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After a quite notorious turnaround from the energetic and aggressive sound in "Sad Wings" to the progressive direction taken for the next release, the band decided to move their musical direction towards a more accessible sound for the different audiences (especially in the U.S.) they tried to reach. As such, they were not interested in listening to quite complex and lengthy songs (regardless of their brilliance), while making their music more radio-friendly. And along with all the complexity of their compositions, they gradually said goodbye to all their hippie imagery and all those musical influences from Zeppelin.
Notwithstanding all these changes, the band did not sell their souls as much as Sabbath was doing at that time when they played low-quality AOR. Rather, they kept the heaviness that characterized them since the beginning and simply as innovative as in their previous releases. Said innovation was blatant from the start with the influential speed metal opener "Exciter". The intense drumming and the guitar riffs featured in the song were something new for this music, and even more innovation resulted in the melodic neoclassical notes played during the solo. Furthermore, the song seems to be the answer for those who wonder the blueprint on which "Painkiller" had been building.
Afterward, the album runs in a slower fashion, but there are still many outstanding numbers that somehow keep the intensity of this track. "White Heat, Red Hot" is a perfect example. Although a little bit slower than the previous song, it is still running in a fast fashion, and during its chorus, Halford seems to sing "Am I Evil?" rather than the chorus of the song. Clearly, this comparison explains pretty much how the song influenced many bands, starting with Diamond Head and its well-known hit, as well as many other thrash bands around. "Savage" and "Saints in Hell", a couple of underrated numbers also provided several ideas for the way forward. Both songs have interesting riffs that surrounded the thrash metal vibe and are references on how the band would develop their sound going forward.
Another remarkable change is the fact that the band returned to their old songwriting techniques for their ballad "Beyond the Realms of Death," which is however much more aggressive than any other in their catalog. Jumping from soft lines to the mid-paced choruses and bridges, it seems to highlight the guitar playing of Tipton and Downing, as well as, the Halford's powerful vocals. On the other hand, some of the songs above appear at their best in "Unleashed in the East" due to the energy injected by the audience and the band members themselves, which is completely different to the dark atmosphere featured in this album. That said, this album represented the end of an era since afterward, the band would not be the same, and their way forward would have some memorable moments and other forgettable works (sadly, the most).
Time can be a rather cruel mistress. Equipping oneself with the most elite technology and sound at the time may make you seem like the avant garde of the time, but 20 years down the road, only God himself will know whether or not your shit sounds dated and quaint. Which is not to say that I think this album sounds dated and quaint, I just understand why there are those that do.
To be honest, one of the problems with why this album sounds so stranded in time to the modern metal fan is because half of it was never touched live. Sure if a song sounds twice as fierce live it still makes the album version sound slightly inferior, but you make peace with that because you are aware of the raw power a song is capable of when unleashed in the right circumstances.
I feel very privileged to have heard Exciter, White Heat Red Hot, Better By You Better Than Me, Stained Class, and Beyond The Realms of Death live. It provides me with the foresight to emotionally give back more energy to these songs that the songs themselves may even be capable of conveying simply because I know their true power. That’s why albums such as Unleashed in The East are so important. It’s simply not possible for bands who recorded the “old way” to give off their maximum potential, they’re only playing to an engineer who 90% of the time could probably care less.
Then there's the poor man's Simon Phillips, Les Binks. Ok, let's be fair, everybody except Neil fucking Peart is the poor man's Simon Phillips, and Les doesn't do a bad job of imitating him, but all the little fills and flourishes that made Sin After Sin's high points stratospheric just aren't here. Let's not act like Phillips couldn't have come with that double bass beat to Exciter. While Les Binks should deserve credit for innovating metal drumming, he isn't really doing anything that Simon didn't do on SAS. Speaking of Exciter, as much as I love Motorhead, they really need to stop getting THE credit for thrash drumming that Overkill gets considering Stained Class (and by extension, Exciter) predates Overkill by a full year. They deserve some credit sure, but Priest did it first. Deal with it you punk rock assholes.
