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The great Judas Priest. Ah...anyway. Well the greatness of the British metal output seemed to grow stronger with each of their solid 70's releases, culminating with the finale of their unholy trilogy of 70's classics, "Stained Class". "Sad Wings of Destiny" was something fantastic with its immense and emotionally-charged songs, while the frankly overrated "Sin After Sin" brought on an inconsistent array of songs ranging from wimpy ballads to electrifying proto-thrashers. But "Stained Class" is something special. Judas Priest's 4th full-length studio album is THE roaring, blazing blueprint for modern speed, power and thrash metal as we know it. With its dark lyrical content, throat-grabbing dual guitar assault, hammering double bass and Rob Halford's signature nightmare wailing, there was never an album like it at the time, and arguably never will be again.
Yes, the members of Priest are truly firing from all directions on then some on this LP. Rob Halford's piercing wails and hum-laden mid-level singing just sound fantastic, plain and simple. KK Downing and Glenn Tipton have fully-perfected their signature duel guitar assault on here, and bring the attack into full force like on the back-and-forth slicing on "Exciter" or the spirited textured solos of "Beyond The Realms of Death". Ian Hill, so often buried on a many Priest record to come, gets his moments on here, particularly some booming riffing on the title track or "Saints In Hell". Last but absolutely not least is the group's 2nd greatest drummer, the incomparable Les Binks. While maybe not as aggressive as the band's later skin-basher Scott Travis, he at least matches him stick-to-stick for technicality and speed alike. Just listen to the guy's legendary double bass intro (a rarity for the 70's) to "Exciter" and you'll be a true believer in this guy's abilities.
Nine songs is not enough for "Stained Class", but you bet your sorry mortal ass that Judas Priest is gonna make the best of that and then some! The only major downside to this album as many have pointed out is the somewhat lousy production, mostly in that the guitars can sound too wimpy and the drums are a bit hollow at times. Shit, if this album had the production of "British Steel" or even "Hell-Bent For Leather"...aw fuck, it would be fucking UNREAL! Hell, it'd probably be my favorite Priest album instead of "Painkiller" even! But that's that; can't change that shit so MOVING ON!
Some highlights? Basically every-fucking-thing, though one of the best and a fan favorite would have to be "Exciter", the speed metal song to end all speed metal songs. From it's speed riffing and relentless drums to the blazing proto-power metal soloing and Halford's madman wailing it kicks down doors and rapes mortal skulls for every millisecond of its 5 1/2 minutes runtime. Not to mention it's got one of the best breaks in a metal song ever: "FALL TO YOUR KNEES AND REPENT IF YOU PLEASE!" The title track is also really fucking wicked, with some cool as hell galloping riffage that beat Maiden to the punch; Halford's shrieks are totally capable of breaking down a tower of glass on this track. Then we have a personal favorite and very underrated bit o' awesomeness in "Saints In Hell". It's black metal before black metal with lyrics a telling of holy men burning and all a manner of man and beast going to apocalyptic war; a very cool track with a catchy main riff and a Sabbath sort of relentlessness. Let's not forget the best metal ballad of all time, "Beyond The Realms of Death". It's acoustic verses never fail to mesmerize me before the song breaks into a rushing mid-paced chorus, not to mention the spirited, creative Tipton-Downing solos are one of the best things ever. Other solid songs include charging closer "Hero's End" (which I think should have been second last to "Beyond The Realms of Death" instead") or the morose, stomping cover of the Spooky Tooth song "Better By You, Better Than Me". Hell, even lesser cuts like "Invader" or "Savage" are worth merit as well; they're that good!
Literally the only things I have wrong with "Stained Class" is that the production could be better, and that I wish the positions of the last two songs could have been switched. That's it. This album is a true masterpiece of the genre and easily of the best Priest albums ever, not to mention one of the greatest metal albums. If you don't own this yet, first you repeatedly hammer your genitals with a rusted crowbar for several hours straight for not owning it already. Then, if by some miracle you're still conscious or even alive, then maybe you'll be deemed worth for the greatness that is "Stained Class". Metalheads and music-lovers alike, you won't be sorry.
PS- Sorry about your genitals.
Stained Class was the third masterful album in the 1976-1984 'hot streak' of what is indisputably one of England's most exciting bands of the period. Excluding Point of Entry, each of the individual records the band released was overflowing with songwriting envied the world over, and though there were clear 'hits' among the batch, even here, it's the sort of experience you can still sit through today, 30+ years later and enjoy from beginning to end with painfully few hurdles between them. The cover is iconic, rather artsy for its day and age (even compared to the three previous albums) and for some reason always reminds me of wacky sci-fi pinball machines. And I LOVE wacky sci-fi pinball machines, so you know where this is going...
It's often considered to have a 'cleaner' production than its predecessors, a point which I don't exactly debate, but frankly I thought albums like Rocka Rolla and Sad Wings of Destiny sounded great, so all I really heard was that it felt like a more developed set of songs. Rob Halford was starting to grow more and more into his screams, the strut of Ian Hill's bass was a sound anchor to the generally higher pitched guitar line, the bluesy and reined in distortion of the rhythm guitars was very clear while retaining a full body, and Les Binks' steady and polished pounding was pretty intense for the time, if not incredibly adventurous. This album actually had quite a number of moments where the band returned to some of the groovy rocking of the debut, with the Led Zeppelin/Cream feel of the licks, but even here they strike it rich by executing an unflinching sense for catchiness and an atmosphere and aesthetic that places it in the arcades, roller rinks and high schools of the late 70s. In fact, while it might seem a strange observation, I think this was a pretty cool record even for disenfranchised disco fanatics to find shelter in.
