When one thinks of Judas Priest, visions of ‘Hell Bent for Leather,’ ‘British Steel’ and ‘Screaming for Vengeance’ most commonly come to mind. And with good reason, as this was perhaps the commercial peak for the band (ok, ‘Defenders of the Faith’ should be included in the mix, too…though the lunkhead factor was creeping into their lyrics by then).
However, the year before 1979’s lauded ‘Hell Bent for Leather’ (‘Killing Machine’ in the UK) Priest released what is, to my ears, their true masterpiece. I don’t mean to sound like one of those creeps who complains that a band was better before they got popular, as there’s no denying the quality of the aforementioned releases, it’s just that ‘Stained Class’ is better.
This disc embodies just about everything I love about REALLY good heavy metal. The riffs and the power are certainly there, but what Priest had in their earlier days was an intelligence about their lyrics that seemed to erode with the passing years. Let’s face it, 1986’s ‘Turbo’ was just a bad album with even worse lyrics. 2 or maybe 3 good songs in that bunch.
One listen to this disc and you’ll wonder how they got from point A to point B in only 8 years. This disc is one of the most textured, soaring, intelligent and heavy discs you’re likely to hear. Yeah, it doesn’t sound quite as heavy by today’s production standards (just turn it up LOUDER!), but man are there some great riffs here. Leadoff track “Exciter” is the earliest speed metal toon that I’m aware of and it’s amazing.
Other standout tracks are “Invader” and “Saints in Hell,” which kick off the stunning second half of this disc, which contains one of my favorite metal one-two punches of all-time…”Savage” and “Beyond the Realms of Death,” the former being a heavy masterpiece and the latter possessing so much melody and dynamics that you could argue it’s their “Stairway to Heaven.”
This is the album that was at the center of the highly publicized suicide lawsuit against the band that was rightfully thrown out of the courts. I used to go to sleep listening to this disc…and I’m still alive to tell about it. This is a must for any metal fan’s collection and a great example of what good, intelligent music heavy metal can be.
An unsung cornerstone in the foundation of heavy metal.
Rating: 5 out of 5