Judas Priest wasted no time in jumping back in the studio after the Stained Class Tour. That album was released in February 1978 and ‘Killing Machine’ came out 8 months later on October 9, 1978. The band recorded the album between August/September of that year and they were a well-oiled machine at this point. The album would hit #128 on the US Charts and it would go Gold showing that a good metal album didn’t need to go high on the charts to still be successful. However, the album in the U.S. was different than the U.K.. In the U.S., they couldn’t use the name ‘Killing Machine’ as they had seen a rash of school shootings and thought that name was too aggressive for the U.S. market. The name was changed to ‘Hell Bent for Leather’ and they re-arranged the track listing.
Speaking of leather, Priest decided it was time for some changes, not in personnel, but in the style and substance. First is style. Rob had become a little obsessed with the whole leather and stud outfits as Rob and the band took to the change with no hesitation. The classic Priest look was now set. Then the change was substance. The band worked on making the songs more accessible and decided to shy away from the fantasy themes and make things more real, more what the U.S. audience would want to hear And I would say they succeeded as this is more a straight up metal album, all the songs are relatively short and although still have some dark themes, they are more radio-friendly might be a good way to say it. It was the start of some great things to come with the band.
Speaking of band, the line-up is unchanged yet again. It is still Rob Halford, K.K. Downing, Glenn Tipton, Ian Hill and Les Binks. However, it would Les Binks’ last studio album with the band as by the time the next studio album rolls around, Priest needs a new drummer…AGAIN!! But for now, let’s have the music do the talking.
The album opens with “Delivering the Goods”, which was written by Rob, K.K. and Gleen. The dual guitar of Tipton and Downing by now after five albums in is so recognizable. That guitar tone is uniquely Priest. The rhythm section of Hill and Binks keeps the song chugging along and when Binks lays down that drum solo at the end…damn! Halford’s vocals are in prime form as those signature screams are front and center. This heavy, bombastic rocker kicks things off with a band and Priest definitely deliver the goods with this track.
“Rock Forever” doesn’t take its foot off the gas and see Binks bringing what sounds like a double bass kick drum and Halford howling at the top of his lungs. They have layered on his vocals over and over on the chorus and it sounds great, but the most stellar part is the duel guitar solo with both Tipton and Downing. The ending is loud, fast and furious. Another classic for me.
We then get to the third song and actually was the third single, “Evening Star”. The song starts off slow and seems more back to their prog days and you think it is going to be a ballad before it slams it home in to more of a rocker but not so much heavy metal. The chorus is almost singalong with many layers of Halford’s vocals. The song is said to be a Gift of the Magi type story, but I like to think of it is a person’s journey to finding a better place when they see the light to redemption but make it what you want.
Now to the U.S. title track “Hell Bent for Leather” with that killer opening and some killer riffs. The drumming of Binks is the driving force to the song. The song is vicious sounding as Halford sounds like a man possessed and then throw in that slicing solo that rips through the song and you have one of the best songs on the album. My only complaint is the song is way to short at around 2:30 minutes. It leaves you hungry for more and ready to devour the rest of the album. The cool thing with this song live is that this the song that Rob rides out on stage on a Harley! A very cool visual.
“Take On The World” is Priest’s attempt at being Queen. You can tell they are wanting to have a song for their live shows that would get the crowd on their feet and shout out a long with Rob. It is a little forced and seems too derivative of that type of song. It also doesn’t fit with the rest of the album as it doesn’t have the same sonics of the rest of the album. Not a fan of this one even with the big Gong at the end (who doesn’t love a good Gong).
The second half of the albums opens with “Burning Up” which is starts a little strange, but makes up for it quickly. It is a heavy, fast paced, rocker with a hint at the old blues sound from the earliest of their albums. Halford sounds so serious here as he goes deeper and darker with his vocals with some of his signature vocal points. It is grinder of a song that screams cool and I love the constant style changes with it and let’s not forget the solo as Tipton and Downing are sensational together
Then we get a Fleetwood Mac cover (Peter Green era) with “The Green Manalsihi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)”. This songs was originally only on the U.S. release but is now on both. In what was more of a classic rock sounding song, Priest have metaled it up, made it tougher, added some balls to it, through in some killer riffage and solos and you now have a classic Priest song and I will admit I never knew this one was a cover.
