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Was made practically irrelevant three years later - 69%

TrooperEd, March 18th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2000, CD, Koch Records

Sad Wings of Destiny is daring and forward thinking in scope, but very sloppy and haphazard in execution. You can detect this right away with a glance of the title. What the fuck does "Sad Wings of Destiny" even mean? It sounds pretentious, confused, and damning of all, not threatening. At least titles like Sin After Sin, Killing Machine, Stained Class and even British Steel convey a clear, confident message of what weight tis bout to be mounted on the listener's shoulders. Even some of Black Sabbath's more ethereal album titles like Master of Reality and Technical Ecstasy have clear statements of intent (even if in cases like the latter it's false advertising). If you've heard Unleashed In The East before you've heard this, you are almost certainly going to be let down. Even if you haven't, everybody rants and raves on how great this album is and I have a very hard time believing their enthusiasm for it because of how piecemeal and amateurish it sounds. I consider the live version of Genocide from UTTE to be the greatest Priest track ever, but here? Laughably, insultingly dumb. It's Rocka Rolla part two, but this time with politics. As legendary as Judas Priest is, they did not have their shit together for the first few years of their existence. Even a classic like Stained Class, one can't help but wonder how much better it could have been if recorded by 1980 or even 1979 Judas Priest. Say what you will about 2112's inconsistencies, but Rush had their shit together way more than Priest did in 76. Quite a few "lesser metal" bands did. Now, one can argue that it's unfair to compare the songs in 76 to how they would be in the future, saying that they are something they weren't supposed to be at the time. I might be willing to accept that if fans and the band themselves didn't consistently anchor this album as where the band found its metal calling. Sad Wings of Destiny is frequently credit with germinating the seeds of power metal, thrash and NWOBHM, but when you actually go back and listen to these songs as they are here, they just don't have as much punch as they should. Perhaps also, fans of the You Got Another Thing Coming's and such will hear how the "old stuff was so much better."

Let's get this out of the way right now, Sad Wings of Destiny starts with Prelude. I don't want to hear shit about how Victim of Changes is their most famous song and generally legendary songs are the first track on albums. It makes absolutely no sense for this album to start with Victim of Changes. Not to mention about 3/4 of that legendary harmonic intro is completely cut out because of that stupid fade-in. You should never do a fade-in on a guitar harmony, especially a long complex one. Fade-ins only work if the musical passage in question is simple, repetitive and possibly creeping. High On Fire's Eyes & Teeth is a great example of this done right, and of course there is Eye Of the Beholder and Orion (although you could argue that those are good passages to fade-in on because they're dull). But Victim of Changes fails with this because you could turn the volume all the way up and you still won't catch the beginning of that harmony. If you want to hear this trademark properly, you need to hear it live. Speaking of live, whenever Priest plays Tyrant live, they never play Prelude as an intro track before (though they did, interestingly enough, use the Harley), and this is the band that does that exact practice with The Hellion/Electric Eye, to the point where they just have to make them two separate tracks even though everyone knows one follows the other. Prelude is meant to start Sad Wings of Destiny, and Deceiver is meant to conclude it.

Speaking of Deceiver, while I think everyone will agree that this and the previous track Dreamer Deceiver make one song, I don't think everyone realizes that the full track itself is altogether called Dreamer Deciever, not Dreamer Deceiver Deceiver. Deceiver? Deceiver. The first, slower part of the song is called Dreamer (it does have that dreamy quality to it, wokka wokka), and the uptempo part of the song is supposed to be called Deceiver. It just ended up that way on the vinyl artwork for the same reason there is even confusion about the album sides in the first place: Gull Records were an underfunded, exploitative hack record company that had no big connections and no idea what they were doing. We all can agree that Judas Priest jumping to CBS was the right choice. Nevertheless, what a fucking wallop of a song, a wallop of a performance from Rob Halford (he goes super high AND low), and an amazing way to close the album. The clean guitar noodling is a much more haunting and effective conclusion than Island of Domination's fadeout echo. Which also isn't bad either, but come on now.

Of the four songs that are on Unleashed In The East, two of them are listenable here. Those two are Tyrant and The Ripper. I actually think most might confuse Tyrant for classic rock because its execution just doesn't quite have that proto-thrash punch that it would a couple of years later. Part of the problem is Alan Moore's limp-wristed execution of the song. He plays these tracks like he's in REO Speedwagon. Amusingly, he also felt the need for a crash cymbal hit on every beat of Dreamer. Never thought I'd say this, but I think Dave Holland could have done a better job (he plays Tyrant relatively well on the British Steel/Point of Entry bootlegs). In addition, the way Tyrant is sung low in the chorus just makes it seem less frantic and chaotic, and here that hurts more than it helps. The Ripper is played at a slower tempo than we're used to on Unleashed In The East, but that performance seems to be more of an anomaly as future versions (like the one on the Live Vengeance 82 video) are played at this track's speed. I must admit playing it slower does give it room to breathe a little more, but when you're being chased by Jack the Ripper, you shouldn't have room to breathe.

Some might claim Island of Domination is a great track because of nothing else to compare it to, I'm afraid I have to disagree, at least with regards to the opening. The way this opening riff is intended to be interpreted is akin to the intro of Belly of the Beast, a vicious triplet based thrasher. Unfortunately, because Glenn and KK hadn't quite figured out how metal works yet, the riffing in the intro seems a bit too subdued for the songs good. I will say that the breakdown and Halford's vocals are top of the class. It has a really deadly, but sassy swing to it, like it's being sung by one of those piano vixens in a tight dress (similar to Hand of Doom). That's probably the best take away from this album. It's probably the greatest pure, non-screechy vocal performance the man has ever given. If you're buying albums solely based on vocal performances, it's highly recommended in that regard.

There's no denying the potential in the songs of Sad Wings of Destiny. Again, Unleashed In the East is proof of that. But Unleashed in The East was three albums and three years of Judas Priest rehearsing and honing their sound. I apologize for the repeated comparisons, but it frustrates me when this album as the acclaim that it does when it sounds like it doesn't gel. I suppose it's a compliment of progress when your mid and later periods make the early periods sound feeble and weak, but not if the songs show more promise than say, Living After Midnight and Breaking The Law.

I would recommend Sad Wings of Destiny only for hardcore Priest fans looking to complete their collection. It is a fun historical document I spin from time to time, but nothing I use for fucking on the floor and/or breaking things. You should get it before Point of Entry, Demolition and Turbo, but not before Stained Class, Painkiller, Screaming For Vengeance, or even British Steel and Ram It Down. And Unleashed In the East of course, but you knew that already.