I also can't help but wonder if there should be a "Tipton," a "Downing," or even a "Hill," next to the credits of Beyond The Realms of Death. Ok yea he wrote that intro lick which the meat of the song is based off of, but what about the thrash-esuqe bridge or double time ending under KK Downing solo at the song's conclusion? Maybe KK should get the credit since according to him it was his guitar Binks picked up and jammed with since "Glenn would guard his with his life."* I'm not trying to retroactively demonize Binks or claim he was some kind of hack, just that he was a placeholder for Simon Phillips. He's better than Holland, I'm sure we can all agree with that notion, right? RIGHT?
Despite how near 40 years of progress makes Stained Class seem like no more than a building block, the important thing to remember is the importance of that building block. There’s a reason the guys from Slayer (well Kerry King) drop Priest’s name left and right. It’s the thrashy middle-eight of Saints In Hell; It’s the impossibly high note at the end of Exciter; it’s the double time double bass at the tail end of White Heat Red Hot; it’s the doom-riff breakdown following the most violent, gory tirade Rob Halford had gone on up to this point in the title track (can you think of an earlier example that “hung drawn and quartered” was used in a rock song?); it’s the idea of wondering why good men die like dogs, but with sass, like in Hero’s End. it’s the matching of deep emotional lyricism by two distinct guitar solos shining for 16 bars wondering if knowledge is indeed worth the bitter cost. Stained Class is not only solely responsible for every sub-genre of metal, it’s when heavy metal became heavy metal. Period.
*(Metal Works liner notes)
Beyond The Realms of Death
The true birth of British Steel.
This is the album were metal as a style of music was really born. On earlier Priest albums, as well as those by Black Sabbath and other early innovators, there was as much distorted blues rock as actual metal, which was to be expected as the genre of metal was created. Here the blues was thrown to the side and only the gleaming metal was left, launching many styles and bands, and in a way laying down the bedrock of modern metal.
Right off the bat you get one of the foundational tracks of speed metal, Exciter. Starting off with pounding Binks drums before launching into speed riffing, this tune is pretty much the basis for all the American metal legends of the 80’s and the drive to be faster . Halford’s wails fly over the top of this and destroy any idea that you are in for a record of bluesy rock with some crunch. No sir, this is heavy metal as the gods intended. A sonic distillation of steel, leather, and chrome. The title track is pure metal bliss. Opening with some excellent lead work over rolling drums, then settling down into an iconic heavy metal riff before Halford’s vocal acrobatics begin. Add in an amazing chorus and you have a total gem of a track. Other standout tracks include the cover of Better by You, Better than Me which I love for the wonderful vocals of Halford and the punch of the drums Binks lays down. Listening to Halford sing this is nearly worth the price of the record alone. Beyond the Realms of Death is a guitar and vocal masterwork. Binks only writing credit on the record is a pure classic. He knew when to inject himself into he songwriting process I’d say. Soaring emotional vocals lift the listeners up to Beyond the Realms of Death while the band plays probably the best ballad ever written. The solos...oh my the solos. Words can’t describe the emotion of the playing. You need to check it out for yourself. Immediately. The rest of the tracks all are solid examples of what metal is and would be for all time. Sharp riffs, screaming leads, thumping bass, pounding drums, and Halford over the top. Deny this and as Halford says, Fall to your knees and repent if you please!
Musically the band is on fire and inspired. Halford wails like only he could when he was young. He also shows off how amazing he sounds in the mid ranges on songs like Stained Class, and Invaders. Just perfectly executed. KK and Glen are...well KK and Glen. Tight leads, tight rhythms, and wonderful song structures. The guitarists of Priest have always been at the head of the pack when it comes to trading off leads and solos and this is one of the masterpieces that established them as the legends they are. Les Binks drums sound just amazing, a perfect crack that punches though the guitars like well recorded drums should. He tosses in double bass now and then for accent and his fills are top notch. I’ve always thought he was the best Priest drummer but Scott Travis always gets the praise due to a lot of double bass. Well there is more to metal drumming than just that and he puts on a show here. I wish we could have heard the 80’s records with a drummer of this caliber. Ian Hill is the member of the band who is usually ignored but he does a fine job here supporting the music with basslines that fill out the sound and give the tunes the necessary low end Nothing flashy, but perfect for the songs.
