Thursday, July 6, 2017

British Steel

British Steel was for me, and for many "heavy metal maniacs," my gateway drug to the awesomeness of Judas Priest.

While comparably heavier and more aggressive than other bands' output at the time, earlier Priest albums such as Sin After and Stained Class can be heard more as hard rock, but with British Steel, Rob Halford and company hoisted the heavy metal banner and have been Defenders of the Faith ever since (sorry, I couldn't resist).

In fact, Halford took his iconic nickname from British Steel. "Metal Gods" might be about robots revolting against their human masters and enslaving humanity, but like a lot of Priest songs, it can be read as a celebration of heavy metal fandom: rebellious, anti-authoritarian, and all powerful (the added metallic sounds of hammers striking gives the song a cool industrial edge).

"From techno seeds we first planted,
Evolved a mind of its own.
Marching in the streets,
Dragging iron feet."

A spirit of rebellion infuses the album, a desire to break free and defy social norms. The two big hits of the album - "Breaking the Law" and "Living After Midnight" - along with "You Don't Have to Be Old to Be Wise" embrace that wild spirit and youthful vigor. Forget rules and all those old folks keeping you down; go out and have a good time.

"I grow sick and tired of the same old lies.
Might look a little young.
So what's wrong?
You don't have to be old to be wise."

Compared to those earlier albums and later albums such as Painkiller, British Steel finds Priest slowing down the tempo but ramping up the melody and heaviness. Only the opener, "Rapid Fire" which charges out of the gate, and the blazing race-to-the-finish closer "Steeler" could be considered speed metal, but the other songs aren't the sludge-like marches of Black Sabbath; they have more rhythm and are catchy. You can easily hum or sing along. Imagine AC/DC with a heavier crunch.

Take "Grinder." Its rhythm is simple, direct, and filled with breaks, but each palm-muted chord of the main feels like something monstrous taking a bite out of the listener. For a slow song, it has a menacing edge.

"Grinder
Looking for meat.
Grinder
Wants you to eat." 

British Steel is not the most technically sophisticated of Judas Priest albums, and the band's commercial aspirations are apparent, but in the end, it's not about what you do but how you do it. On British Steel, Judas Priest plays chugging, headbanging heavy metal, and they do it splendidly.

Standout Songs
"Metal Gods" - The lick that follows the chorus is sweet.
"Grinder" - Slow, moody, and dangerous.
"Steeler" - An epic race to the end of the album.

Favorite Moment
During "Breaking the Law," Halford yells, "You don't know what it's like!" Police sirens and breaking glass follow. It's chaos and anarchy, and I love it.

Album Cover
A hand clutches a razor blade. So much cool suggested by one simple image: metal, danger, living on the edge, sleekness.

Track Order
1) Rapid Fire
2) Metal Gods
3) Breaking the Law
4) Grinder
5) United
6) You Don't Have to Be Old to Be Wise
7) Living After Midnight
8) The Rage
9) Steeler

Personnel
Rob Halford - Vocals
Glenn Tipton - Guitar
K.K. Downing - Guitar
Ian Hill - Bass
Dave Holland - Drums 

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