There is just so much you could say about "Exciter" alone, but it's only the first track on the album. Rob's chorus has the ability to burn itself straight into your memory, and the shuffling pace of the rhythm guitars in the verse provides one of the more memorable. Lots of little nuances here, like the 'bow to your knees...' break which Venom would later adapt rhythmically into one of their own famous lines. Or the epic transition of the bridge (around 2:00) where they transform it into a near rock opera with the layered harmony. Or the dual melodies deeper in the track which spawned a million impersonators in power metal with their classical rhythmic configuration. The leads are great, not a lick wasted, and it's simply one of the best fucking songs this band has ever written, fairly advanced and progressive when paired up against even the better songs off Sin After Sin or Sad Wings...
Fortunately, the album has a far deeper roster. No one is warming the bench this time out, whether he or she prefers the searing wails over the driving hard blues of "White Heat, Red Hot", the iron grooves and shrill seasonings of "Saints in Hell" which feels like a track Sabbath might have written and passed off to Priest since they know the Birmingham gods could do it much better. The panning of those chords in the bridge is so testosterone inducing epic that you could probably plug in a car battery and some Dr. Emmett Brown pseudo-science and transport yourself back to any major conflict in history. "Savage" makes you want to beat back smilodons with a giant mammoth-bone maul, and then of course you've got "Beyond the Realms of Death" with its glimmering acoustic intro and driving mid-paced metal eruption that I often use as a meter to determine who can or can not be my friend. They also pull out another of their classy covers here with a version of Spooky Tooth's "Better By You, Better Than Me" (from the previous decade) which is so bad ass sexy that members of the opposite (or sometimes, the same) gender will immediately begin gyrating and stripping.
I haven't yet mentioned "Invaders", or "Heroes End", each of which could serve as an alternate energy source for Western civilization once the petrol wells run dry. Stained Class is so saturated in greatness that it almost begins to feel claustrophobic, and there isn't a song written for this which can't turn back the dials of time to a point at which the emerging metal genre felt so fresh, inventive, and lethal. The leads blaze with a bluesy abandon into your subconscious, and Rob's sharp-edged pitch is not something he refrains from using to its fullest here. How many power, trad or speed metal singers do you hear lately that have even a minute fraction of this guy's immediate distinction? Brilliant, slicing harmonies everywhere. The lyrics here also reached a new plateau of restless imagery and relevance, proving that the infant extremity of this genre had the potential for a literary, not pedestrian message. Frankly, I would not have thought it possible that Sin After Sin could be trumped in such a short span of time, but for Judas Priest that took only about a year. Perhaps not a 100% flawless record, there may be a note or two that I scoff at or a riff that sinks below the rest, but nonetheless an essential, timeless experience which is mandatory for anyone who dares call him/herself 'metal'.
Stained Class captures Judas Priest in the middle of a transition from the fearsomely innovative metal pioneers of Sad Wings of Destiny and Sin After Sin to the accessible (but still inventive) megastars of the Killing Machine/British Steel era. New drummer Les Binks is probably the weak link in the chain, since there's really not much to separate his performance from dozens of other hard rock drummers of the era, but he can keep time and that's all Tipton and Downing need to raise a storm with their dual lead guitar solos.
In terms of the material presented, the album kicks off with a blueprint for speed metal in the form of Exciter - featuring some of the most ear-piercing wails Rob Halford would ever muster - before delivering an album divided between accessible, catchy tracks like Invader or Better By You Better Than Me and murky, mysterious, death-obsessed experiments such as Stained Class and Beyond the Realms of Death. The latter song is the piece most reminiscent of previous material - mainly progressing as a quiet, low key ballad before erupting for the mighty choruses, with Halford singing the praises of death as an escape from an unacceptable world over some of the doomiest riffs the band would ever produce.
Beyond the Realms is probably my favourite track from the album, although picking a favourite is necessarily a rather arbitrary process with an album as fearsomely consistent as this one. Although it is not as groundbreakingly innovative or crushingly heavy as its predecessor, Stained Class is at least a highly listenable album from beginning to end, with each and every track more than justifying its presence - quite simply, there is not a single piece of filler on the thing. Though I wouldn't put it above the two immediately preceding albums, Stained Class more than qualifies for a place in the top tier of Judas Priest albums.
I just had to give this album a listen, because I just watched a great documentary about Judas Priest's highly publicized court case in 1990, in which they were blamed for the death of a young man who shot himself while listening to "Better By You, Better Than Me." (The documentary is called Dream Deceivers, and it's very good.) Well, I'm glad I gave it a listen, because it was well worth it.
I can see why this album has received such high praise from most of the people who have reviewed it here. Even though the production values date the album a bit, it gives the listener the chance to experience heavy metal in its young years. (The sound lacks some of the weight of eighties heavy metal production, but that's how things began in the seventies.) Stained Class has many of the hallmarks of early heavy metal. The soaring vocals of Rob Halford, with a bit more falsetto than later Halford vocals; the crashing cymbals and crisp drum work that would become heavier in ensuing years; the crunchy, energetic rhythm guitar work with solid riffing, that would also become heavier on later albums; and some very nice lead guitar that sets the foundation for later heavy metal extravagance. It really is like looking at photos of people when they were younger. You can see (or in this case, hear) many of the elements that change and solidify in later life.