This is the true birth of Judas Priest, despite the amazing quality of earlier records, and really the true birth of the style heavy metal. Utterly mandatory.
Stained Class, eh? The best Judas Priest album ever? Ha, WRONG. This album is probably the 7th best, at most. Hell, Jugulator beats out this album, Ram it Down beats it, even goddamn British Steel.
This album was sort of a transitional phase album, between the heavy fucking metal classic Sin After Sin and the serviceable Hellbent-Hellbent for Leathah! (Or Killing Machine, for you fellows across the pond). While Sin After Sin gave us metal classics like Sinner and was heavy start to finish (yes, even the ballads were heavy as fuck) and Hellbent gave us accessible tracks but still remained a hard edge to them, Stained Class is sort of in the middle, playing it safe.
Not to say the album doesn't have some fucking cool tracks. Exciter is proto speed metal at its finest, that Spooky Tooth cover is pretty cool too. White Heat, Red Hot and Savage are pretty much fucking heavy fucking metal classics (two expletives in the same sentence, yikes! I've got a potty mouth). Four out of the nine tracks are great, but the rest?
Jesus Christ, where do I begin? I'll begin with Invaders, this track fucking sucks. It's intro is the most grating thing to here, before it plunges into radio friendly rock 'n' roll garbage. The title track is pretty much the blue print for every Maiden song to come, and it's just super repetitive. Saints in Hell I don't even remember it was so unmemorable. Come to think of it, Heroes End I forgot about too! What the fuck, these songs are supposed to be classics front to back? The big hit from the album that people seem to care about is Beyond the Realms of Death. I mean, it's pretty good, but the band have done this style so much better (Last Rose of Summer, Blood Red Skies, even Victim of Changes).
The production is really bad too. Being a wild child from the 70s, I'll admit, I thought music couldn't sound any better than this. Compared to now though, it's pretty low quality. Drums are too high in the mix, it suffers from "let's accent the vocals" syndrome, it's just pretty crappy.
Tipton and Downing do what they usually do, but it's average per usual. It's no Painkiller. Ian Hill is underused as always. Halford does a fine job at vocals but he keeps it in midrange way to much, and Les Binks brings nothing to the table.
Overall, one of the most overrated LPs to come out of the 70s. I still recommend it though, as a piece of Judas Priest history. Just don't expect Painkiller or Sad Wings of Destiny.
Stained Class is easily among the absolute greatest heavy metal albums ever produced. All 9 songs, all of them, are exceptional. There is never a dull moment in the entire 43 minutes of the album. There is a musical depth and creativity here that is unmatched by any other Priest album. In my opinion Stained Class is Judas Priest at their creative peak.
In addition to being among the best metal albums ever, it's also one of the most influential. The opening track, "Exciter", is quintessential speed metal, and can be said to have laid the foundation for what was to come later, 80's thrash. The tempo for Exciter is about 132 bpm, which is not super fast by today's standards, but for it's time it could be said to be pretty blazing. Exciter also features double bass drumming from Les Binks, which was pretty groundbreaking for its time.
Every track features top notch guitar riffs that really stand out melodically. The riffing is not as thick or as heavy as on, for instance, British Steel. They are generally more groovy, and they are spectacular. Every song has at least one really great guitar riff, and several songs have more than one. "White Heat, Red Hot", and "Better by You, Better Than Me" both begin with a few measures of an excellent opening guitar riff, after which the rhythm section kicks in, creating a perfect, groovy, pounding melody. The lead guitar parts are played harmoniously, and with beautiful feeling and soul. Tipton and Downing's twin guitar teamwork produces some of the finest melody and counter-melody action I've ever heard. Their playing technique is delivered with impeccable skill and precision.
