After finishing up the tour for ‘Sin After Sin’, the band didn’t rest for too long before they jumped right back in the studio. They were on a brutal schedule of album, tour, album, tour, etc… It can be exhausting. The band’s fourth album and second with Columbia records was recorded between October and November 1977. The album, ‘Stained Class’, was released on February 10, 1978 and would barely break the Billboard 200 Albums chart going to #173. But the album did go Gold selling over 500,000 copies, but reality is that album only went Gold after the success of the band in the early 80’s. Still Gold nonetheless.
The band saw something strange happen with this album. They got a new drummer which would now be the fourth drummer in four albums. That isn’t the strange part as their drummer turnover has been legendary. The strange part is new drummer, Les Binks, actually stayed on after the album was done and would go on to record two more albums with the band. That is a huge record for them and they should be so proud of themselves for not letting another drum go. And that wasn’t all. This is the ver first album that all 5 band members got writing credits on an album. Yes, Les got one credit and so did long time bassist, Ian Hill.
There was also a really big change with the band with this album. No, not in members but in the logo. Gone was the more Gothic look and in with the brand new Judas Priest logo which was created by Roslaw Szaybo and is still used today by the band. The band was starting to get their image and their brand, but they weren’t quite there yet. The final change would come with the next album. Glenn Tipton, K.K. Downing, Ian Hill, Les Binks and Rob Halford were now ready to deliver their next gem with ‘Stained Class’ as they were learning more and more about who they were and what sound they wanted. Each album taking them a step closer to the mega success they always dream about.
The opening track, “Exciter”, blasts out the speakers with a song that is as close as speed metal as you can get. The opening drum salvo was done by Les Binks which he developed while he was touring with the band prior the album. They felt it would fit great here and they aren’t wrong. The drumming throughout the song was some of the best I’ve heard on any Priest album to date. Not to be outdone, there is some killer riffage from both Tipton and Downing. The song was written by Halford and Tipton and was another explosive opening track that showed this band meant business.
“White Heat, Red Hot” didn’t let up too much of that energy from the opening track written solely by Tipton. Rob’s vocal range on this was inspiring as he can get high with those vocals and how he stays there I have no idea. His screaming of the title towards the end is impressive. The song has what I call the Priest signature sound with the guitar riffs as when I hear it, I know instantly that its Priest. And the solo on this is killer as well along with some more massive drumming and fills by Bink.
The next song on the album is all because of the record company. They wanted a song that might be a little more radio-friendly so in comes a cover of Spooky Tooth’s “Better by You, Better Than Me” and let me tell you they make this their own and it fits in the Priest arsenal quite nicely. It is a darker version and Halford sounds all evil and menacing making this a great metal song and that chorus is so elegantly eerie. Now this song got the band in a lot of trouble. A couple of young men entered in to a suicide pact after listening to this song. Once succeeded the other didn’t, but did die of a meth overdose years later.. The parents couldn’t deal and were convinced that this song had subliminal messages in it when played backwards to kill yourself saying “Do It” over and over. Of course we know how absurd that was and the suit was dismissed.
The title track, “Stained Class”, has that signature Priest riff and the song chuggs along with layers of Halford’s vocals and some serious riffage and another great solo, but the song doesn’t seem to go any where exciting (even though it is trying so hard) and seems to all sound the same. I think this might be the weakest song on the album for me, but anything after the strength of the first three songs is less in comparison.
“Invader” ends the first half of the album which was written by Halford, Tipton and Mr. Hill with his first writing credit. The song opens with some cool, sci-fi sounding guitar riffs and then kicks in to full rock gear. It is a little more exciting than the prior track and the chorus is definite improvement. A lot more memorable. Right before the solo, those space-age sounds come back and then the solo is laid down to perfection.
The second half of the album kicks off with “Saints in Hell” which starts off slow for me until Halford screams out the chorus, but quickly goes back to just plodding along. The guitar riff that rolls on and on doesn’t every really change. I thought it was going to get saved with the drum break and some guitar fills, but the song felt boring and uninteresting to me. It was darker, and I like darker, but darker meant lack of light or heart. It felt like going through the motions.
