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Destined for GREATNESS - 100%

Xyrth, March 26th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2000, CD, Koch Records

“CHANGEEEEE-EEEEEE-EEEEEESSSS!”

Judas Priest's sophomore album starts with one of the greatest metal tunes written in the 70s… or in any posterior decade. And basically, never tones down quality for the rest of the LP. Great changes were applied indeed, from their somewhat unimpressive debut from two years before, Rocka Rolla. The legend of the Metal Gods really started with the tour-de-force that is Sad Wings of Destiny, considered by some as the first, unadulterated, 100% heavy metal album ever. Personally, I'll give that title to Black Sabbath's Paranoid, but I agree that Priest took the metallic sound to glorious, unthought-of new heights, dethroning Sabbath themselves in the process and taking their place as the superior monarch of all things heavy. From '76 onwards, 'til the end of the decade, Judas Priest reigned supreme atop heavy metal's still formative kingdom, unleashing a series of unparalleled influential masterpieces in that period.

The band sounds really cohesive here, not a single note or sound out of place, in contrast to the more uneven compositions and performance of their first record. Glenn and K.K.'s riffs and solos have been propelled to mythic level, and while Rocka Rolla had sporadic episodes of potential, here it is set loose in the form of non-stop grandeur. Even the acoustic guitars and the quite decent piano paying by Tipton sound massive. The production is superb for the time, and perhaps only Ian Hill's bass guitar is muddied a bit, but I believe that's more a constant trait of the band and not an isolated flaw of this particular album. Alan Moore's drumming is solid and steady as clockwork, and while he wasn't particularly flashy or technical like some prog rock drummers of the time or even Bill Ward himself, he really doesn't needs to be. His simple but forceful beats are the great backbone on which the rest of the instruments are anchored. I believe he really shines in “Genocide”. But as with every Priest album that's worth listening to, it is the power of the Holy Trinity of Downing, Halford and Tipton the thing that elevates this helluva record into the stuff of legend.

“Dreamer Deceiver”, despite the more popular status of other tunes here, remains my favorite track, and it's really a shame that they haven't played it much live. But it's understandably they won't play it anymore; that song features my single favorite performance by any vocalist, ever, as Rob Halford splits the stratosphere and soars past it when he seemingly effortlessly switches from a masculine mid-tone to a diamond-shattering godlike shriek. That's just as spectacular as anything ever produced by any singer in the history of rock music. This power ballad also showcases my favorite Glenn Tipton solo of this record. But going back to the Metal God in his prime, he also shines quite brightly in the Queen-ish “Epitaph”. The rest of the tracks have been greatly covered by my reviewer peers, so I won't delve much into them. But rest assured that ALL OF THEM are essential pieces of heavy metal history. Personally, I enjoy even more the faster, more aggressive ‘live’ versions of “Victim of Changes”, “Tyrant” and “Genocide” found on their amazing Unleashed in the East, but even these original incarnations are flawless.

A true masterpiece can't be complete without an iconic cover artwork, and the illustration of a then young Patrick Woodroffe is an epic perfect match for the nine tales of ill-fated strife that compose this masterwork of metal; a lamenting fallen angel upon a fiery, hellish landscape, whose only remnant of faith seems to be bound to his neck in the form of the Judas Priest crucifix-like emblem, making its first appearance here. With all the right elements now aligned for the Priest, Sad Wings of Destiny is the album that allowed them to ascend a path to greatness destined only for a handful of bands in the history of metal. It would also set the bar for metal newcomers in the subsequent years, and even now, 40 years after its release, it remains a must-listen to any proven fan of our beloved music, and it will remain so 40 years from now and beyond.