Of all Priest albums, this one takes the cake featuring the clearest, cleanest vocal sound by singer Rob Halford. He's perfectly on pitch, vibrant, and ripened with an operatic, high ranged tone that he delivers with great passion and power. The vocal melodies themselves are also very well composed. Lyrically, Stained Class is of a darker, deeper, and more sophisticated nature than other Priest albums. The lyrics for songs such as "Savage", "Beyond the Realms of Death", and the title track are all masterfully crafted and contain very passionate, heartfelt meanings. The overall level of lyrical artistry and creativity on Stained Class is better than any other Priest album in my opinion. There is also great use of harmonic, studio backing vocals on many of the tracks, such as "White Heat, Red Hot", an absolute gem. The opening of "Savage" features an amazingly high note sung by Halford which is just mind blowing. Rob Halford's performance on Stained Class might very well be the greatest work of his career.
The production and the mix on Stained Class is damn near perfect. Every note from every instrument can be clearly heard and is dialed to just the right volume. The drums have a particularly crisp sound, and Les Binks makes good work of the entire drum kit. The bass guitar can be heard and is distinguishable from the electric guitars over top of it, and Ian Hill uses an appropriate playing style which backs the band without being excessive. The bottom end of the music is not overly heavy or distorted, rather it is nicely tuned to a very clear sound which makes everything easier to hear and enjoy.
There are no weak songs on the album. As I said, all 9 of them are great. There are only some parts which are slightly less interesting than others. Listening to this album, from start to finish, truly is thoroughly enjoyable on multiple levels. The entire band plays with passion, depth, and talent. Stained Class highlights every great feature of Judas Priest in its best form. It surely will stand the test of time for it's outstanding musical quality and tremendous influence.
Stained Class. One of the single greatest metal albums ever to be recorded. From start to finish it is loaded with fantastic musicianship across the board, a brilliant balance between straightforward and complex song structures, lyrics and an atmosphere that was as dark as they came at the time, and embodied that rockin' attitude and coolness that came to define the genre and this band in the following decade. The prototypes for the NWOBHM, speed and even power metal can be traced back to this album.
As far as what the sound of the album as like, it's quite interesting. Based on the music alone, I would say that this album is the exact moment where Priest started to become dumber and dumber, a slide that continued throughout the '80s. Don't get me wrong here - this is hardly Turbo, and is still a far more nuanced and intelligent album than what would follow, but compared to the two albums that came before this is a comparatively streamlined and simple effort. And just as well, the band ditch a lot of the progressive and atmospheric leanings that were found in earlier efforts, instead going for a highly riff-driven and aggressive sound that focuses on shorter songs and more verse-chorus structuring than before. This is for all intents and purposes straight and true heavy metal in the purest sense, the streamlined and polished kind that this band would peddle throughout the '80s, albeit with far dumber lyrics than what is presented here.
The instrumentation on this album is ace. The drumming, for instance, is some of the most inventive and varied of its day. Les Binks here knows exactly the right beat for the right moment. For more rock based songs like the Spooky Tooth cover, he elects to go for simple straight beats. He might throw in a few fills on more complex (but still distinctly rocking) tracks like 'White Heat, Red Hot' or 'Savage'. He might slow down beyond even that for Priest's last proper progressive song on 'Beyond the Realms of Death'. From out of nowhere though, we get some double bass in the vein of '80s speed metal with 'Exciter', which is easily the most cutting edge song on here. That type of drumming would be aped by bands throughout the next decade, even by this own band over a decade later. He may not be as intense as Scott Travis, but he is by far the more creative and varied drummer.
The guitars are, as you would expect, fantastic. Ian Hill's bass lines can't necessarily be heard as is the way, but in spite of the clinical and thin production that was a norm for the day they can most certainly be felt. He doesn't have any time to his own á la their debut, but he works in perfect unison with the rhythm guitars to give them a driving, hard edge. The riffs on this album are absolutely superb, being highly metallic while still being cut from a hard rock-infused cloth, and are just so damn cool that you will find yourself instinctively nodding your head and swaying to 'Saints in Hell' or the title track. They are memorable largely due to how well-crafted they are along with a tasteful amount of repetition. And the leads of the famed shredding team of Downing and Tipton? Needless to say, they kick ass! Whether it be that utterly fantastic power metal-esque second solo on 'Exciter', the haunting and mournful work on 'Beyond the Realms of Death', you would be hard pressed to name a more awesome pair of guitarists than these two.
