The legend of Judas Priest is intact; their place in the world of music puts them at the top as one of the innovators of heavy metal. They are and should be mentioned in the same conversation as bands like Black Sabbath and other notables. The way Judas Priest separated themselves from everyone else was their fusion of sounds, melding a heavy sound with powerful rock that packed a punch with an innovative twin lead guitar style. To make it all their own they wore black leather and chains and thus British Metal was born. Then along came all the imitators because of their worldwide success.
The one thing people should not be misled about this set is that it is not a complete career retrospective as the two albums with Ripper Owens are not included here. Jugulator (1997) and Demolition (2001) were decent releases however they cannot compare to the rest of the catalog that has Rob Halford fronting the band. The classic lineup is Rob Halford (vocals), Glenn Tipton (guitar), K.K. Downing (guitar), and Ian Hill (bass). The lineup does not include a drummer because of all the changes over the years at that position with the band. Halford left in 1993 to form Fight. He would return to the fold in 2005 with the excellent Angel of Retribution. This would start another long run of success for the band that would lead to their crowning achievement, the double concept album Nostradamus (2008). The band would snag their first Grammy Award from A Touch of Evil…Live (2009) as the Best Metal Performance with “Dissident Aggressor.” K.K. Downing then announced his retirement last year and was replaced by British guitarist Richie Faulkner. The band is currently on their worldwide farewell tour with a new studio album in the works.
The Complete Albums Collection (Classic Lineup) contains every studio and live album that featured the band's classic lineup and also included are brand-new remasters of Priest's first two albums, 1974's Rocka Rolla and 1976's Sad Wings of Destiny. Every album in the set has bonus tracks just like the remasters that came before this set. This marks the first authorized remasters of these two albums to be made officially available by the band. Each album is packaged in a replica mini-LP sleeve. The set also includes a 39 page booklet with all the information for each release plus several archive photos. We know Judas Priest delivers the goods but does this box set? The short answer is yes but here is the long version…
Rocka Rolla (1974): This is a decent debut but nothing spectacular. This was just the beginning and the theme of the album is Winter and they provide a suite that includes “Winter” followed by “Deep Freeze,” “Winter Retreat” and “Cheater.” The unique thing that makes you remember this album is the cover. The Coca Cola bottle cap converted to the title of the album and the moisture beading up and dripping off to form beads of water. Perhaps there was some significance that relates to the band or they were trying to invite you to “take a drink” of their product?
There are but a few hints of what this band may become on this maiden release. The remastering brings out the highlights however it is a very average album when all is said and done.
Sad Wings of Destiny (1976): This was a definite improvement from their first release and step in the right direction of where they would ultimately land and it also lay the foundation of their personally stamped British Heavy Metal. Interesting enough “Epitaph” is the name of their farewell tour and the one track that sounded out of place on this album. Already knowing Judas Priest and hearing this for the first time will make you do a double take, it sounds like pop-rock music that was ready to go on your local radio station. Very much out of character for this band even if it was on their sophomore release.
“The Ripper,” “Victim of Changes” and “Genocide” were dark and brooding metal masterpieces. Yes indeed this was a pivotal release for Judas Priest and what would come next would set the bar a notch higher.
Sin After Sin (1977): This album carried over the momentum from the previous release, as the band developed yet a more consistent output. Again another slower out of character track comes to your attention called “Last Rose of Summer.” And a folk classic “Diamonds and Rust” was certainly a different spin on things but would ultimately become one their concert fan favorites. It wasn’t all straight ahead metal for the boys on this one.
“Sinner” and “Dissident Aggressor” were the bone crunchers and the tracks that stick out as potential metal classics. When this ended you knew that they were back with a vengeance but had to wonder what was coming next. This was a cohesive release in comparison to others and you could really hear how the band was expanding from a technical standpoint and going beyond three chord head bangers. They were dipping their toes into deeper waters musically and it was starting pay off.
Stained Class (1978): This is the album that steered them on the course to greatness. Their fourth release is like a relentless battering ram of sound. There are no slow burners here, nothing you would hear on the radio, just straight ahead metal from start to finish. This was good timing too as the reigning kings of metal, Black Sabbath, had fallen off their perch with the release of their worst album to date and Ozzy was out of the band. What better time to release your best album a stake your claim to metal immortality?
The guitar playing was far more advanced on this release with use of different effects. Tipton and Downing must have had all sorts of pedals to create their metal magic. There were many classics including “Exciter,” “Better By You, Better By Me,” “Invader” and the masterpiece “Beyond The Realms of Death.”