“Killing Machine”, the UK title track is a slower tempo song that feels like a train chugging along only interrupted slightly by the guitar solo before back to the pace of a train rolling down the tracks. It feels like it is going down an endless track with destination in sight as it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. The chorus doesn’t do anything special and the constant repeating of “I’ve got a contract on you” is a little annoying. The song is about a contract killer so it makes sense, just not effective.
Now we are back to the classic Priest sound that I love with “Running Wild”. It feels like a care speeding down the highway with pedal to the floor. There is a familiarity to the song as well as it sounds like another Priest song that comes later in the catalog. It is a deep cut that has quickly become a favorite of mine as it feels like a song with a mission and that mission is to rock your face off.
The album’s only ballad is up next, “Before the Dawn”. I really love this track. It is filled with sadness that Halford’s vocals emote nicely. The song is about a couple having troubles and one of them is leaving before the morning light. It is very heartbreaking and Priest have captured that nicely and when the guitar solo comes in it is like a tug at the heart as you are watching the person walking away. It is really powerful. I didn’t realize they could do ballads so well.
The final track on the album is “Evil Fantasies” and Rob goes all nasty with this vocal delivery as it is unlike anything else on the album. It seems more as centerpiece from Rob as the band isn’t doing much in the background except for a constant riff and Binks slamming the drum beat with all his might. It doesn’t match the rest of the albums sonics and seems more Filler than Killer. Not a favorite of mine.
Now the album doesn’t end there are there are two bonus tracks. First up is “Fight For Your Life” which was recorded for the ‘Screaming for Vengeance’ sessions but ended up as the original version of the song “Rock Hard Ride Free” from the following album ‘Defenders of Faith’. Being this song is from later years, not sure why it is on here, but glad it is as I do like this track. It is a solid rocker and does have a great guitar solo, which most of their songs do.
The next track up is a live song for “Riding on the Wind” (Live at the US Festival, Devore, California; 29 May 1983) which is from ‘Screaming for Vengeance’ so again, why no a live song from a song for this album. Big miss there. But don’t get me wrong as this is still a great song and performance. Rob does sound a little strained on the vocals, but the band is playing tight and killing it.
- Delivering the Goods – Keeper
- Rock Forever – Keeper
- Evening Star – Keeper
- Hell Bent for Leather – Keeper
- Take On The World – Delete
- Burnin’ Up – Keeper
- The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown) – Keeper
- Killing Machine – Delete
- Running Wild – Keeper
- Before the Dawn – Keeper
- Evil Fantasies – Delete
- Fight For You Life
- Riding On the Wind (Live at the US Festival, Devore, California; 29 May 1983)
The Track Score is 8 out of 11 or 73% which is a solid score in my book. I really enjoyed this album a lot. As I said earlier, it feels more accessible and doesn’t feel shoved down your throat. The songs are all relatively short and Priest isn’t wasting any time. They are still delivering a solid pummeling to your ears, but the sonics are great, the guitars shredding, the drums are pounding, the bass is thumping and Rob’s vocals a screeching to the highest of highs. The band is tight, the band is solid and the band might have just delivered one of their best albums to date. This is the Priest I have been expecting, this is the Priest I am most familiar with and this is the Priest that was about to explode to superstardom. Overall, I give this release a 4.0 out of 5.0 Stars. I have to say, now that I am five albums in to the series, I am kicking myself for not getting in to this band sooner as I enjoy each album so much and the anticipation of getting to the next album is always high and so far I haven’t been let down. I hope that doesn’t change, but I know one day it will.
UP NEXT: ‘Unleashed in the East’ (1979)
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)