“Savage” was up next and brought back some of the light even though it is another pretty bleak dark song. It felt more focused and at least was more catchy. I need catchy to make a song memorable. It still not one of the better songs, but it is at least a little more interesting. And with that you have to have a blistering solo and this one the skin breaks off that blister and oozes puss which is fine by me.
Then we get to the absolute best song on the album “Beyond the Realms of Death” which sees the band slow things down a little. This song is Halford’s and we see Les Binks get his first writing credit. The song is about a man who is kind of ostracized from society and ends up killing himself. The song is somber and even a little sympathetic to the man. The song feels like you are taken on a journey in an almost fantasy-like vibe. The musicianship on this one is masterful on all fronts and anytime you get two guitar solos (one by Tipton and one Downing) you know you are in for a treat. This is truly a master class on what is best about this band.
The album ends with “Heroes End” which going a little introspective in that you have to die to be a hero. I like the two different Halford vocal battles with one really high register and the other much lower. There are some dark and dirty riffs to go with the battle, but at times I am left wanting more and others it feels perfect. It isn’t the best song they’ve end with, but it isn’t the worst thing they’ve done either. It didn’t leave me wanting more which is what I want from a closer.
Now that isn’t all as there are two bonus tracks on the album. The first is “Fire Down Below” which was actually recorded during the 1988 Ram it Down sessions despite the fact the back cover says it was recorded early in their career. It doesn’t fir the album as the drum sounds is pure 80’s and I believe their are keyboards which they didn’t do yet. However, it is a freaking killer track. I has a vibe similar to “Beyond the Realm of Death” in its structure and tempo and Halford sounds like a bad ass on this song vocally. There is an acoustic guitar solo which turns in to electric which puts the song over the top as well. Overall, great track despite the striking contrast to the sound and tone of the rest of the album.
Next up is a live version of “Better By You, Better Than Me” which was recorded Live at the Foundations Forum in Los Angeles on September 12, 1990. I don’t like this version at all as it sounds tired. The band sounds tired and Rob is half-heartedly singing. It felt like they were just going through the emotions.
- Exciter – Keeper
- White Heat, Red Hot – Keeper
- Better By You, Better Than Me – Keeper
- Stained Class – Delete
- Invader – Keeper (1/2 Point)
- Saints in Hell – Delete
- Savage – Keeper
- Beyond the Realms of Death – Keeper
- Heroes End – Keeper (1/2 Point)
- Fire Burns Below
- Better By You, Better Than Me (Live)
The Track Score is 6 out of 9 or 67%. The album was a mixed bag for me. I know a lot of people think really high on this one, but I like Sin After Sin better if I am being honest. I think the first half of the album is much stronger and “Beyond the Realms of Death is now one of my all time favorite Priest tracks, but the rest left me wanting more which I hope I get for the next one as we are now about to get in to some songs that I actually knew before I started this series. I don’t think this is a bad album and not their worse, but I don’t see why it is rated so high. I will give this one a 3.5 out of 5.0 Stars. Please tell me why I’m wrong and what I’m missing in the comments below.
UP NEXT: ‘Killing Machine / Hell Bent For Leather’ (1978)
THE COMPLETE ALBUMS COLLECTION SERIES:
- Rocka Rolla (1974)
- Sad Wings of Destiny (1976)
- Sin After Sin (1977)
- Stained Class (1978)
- Killing Machine / Hell Bent For Leather (1978)
- Unleashed in the East (1979)
- British Steel (1980)
- Point of Entry (1981)
- Screaming for Vengeance (1982)
- Defenders of the Faith (1984)
- Turbo (1986)
- Priest…Live! (1987)
- Ram it Down (1988)
- Painkiller (1990)
- Angel of Retribution (2005)
- Nostradamus (2008)
- A Touch of Evil: Live (2009)