"Beyond the Realms of Death" is a classic track that develops in a classic progression: acoustic guitar and laid back vocals at the beginning, gradually building emphasis on the solid, thundering riff; and the vocals that get higher, louder and more frenzied; leading to a classic guitar solo; and finally, the finale, where everything builds in intensity and speed, with a sudden dramatic pause at the end. Beautiful stuff, really.
"Saints in Hell" is another standout track, that reminds me a bit of Black Sabbath in its style of guitar work, but the vocals are classic Halford. None of that somewhat whiny Ozzy Osbourne stuff here! (I can almost hear the Ozzy fans shout in protest--I'm just saying Ozzy sounds a bit weak when compared to a vocal giant like Halford. I love Sab, really I do.) And some fun echo effects on the vocals half way through. Great.
I could go on, but I won't. Suffice it to say that this is a seminal work in the development of heavy metal. It absolutely deserves its status in the pantheon of great British heavy metal albums.
Judas Priest, one of the forefathers of heavy metal, undoubtedly reached their peak on this album. Recorded in 1977 and released the next year, when only Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and a select few other bands had even set foot in the realm of metal, it made a mark on popular music like only landmarks such as Sabbath's debut had before. Priest's previous efforts had just as much power and ability, but Stained Class took their skills to a new level. While their first three albums had shown great blues-rock influence, Stained Class stripped down the blues and took a step into more all-out metal territory. Rob Halford arguably gives his best performance until 1984's Defenders of the Faith. K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton, as always, create a twin guitar sound that nobody short of Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman could surpass, and Les Binks' drumming is superb. The result is a near-perfect production, not too raw or too sterile, that perfectly complements the tone of the songs.
And the songs may be some of the best Judas Priest has ever written. Even the weakest song on the album shows potential. The lyrics are insightful and interesting; the delivery, powerful. A sample from the opener, "Exciter:"
"Racing 'cross the heavens, straight into the dawn
Looking like a comet, slicing through the morn
Scorching the horizon, blazing through the land
Now he's here amongst us, the age of fire's at hand!"
You'd have to be deaf not to love that. Halford does a great job of enhancing the epic lyrics with his outstanding vocal prowess. His style prompts comparisons to that of Ronnie James Dio or Bruce Dickinson, to an extent, but at the same time displays a power all his own. Halford can hit unbelievable highs and inhuman screams, but never loses an ounce of strength. Even without the instrumentation, Halford enthralls. He can be catchy when he wants to; at the end of "Savage," for example, he sings almost in a chant,
"Who's the savage?--modern man!"
After you hear that for the first time, you'll never forget it.
The guitars form another high point. Downing and Tipton are obviously very skilled. They play no shortage of amazing and memorable riffs, not to mention the solos. Oh, the solos... some of the best I've heard this side of Fade to Black. They go from strong and defiant ("Exciter") to mournful ("Beyond the Realms of Death"). They will keep you spellbound; they will grip you and not let go for years to come. Simply astounding.
Now for an in-depth description of the actual songs:
"Exciter" showcases Judas Priest's pure heavy metal side, abound with solos, great riffs, and cool lyrics. It's the first of a series of "alien savior" epics (see "Painkiller") and works perfectly as an opener. On the other side of the spectrum, "Beyond the Realms of Death" displays Priest's ability to write an epic masterpiece. It starts out slow and brooding, before exploding into a loud, defiant chorus. The song proves that slow solos can be just as awesome and memorable as fast ones.
"Savage" describes the American Indians' encounters with European explorers, much like Iron Maiden later would with "Run to the Hills," leading one to believe that Harris took some influence from Priest. It's fun and often sound like it was actually written by the Native Americans. It's great to sing along to, as well. "Invader," which is along the same lines lyrically, except the invaders are aliens, is also an amazing song. The music seems to go along better with the Indian theme, though.
"Better By You, Better Than Me" and "White Heat, Red Hot" are pretty funky, and well done at that. There's a little bit of groovy rhythm in "Saints in Hell" and "Stained Class," as well. Judas Priest does quite a good job of merging these styles of music while still fully retaining their heavy metal sound. "Better By You..." sparked a fairly well-known lawsuit involving a teen suicide. While of course the case was absolute bogus, it did give the song some much-deserved exposure. As usual, Priest have outdone themselves in adding a metallic edge to a cover song.
"Heroes' End" is the weakest song here, but despite that, it's still interesting to listen to. It's nothing special, though, making it the only reason I didn't give Stained Class a perfect score. It doesn't really matter, though - before it there's a 38-minute streak of sheer brilliance.
All in all, Stained Class is a near-perfect record, where Priest successfully fuse many genres while remaining heavy metal through and through. Priest would later experiment with glam and other popular (at the time) genres, but they ultimately would never surpass their work on this album. If you don't have it already, send your ears to paradise and check it out. I promise you will absolutely not be disappointed.
If you were to ask a random metal fan to name the one album that they believed defined metal music, chances are many would reply “Number of the Beast”, “Paranoid”, “British Steel” or even “Master of Puppets”. Few would reply with Judas Priest's 1978 masterpiece “Stained Class”, an album heavily underrated by all but the more dedicated Priest fans for reasons unknown. Sabbath may have played the first metal riff ever back in 1970 but it was Judas Priest's “Stained Class” which stripped away the blues influence and pushed metal in a new direction. From the blazing fast opener “Exciter” to the thrashy mid-paced “Saints in Hell”, one can see/hear the huge influence this album alone has had on metal.
