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It's difficult not to be sentimental over Unleashed in the East, since it was one of my first metal records, and certainly the first live album I ever owned, gifted to me at an age so ripe and impressionable that it helped plant the seeds of rebellion forevermore into my skull. That I hadn't the slightest clue back then what sort of music I was listening to goes without saying, I was just barely old enough to start kicking my training wheels. I had no inkling of where Japan was on a map, or that I'd ever become a culture-o-phile for that country. I had no idea what leather pants were, or that the man so stalwartly thrusting his microphone into the air above him had little interest in the googly eyes of the female audience members no doubt staring down his lightly haired chest and inviting handcuffs. Or that the person on the left of the cover wasn't a woman. Or that this record was stylistically distanced from the others I owned by KISS, Van Halen or the J. Geils Band. All I could understand was that it was exciting. Fresh. That it rocked. That I wanted MORE.
I could do my best to beat back the tears and memories, to take a more objective view of this first Judas Priest live album, but any way I try to slice it, any aural lens through which I glean it, any meat grinder I attempt to render its fats and proteins through, it's still a fucking kickass experience for the young and old, man and woman, square or hesher. Captured at a pair of Tokyo locations on their February, 1979 tour (their second in Japan), and produced by long term collaborator Tom Allom, it translated the sheer intensity and promise of the band's studio backlog straight to the stage, and helped to promote the worldwide domination of the heavy metal medium in the years (and decades) to come. Wisely avoiding the debut Rocka Rolla in terms of its set list, Unleashed in the East instead concentrates on the blazing aggression that would inspire a thousand neck strained followers to form their own musical endeavors in its wake. I've got the nine-track, US issue of the album, so it's lacking some of the content that the Japanese version has, but even considering those omissions it's easily one of the best lives in my collection, standing alongside Maiden's Live After Death and Destruction's Live Without Sense as a mandatory purchase in its medium.
Nothing too complicated, just 45 minutes of excellence spanning some of the best heavy/power metal of the 70s. Cuts like "Exciter" and "The Ripper" are a given, pumping the crowd into a polite frenzy as they witness the future unfold before them. However, the moodier and more extensive "Victim of Changes" feels superior even to its studio version on Sad Wings of Destiny. The guitars are meatier, the psychedelic breakdown feels more vibrant and the tiny spikes of the lead guitar gleam like they were just affixed to the shoulders of some new leather jacket. The cover of Joan Baez' "Diamonds and Rust" is present, not to mention that of Fleetwood Mac's "Green Manalishi (with the Two-Pronged Crown)" which completely rules to the point that I couldn't believe it wasn't their tune to begin with. Rounding out the track list you get a pair of additional greats from Sad Wings of Destiny: "Genocide" and "Tyrant"; "Sinner" from Sin After Sin, and "Running Wild" from their latest studio album at the time, Hell Bent for Leather (US title). A formidable selection, even for so early in their career.
The sound is still as rich and bright to me as it was when I first listened through it, the crowd's response ebbing and flowing gracefully into the mix at appropriate times. Obviously a little studio wizardry went into the recording to prep it for market, but Unleashed in the East seems so authentic that it would be hard to imagine they tweaked with much outside of the vocal overdubs (which Rob admits to) and maybe a solo or two. Some also say the audience is part faked, not beyond the realm of possibility. We might never know. The vocals are grafted with a good amount of echo, and even where he can't quite emulate the multi tracking of his studio performance (like the important scream in the first few lines of "The Ripper"), he still exhibits that he was quite possibly the best in the entire business at this time. Ian Hill's bass lines feel fluid and corporeal, while the two guitars are slicing, crisp and panned out into their respective tracks that converge on the listener like a pair of horseshoes being simultaneously tossed onto the same spike. Les Binks, who had gelled with the band after two studio outings, sounds like a beast here, taut and peppy but capable of lots of rumbling fills that dress up the riffs in a skirt of natural savagery.
The pacing is great for the order of the set here, the mix sincere and potent, the riffs melt your face, and even the cover image to this thing seems iconic, one of the best pure shots of a metal band in action that you'll ever witness. So wonderfully does it capture the time and place of this recording, with the smoke and lights that once served as crucial components in the stage show (and still do). The Anglicized 'kana figures seem a bit cheesy, but they fit the modus operandi and create just the right level of ignorant Western exoticism. Okay, so there's no motorcycle on the front cover. We can't win them all, but just about everything else on the album demands your immediate attention. One of the live essentials of British hardness. I've heard others that I prefer to this, and I wouldn't call it flawless, since I feel it could certainly have come across as more 'live' than this, but it's still up there. If you don't own this album by now, then clearly we old school nutters have failed at our duties, so while we address this oversight by flogging ourselves the full 40 lashes in the corner, go swipe your credit cards and make yourselves one album poorer (or more importantly, richer). Now, I wonder if my ass is too fat to fit on that old Huffy in the garage.