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As a bridge between early heavy metal and the NWOBHM, Judas Priest are looked so highly upon by metalheads and music critics for how they pushed the boundaries of heavy metal, by taking the best elements of hard rock, heavy metal, progressive rock and mixing the elements together to create one behemoth that forced the genre to grow and evolve from it's late 60s blues rock roots. I mention this because I consider this crucial to understanding not only the improvements Judas Priest made on their sound on "Sad Wings of Destiny", but how this album stands out from its contemporaries.
One major improvement from "Rocka Rolla" is the composition of the songs, as the songs here function as more focused machines with guitar riffs that instantly make your head move and surprise you not only with the heaviness of the guitars themselves, but with the variety injected. The opener, "Victim of Changes" opens with a riff that comes out at you, moves to its shrieking solo, makes a transition into a calm, clean sound. This section gives you only a slight breath for the closer, where only Rob Halford's high note could compete with the guitar. Though not to what today's standards of "speed" might be. K.K Downing and Glen Tipton increase the tempo of the songs beyond the simple mid tempo of their first release, giving the songs an added sense of edge and urgency. The "twin guitar attack" that they have become known for is also beginning to show signs of emergence. Where they particular show themselves as efficient composers is in songs such as "Tyrants" and "Islands of Domination", which have the heaviness you want from the genre, while remaining exciting and throwing in the necessary variety.
The influences of the band themselves, while held together a little more seamlessly than in the conservative hard rock of "Rocka Rolla", still show clearly. In the case of "Epitaph", we are treated to a song that is almost piano driven, and sounds as if it could have come from a Queen album of the era. The progressive elements of the previous album are also to be found in "Sad Wings of Destiny", but are incorporated more intelligently, such as the soft sections of "Victim of Changes", "Dreamer Deceiver", and the acoustic part at the end of "Deceiver". Really, the only track that seems out of place on the whole album is "Epitaph". Fitting as tribute to Queen it may be, it does not quite match the musical tone of the rest of the album, and if it were to be placed anywhere, it should be at the end, where the melancholy ballad eases us out of the half hour of otherwise solid heavy metal we just endured.
Perhaps the final word goes to Rob Halford, who as we expect him to, is at the top of his game, wailing and shrieking his way through the album in a way few vocalists have managed to replicate (try as they might). Sad Wings of Destiny is an essential album for any fan of heavy metal, and though I consider it to be neither the definitive Judas Priest album, nor my absolute favorite, it's importance is unmistakable, as we see Judas Priest begin to develop the sound that would ensure heavy metal's survival into the 80s, and beyond.