“Stained Class” features in my opinion, the band at its peak. Halford's voice may not be as high as it is on Painkiller but he sings with such energy and passion (check out that scream at the very end of Beyond the Realms of Death for evidence!) that one can overlook that small detail. This album also holds some of Glenn Tipton's and KK Downing's best solos and riffs. No one can deny the the quality of Tipton's solos in “Beyond the Realms of Death” or “Exciter”, nor can they deny the influence on thrash metal of that intense riffing around 3 minutes into “Saints in Hell”. Les Binks' drumming is also top notch. While the vastly underrated Binks may not hit the drumkit as hard as Scott Travis would 12 years later, his fills are always interesting without being self indulgent. Ian Hill's bass unfortunately is barely audible in the majority of the tracks although it is solid, if not spectacular on the few songs it can be heard in.
Another strong point of this album are the lyrics. After listening to British Steel, Ram it Down or even Painkiller one could be forgiven for thnking that the band were incapable of writing meaningful lyrics. However, that was not always the case. With the lyrics touching on topics such as colonialism in “Savage” and suicide in “Beyond the Realms of Death” this would be the band's last album before the lyrics would move in a more commercial direction.
In conclusion this is a heavy metal masterpiece that every metal fan should pick up, even if only to hear the influence it has had on whatever their favourite metal band may be. It is consistent from start to finish and there is bound to be something in it for everyone. Make sure to pick up the remastered version as it features the only official live version of “Better By You, Better Than Me” (the infamous “suicide song”) that the band has released.
As mentioned previously, this album is consistently strong but “Exciter”, “Stained Class”, “Savage” and “Beyond the Realms of Death” would be the songs that stick out to me personally.
None, although “Invader” is the weakest track of the album in my opinion.
My first review and I'm giving a record 100%. What a newblet!
Well, not really.
Every few years there comes an album which defines not only the genre of music to which it belongs, but which instead transcends all genera divisions and encapsulates in an hour or so the entire cultural zeitgeist of the period from which it stemmed. These albums are rare birds, but when captured they become prized not only for their musical virtues but for the memory contained in every note of the record.
Judas Priest's fifth album, Stained Class, is just such a release.
Gone entirely are the blues-oriented rockers from Rocka Rolla, Sad Wings of Destiny and Sin After Sin. Gone too are the bawdy bar-room rockers of the band's first release. What is contained in this disk (and, if you own it, it had best be the remastered; time works against the heavy metal fan) is nothing more than the most forward-thinking, cutting-edge metal this side of Seventh Son.
One must be blunt: heavy metal at the time of this release was a novelty genre, distinguishable only from classic rock by virtue of its heaviness and riff-orientation and from punk music only by its speed, virtuosity, and overall darker lyrical themes. Gaudy Satanism, however, had not yet appropriated the genre (and would not do so until the release of Venom's 1981 opus Welcome To Hell), and so the early metallers were free to cover greater lyrical territory, which in turn provided a greater range of musical expression not tied down to themes of 'evil' or 'brutalness'.
Nevertheless, when listening to this album it becomes readily apparent what would follow in the aftermath of Stained Class. Though the band would begin a plummet the very year this was released, with the exceptionally-well performed but lyrically simplified Killing Machine, Stained Class represents the apotheosis of the style of proto-speed metal debuted on Sad Wings of Destiny. Like that record, this album is bleak, but lacking even in the ethereal sorrows of tracks such as "Dreamer Deceiver": the nihility of this album is expressed almost exclusively (save for "Invaders" and "White Heat, Red Hot") in terms of very worldly sorrows. From the dystopic themes of the title track, which were almost surely picked up by Seattle prog-metallers Queensrÿche, to a haunting reminder of the horrors of European colonialism on "Savage", this record virtually resonates with a hostility and futility almost absent from all past releases. To be sure, Black Sabbath had already mastered themes of global war and drug abuse on their first six efforts, but never before had such concentrated nihilism ever been found on an album.
The record begins with "Exciter", which is a speed metal classic on par with anything from the band's 1990 comeback Painkiller. From the very opening moments to the bombastic main riff to Halford's shrieking, hymnal mockery of Christian salvation, one immediately senses that something is different this time. Tipton and Downing are on the top of their game here, delivering a furious, break-necked swirl of electric ecstasy unmatched by anything recorded until this period of time. The song builds to a swell in the chorus line, until it explodes in a rapturous orgy of power and feeling before receding back into the whirlwind depths from whence it came. This trounces even the miraculous "Dissident Aggressor" from the previous record in terms of sheer speed, ability, and, yes, even aggressiveness.
One excellent cut is followed by another, and "White Head, Red Hot" is just as excellent as any other offering served up on this altar of an album. While the lead guitars are slowed a bit, Halford has never sounded better, presenting an intriguing tale of stellar warfare delivered as only Halford can: in a whirling, swirling, twirling form of vocal warfare. All cylinders are firing on this one, and one can detect a sinister underlying grove that feels at times both almost sexy and awfully malevolent.
