The Heavy Metal Historian takes a look at an early Judas Priest album in the form of Stained Class
We all know the big bands of heavy metal, but how well do we actually know them? Enter Judas Priest, pre-major fame.
Two years prior to “Breaking The Law” the band were already well on their way, especially with their acclaimed second album Sad Wings Of Destiny, but let us take a look at the band’s lesser known and contender-for-heaviest fourth album Stained Class and you will find wonderfully inspired dual lead guitars and Rob Halford putting on his usual vocal clinic. Sure, they hadn’t hit it big commercially, but the core of the band and their sound was fully intact here in 1977.
The album opens with the catchy “Exciter” and its chorus “fall to your knees, and repent if you please,” with the titular character appearing to be some sort of savior for speed and aggression. The band feel much tamer on the opener than they do on the excellent “White Heat, Red Hot” which starts at mid tempo with the guitar harmonies accompanying Rob Halford before the band launch into full-fledged attack mode. “The fury songs, venomous wrongs so rich in tragedy // An overture forever more to senseless victories” blasts through your speakers accompanied by all the power of the dual guitar sections you would hope for, courtesy of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing. The fury and fervor that the band display here would become a staple of future albums as the song lengths got progressively shorter and the speed was ramped up.
A major focal point for the band – and possibly the most famous part of this album – is the cover of Spooky Tooth’s “Better By You Better Than Me” as it was central to a few suicide attempts in the United States. Of the two people – one of whom succeeded and one who attempted – the one who survived supposedly heard the message of “do it, do it” on the record played backwards (for a much more detailed look at the proceedings you can click here). Personally I think Chicago always had much worse subliminal messaging in their songs, but that’s just me.
The title track comes in next and shows off more speed as well as a wonderful galloping drum section and more dual leads. The main riff is very basic but this song is driven vocally and let the axe duo take the backseat here – Halford is one of those rare vocalists who can do this for his band.
“Invader” is up next and it features an incredibly catchy title that Halford chants from on top of some pillar in space. Riff-driven and full of vocal transitions, this turns into one of the most fully fleshed out Priest songs on the record. You could easily have found this as a b-side to Hell Bent for Leather or even British Steel, and a common trait of unity is brought up in the lyric “United we must stand // To build a line, strategic force, they will not take a man.” shows that the metal community was built upon camaraderie and the fact that this is often forgotten is quite sad.
“Saints In Hell” and “Savage” form a duo of songs that tread the mid-tempo as far as pacing go, and form the bridge to the eventual meaty ending of the album. Not to take away from the two songs, as they certainly have their strengths, but compared to the rest of the album only the ending of the latter stands out with an excellent guitar solo.
The true masterpiece of this album has to be “Beyond The Realms Of Death”; a near seven-minute opus that sees the band pick up where they left off on Sad Wings. Looking at death from both an inside and outside perspective has the band’s lyrics all over the place: “Yeah! I’ve left the world behind // I’m safe here in my mind…withdrawn he’d sit there // Stare blank into space.” The charaacter on display here is someone who finds solace within his own mind, while people around him cannot see this.
The dual guitar solos at the end are a precursor to what the band would do in the future, though few songs would ever be able to top the grandiosity of this composition. The closer “Heroes End” also has its moments in the sun; with a fat main riff and the excellent guitar solos and pinch harmonics that the band continued to sharpen over the years, it has become one of the most overlooked songs most likely due to its placement on the album, and of course the universal love of the prior song. Nevertheless, this is a more than fitting end to an excellent album that more casual fans should get out there and find, as they will be massively rewarded.
Judas Priest need no introduction, and today’s history lesson goes to prove that just because the band had yet to their stride (popularity wise), it didn’t mean that they hadn’t already done some exemplary work already. nobody had noticed yet. Plenty of bands have done great work without much fanfare as well, and for anybody who loves classic heavy metal you will enjoy the songs that follow – one will be a familiar face before you knew them, and the others are classics that demand attention from old school fans.
Feel free to drop me a comment about a band you’d like to see covered, or just leave one as a sign of good faith. For what I’m currently listening to you can always check out my Last.fm page. Check in next week for a St. Patrick’s Day themed post.