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It's almost absurd how incredible Judas Priest became in the short period of time after Rocka Rolla to the point that they recorded this masterpiece of all things heavy. After spending some considerable time getting into the former album, listening to the latter is astonishing. This is the album where everything came together in every way instrumentally, compositionally, and aesthetically. The band had come to the perfect crossroads of youthful ambition and time-honed experience and just so happened to record an album while that window was open. And as anyone who has heard this can testify, the resulting masterpiece is among metal's finest records.
This album is downright epic. From the grand piano mood-cementer of "Prelude" (yes, I know the CD versions have the sides swapped. The album really does flow better this way) to the sweeping classic "Victim of Changes" to the short, potent riffage of "The Ripper," this album exudes power. The Downing/Tipton guitar combo has improved significantly. No longer do they sound like they've made up their rhythms the day before (as throughout Rocka Rolla); rather, every note and chord is placed purposefully. Their solos are just as poignant, never out of place and always effective. But as is typical with Judas Priest of this decade, no one outshines the mighty Rob Halford. Here he's at his absolute prime and graces us with his full force. He wails, he swoons, he rips through octaves as naturally as if he were speaking the words casually, rather than blasting them through his vocal cords with all of his might (which is what he's doing when he's not singing softly). Albums like Sad Wings of Destiny are what established him as one of the best metal vocalists of all time, a reputation that still stands today.
One of the best things about this album, besides its historical importance and general ass-kicking goodness, is that there wouldn't really be another Judas Priest album quite like it ever again. Sin After Sin and Stained Class both maintained the feeling that this incarnation of Judas Priest brought to the table, but not in such a free, well-flowing manner. The emphasis on mood and feeling throughout "Dreamer/Deceiver" would not be rivaled again, nor would the riffs of "Tyrant," the grandness of "Victim of Changes," or the superb atmosphere of "Epitaph." I mean, come on, Glenn Tipton plays piano all over this thing. And as for the two piano-only tracks, lost Elton John tunes these aren't by far. These are classier, with "Epitaph" being easily among my favorite Judas Priest songs (and definitely the best of the ballads).
You can talk up your Machine Head or your Paranoid all you like. Hell, even your Overkill. Because the fact of the matter is, your 70's metal collection will be perpetually incomplete without this gem. Fans of later Judas Priest, come and witness what these guys were capable of a few mere albums before....