The infamous 'suicide song', "Better By You, Better Than Me" follows, and one can almost see the logic behind blowing one's head off to it: gothettes, take note; this is how one expresses an overflowing feeling of world-weariness. To be sure, this track is slower than the average pace of the record but is no less dark for it, with Halford delivering some of his most frustrated-sounding vocals to a track played to the hilt by masters of their trade. Whilst this is not a Priest original, I can say as a fan of Spooky Tooth that this takes their rather pedestrian tune and turns it into something monumental.
The title track is next, and this is undeniably the strongest point of the album and almost certainly one of the strongest of Priest's career. Opening with an air-raid riff that all true metalheads have memorized instinctively, this song descends into a hell of dystopian futility as only 1970's-era Priest can deliver. Halford is wild-eyed and tight-fisted as he bemoans the fate of society's creation as the band delivers the performance of a life(death)time. Of particular interest here is the galloping bassline, which surely served as a prototype for a slew of Steve Harris-penned rockers.
After having the flesh whipped and stripped from our bones with the title track, we fall under the attack of the "Invader". This is probably one of the lesser cuts on this record, but a lesser-quality Stained Class tracks are worth a dozen Orgy albums. Opening with a poorly-conceived electronic squeal over a primal drum-and-bass accompaniment by Hill and Binks, this song is undoubtedly the most relaxed song on the album: which is hardly anything to be ashamed of, as it sacrifices sheer hard-hitting heaviness for a bit of sing-along melody in the chorusline. Not exceptionally memorable, but hardly poor enough to be considered filler.
We come now to "Saints In Hell", and I'll be damned if this isn't more Hellish than anything put out by the likes of Venom or Bathory. Kicking off with what is for me the second most memorable riff on the album backed with a powerful stomp-beat delivered at the hands of woefully misplaced Les Binks, we are quickly plunged into a sorrowful tale of apostasy and damnation at the mouth of Hell. No cheesy Satanic themes here, however; this is an epic tale and not at all a recount of a personal philosopher. Included in this song is what is perhaps one of Priest's most memorable vocal lines in the chorus, where Rob Halford screams with enough force to wake the dead. Even the quasi-sound effects in this song are spot-..ing to provide the listener with an inner vista from which to watch the unfolding events of the song in (relative) safety before plunging into icy caverns during the mid-song breakdown. Everything here works, and it works goddamned well.
"Savage" is another of the 'weak' tracks on this album, but this is, again, only relative to the rest of the material here, for even 'weak' Stained Class is infinitely superior to the dredge of, say, Iowa. Having out-ran Iron Maiden in beating them to a retelling of the plight of Native Americans, this socially-conscious song is sure even to please even the most demanding of moralists.
Even if "Savage" were the worst song of all time, however, it still would not blemish the following anthem, "Beyond the Realms of Death". Opening with a melancholic acoustic piece as only Priest can write, this titan quickly slams into an anthemic denunciation of the strife of man's existence as it records the history of an individual who descended into madness before it. To be sure, none of the lyrical material here is exceptionally groundbreaking, but it's delivered in such a way as to make the most of Rob Halford's potency as a performer, and, when combined with music more emotional than emo and heavier than the blackest of metal, becomes enough to send a chill shiver down the spine of even the hardest of hearts.
I cannot praise "Beyond the Realms of Death" enough. This is the "Hallowed Be Thy Name" for the 1970's, and, to be honest, I slightly prefer this to that masterpiece. Everything here is executed so beautifully, with a class (pun intended) that no other band could ever be capable of. Of particular emotional notice is Halford's last shriek in the song, which is the crescendo to which this entire record has been building up.
Had Priest chosen to end on that last track, this would be a perfect album, the best of all time. One final song remains, however, "Heroes End", which, while strong, ought to have been the second-to-last piece on here. This misplacing costs Stained Class just a few precious points, and isn't enough to detract from the overall quality which fills every second of this tremendous album. With lyrics dealing with the death of three 1960's-era superstars, it's certainly thematically fitting, and would go on to be the prototype from which several other Priest epics were spawned.
This is, in short, the metal album. That's right, the. Blacker than Burzum; heavier than Death; more nihilistic than Nevermore. This is the summation of a generation's journey through an epoch of socio-political and spiritual turmoil and documents like none other the basic meaningless of existence. If Friedrich Nietzsche were listening to an album while writing Beyond Good & Evil, it would be this.
I know Stained Class has been reviewed eight times, with the lowest being a 90% and some would think that everything has already been said about this album. It's rich in substance, powerful, epic and a concept album with a very uplifting theme underlying it. While I will agree that this album is concept and does have substance in parts and is powerful in parts, I think the ratings people give it is juiced up. In other words I don't think this album is as good as people make it out to be, it is vastly overrated and deserves the 88% I am giving it. This was the first Judas Priest album I ever heard back in 1978 and at the time I thought Judas Priest was awful, loud, obnoxious and had no right covering Diamonds And Rust, which is the song that introduced me to the band first. But listening to Stained Class my interest was sparked to at least give the band an opportunity. There is a few tracks here that I would agree are totally brilliant and deserve every bit of respect that is placed upon them. But to say this is where Judas Priest's final intelligent piece came is about as insipid as some of the songs themselves.