The vocals are out of this world. Halford shows off just how dynamic and powerful a vocalist he truly is, with haunting and searing highs being found all over the place, placed perfectly in the songs to coincide with a climactic point. His mid-range is commanding and powerful, and the transition between high and mid is as smooth and natural as they come. He can be aggressive when necessary, like the hard drivin' 'White Heat, Red Hot', put a surprising amount of attitude while still being agonisingly heartfelt in the ode to the tribesmen that is 'Savage', or just go all guns blazing like on a certain bit of pioneering speed metal.
The songwriting is a nice mix between the straightforward and the progressive, and captures the perfect balance in the streamlining process the band was going under with every album. Barring the incredible 'Beyond the Realms of Death', which is a brooding near 7 minute epic that alternates between acoustic and melancholic verses, an agonised and heavier hook and a frantic ending, the songs here are streamlined while still carrying great variation. Even the commercial and simple Spooky Tooth cover throws in a nice throwback to the era that spawned it with a vaguely psychedelic part. The songs on the whole generally throw in two to four differing sections despite their short length and streamlined nature, and overall this is an album that is as varied and eclectic in the moods and textures produced as Sin After Sin while sonically being a more homogeneous record. The greatest example of this album's nuance would be 'Exciter', which aside from the twin soloing sticks to verse-chorus structures greatly, and uses the moods produced in the similar sounding sections to create variation, as opposed to chucking in a moody, synth-led section á la 'Victim of Changes'.
This album is the perfect balance. Streamlined without being plain and dumb (even if that isn't a bad thing either), technical without being an ego pump, stylistically consistent without being boring, and very clearly '70s in its nature while still being cutting edge for its time and utterly timeless to this day. It shows off the band at their finest, and while this may lack the double bass, shrieking and thrash riffs of the almighty Painkiller, that album is pretty much this one after several implants, steroid injections, intense workout and diet regimens and being painted silver. The root of the burning metallic glory that we would all come to love about Priest can be found here, as can the introspective intelligence of their preceding '70s albums. The only thing fans of their '80s period should look out for is the thin production, which is hardly an issue given that everything is still clear and reasonably heavy, but the album doesn't quite sound like it is made of metal akin to their mid '80s efforts.
And really, just *look* at that cover art. The sheer '70s coolness of that alone should be enough to get the vinyl, even if you hate this kind of metal, just to put it on a shelf.
Here we go boys, Stained effing Class! This album is by far one of the greatest metal albums of all time. I first heard this when I was just getting into heavy metal and I still listen to it all the time, and it does not, and will not get old. From the blazing riffing of "Exciter" to the bad ass, sassy verses of "Heroes End" this record is pretty much as close to perfect as possible. There is not a bland moment on here, each song is completely unique and they all are ridiculously awesome. The entire band is firing on all cylinders, with KK and Glenn playing some of the coolest licks in the JP catalogue and Rob blowing your mind with his insane vocals. Stained Class was the first with my favorite of the Priest drummers, Les Binks, and he is outstanding on here. Ian Hill is not the type of bassist to come out of his shell much, but all of his playing here is adept and tasteful, and his playing supports everything superbly. Everything on here is absolutely spectacular.
The songs on here are all magnificent. The tracks are all very diverse and each of them are quite unique in their own way; even though they possess this trait, they all sound like they belong together. Each of the songs flow seamlessly with each other, which makes letting the entire record play a joy. I don't ever skip anything from Stained Class, everything is just awesome. The production is obviously going to sound a bit dated (It's from 1978), but it still sounds very clear and everything sounds great. Some people will say that the guitars sound a bit weak due to the old recording equipment; which is completely valid, you might share this opinion, but I think they still sound bad ass. There are some slower songs like "Beyond the Realms of Death", "Savage" and "Better by you, Better Than Me", but none of them are ever too slow paced, and never boring. Especially "Beyond the Realms of Death", which is one of the highlights of the album, it's a rather sad song, with lovely acoustic passages and brilliantly sung lyrics, and then it explodes in your face with that super epic chorus kicked off with robs awesome "YEAH!! I've left the world behind!". The song also has some wicked soloing, and for its time, that soloing was downright insane (heck it still is).
