal vengeance – and it’s hard to resist joining in with the chorus towards the end, and thereby clearly condoning the speaker’s actions. This is stupid and fun heavy metal the way it was supposed to be, leaving behind the conceptual nonsense, although it doesn’t offer a lot musically, the guitars sounding thin and similar to the first song. ‘Never Satisfied’ is similarly cool, the main riff and chorus sounding so stereotypical of early Priest that it could belong to any song on the first four albums. It lacks the power of the title song, but Halford holds the notes like he is famous for, including a final extended wail that sadly has to take second place to the more famous ‘Victim of Changes.’
The final phase of the album plays more along the lines of mellow progressive rock, and offers a great distinctive sound in the band’s discography that they carry off surprisingly well. ‘Run of the Mill’ is the better of the two, mostly acoustic but occasionally launching into a rockier riff, although the reliance on a very dull backing drum-beat is a little irritating. Halford has really cracked the croon after the disappointment of the fifth track, and sounds just as good as he would later in the earlier sections of ‘Victim of Changes.’ There’s even a rare spot in the limelight for Ian Hill’s bass, and Halford puts in his finest performance of the record with the final reprise of the chorus, which easily ranks alongside anything else he would accomplish up to the 1990s. ‘Dying to Meet You’ is much the same, only less impressive, beginning slow and changing later on to the extent that it’s essentially two different songs tagged together. It sounds good in isolation, and at least isn’t a wimpy ballad that would really spoil things, but grants Downing greater lenience in unleashing some quite cool and lengthy solos. The main problem comes with the lyrics Halford takes so much time to communicate, which are quite terrible even for a band not renowned for its poetry. The final song is a missed opportunity, the introduction to epic live favourite ‘Caviar and Meths’ that was apparently ‘too long’ to fit onto the record. The guitars work brilliantly to compliment each other despite playing different tunes, but this snippet primarily makes me sad and angry that we didn’t get more of it.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend ‘Rocka Rolla’ to anyone who enjoys the early Judas Priest albums up to the excellent ‘Stained Class,’ before a desire to be American took over and affected the quality of the band’s output for a decade of highs and lows. The production is a big problem, extending to the background hiss that still hasn’t been eliminated by re-masters, but many of the songs fit excellently into the band’s established style, and the ones that don’t offer something completely and excitingly different. Many of the songs are far too short, or far too repetitive (leading to the paradox of tracks such as ‘One for the Road’ that is too short to get anything out of, but that also takes far too long to finish), but the majority are real classics with that great and slightly amateurish first-album feel. It’s clear that this album should never really have existed in the form that it does, its successor ‘Sad Wings of Destiny’ being more true to the band’s live shows of the time, but all the same it’s an album with a lot to offer, even if some of its more elaborate aspirations (specifically the ‘Winter’ trilogy) don’t really go anywhere. It’s really quite good.
Not unlike many of their 70's contemporaries' first releases, Judas Priest's debut is a raw unpolished classic heavy metal album, a mere proto-incarnation of their true sound. Looking at it that way, as a traditional metal album, it actually comes off quite nicer than if you view it as a Judas Priest album, since it bears only a passing resemblence to the Priest that most are familiar with. Be sure to give this more than just a listen or two, it really has to grow on you.
The first impression I got of this early Judas Priest is that they really wanted to be like Black Sabbath. It's as if Glen Tipton and K.K. Downing had just heard Volume 4 and wished to emulate it as best they could. Naturally they add their own swagger to things, but the sound is mighty Sabbathian. Listen to the guitar tone when they're really crushing out chords in "Winter" or "Never Satisfied." Same goes for the way the solos interplay with one another, highly reminiscent of the way Tony Iommi would layer his solos. There's also a lot of mellow territory on here, with lots of atmospheric clean lines calling to mind Pink Floyd and early Rush epics. There's a hint of psychedelic rock mixed in as well, another reason for this album's unique sound. This is Judas Priest to sit around and mellow out to, rather than headbang and rock out to.
