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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)