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Forget Rocka Rolla, this is Essentially Judas Priest's Debut - 85%

Superchard, January 18th, 2019

You know, you wouldn't think it, but Judas Priest's sophomore release, Sad Wings of Destiny isn't as vastly different from its predecessor as you'd expect based on the public's reaction to these two albums. Enough differences apparently for this album to be revered as their best by many fans compared to Rocka Rolla's drab response, but I find that much has been retained from their debut album here. The lineup for starters has remained almost entirely the same with the only exception being John Hinch getting canned for Alan Moore. There's no real significant difference between their styles to make it truly worth mentioning, though. At the very least, Alan Moore can do a drum fill here and there, but I'm almost as unimpressed with his performance here as I was with Hinch's. The songwriting has gotten better, but is mostly building off the groundwork that Rocka Rolla had set. "Victim of Changes" may open the album up with an unexpectedly long track, but everything heard here was already done before, that hard-edged blues rock sound with piercing falsetto vocals has made a comeback, but this time around feels more focused and even a bit more detail oriented.

The album is also riddled with lighter pop moments such as the Elton John style piano ballad "Epitaph" and the all too easy to skip "Dreamer Deceiver", where we once again hear those lower registers of Rob Halford's vocal range that most of us end up forgetting about. He does a better job on this track then he did back on "Dying to Meet You". That could be because of this album's superior production, or because the blueprint had been set by previous singer Al Atkins. It's great to hear him intermingle his lows and highs on "Dreamer Deceiver" making for a more dynamic performance this time around. Halford soars especially high on Sad Wings of Destiny, and is arguably his most impressive vocal performance of all time. There's even harmonized vocal tracks to enhance the experience. These softer tracks have their moments, but there's no contest what we all came to hear. It's the hard rocking bluesy swings of "Tyrant", "Deceiver" and the opening title track that made this album what it is.

"Tyrant" especially foreshadows Judas Priest's career from this point forward. Traces of this variety can be heard on albums a decade later, albums they'd become famous for like Screaming for Vengeance and Defenders of the Faith. Saying that Judas Priest was ahead of the game way back in 1976 is a massive understatement. The dual leads and solos of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing would inspire the likes of those still yet to jump on the newly forming heavy metal bandwagon such as Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden. "Genocide" has that old school AC/DC mentality to it, and once again Judas Priest could be heard essentially copying themselves here on "Devil's Child" from Screaming for Vengeance. Therefore, I think that Sad Wings of Destiny is a historically important album not only for heavy metal itself, but for the legacy Judas Priest would carry for a long while.

This is a fairly tame album by today's standards, but once again I can't stress enough the fact that this was groundbreaking for its time, and I'm saying this as a youngster that wasn't even around to experience it firsthand when it was at its most relevant. Those harpy shrieks from Halford during "Victim of Changes" were sure to take everyone by surprise especially when the band cuts out and leave him screaming unaccompanied. I always imagine them playing this song live in the studio and they hadn't actually stopped playing because it was planned out that way, but just in awe as they hear the actual scope of their singer's voice for the first time at the very end of the song. "The Ripper" continues this harpy barrage just in case you missed it the first time. They go for something that's so ahead of its time here that the equipment they were playing on wasn't even ready yet for a song like this. I can't help but imagine how much better "The Ripper" would sound with amplifiers that didn't make Tipton and Downing so tinny. I'm not faulting the band, but there's this moment where all the other instrumentation cuts out and we hear a long guitar playing a lead. It's phenomenal, but stifled by the technology of the time.

Those lighter tunes definitely aren't though. While I knock a bit on "Dreamer Deceiver", it sounds so much more full and vibrant, and I actually happen to like "Epitaph" quite a lot as it leads into "Island of Domination", which rolls onward with an early Thin Lizzy style of blues rock while Rob Halford even pulls off his best Phil Lynott cookie monster vocals. A bit out of character for Judas Priest even this early on in their career but a fun listen no less. It won't establish the legacy that some of the other harder tracks on this album have managed to obtain, but is a fine end to one of their strongest and well received albums to date. Sad Wings of Destiny supposedly is what Rocka Rolla was supposed to sound like, but they were pressured into making something that had more commercial appeal. Thankfully Judas Priest was quick to get on the right track and make an album of this caliber.

Superchard gets super hard for:
Victim of Changes
The Ripper