Exciter is a song that upon my first listen I could only stomach half of, in fact it wasn't until I heard the Unleashed In The East version where I could finally respect this song for all it's worth. Les Binks was the first drummer to be substantial for Priest and his presence is felt right from the beginning with his powerful double-bass drum work. The guitar tone is very dark, powerful and played at breakneck speed. The vocals soar with poetic metaphors throughout about a mystical creature who comes and destroys the world only to return to save it, in other words it is 'Painkiller' only twelve years earlier. The solos are in your face and blistering, plus the tune is somewhat erotic, setting it apart from anything else at the time. Everything about this song works and is one of the few cases on this album where Rob's high-pitched vocals do not sound forced.
White Heat Red Hot was another song, which upon first listen I could not stomach. It's a mid pace burner with the opening riff somewhat reminiscent of Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love just way better and a lot more intricate. This is perhaps Rob's most evasive lyrics, no one can ever truly pin-point what is being talked about. But no matter the content the verses and chorus' are powerful and delivered with a lot of emotion.
Better By You, Better Than Me follows and is the song I credit for making me love Judas Priest. After barely getting through the first two songs I was almost fed-up with the album but then this song came on and my view of the band was changed. The song is rather simple and direct, yet if you listen closely you will hear the production is far better than any other song on the album, thanks in part to James Guthrie. The lyrics are slightly altered from the Spooky Tooth version and this version is way better, 29 years later this song is still one of my favorites by the band.
Then comes this albums namesake and we are given the biggest let-down. Nothing against Rob Halford and his high-pitched vocals, which dominate this album, but here they come across as forced and lifeless. The music is great, soaring and powerful and the chorus is amongst the best on the album, but if not for the bloodless and lifeless vocal delivery in the second verse this song would be an epic.
Invader comes next, starting with an eerie sound effect that is meant to come across as an alien ship landing on earth. The main riff was cruelly ripped off by Van Halen on the song Mean Street from Fair Warning, but going by how great that song is, so is this one. The bridge in the middle is probably the best contrast on the album, orgasmic and superb is every aspect. Then comes a brilliant fiery solo by Glenn, which is one of the best on the album, bound to get you inspired to play. Overall one of the most underrated songs on the album.
Then comes another letdown in the terms of Saints In Hell, though not as bad as the title track. The main riff is bloodless and reeks of repetition, coming across as boring midway through. Boring story-line, insulting vocal delivery and a rather grotesque chorus. No solo but a boring breakdown in the middle. The only highlight of this song is the final two and a half minutes, which finally finds a form of identity and the French spoken lyric line of "Abattoir, abattoir, mon dieu quelle horreur", which means "Slaughter-house, slaughter-house, my god what horror" in English was amazing touch.
Then comes the second 'underrated' gem on this album, where everything about this song works to the up most perfection, the spellbinding story of torture and enslavement. Rob's vocals are out of this world in the chorus and gives us another opinion on how the band feels about the 'Modern Man', calling them 'Savage', 'Bloodthirsty' and 'Primitive'. The true highlight here is the amazing solo by K.K., what an epic piece. The tone and delivery is bound to get anyone just as inspired as the thirty second solo is. The second verse is repeated in higher register and sun with a ton more aggression before finally ending in an 'epic' climax.
Then comes the song most people call the best on the album, which I couldn't disagree with more. Sure it has a beautiful acoustic guitar riff in the verse, a heavy metal riff in the chorus, which sounds like Bad Company's Feel Like Making Love. Sure is has two of the best solos by Glenn and KK, but something is missing here. It's not a bad song by any means but a tad bit overrated by other great songs the band has done, including on the album. However Glenn's solo is amongst the best he's ever done and is about as timeless as any other solo this hugely underrated guitarist has laid down. The final lyric is also another highlight, delivered with such emotion, it comes across as heartbreaking yet uplifting at the same time.
Heroes End is another underrated song, which is due to following the overrated predecessor. The lyrics speak about three heroes who were not recognized for their contributions to their respective fields in life until their death. The song overall is great, but should not have closed out the album.
The bonus tracks are two of the best on the Re-Mastered series, first with the touching ballad Fire Burns Below. Nothing about this song is bad as it is an emotionally-driven inspired tale of love for an audience, easily being able to shed a tear. All three solos, including the acoustic one, gives this song a surreal epic feel and should have been included on Turbo, for which this song was recorded for.
Then we have a rather splendid version of Better By You, Better Than Me. This version is a must-have for fans, for this is the only 'known' live version of this track. It was recorded live during the KNAC broadcast at Foundations Forum, Los Angeles, California on September 13, 1990, only a month or so after the trial, which dealt greatly with this track, had finally ended.
So despite the weak tracks this album is quite good, however it is not as good as 'Sad Wings Of Destiny', 'British Steel', 'Demolition' or 'Turbo'. Although I do credit this album with at least sparking the interest I now have in the band.
What's there to say about this album that hasn't already been said. This is arguably the epitome of Heavy Metal and defines all that is right about the Genre. This album explores all the positives of metal, it has some thrash as fuck tracks, touching ballads which still kick at least twenty-four and a half different types of ass as well as some killer anthems that you find yourself singing along to on your very first listen. In short, this album has it all and end some.
We start off with Exciter, which has to single handedly be the heaviest song of it's time and one of the earliest thrash masterpieces. The beginning is reminiscent of Painkiller and Motorhead's Overkill and god damnit it's just as good. Halford's screaming vocals along with the screaming guitar solos really set the scene for the album and by the first minute in, you know this album is gonna kick ass.
The next two songs are White Heat, Red Hot and the cover song Better By You, Better Than Me which are a bit slower, but still sound powerful and heavy and really live up to the hype left over from Exciter and the latter track has you singing along from the get go.
