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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.