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After making next to no impact (critically, commercially, or historically) with Rocka Rolla, Judas Priest returned with Sad Wings of Destiny and knocked the music world flat on its ass. Opening track Victim of Changes takes the heavy blues-rock template as driven into the ground (taking as its lyrical subject matter the classic blues topic of a no-good woman who done you wrong) plays that particular style of proto-heavy metal far heavier than any of its early proponents ever did, and then absolutely tears the format apart with wailing dual lead guitar solos and a frenzied vocal performance from Halford, who unleashes his trademark ear-shattering scream on record at long last.
From the closing scream, all bets are off - having blown away all metal that came before it, the album proceeds to completely rebuild the genre in its image. Want a blueprint or two for the NWOBHM and speed bands who would take this album as their gospel? Have The Ripper and welcome to it. Want an acoustic ballad that turns into a prog-metal workout? The one-two punch of Dreamer Deceiver/Deceiver has your back. Want a death, destruction, and mayhem-obsessed suite of songs that would set the pattern for every classic Judas Priest album to follow? Turn the record over, you'll find all that and more on side two.
As well as giving the instrumental performance of their lives, carving the dual-lead blueprint into the decapitated skull of metal, the album also marks the point where Rob Halford truly came into his own as a singer. Even today, his vocal performance - ranging from demonic moans to banshee screams to delicate crooning to megalomaniac ranting - is a joy to hear, and I can only imagine what an incredible shock to the sense it must have been when the album first came out. Compared to every other singer on the hard rock and early metal scenes from the era, Halford sounds absolutely possessed on this album, and the rest of the band are raging berserkers to match.
This, quite simply, is the ship that launched three or four subgenres of metal, as well as establishing a credible alternative to the blues-rock basis of metal as established by Zeppelin and Sabbath. If you care even slightly about the history of metal, you need to own this album. If you just want to hear top-notch metal performed by a band at their absolute peak, then guess what, you still need to own this album.