Then we are treated to another mind blowing song which is indeed very heavy for it's time, the title track Stained Class. It opens up with a riff which you gotta headbang to, followed by a great sing along chorus, the solo in the second half is out of this world and surely would've turned many heads back in 1978.
This album takes a very minor dive with the next track Invader, which is alot like a slower version of the 1982 Iron Maiden song Invaders. It isn't a bad song, but I guess since it's following Stained Class, it's bound to be a step downward.
The next track is Saints in Hell, which I have to admit didn't really grab me right when I first heard it, but on the second or third spin I grew to love it simply for the opening riff and bassline which is amazing catchy. Savage is next up here and it's not a bad song at all and is a great headbanger, just not one I drool over like others on this record, still it really suits to feel to it.
The next song needs no introduction, I'm talkin of course about Beyond the Realms of Death, it is a complete masterpiece of the music world and is indeed a timeless classic, whether it's the sad, depressing ballad which makes up the verses, the explosion of a chorus with that epic riff or the solo's which actually have that feeling of sorrow with them... this song is flawless, probably the only song ever done that can match this one is Hallowed Be Thy Name, and that is an amazing feat.
Beyond the Realms of Death would've been the perfect closer for the album, but strangely it wasn't. For afterwards is the final track called Heroes End which, much like Invader, is not a bad track at all, but it simply doesn't hit you as hard as the previous track.
All in all the album is virtually perfect, the only complaint it has (and the only reason it wasn't 99 or maybe even 100) is the position of a couple of songs, but that's what playlists are for right? Either way, if you haven't bought or atleast heard this album yet... WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?
It's generally agreed that at some point in the early 80s, 1981 or so by most accounts, a faster, meaner, faster, uglier, faster, more technical, faster and definitely faster more form of metal popped up on the scene. It was called THRASH, and it began kicking ass, taking names, and in at least one case possibly designing a vast conspiracy to trick all the metal fans of the world into believing in them, at which point it would immediately sell out to pop culture, go to each fan's house, and personally stab them in the back with a rusty deboning knife. And that was all well and good. But what do you call something fast, mean, ugly, technical, and generally thrashy that somehow made its appearance before the 80s?
You call it Stained Class, of course.
This album is, simply put, one of Judas Priest's best releases, and thus one of metal's best releases. In fact, if not for the mediocre cement block of a song that is "Invader," this album would kick Painkiller's ass square. The only real over-arching flaw on this is the production - it sounds like it was produced in 1978, which is probably because it was produced in 1978. Aside from the wimpy tone, this is just a complete ass-kicker of an album - the guitars are fast and ripping, the vocals are Halford in his window-shattering prime, the bass is faster than Ian Hill would play for the next 12 years and heavy to boot, and the drums are Priest's peak up until the human drum machine Scott Travis would take over.
Song-wise, you've got several of the finer examples of music designed to piss people off and yet make them want to listen to it at the same time. The best two examples of that are "Saints In Hell" and the title track, which thrash harder than most of the 80s, never mind the 70s. "Stained Class" rips your intestines out with a gallop, "Saints In Hell" uses an energized version of the old riff from "Cheater," but they both accomplish the same thing–UTTER DESTRUCTION. Of special note are the middle section riffs in both. "Saints" begins to thrash madly at 3:13; the drums are dynamic and good, and Rob bursts into Complete Unholy Fucking Evil and eats your soul with mustard and onions, but those are overshadowed by the riff of thrash metal pain that is one of the highlights of Judas Priest's whole catalog, and thus all of heavy metal. Meanwhile, "Stained" waits till 3:15 to unleash the HEAVIEST thing in metal at the time. I am not kidding. This riff is the Big Red Hand of Satan popping out of the ground and crushing metropolitan Detroit because some poor fool cranked it a bit too loud. You will obey the power of this riff, or you shall be executed for poseury.
Either one of those two songs would easily be the total highlight of most metal albums....but this is Stained Class, and something more is needed. Thus, the ballad and complete masterpiece of the album, "Beyond the Realms of Death." The guitar riffs (both clean and distorted) are great, and the arrangement is impeccable, but there are two real reasons that this song owns your soul. One of them is Rob Halford's mournful, vicious, philosophical, and generally really, really good vocal performance; the other is Glenn Tipton's solo of complete and utter awesomeness. They are the best performances in Judas Priest by those two guys. Case closed. Kneel and worship.
Getting the point? How about "Exciter"? This is "Painkiller" beta version, and while it does not quite possess the sheer "rock out or die" killingness of said speed metal masterpiece, it is quite awesome of its own right. The lyrics make no sense, of course, but considering that everything else on here is more or less coherent, I'd say that's a remarkable victory for the oft-unintelligible Priest. Truly rocking. You want more? Try "Heroes End," with a riff very nearly as abusive as the title track alternating throughout the bridge (first appearance, 2:14) with chilling vocals. Or maybe the pounding "Savage," with its wide-ranging chorus singing and intricate guitar work. The opening shrieks are also notable, not only because they utterly rule, but because this is one of the first instances of a metal song opening with a spine-chilling scream. That'll happen a lot in the next few decades and counting.