The band's main distinguishable factor is Halford (as would be the case later in their existence as well). He sounds a bit different than usual (the first half of "Dying to Meet You" especially), but youth is on his side here and allows for some fantastic melodies and a few well-placed wails. Check out "One for the Road" and the end of "Run of the Mill" for example.
As I said, this album took a bit to grow on me and is good, but it cannot be recommended to all, simply because of how primordial it is. The production is old-school, the band's talent is in its infancy, and it might just be too slow for the average Priest fan to cope with. Keep in mind that this is as 70's as they come and you may just find some value in it.
This is an odd start for the beast that is the Priest. It’s not metal, and for the most part, it’s not catchy either. Thin guitars and poor drumming plagues this album, but hey, it’s from 1974. Besides, this is the only album where Ian is always audible. It’s overall pretty weak, but does have some excellent tracks.
One For The Road is decent at most. It’s not memorable and pretty weak. The title track is a little bit better, but still not good. The riffs on these two are pathetic and except for Rocka Rolla’s outro, the solos blow as well. The Winter Suite spells acid in more ways than you can think of, but actually is pretty good. K.K. unleashes his whammy bar fury here, which still sounds wickedly insane to this day. Cheater is the catchiest song on the album. This will ensure that you won’t fall asleep on this album. Never Satisfied is the heaviest and most metal song. Although it won’t brutalize you, it does warm you up for what comes next.
The main highlight is Run Of The Mill. Featuring anti-old age lyrics and solemn, mesmerizing solos from Glenn and K.K., this song lifts you up and takes you away. K.K. even does a 3-minute solo, but Glenn’s opening solo and licks are much better. Lots of atmosphere is found on this one. The lead work is the best on the debut and Glenn’s are just pure brilliance. The screams at the end are intensively sick and are some of the best wails Rob has ever done (a true feat done here). I’m surprised his sac didn’t burst in the studio when he did those. The next song, Dying To Meet You, starts out slow and features Rob holding notes extremely long, foreshadowing his brilliance to come on later releases. It’s much heaver than the previous track. The second part is very catchy and features the best and most memorable riff, which is also my favorite riff of the album (the one before the solo and right before the song ends). This oddball ends with a short instrumental. Real smooth guys, real smooth.
The weakest Priest album ever, and only blues-rock Priest album, mostly due to the production. Rodger Bain, Sabbath’s producer for their first 3 albums, really fucked up here. The riffs and drumming don’t pack any punch at all. Amateur lyrics are found all over, but it is their first album. Rob even uses a harmonica on two songs, oh the horror! Although personally hated by the band, it’s somewhat of a gem. For die-hard Priest fans only. If you’re not, than get any other ‘70s album from the one, the only, Judas Fucking Priest!
So here we have it, the rather bizarre, heavily blues-influenced debut album of one of the original Heavy Metal bands, the originators of the spikes and leather wear of true Metal, and in mine and many others opinion the greatest band ever to walk the earth. Back here, they all looked like a bunch of hippies, Rob had long, curly hair, and the music was nowhere near the razor sharp all-out metal assault that Priest would turn into.
This album is very bluesy and is based on a number of groovy, catchy riffs and is supported by pretty damn solid and unpredictable drumming courtesy of John Hinch, and some of Ian Hill's most evident and well emphasized basswork throughout their career. On top of it, we have Rob Halford's vocals, who are still quite identifiable with the man who sang monster metal classics like "Breaking The Law" or "The Sentinel", but he sounds more laid-back and calm here, which suits the overall mood on the album, although he does perform some absolutely mindblowing falsetto even back here in 1974, most notably on the quite epic songs "Dying To Meet You" and "Run of The Mill".
The songwriting is rather consistent, and stays solid throughout most of the album, though tend to get really odd at times, and it makes you scratch your head in confusion every now and then. The "Winter/Deep Freeze/Winter Retreat" trilogy (actually, the song "Cheater" is 'part' of the trilogy, yet it has nothing to do with the other songs whatsoever and is a completely different track) is probably the most bizarre moment in Priest's entire history. "Winter" is a spacey, dark ballad-like song with a cool mood and some fucking excellent drum fills. It goes into "Deep Freeze", which consists entirely of K.K. Downing making some weird effects with his guitar, apparently trying to give the whole thing a certain mood. It sounds mostly psychotic and weird, but is actually kinda cool, though gets a little annoying after a while. Then we get to "Winter Retreat", which is an incredibly soft and very short ballad with a nice emotional touch in Rob's vocals and the guitarwork, and sounds strangely "pretty" for a Judas Priest song. It works, but it's mostly just weird, like the entire trilogy.