The rest of the album adheres to a much quicker pace, and sometimes kicks into overdrive (Saints in Hell), and lets not forget that legendary opener: Exciter! "Exciter" is probably one of the best album openers ever. This song is just insane, you really have to hear it to know what I mean. A song this fast and heavy in 1978 was just unheard of, and it was a real game changer. It is blazing fast, with wicked drums and riffing, it has awesome lyrics (I love the thermal lance part so much) and spectacular solos. I could try to name the standout tracks, but it's kind of pointless, as everything is really that freaking good. I've known fans of this album to have different favorites than I do from Stained Class, but in my personal opinion, the best are the title track, "Invader", "Saints in Hell", and "Beyond the Realms of Death"
The instrumentation is, as always with Judas Priest, masterful. The riffs, the solos, the vocals, the rhythm section, all epic. The riffs on the album have a very cool style to them. This was the era of Priest where they were progressing further and further, and developing heavy metal. They were still transitioning from their more bluesy sound and getting more complex and heavy, as a result the riffs and licks all have a groovy touch to them, while still being pretty hardcore. The result is a bunch of very creative riffs (See "White Heat, Red Hot" or "Saints in Hell"). The soloing is top notch (it's KK and Glenn, so that goes without saying), in some cases they can be super fast, but as with the riffs, they all have this awesome groovy touch to them. My favorite solos on Stained Class are the ones from the title track (the part at around 3:40 into the song is killer, especially how it transitions back into the verse) and from "Invader". Also, Stained Class is my favorite album for Rob, his singing is so awesome on here. I think it was around here where he really mastered the use of his super high pitched side, as in some cases he sings entire verses with it (See the title track).
The rhythm section is awesome too, as I said, Les Binks rules. His drumming is top notch and he does not have a weak part any where on here. The same goes for Ian's bass lines, he has always been the type to play whatever benefits the song as a whole, and he never really showed off any. His bass tone is actually pretty awesome, with a mean growly low to it, you might not notice it at first, but it is actually him that contributes a ton to the super heavy sound of the record. All in all, this is Judas Priest firing on all cylinders and I think this is their greatest achievement (Sad Wings is a close second for me, although a lot of people like that one more). The songwriting is absolutely fantastic, you can just read the lyrics to this stuff and be amazed at the gravity to what they were writing. Another thing I would like to point out is how well everything is done when it comes to not just the lyrics, but how they are sung. For instance, to sing a line like, "Transfixed at deliverance, is this all there is? Faithless continuum, into the abyss." When you hear how the song is structured, it's really amazing how such intricate lyrics can be sung effectively, that alone is no easy task, and they pull it off flawlessly.
Stained Class is truly one of greatest achievements of not just heavy metal, but rock music in general. The sheer combination of talent, skill, art, and class (no pun intended) make for what is undoubtedly one of the greatest albums of all time. Each and every track is outstanding, heck even the artwork is badass. I would recommend this to anybody who likes good music, and this should be a staple of any heavy metal fan's collection. There is a reason why my username on everything is named after this album, it's just that great.
This is possibly the greatest metal album of all time. It's the source of my username. I've probably heard every song on this album about fifty to a hundred times, and it doesn't get old. The compositions, lyrics, instrumentation, vocals, and songs themselves are mostly perfect. There is not a single metal band, excluding doom and the stuff this site doesn't consider metal, that doesn't draw influence from this album. Bands from Slayer to Helloween praise it as a major influence and inspiration for them.
