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It has All the Flavor of Watered-Down Coca-Cola - 45%

Superchard, September 1st, 2018

Few things can compare to the disappointment of watered-down soda. It has the outward appearance of the real deal and you'll never know if it is or not until you actually see for yourself. In Judas Priest's case, they couldn't even present themselves convincingly as a heavy metal band. Getting up on stage in a bunch of loose hippie clothes and bell-bottom jeans with singer Rob Halford wearing his sister's shirt and actually having... o_O hair. The cover art here is symbolic of the fact that Judas Priest couldn't write anything original for their debut album, instead just settling for derivative 70's hard rock. There's a little bit of Led Zeppelin, some psychedelic hints of acid rock and even Jimi Hendrix to be heard there, none of it done as well as the very acts they're attempting to emulate. The vinyl release had a much better winged sword-wielding warrior about to drop a warhead from high above. False advertising, but at least it was more the direction we all wanted Judas Priest to go for the purposes of the debut album.

I'm sure that the members of the band also would have preferred to go that heavy metal route as heard on Victim of Changes, but were told by the powers that be to play it safe for their first record. The album was also co-written by their original singer Al Atkins, who left the band to take care of his priority of being a father. He would later release an album two decades after the fact called Victim of Changes that had his own versions of "Winter", "Victim of Changes", "Never Satisfied" and an extended version of "Caviar and Meths" which still wasn't in its 14-minute glory but instead cut down by half that time. I can't really definitively say whether Atkin's time as a frontman had any impact on the band's overall sound especially considering he left the band in 1973, a year before this album's release. Ultimately, heavy metal was still in its infancy, so it's understandable when bands like Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple released albums that were so characteristically non-metal that we go back to them scratching our heads thinking "this is how they took off?"

Other than Al Atkins, the only other member that would have a short run with the band would be drummer John Hinch. This is the only album he ever recorded with Judas Priest and his input is lackluster and lazy, he was soon replaced by Alan Moore. I noticed he was formerly in a band called Hiroshima, but alas it's not the fantastic American jazz fusion band that put out their 1979 self-titled debut. His input is about as minimalist as it comes and we know this right away in album opener "One for the Road". The chorus has breaks in it, giving him an opportunity to inspire and move us with some drum fills but instead opts to hit the crash cymbal a single time, for me as a listener this is like the musical of something far more sinister than watered-down soda, this is more like carbonated water. I am in complete and total disgust as this has tricked my brain into thinking there was going to be some sweet flavor, thus firing off the smallest of amount of dopamine possible when finding out it's not what you'd expected up until this point. For that one split fraction of a second you thought something good might actually happen.

The album's title track come on and here we get some semblance of the band we have all come to know and love from their more radio friendly releases such as "Living After Midnight" and "Breaking the Law", but it's just kind of off. There's some odd guitar riffs utilized that are at least a bit unexpected but the song has a feel to it that has more in common with disco than the previously mentioned radio hits. It's too poppy for my liking but thankfully after the first two tracks, the album doesn't plod along with this cash-grab sellout mentality. Instead it treads more progressive and psychedelic tendencies without much inspiration to it. Sure, the album is marginally better once the three conceptual songs come together to form what's essentially a six minute song broken up into three pieces. By the last third of this wave of tracks, there's a psychedelic guitar interlude called "Winter Retreat". The guitar sounds noticeably heavier and sharper here than anywhere else on the album. It's not very eventful; borderline pretentious, but at least it has the right kind of attitude as opposed to the first two tracks.

The band go back and forth for the rest of the album, suffering from an identity crisis as Downing and Tipton stay on the same uninspired, boring blues rock riffs for far too long. At least I can say that from a retrospective look. I mean, this was quite literally the last Judas Priest album I'd ever listened to, so I unintentionally do them the injustice of comparing them to their later selves. It's hard not to do, but at the very least I can compare them to all the other proto-metal and hard rock acts of their time, and even then I still don't consider Rocka Rolla to be even a decent album on those grounds. We get to hear Rob Halford's lower register on this album, and it is jarringly weak. He at least had his higher end shrieks developed this early on, but his voice makes "Dying to Meet You" particularly horrible with mournful and awkward baritone. I'm sure looking back on this dud of a record, Rob in particular probably tries to forget about this one, and would probably prefer fans to forget about it as well. Good news is that Rock Rolla certainly has been forgotten, as it's just not a memorable album to begin with.