On February 10, 1978, a miraculous thing happened in the Metal world.
On the very same day, two masterpieces albums that redefined the concept of Metal music were released. One is Van Halen's amazing debut album and the other is "Stained Class", Judas Priest's fourth album.
This review focuses on the less "shiny" album of the two, whose impact is no less important. This is of course "Stained Class" by "Judas Priest".
We have written and spoke much about the year 1970, the year in which in our humble opinion the genres of Hard Rock and Metal were born, with the release of the debut albums of "Uriah Heep" and "Black Sabbath", as well as the "debut" album of the MKII lineup of "Deep Purple" - "In Rock", All three were released within a few months of each other.
These trio of bombs dropped in 1970 one after the other, completed the mighty and heavy blitz that had begun a year earlier with "Led Zeppelin's debut album, effectively establishing the existence of a new style of music.
So if 1970 was the founding event in which the Hard Rock and Metal genres were forged and formed, then on February 10, 1978 two albums were released and in our opinion redefined the genre, breathing fresh air into it, becoming a very important milestone in the further development of these music genres.
Keep in mind that in 1978 the Hard Rock and Metal genres were in retreat. The bands that belong to the founding generation have faded or disappeared from the world. "Deep Purple" fell apart, "Led Zeppelin" has not released any new material in two years and was a year before the softest album of it's career - In Through The Out Door. "Black Sabbath" has not released anything since "Technical Ecstasy" in 1976 and was one step away from the release of their last album with Ozzy Osbourne, an album devoid of a uniform musical direction that moved away from the classic metal that defined the band. What’s more, on that year Punk has established itself and threatened to swallow the Metal dinosaurs, with the virtuoso musicians making them archaic, outdated and irrelevant.
Then, just like in a Hollywood movie, right before it's all over, the superhero comes out of nowhere and saves the day. This time there where two superheroes, coming from both sides of the ocean, simultaneously and well coordinated, managing to perform a wonderfully synchronized reviving procedure saving the fading genre, breathing new and fresh air and even redefine them, Literally!
If we stay in the movie world, then Judas' first three albums were just the promo for the glorious film series that will follow. In the first three albums Judas was still searching for her musical identity, K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton honed their playing style and Rob Halford explored the boundaries of his voice. What’s more, Judas’ all-too-famous twin guitar sound was still thin and unpolished.
Then come "Stained Class" and "Judas" undergoes a kind of upheaval, an external and internal change, which not only established its musical identity, but also was a millstone for all the metal bands that would follow.
In terms of external change, Judas abandons their jeans and T-shirts in favor of leather clothing, studs and accessories reserved only for S&M lovers, with Rob Halford adopting the famous leather hat and whip in his hand.
(Photo: Fin Costello)
In addition, the band changes it's logo with the gothic font that accompanied it in the first two albums in favor of the diagonal classic logo, with the jagged writing that accompanies the band albums to this day. At a later stage the band members will admit that this change was their answer to the growing Punk scene.
In terms of the inner change, the band moved away from the blues and prog influences that accompanied their first albums, while Tipton and K. K. thickened and hardened their dual guitar sound, Halford sharpened his screams and the new drummer Les Binks brought a fast and wild drumming style, that added tremendously to the end result. The lyrics have also become darker and the song titles like "Saints In Hell, Savage" and "Beyond the Realms of Death" will proove it.
But the change the band went through was not only reflected in all of these. The writing process was also different, with all the band members, including the new drummer, contributing to the creation process. It is interesting to note that this is the only "Judas" album where all the band members participated in writing the material. In addition, K. K. claimed that this album was the first time he had taken a different approach when it came to solos. If in the previous albums K. K. came to the studio with a written solo and only polished it during the recordings, then in this album he wrote them all during the recordings. It's just amazing to think that solos of songs like "Exciter", "Savage", and "Beyond the Realms of Death", were written live, in the studio.
What's even more amazing, is that this particular album, that redefined metal both in terms of sound and looks, was produced by Dennis MacKay who came from gemres of Jazz and Prog. Dennis MacKay worked with bands like "Curved Air", "Brand X" and "Mahavishnu Orchestra", before working on this Judas' album. It's interesting to think what would have happened if "Judas" had worked with a hard rock producer, Like Martin Birch for example.
What's beautiful about the story of this album is that even though it's not a perfect one, it's still managed to create a huge explosion, a supernova that has spread everywhere, in terms of geographical location time, dressing style, attitude, sounds, rhythms, and melodies, that will reshape the Metal world and become a model for the bands that came later.
The opening song "Exciter" is probably one of the first Speed Metal songs ever written. The crazy opening of new drummer Les Binks with the double bass drum, was accidentally written during the band's sound check on the tour that accompanied the album "Sin After Sin". And this crazy drumming blends in with the fast riffs of Tipton and K.K. and raises the average BPM threshold, in a way that will challenge future generations and force them to work harder on technique and speed. The solos in this song are just mind blowing. Great playing and composition, wild technique and beautiful melody. As if the guitars make background sound to each other and create insane harmony (3:35 min).
The main riff in the theme song "Stained Class" is led by the galloping rhythm, which was later adopted by "Iron Maiden". Similarly, the bass line in the song "Saints In Hell" resonates through the strings of Steve Harris' bass guitar in the song "Wrathchild". The melody in Rob Halford's vocals on the track "White Heat, Red Hot" corresponds with the melody in Hetfield's vocals in the song "The Four Horseman" and the falsetto vocals in the opening song "Savage" undoubtedly inspired King Diamond's whistling voice. And the guitars, oh the guitars, just about every metal band that came later and includes two solo guitarists, adopted the song structure and style that allows two guitars to conduct difficult solo battles, on the one hand, while on the other hand blending harmoniously and melodically, without losing identity and uniqueness of each one of the musicians.
This album also features one of Judas Priest's most beautiful songs in their entire repertoire. "Beyond the Realms of Death" is simply an amazing masterpiece that sets new standards for all the metal ballads that will follow.
And it is impossible to end this review without a few word "Better by You, Better Than Me". It's a song dated back to 1969, originally known from "Spooky Tooth". "Judas" simply gave it a new identity, with an amazing performance that surpasses the original. This song was the reason for filing a lawsuit against the band, claiming it included covert messages that encouraged suicide. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed but until then the band had stopped performing it on live gigs for several years. It is interesting to note, that this song was the last to enter the album.
There is no doubt that this album helped shape the face of the metal map and served as a role model for the bands that came after it. Although not as famous and successful as his co-starring brother "Van Halen" debut who came out that day on the other side of the ocean, it is still a very important album whose contribution to the development of the genre is enormous.