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Possibly The Greatest Ever - 100%

StainedClass95, July 7th, 2014

This is possibly the greatest metal album of all time. It's the source of my username. I've probably heard every song on this album about fifty to a hundred times, and it doesn't get old. The compositions, lyrics, instrumentation, vocals, and songs themselves are mostly perfect. There is not a single metal band, excluding doom and the stuff this site doesn't consider metal, that doesn't draw influence from this album. Bands from Slayer to Helloween praise it as a major influence and inspiration for them.

This cover is in the pantheon, for it just seems to epitomize so much of early Priest, the darkness contrasted with the fineness like a morbid, metal version of classic Queen. Whenever I look at it, I associate it with Halford for some reason. The cape or robe he seems to be wearing is not unlike that of Halford's stage get-up, and there's just something about looking at it that makes me think Halford is that guy. On an artistic level, I interpret the glittering rod through his head as a sign of man's reliance on technology and his turning away from nature. That would somewhat fit the lyrics, but i'm not an art critic. On a related note, you really can't find this on any t-shirts or clothing, I've tried.

The songwriting here is pretty much as good as Priest ever were. The music enough twists and turns to keep the longer songs interesting. The light and shade switch on Beyond the Realms of Death is perfection. The lyrics are also headier than anything Priest would do afterwards. Tales of far away forces wreaking havoc, man's own feebleness and decline, and his inability to tolerate his existence is way past anything in their future, save possibly Electric Eye. Compared to previous albums, lyrics aren't particularly better, but they are heavier. Tyrant and Dissident Aggressor were heavy, almost-thrash, but there was only one of those on each album. This has about five around their level. That's not to say that Priest don't have any songs that aren't meant to be more playful. The White Heat and Better By You combo don't have light lyrics, but they're not as heavy and lean on being almost danceable.

The guitar playing is as rifftacular as usual. Most of the riffs are very heavy, and quite a few are fast as well. This combination is part of what made Priest stick out from many of their peers. The hard-rock bands couldn't match either of these, Sabbath couldn't get this fast, and Motorhead couldn't get this heavy. The soloing isn't super technical, but compared to 1978, there wasn't much better. It's got a pretty good feel, and it's also fast at times. To an extent, it seems to me that Priest's dueling solos were set-up differently on the earlier albums. These are more normal length solos following each other. The succeeding albums would feature more of an alternating licks approach. I associate them more for the latter, but the former does allow for more expression on several songs.

The drumming is quite good and technical for it's time. The stuff Les Binks was doing was not common in any form of rock or metal. It honestly would be another decade before stuff he was doing on here became common, such as frequent double-bass, rolls, fills, and some good aggression. This sounds ordinary, but this was still largely limited to fusion and prog at the time. His shining moment to me is on Savage. To me the song feels almost drum-driven and has plenty of good fills and rolls, typical of his style on the album. The bass is pretty much as usual. I don't view this as Ian's best, or even close. The thing is though, that the difference between his best and his average isn't much.

The vocals are a little different for Halford. This is one of his younger performances, so the highs are beautiful. The difference is mainly how their mixed and their predominance. They sound almost airy for large parts of the album, like he's a specter delivering the lyrics. He also doesn't vary his pitch very much. I don't view this as a problem, as his highs are his signature, and this is essentially their peak. The track Saints In Hell is the major example of this. I had to read along with the lyrics several times to really figure out what he was saying. On a qualitative note, I think this is possibly the greatest vocal performance in metal history. Most metal vocalists can't keep their natural sound as they reach their ceiling. Even Dio can't maintain his roar, and Dickinson sounds like their in a vice towards the top. Halford doesn't really have this problem, and it's almost inhuman how consistent his voice is as his register heightens.

The songs themselves are pretty much excellent from start to finish. I suppose Invader would be the weak one, but it's relative. I do love that slower section that starts with "When they come to take control." It's just cool, and it makes you stop what you're doing in the way an anthem would. I've always found it odd how much Exciter and Painkiller resemble each other, but it doesn't really reduce either song in my eyes. Suffices to say, if you've heard Painkiller, this will sound very familiar. I could pretty much say the same thing for Beyond the Realms of Death and Fade to Black. I somewhat prefer the former, and it really is one of the greatest metal songs of all time. Everyone has heard the story of Binks piddling on a guitar creating the unusual acoustic rhythm and Tipton writing most of the rest of the music, though if you haven't, there it is. I implied this previously, but this is essentially the template for 80's metal epic ballads. From Maiden to Metallica to Testament, this is the first that served as the blueprint. As far as these epics go, I'd still say that this is the best.

I do find giving perfect scores odd, but I see this as a serious contender for the greatest metal album of all time. That is an entire genre that this is maybe the best of. Beyond the Realms of Death is also probably one of the ten or so greatest metal songs of all time, with Exciter, the title track, and Saints in Hell being serious contenders for the top 100. The only shame I see is in hindsight. Priest never did anything this good again. Painkiller and a few others were awesome, but not in the total way that this is. This album takes you to a different place, the place of its pain, and forces you to endure it. After this, Priest took a more commercial turn with Killing Machine/ Hell Bent for Leather and the lyrics, more complex song structures, and even some of the speed left. They continued to occasionally craft a very good and even one great album later, but nothing genre-defining, except perhaps Painkiller to modern German power metal. I'm not gonna merely recommend this, this flat out is necessary for any metal fan. This is probably too aggressive for most hard-rock fans, but really fans of early, thrash, and power would probably love this.