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Want to get your ass kicked 25 years ago? - 97%

Pyrus, September 21st, 2003

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.