Killing Machine (1978): This is the release the ‘establishment’ were worried about releasing under the original title so the label gave in and titled it “Hell Bent For Leather,” one of the Judas Priest classics. This picked up where Stained Glass left off but with more authority and absolute power, as if the beast was released from the bowels of Hell and it was running amuck amongst the masses.
“Evening Star,” “Rock Forever,” “Evil Fantasies,” and the appropriately titled “Delivering The Goods” are amongst some of the best tracks on this release. They are all very good and once again they were able to maintain the continuity of the recording to reestablish their patented British Heavy Metal. They again had some fun with guitar wizardry and sounds as well. What was to come next would open the gates of Metal Immortality.
Unleashed in the East (1979): This album is considered one of the greatest live recordings of all time. There is a very good reason for that. Every time I hear it that fact is reconfirmed in resounding fashion. This was JP in their element playing their catalog of heavy metal before thousands of veracious metal heads. All of their best from their 5 previous studio releases is covered including a generous helping of 4 bonus tracks.
This was a fine way to encapsulate what they had accomplished and a lead in to the best studio release yet.
Rating: 5/5 Stars
British Steel (1980): This is when they claimed the heavy metal crown permanently. There was nobody making music like Judas Priest and this was their classic and best album to date. They came of age in a big way and never looked back at the cloud of dust behind them and where all the other bands remained. I had the pleasure of covering the 30th Anniversary Edition of this release and also seeing them perform the entire album live on the anniversary tour in 2009. They are one those band’s that reproduce their music perfectly live in every way.
Let’s face it, this was a great album and it did not have any weaknesses whatsoever and they even throw in a few bonus tracks for extra measure to give you a taste of one of their heaviest rockers “Grinder.” “Metal Gods,” “Breaking The Law” and “Living After Midnight” are now legendary tracks. The Priest never sounded better.
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Point of Entry (1981): So how would Judas Priest equal or top their previous release? Unfortunately they did neither with Point of Entry. Some different wrinkles were thrown into the mix on this release including some bluesy riffs here and their but the problem was a lot of the album sounds almost bland because of it. They are far from being a boring act but they did not have the fire and brimstone brewing in their tracks this time around. Tracks like “Hot Rockin’” sound silly in comparison to the best they had to offer on previous releases. This is a halfway decent album with some good guitar work but they definitely lost the momentum they had. They got their mojo back on “Heading Out To The Highway” and” “Solar Angels” but that was about it. The next album would bury this one and make people forget.
Rating: 3/5 Stars
Screaming for Vengeance (1982): If you thought the glory days of Judas Priest were over because of the last release “You’ve Got A Another Thing Comin’.” They said that with a resounding bolt of thunderous heavy metal. This was their very best album and my favorite until Nostradamus was released.
I would venture to say that Screaming for Vengeance was the template for heavy metal and all the sub genres going forward from this point. It was that good. The title track was a literal heavy metal anthem along with the juggernauts “The Hellion,” “Bloodstone,” “You’ve Got A Another Thing Comin’” and “Electric Eye.” Simply put this is one of metal’s finest hours.
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Defenders of the Faith (1984): The problem with releasing a classic album in your genre is what do you do for an encore? It’s a double edged sword that can be gratifying and a curse at the same time. So did Judas Priest have a way to keep their metal train moving full steam ahead with Defenders of the Faith?
This is a very good attempt but it does not hold a candle to Screaming for Vengeance. Although it follows the template from its predecessor it does not offer up several classic tracks as that album or British Steel did. For those reasons this one may have been under the radar. There are three recognizable tracks that you would have and will hear in a concert setting including the title track “Jawbreaker” and “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll.” ‘Heavy Duty” and “The Sentinel” are solid metal workouts and probably underrated. Even so that does not bring back all the power and energy of the previously mentioned releases. This is a good album, just not great.
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Turbo (1986): Turbo did not improve upon the previous release at all; in fact it was a few steps down, watered down, and produced to sound commercial. The title track is the best on the album followed by another highlight “Out in the Cold.” The band seemed to be stuck in the same rut and then they added some juvenile lyrics (like in “Parental Guidance”) to many of the cuts to make matters worse. So what do you do to get out of the recording studio atmosphere and kick up the energy a few notches? Release a live album. What else?
