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An underrated debut - 98%

FearAbsentia, January 28th, 2017

"Rocka Rolla" is the debut studio album by legendary heavy metal band Judas Priest. "Rocka Rolla" shows quite the different Priest compared to their more well known 80's works and even their other 70's albums to some extent. As with many early heavy metal acts, Judas Priest began with a blues-based form of heavy metal. While they would still have hints of this sound on the following few albums, this debut remains a pretty unique album in their discography.

Many of the songs from this album were actually co-written by Al Atkins, who was Judas Priest's frontman and vocalist preceding Rob Halford. However, once he had a family to take care of, he left the band in May 1973. Al Atkins later made his versions of some early Judas Priest songs on his "Victim of Changes" solo album, which includes a longer version of 'Caviar and Meths' which was originally a 14-minute long song to be released on "Rocka Rolla" but sadly shortened down to only the 2-minute long intro as the final song featured on the album. It's a shame, because listening to the longer Al Atkins version, it sounds like it would have been a fantastic epic. The whole history of the album and the early years of Priest are actually quite fascinating, so if that sounds interesting I would highly recommend reading about it. Now that I've finished mentioning some of the history, on to the music.

Most of the songs are blues-y hard rock/heavy metal tunes, with the heavier tracks resembling the likes of Black Sabbath. The opening two tracks, 'One for the Road' and the title track, are examples of the blues-y hard rock sound, the latter in particular being a nice catchy tune. After the 'Winter' suite, one of my favorite songs 'Cheater' comes. There's a nice galloping drum beat, blues-y harmonica, and Halford's vocals are killer. There's also the epic 'Run of the Mill', which has some nice dark diminished chords reminiscent of Sabbath. However, it changes sound quite regularly, with beautiful slow guitar/bass work that reminds me of parts of Eloy epics. There is also some fantastic soloing shortly following, and in typical epic fashion it certainly has a climatic ending with some great screams from Halford.

My favorite on the album has to be 'Dying to Meet You', which opens up with a killer blues-y bassline before getting dark guitar work. Halford's vocals sound pretty different at the beginning, being much more lower-pitched then what he's known for. His low bluesy tone shown here sounds really nice, but he wouldn't really ever sing like this again. However, the song eventually picks up in speed with Halford's classic higher vocals and more great galloping guitar.

Overall, while not my ultimate favorite Judas Priest album, it's still among my favorites and an amazing album especially for a debut. It's interesting to listen to this more blues-y form of the Priest, and I think it's essential listening to hear what this legendary band sounded in the beginning.