This cover is in the pantheon, for it just seems to epitomize so much of early Priest, the darkness contrasted with the fineness like a morbid, metal version of classic Queen. Whenever I look at it, I associate it with Halford for some reason. The cape or robe he seems to be wearing is not unlike that of Halford's stage get-up, and there's just something about looking at it that makes me think Halford is that guy. On an artistic level, I interpret the glittering rod through his head as a sign of man's reliance on technology and his turning away from nature. That would somewhat fit the lyrics, but i'm not an art critic. On a related note, you really can't find this on any t-shirts or clothing, I've tried.
The songwriting here is pretty much as good as Priest ever were. The music enough twists and turns to keep the longer songs interesting. The light and shade switch on Beyond the Realms of Death is perfection. The lyrics are also headier than anything Priest would do afterwards. Tales of far away forces wreaking havoc, man's own feebleness and decline, and his inability to tolerate his existence is way past anything in their future, save possibly Electric Eye. Compared to previous albums, lyrics aren't particularly better, but they are heavier. Tyrant and Dissident Aggressor were heavy, almost-thrash, but there was only one of those on each album. This has about five around their level. That's not to say that Priest don't have any songs that aren't meant to be more playful. The White Heat and Better By You combo don't have light lyrics, but they're not as heavy and lean on being almost danceable.
The guitar playing is as rifftacular as usual. Most of the riffs are very heavy, and quite a few are fast as well. This combination is part of what made Priest stick out from many of their peers. The hard-rock bands couldn't match either of these, Sabbath couldn't get this fast, and Motorhead couldn't get this heavy. The soloing isn't super technical, but compared to 1978, there wasn't much better. It's got a pretty good feel, and it's also fast at times. To an extent, it seems to me that Priest's dueling solos were set-up differently on the earlier albums. These are more normal length solos following each other. The succeeding albums would feature more of an alternating licks approach. I associate them more for the latter, but the former does allow for more expression on several songs.
The drumming is quite good and technical for it's time. The stuff Les Binks was doing was not common in any form of rock or metal. It honestly would be another decade before stuff he was doing on here became common, such as frequent double-bass, rolls, fills, and some good aggression. This sounds ordinary, but this was still largely limited to fusion and prog at the time. His shining moment to me is on Savage. To me the song feels almost drum-driven and has plenty of good fills and rolls, typical of his style on the album. The bass is pretty much as usual. I don't view this as Ian's best, or even close. The thing is though, that the difference between his best and his average isn't much.
The vocals are a little different for Halford. This is one of his younger performances, so the highs are beautiful. The difference is mainly how their mixed and their predominance. They sound almost airy for large parts of the album, like he's a specter delivering the lyrics. He also doesn't vary his pitch very much. I don't view this as a problem, as his highs are his signature, and this is essentially their peak. The track Saints In Hell is the major example of this. I had to read along with the lyrics several times to really figure out what he was saying. On a qualitative note, I think this is possibly the greatest vocal performance in metal history. Most metal vocalists can't keep their natural sound as they reach their ceiling. Even Dio can't maintain his roar, and Dickinson sounds like their in a vice towards the top. Halford doesn't really have this problem, and it's almost inhuman how consistent his voice is as his register heightens.
The songs themselves are pretty much excellent from start to finish. I suppose Invader would be the weak one, but it's relative. I do love that slower section that starts with "When they come to take control." It's just cool, and it makes you stop what you're doing in the way an anthem would. I've always found it odd how much Exciter and Painkiller resemble each other, but it doesn't really reduce either song in my eyes. Suffices to say, if you've heard Painkiller, this will sound very familiar. I could pretty much say the same thing for Beyond the Realms of Death and Fade to Black. I somewhat prefer the former, and it really is one of the greatest metal songs of all time. Everyone has heard the story of Binks piddling on a guitar creating the unusual acoustic rhythm and Tipton writing most of the rest of the music, though if you haven't, there it is. I implied this previously, but this is essentially the template for 80's metal epic ballads. From Maiden to Metallica to Testament, this is the first that served as the blueprint. As far as these epics go, I'd still say that this is the best.