The rest... The album opens up with "One For The Road" and "Rocka Rolla", two classic rock n' roll numbers with a nice, bluesy feel. "Rocka Rolla" is actually pretty fucking excellent, with a perfect vicious mood and suiting lyrics, and is overall cool as hell. More of the same is "Cheater", which interestingly also features some great harmonica playing by Halford. This is probably the best of these three rockers, with the great main riff, wicked soloing, insanely catchy vocal lines and beautiful lyrics ("I reached the dressing table, kicked away the door. I gripped the cold black metal, a loaded 44. By this time they're awake and they don't know what to do. I scream 'you cheatin bitch, here's what I think of you'!". They may have looked like hippies, but looks can be deceiving, my friends. They were Metal as Steel already back in the 70s).
But the best stuff on here is the two epic masterpieces. We start with "Run of the Mill". It's long, slow, dark, and absolutely beautiful. I can't even try to explain the pure emotion displayed in this song, but if you don't feel like you're about to cry towards the end, you have no heart, you bitch. Rob Halford's vocal delivery in this song is nothing short of Godly, and it's quite understandable why he's recognized as The Metal God. He shows that in every moment of the song, but especially during the absolutely out of this world ending section, where he screams his heart out in an insane falsetto which is one of his best moments yet. "I CAN'T GO OOOOOOOON!" Man, that gets me every time.
And after that, we have another ballad in the same vein, which is not quite as mesmerizing but practically flawless nonetheless, and goes into total asskicking mode on a speeded-up ending section which goes straight back into the groovy rocking of songs like "Cheater", but is sung entirely in a "Stained Class"-like falsetto. These two songs are some of the most underrated masterpieces in the band's history, and two of Metal's all-time greatest ballads. All in all, this album is very, very strange most of the time, but also pretty fucking great, though it takes time before it grows on you.
But a pretty fucking good one, if you can get (or make, for that matter) a competent remaster. The worst parts of the album are the inconsistencies in volume, so it's not that hard to jack up some of the songs by 9dB. Sin After Sin is kinda similarly problematic (the original, anyway).
That said, some of the songs on here are excellent, and the whole thing is a real barrel of fun. It's not Sad Wings of Destiny, but at times it really does hint at it. It's a strange one - the bastard son of Black Sabbath, and your average hippie-rock band (Ten Years After comes to mind). There are a few rocker numbers that are just completely fun... Rocka Rolla (feline on the borderline!) and Cheater come to mind, along with the bouncing opener, One for the Road. Simple but effective riffage.
Then, there's the epic stuff. This is the 70s, where everyone had to be a bit prog and crazy, and this comes out pretty good. The second half of the album is where shit really picks up, with the monster riffage of Never Satisfied. Halford brought it back as part of his live set (FUCK YEAH!) and it did not sound out of place at all. That middle break hints at Tyrant, which of course hints at thrash fucking metal. Run of the Mill is an amazing song (even if the shriek at the end is pitch-shifted) with its long middle soloing section over the hypnotic bass riff (yes, you can actually hear Ian on this LP!), and if you give it 9dB, it turns out wonderful. Then, there's the absolute highlight of the album, Dying to Meet You, which is half Black Sabbath, half Genocide, and all fucking heavy metal. Killer! Killer! Keep your thoughts at bay!
The rest... Caviar and Meths, I have no idea why they cut it out. I've not heard the Al Atkins studio version, but it's 8 minutes and has lyrics. This version is a minute and a half of noodling. Then there's Winter/Deep Freeze/Winter Retreat (aka the Winter Suite), which is a bit on the boring side.
That said, this album is quite enjoyable, and never mind its historical importance. Hot on the heels of Black Sabbath, here comes the Next Big Thing!