Rating: 3/5 Stars
Priest…Live! (1987): The double live Priest…Live! Served as a document of the bands catalog played live - or was it really a band struggling to get back to the level where they once were? Unfortunately I think it was the later. The power and energy harnessed in the classic Unleashed in the East had literally disappeared. They sounded tired in comparison. The apex of the bands career was Screaming For Vengeance, and that was very difficult to top and they proved that with the next two studio albums. This album is only necessary for the diehard fan and completest but if you buy the box set you have it anyway although I don’t think this is one you will return to as there are too many other great albums to choose from. The question now was when would the magic return?
Rating: 2.5/5 Stars
Ram It Down (1988): Ram It Down had a colorful and cool cover and a title that suggested a return to glory but that never happened. Again the band sounded like they were trying to sound too commercial just like Turbo. Where was the grit and tenacity that made the legendary Priest everyone clamored for at concerts? Halford sounded overproduced and like an overgrown Mickey Mouse at times. The guitars sound like they were understated because of the slick studio production. There was no more from the belly vocalizations or heavy down and dirty crisp guitars that made it their patented British Steel. The track that offers a flicker of hope is “Come And Get It” but it was merely a reflection of what they once were. You know that things were getting mighty desperate when they covered “Johnny B. Goode,” which was a total failure.
Rating: 2.5/5 Stars
Painkiller (1990): When “Painkiller” kicks in you immediately know that Priest has finally returned! Yes indeed this was a return to form but a day late and a dollar short as Halford would officially leave the band to form Fight in 3 years and there would no more studio albums with him at the helm for 12 years. I must admit that this album offered plenty of redemption for the last two lame studio outings. There were some crushing and pounding metal gems on this one including “All Guns Blazing,” “Night Crawler” and “A Touch of Evil,” which is an amazing rocker, truly a memorable classic cut. It could have been the opening track for a Clive Barker film. “Between the Hammer and the Anvil” and “Metal Meltdown” were no slouches either. The anger, determination and fight from within had finally returned to the music. They decided to stop trying to be something they were not and go with what made them successful in the first place. This is classic Judas Priest heavy metal.
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Angel of Retribution (2005): It was a long wait for the Priest faithful but over some tea the classic lineup of Judas Priest decided to return with Angel of Retribution in 2005. And a fine return to form it was, in fact it would start another renaissance for the band that is still going strong to this day.
When I first got this album and heard the opening track “Judas Rising” I felt a chill go right up my spine and huge grin came across my face. They were back with a vengeance! From that point there is little to complain about. “Deal With The Devil,” “Revolution,” “Angel” and “Hellrider” make this another classic Priest release. The closing track “Lochness” is a bit overdone, with uncharacteristic self-indulgence but it does not take anything away from the overall excellence of the recording.
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Nostradamus (2008): Nostradamus was the Judas Priest crown jewel. This was their first and likely their last concept album about the famous prophecies and life of the legendary visionary. Having an interest in the subject matter makes it a more enjoyable adventure as one could imagine.
What the band accomplished on this two disc set is a phenomenal leap forward in many ways. Rob Halford’s fascination with the subject spurred on this project and it blossomed into a memorable collection of tracks. K.K Downing and Glen Tipton provide the magic throughout this recording with their normally heavy guitars however this time the use of synthesized guitars is part of the mix. They provide the studio performance of their careers.
There were mixed reviews of this album, some loved it and some totally trashed it, which is to be expected when a band tries something entirely different and complex as this turned out. I am of the opinion that this was their masterpiece and they should not record another album and retire after their world tour. A new studio album is in the works without Downing so it will be interesting to see how it turns out. I think we all know that it will not be another Nostradamus.
There are various versions of this available including a two CD set, one with a book and one without, a boxed set with LPs, a book and poster, every angle is covered for the listener and collector. The title track is fantastic and it stays with you for a while. “War” and “Prophecy” are stand out tracks as well in an overall superb recording. It would have been fantastic to see this album come to life on the stage but that was not in the cards.
Rating: 5/5 Stars
A Touch of Evil…Live (2009): A Touch of Evil…Live was another magnificent performance captured live. If there was any live album that compared to Unleashed In The East this is the one. It showcased a band hitting on all cylinders. They had their mojo workin’ and hearing them live was the icing on the cake between 2005 and 2011. I can assure you that Judas Priest was a well-oiled machine live because I went to two of their shows between 2005 and 2009. This recording does their performances justice and it got the attention of the Grammy Award Committee enough to win an award for the Best Metal Performance with “Dissident Aggressor.”
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Overall Box Set Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Key Tracks: Dissident Aggressor, A Touch of Evil, You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’
Keith “MuzikMan” Hannaleck
March 10, 2012