I do find giving perfect scores odd, but I see this as a serious contender for the greatest metal album of all time. That is an entire genre that this is maybe the best of. Beyond the Realms of Death is also probably one of the ten or so greatest metal songs of all time, with Exciter, the title track, and Saints in Hell being serious contenders for the top 100. The only shame I see is in hindsight. Priest never did anything this good again. Painkiller and a few others were awesome, but not in the total way that this is. This album takes you to a different place, the place of its pain, and forces you to endure it. After this, Priest took a more commercial turn with Killing Machine/ Hell Bent for Leather and the lyrics, more complex song structures, and even some of the speed left. They continued to occasionally craft a very good and even one great album later, but nothing genre-defining, except perhaps Painkiller to modern German power metal. I'm not gonna merely recommend this, this flat out is necessary for any metal fan. This is probably too aggressive for most hard-rock fans, but really fans of early, thrash, and power would probably love this.
The late 70s were a prolific time for the metal gods known as Judas Priest, if not in terms of popularity and album sales, then certainly in productivity; between 1976 and 1978, they had at least one album recorded for each year and in the case of 1978, managed to record two albums in one year, a feat few bands are capable of doing in today's environment. That any of these albums would be top notch records in that kind of recording schedule is a miracle in itself, since bands usually require some a lot of time to evolve their sound. Yet in a manner of two years, Judas Priest had an evolved sound removed from the psychedelic blues rock of their debut and transformed into a unique metal machine. With "Stained Class", we see Judas Priest come into their own with a sound that, for the first time, pulls all of their influences together without appearing disjointed.
The album is more polished than their previous three, and not just in terms of production. The songs are focused without being one dimensional and varied without appearing desperate to be progressive. Despite a production that, for it's time, must have been considered clean for a heavy metal album, there is an underlying darkness in the songs, both musically and lyrically. The music takes most of it's cues from the speed of their previous "Sin After Sin" but brings back the catchy hooks we saw in the debut "Rocka Rolla", giving the heavy metal aggression a bit of swing that keeps your head banging throughout. The lyrics themselves have grown more colorful, evolving from the hellish themes in previous songs like "Dissident Aggressor" and creating entire heavy metal fables centered around sci-fi and war tales like "Saints in Hell", "Exciter", "Stained Class" and "Invaders". Matching the fury of Judas Priest's heavy metal storm is Rob Halford, who utilizes high notes even more on this album, rising to a crescendo that matches the violent excitement of the music. The opening track "Exciter" is pure proto-speed metal joy that opens with a brief but impressive drum fill by Les Binks, who throughout the rest of the song proves his mettle (no pun intended) as a drummer for the fiery heavy metal Judas Priest are going for on this album. Judas Priest include a cover song, "Better by You, Better Than Me", which despite it's catchy riff, is best known for being the focus of that absurd lawsuit involving suicide. Which is funny, because "Better By You, Better Than Me" makes me want to do anything but kill myself.
Despite all of the impressive songs on this album, one in particular has become a fan favorite that is still performed in concerts to this day, and that is "Beyond the Realms of Death". Aside from being an awesome song with an impressive musical dynamic, "Beyond the Realms of Death" feels like a fulfillment of Judas Priest's attempts at fusing their progressive influences into their heavy formula. We've seen them make ballads in previous albums, but those felt, for the most part like standard ballads. With "Beyond the Realms of Death", you have a melancholy acoustic intro that kicks into a heavy chorus with an impassioned performance by Rob Halford, a soulful guitar solo, and flawlessly dark lyrics that match the tone of the album. It's just too bad that other tracks on the album, like heavy hooked "White Heat, Red Hot" or the pre-NWOBHM ferocity of "Exciter" or "Savage", haven't become quite the concert staples they should be.
In my opinion, this is probably one of Judas Priest's best 1970's albums, if not one of their best albums over all. It sheds any connection with the hard rock of the time, in favor of being it's own steel monster that predicts the speed and thrash metal attack of the 80s. Judas Priest spent their first few albums searching for a place for the best of their influences in their music, while trying to maintain a distinct identity. With "Stained Class", Judas Priest not only developed their own approach to the heavy metal sound, but helped give heavy metal it's own unique identity.
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.
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.
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)