JUDAS PRIEST — Stained Class (review)

JUDAS PRIEST — Stained Class album cover Album · 1978 · Heavy Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
voila_la_scorie
Judas Priest's fourth album is where the band really began to define the new sound of heavy metal. Rock journalist, Martin Popoff, states that it was with "Sad Wings of Destiny" Judas Priest "redefined" heavy metal. Over the course of their first three albums, the band moved from recording older material in a heavy blues-based, somewhat progressive rock sound to writing new material with a focus toward developing their own personal approach to heavy metal. With "Stained Class", Judas Priest had successfully shrugged off any cumbersome multi-part compositions and went for straight-ahead heavy rockers. While the older generation of metal bands were struggling to fit in with the punk scene all around, Judas Priest set the tone for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

The album sets off with a rapid drum intro by session drummer Les Binks who was asked to be a full-time member of the band but declined. The "Exciter" character mentioned in the lyrics is one of the first of many characters to find life in the band's songs. It’s a speedy rocker with double bass drum, guitars chugging away at high speed, and Halford’s soaring vocals. The song also finds room for two separate guitar solo parts, the second one hinting at Glenn Tipton’s classical training. This song remains a Judas Priest classic

Most of the rest of the album follows in a similar vein with excellent riffs, cool licks, some fine drum work by Binks, and metal track after metal track. Compared to today’s heavy metal sound, the music here now seems primitive; however, the ingredients of heavy metal music are found throughout each track. There’s no pop number, no cheesy ballad, and with titles like “Saints in Hell” and “Beyond the Realms of Death” you know this is serious stuff. A word of mention might also go to the title track which I think is as good as “Exciter” only without the fantasy character aspect.

This album contains the infamous Priest cover, “Better by You, Better Than Me”, which was allegedly responsible for the attempted suicides of two Nevadan youth. Ironically, the song is the only number not written by Priest but is rather a cover of a Spooky Tooth song (which is not very heavy at all). The father of one of the boys claimed that when played backwards, the words “Do it” could be heard, and clearly this was a subliminal message that the youths heard (when they were high on marijuana and beer). In the documentary about the trail, Rob Halford points out that it is not good business for a band to tell its album-buying fans to kill themselves. During the trail, he played the chorus for “Exciter” backwards and said that the words could be deciphered as, “I asked her for a peppermint / I asked her to get me one,” in order to point out how one could hear whatever he chooses in the music played backwards. In the end, it was concluded that the words “Do it” (do what exactly?) were not actually in the recording but could be heard by confusing the mix of background vocals. During the eighties there were a few cases of subliminal messages in music (Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica). The American comic strip “Bloom County” made a succinct statement about the matter when in the strip someone claimed that Billy Joel had Satanic messages on his albums that could be heard when played backwards and the character Milo Bloom listens and says, “I can hear something. He’s saying, ‘No matter which way you slice it, it’s still baloney.’”

The song “Beyond the Realms of Death” is indeed worthy of mention as well. One member referred to it as Priest’s “Stairway to Heaven”. With an acoustic intro and melancholic story about a man who shuts his mind to the world, the song switches into heavy gear and builds to a full-on metal conclusion. We are treated to two guitar solos here, too: one with more focus on the melancholy theme and the second energy-driven and aggressive.

This new formula would be repeated on their next album “Hell Bent for Leather” (a.k.a. “Killing Machine”) and developed further on their very successful “British Steel”. “Stained Class” is a stand-out classic album in the annals of heavy metal history in my books. It was a great pleasure to listen to it yet again this morning in preparation for my review.
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