Judas Priest had massive success with the live album ‘Unleashed in the East’ and now it was time to hit the studio again. However, this time they would lose their drummer yet again. Les Binks was not paid for his work on ‘Unleashed in the East’ and was slightly pissed and so he left the band forcing Priest to find their 7th drummer all thanks to manager Mike Dolan not paying Binks.
The band found a new drummer by the name of Dave Holland formerly of the band Trapeze. Dave would stay with the band all the way up to 1989 which will be the longest running drummer at that point in time. The band started recording in December 1979 at Startling Studios in London, but they weren’t feeling it. They ended up at Ringo Starr’s house where they finished the album by February 1980. The band was in awe recording at Ringo’s house because prior to Ringo owning the house, it was John Lennon’s house and they couldn’t believe they were in the same house as two former Beatles where a lot of history had been made.
The album saw its release on April 14, 1980 and they would see the album go to #34 in the US and #4 in the UK and the album would reach platinum status selling well over 1 Million copies. The album would go on to have 3 Singles and we would see the band keep to a more accessible sound they started doing with ‘Killing Machine’. Judas Priest was hitting it big and a Metal was becoming more mainstream thanks to albums like this. This was sort of the start of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBH).
Despite the new drummer, Dave Holland, the rest of the band was still in tact wit Rob Halford, K.K. Downing, Glenn Tipton and Ian Hill. All songs on the album were written solely by Halford, Downing and Tipton. All three were credited for every song. The band was razor sharp at this point which might explain the cool Razor Blade album cover. Hold on to your hat as we examine Judas Priest’s ‘British Steel’.
The album opens with “Rapid Fire” which is actually what you get with the dual guitar rip roaring opening from Downing & Tipton. Holland’s machine gun drumming explodes out and Halford comes in rough and ready to destroy the metal world. It is a heavy, fast-paced menacing opener. The song isn’t a typical verse, chorus, verse, chorus but it doesn’t matter as the killer riffs and mini-solos along with Halford’s screams still gives you everything you want in a Priest song. It is a vicious and destruction album opener and let’s you know Priest mean business.
“Metal Gods” comes crashing in next and I’m guessing this is where Rob got his moniker of ‘Metal God’. The song chugs along hard and heavy and has some interesting sounds that were not done by sampling. They used cutlery, cue balls and various things from around Ringo’s house. The guitar solo on this is simply bad ass and by the end you are ready to get on your knees and begin to worship the Metal Gods of Judas Priest.
Then we get to what my be the first song I heard form the band while watching MTV with “Breaking the Law”. The opening guitar riff was awesome and Halford’s vocals were badass and tough while not the usual higher register he hits. Holland’s drumming along with Hill’s bass kept this song driving forward. The part with the glass breaking the sirens with Halford screaming “You don’t know what it’s like” I always thought was killer. The song made you feel like you were doing something illegal and for a 12 year old kid, that was enough.
“Grinder” is hard and heavy and feels like you are being torn through a meat grinder and when the guitar solo kicks in your bones are pulverized in to dust. The song reminds me a little of AC/DC in its delivery as the band had recently toured with AC/DC so I could see some influence bleeding in.
Next up is “United” opens with what sounds like the same groove as “Killing Machine” of the album of the same name. At times I wanted to sing out, “I got a contract on you” and it would’ve fit. But that doesn’t detract too much from the song as it is still a solid track even if somewhat of a copy cat for me. The biggest difference is the chorus as that is its own sound and quite catchy. It almost strives to be a rock anthem with that chorus. The verses are where it sounds like the other song. The guitars aren’t as prevalent and this seems to be driven by the rhythm section of Ian and Dave and done quite well.
“You Don’t Have to Be Old to Be Wise” is another solid rocker, but I feel it is trying to be something bigger than it is. I do love Halford’s scream on the word “Wise” that drags on and on, but the song doesn’t seem to get where its going and leaves me expecting more and not getting it delivered.
The next big song and first single off the album is “Living After Midnight”. A song about being rebellious and living it up is a beast. The monstrous guitars and the thundering drums deliver one of the band’s most memorable tracks of all time. The title of the song came from a conversation between Halford and Tipton who were recording late in to the evening and Halford said he was really living after midnight as that was when they seem to do their best work. It is a fun, exciting rock anthem. There are so many great moments I can list them all, but trust me they are there. Another staple on MTV that I saw (but I saw these in 1981/2 when we got MTV not in 1980).
“The Rage” is Ian’s shining bass moment has his bass lines open the song. They are nasty and groovy at the same time. The guitars have grit and Rob sounds angry at the world. It has a different feel than the rest of the album. It feels like there is some rage in the music and in Halford’s vocals. I can’t decide if I love it, like it or its just okay…maybe somewhere in the middle. I do like the solos though!!
The album ends with “Steeler” which is a hard driving, uptempo speed demon like a driving Ferrari down the road at 130mph weaving in and out of traffic. As with most songs, the dual guitar work of Tipton and Downing is always a winning combination. The song changes up with Halford’s delivery of the lyrics in a very deliberate manner followed by a barrage of drums and Rob giving it his all vocally. It is a rocking track to end the album and finally you can catch your breath.
The album does have two bonus tracks and first up is a song recorded during the Turbo album sessions in 1985 (so why it’s on this album, I have no idea). It is called “Red, White & Blue” and don’t think they are waving the US flag as this is more of a British flag wave. However, sadly it is quite awful and one of the worst songs I have heard them do this whole time. Not a fan as it seems so contrived and silly. The next bonus track is a live version of “Grinder” from Long Beach California recorded on May 5, 1984. This is a great song on the album and to hear what it sound like live adds even more enjoyment to it as it really cooks live.
- Rapid Fire – Keeper
- Metal Gods – Keeper
- Breaking the Law – Keeper
- Grinder – Keeper
- United – Keeper
- You Don’t Have to Be Old to Be Wise – Keeper (1/2 Point)
- Living After Midnight – Keeper
- The Rage – Keeper (1/2 Point)
- Steeler – Keeper
- Red, White & Blue (Recorded during the Turbo Sessions 1985)
- Grinder (Live – Long Beach, CA at the Long Beach Arena on May 5, 1984)
The Track Score is 8 out 9 or 89% and is such a solid album from beginning to end. I wouldn’t actually delete any song, but a couple are borderline which is why it still isn’t a perfect 100%. The album was definitely metal, but it wasn’t harsh in your face. It was more accessible and radio friendly for the time which explains why it started to catch on and help bring metal more mainstream. Maybe some of that Beatles magic rubbed off as Priest deliver one of their best albums to date…but is it their best? We will have to see. I am giving it a 4.5 out 5.0 Stars as it isn’t perfect, but it is pretty dang close. How I let this stuff slip by me back then is inexcusable. I loved it on MTV, but never bit the bullet for an actual album purchase.
UP NEXT: ‘Point of Entry’ (1981)
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)