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Run of the Mill - 70%

Chernobog, March 13th, 2014

For a band as revolutionary in the heavy metal genre as Judas Priest, it may come as a surprise that their debut album, far from being a groundbreaking explosion, is a rather conservative album. Not just by the standards of our modern era where anything softer than Gorgoroth or Suffocation could be deemed "not heavy enough", but conservative for it's own time as well. Released in 1974, when Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple had been pumping out release after release of heavy blues rock since 1969, Judas Priest were late comers as far as record releases are concerned, and had yet to develop both the distinct musical and visual style that so many metal fans associate with Priest (look for a video of Judas Priest performing "Rocka Rolla on British television at the time and you will see exactly what I mean). What we have on "Rocka Rolla", their debut LP is fairly simple hard rock/early heavy metal in the vein of Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin and Ted Nugent, with subtle hints of the beast that was not yet unleashed.

There are two elements on this album that distinguish Priest from the other bands around this time, the first being the vocals of Rob Halford. Even early on, his range is fantastic and its clear that his voice has been the most consistent part of Judas Priest's sound (minus the time he wasn't in the band). His voice is better suited to the rockers than to the ballads on this album; his voice still sounds great on the soft parts of "Run of the Mill", but its when the guitars grow loud that he lets his voice loose.

The guitar work of K.K Downing and Glen Tipton is the second distinguishing factor, though to a lesser degree. In the riffs for the title track, "One for the Road" and the heavy sections of the other songs, they show traces of the guitar work they would be most remembered for. For the most part, there isn't much of the "twin guitar solo attack", and their style remains firmly rooted in the hard and progressive rock tendencies of the age. The occasional use of a blues harmonica and Pink Floyd-esque sound on "Winter Retreat" and "Run of the Mill" are reminders of the time the album was released, with the closest indicators of the classic Judas Priest sound lurking in "Cheater, the later half of "Dying to Meet You", and the title track. Though I'm not much of a production freak, I couldn't help but feel that the sound of the electric guitars was a little too tame for what Judas Priest appeared to be going for on this album-especially when the producer is Roger Bain, who produced the first three Black Sabbath albums.

If you are a huge Judas Priest fan but have not yet heard this album, I recommend that you do so to see the roots of one of heavy metal's greatest bands; whether you will actually enjoy the album will depend on whether you like early 70s hard rock with a few progressive influences. There is nothing in "Rocka Rolla" that is abysmal, and I rather enjoy the title track, but compared to what they would soon be releasing, "Rocka Rolla" seems too mundane and doesn't seem that much different from any other band at the time. You will definitely find a track or two on here that you will be listening to again and again, but it's unlikely that you will give the album as a whole the same treatment.