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A troubled but promising debut album - 65%

ViciousFriendlyFish, January 18th, 2014

This is Judas Priest's very first album. The first from a band we would later regard as being "The Metal Gods". It was released during the time that the band couldn't keep a drummer for too long, and had just began to embrace the idea of having a second guitarist (Glenn Tipton was brought in during the album's recording to do some additional guitar parts). The band already had a lot of original material that won over their audiences during shows, and all that was left to do before going on an upward spiral of success was to record these songs in a studio and release them as an album.

However, things didn't quite turn out as planned. Priest ended up with producer Rodger Bain, who, although had production work for some of the classic Black Sabbath albums on his resumé, did a poor job here. He had too much control over the album and left off most of the fan favourites. The album's sound also suffered in the process, and it flopped upon release. It would seem as though the structuring/ordering of tracks wasn't properly thought out, either. "Winter", "Deep Freeze" and "Winter Retreat" form a single piece of music that doesn't really need to be split into three. There is no one part that is any better than, or much different to the others, really. "Dying To Meet You" contains a hidden song known as "Hero, Hero", though it is only the penultimate track on the album, whereas usually hidden tracks are found at the very end of an album. It seems unnecessary to combine these two songs when the "Winter" piece is split into three.

The material itself isn't all that bad, but it's a rather far cry from the powerful brand of heavy metal they would create in later years. Even its album cover is very unlike the iconic covers that were made for their later albums (Paying homage to Coca Cola on an album cover is hardly the sort of thing you'd expect from Priest). The music is much more in the vein of Led Zeppelin influenced hard/blues rock with some progressive elements. The straight hard rock songs here, such as "One For The Road", the underrated title track, "Cheater" and "Never Satisfied", generally work better than the songs that attempt to be progressive, and it is through the hard rock tracks that the band shines the most on this album.

Singer Rob Halford's vocals are consistently solid through the album, but are short of anything groundbreaking at this early stage in Priest's career. It's also worth noting that this was long before the world knew of Halford's homosexuality, and some of the album's songs are explicitly about women, the title track and "Cheater" especially, the latter in which he sings "You cheating bitch! Here's what I think of you!", likely an attempt to display masculinity. This does also mean that the album is somewhat on the cliché side, and Halford was yet to make an attempt at expressing his homosexuality through S&M leather and the like, and none of the other members were indulging in that stuff, either. In fact, they were going through a hippie phase during this time period!

Rocka Rolla is an album that is rather lacking in focus, which is not helped by the poor production, and the decision to cut down what was supposed to be a 14-minute epic to a meaningless 2-minute instrumental ("Caviar and Meths"). Half of the album has progressive tendencies that generally fall flat, whilst the other half does contain some solid hard rock with stellar guitar work from both Tipton and K.K. Downing. The band's potential isn't fully demonstrated here, but what we do hear of it is no real disappointment. This album has been ignored by most, picked up mainly by aspiring Priest completists, and it will likely remain that way. But some of the songs here are definitely worth checking out by any hard rock and heavy metal fan.