There's also "White Heat, Red Hot," a damn good rocker with a nice epic-sounding bridge, and "Better By You, Better Than Me," the infamous Suicide Song. I have never heard the original, so I don't know if they did it justice and don't particularly care; a very nice riff over a grooving drum line with a couple great-sounding vocal lines right before the chorus ("You hear the teaching of the wind...") "Invader" I shall forever hate for bringing this album down, but it's listenable, and the bridge at 1:55 is pretty good.
So there you have it. An album that kicked everything else square in the ass in the seventies, and can do a fair job of the same now. Buy this, crank the stereo, and keep your eyes on the floor for the Big Red Hand of Satan, because if anything's gonna remind him that heavy metal didn't have to start talking shop with punk to start rocking with homicidal intensity, this album is it.
Most of you are probably familiar with Stained Class. In case you aren't though, Stained Class is largely regarded as one of the best Metal albums ever released. While most of us can argue that all night long, the fact still remains that Stained Class was WAY ahead of its time and it influenced a ton of Metal bands. The first track on Stained Class was "Exciter". Featuring close to nonstop double bass (practically unheard of during that time) and fast riffing, this song helped to form the basis for the genres of Speed Metal and early Power Metal. Everyone from Primal Fear to Silent Force to Helloween took inspiration from this song in a big way I’m sure.
The rest of the CD is full of great riffs, and despite being released in '78, the basic heaviness of the riffs still stand up in a big way to today's Metal. Halford's vocals aren't quite as refined as they would be on later releases, but they are still great and he shows us his many different styles- the best being his now famous screams. Lately, Judas Priest lyrics aren't the bands strong point, but on Stained Class they were very good. With topics ranging from aliens on "Invaders" and references to Hell on "Saints In Hell", the CD is very varied lyrically, as well as musically. Some songs take on a more bluesy approach like "White Heat, Red Hot" while others take on a more progressive and complex song structure approach such as on the classic, "Beyond The Realms Of Death". Whatever the approach Judas Priest take to the song writing on Stained Class, the result is the same: classic heavy metal with memorable riffs, amazing leads, great vocals, and an overall satisfying listening experience. There are no bad or boring moments at all. Every song is classic, even the lesser known "Heroes End" and the cover of "Better By You, Better Than Me". The title track also has some of my favorite lead work, not really from a technical stand point, but just how it fits so perfectly with the song; especially the harmonization lead section. Downing and Tipton were close to their best on here with these riffs/leads. Stained Class just simply contains amazing guitar work.
On the remaster of Stained Class the sound has been very much improved. It does not detract from the classic feel of Judas Priest though, you just won't have to turn up your speakers all the way to hear every thing. The bonus track "Fire Down Below" is an unfinished song that still has its original drum machine track on it. The actual song, minus the drum track, isn't bad. The vocals are really good and the acoustic guitar parts are a highlight; I would have been interested in hearing a completed version of this track. The live version of "Better By You, Better Than Me" isn't one of Halford's better live performances but it's still nice to hear the song live. If you're new to Stained Class, definitely go for the remaster, the sound quality on the original detracts a lot.
The second best, in fact, after "Painkiller" - this one is very very solid from beginning to end. The only reason this album has been looked over is due to the production, which is, for late 1970s, quite excellent, but not as good as that of Priest in the East or Live Insurrection, where one can find better versions of "Exciter", "Stained Class", and others.
However, one should definitely get this album because all together, the songs are very solid - it is definitely worth hearing from beginning to end. The opener, "Exciter", is pure speed metal, including the little melodic solo in the middle that Judas Priest made famous. Other highlights include "Beyond the Realms of Death", and the hugely, hugely underrated "Saints in Hell". It's not a thrash song per se, but that middle break is pure fucking thrash metal. Les Binks's drum work is also very much in the thrash metal vein - while Scott Travis may be far more intense, it's Les that really was their most innovative drummer.
The other song really worth checking out is the title track, which totally screams "Iron Maiden" with the galloping riff after the intro. There are really no songs that are bad or even average on this album, which is rare for Judas Priest (see: "Pain and Pleasure") - it's definitely worth getting.
In another review I made the assertion that the finest metal album ever was Priest's "Sad Wings of Destiny" album. This one, though, comes so close it's scary. "Sad Wings" was a more diverse album, and was closer to their blues-rock origins, but "Sin After Sin" showed the band progressing more towards the style of modern metal that we're all accustomed to now, and "Stained Class" was like a refinement of it. Right off the bat, the proto-thrasher "Exciter" kicks off the LP in a way different from most thrash bands only in degree, really - fast (for the time) double-kick drums, then in comes the hard-chugging main riff and BAM! Over the whole album, the riffs are more lean and heavy, the solos more fierce, the vocals more intense than had gone on before. The album really only slows down once, with the second-side (remember when albums had sides?) ballad "Beyond the Realms of Death", featuring some nice acoustic verses, a heavy chorus, and one hell of an extended solo section in which Glen Tipton once again proves why he's the greatest heavy metal guitar soloist around. Other noteworthy songs are the closer "Hero's End", the title track, and the Spooky Tooth cover, "Better By You, Better Than Me" (just don't listen to it backwards :).
The only drawback to the album is the technology of the time, which kept the guitars from coming out in all their raging fury (compare the songs on this to the ones on Unleashed In the East to see what I mean), but the performances on all counts can't be faulted in the least - from song writing to drumming, bass work, vocals, and guitar work, it's all top-quality and an absolute must for anyone who dares call themselves a metalhead. "Stand up for Exciter!"
(Originally published at LARM (c) 1999)