JUDAS PRIEST: British Steel 30th Anniversary Edition (1980, 2010)

–JUDAS PRIEST: British Steel 30th Anniversary Edition (1980, 2010, w/ bonus concert DVD)

Judas Priest=Heavy Metal. ‘Nuff said. Forged of the charred, industrial furnace of Birmingham, England, heavy metal in its original, purest form (Black Sabbath, Priest) has toed the metallic line for over 40 years. Given the fact that Judas Priest has been releasing albums and thrilling millions of marauding metalheads since 1974, the band and Sony Music thought that their landmark 1980 British Steel album deserved the re-release treatment. Right they were, says Yoda.

Now, for a little caveat. This writer wasn’t there following much of Priest’s career, and in fact I only received my first Judas Priest album, Painkiller (then the band’s most recent output), for Christmas during my senior year of high school, long after I had been obsessively listening to lots of other bands. While I liked Painkiller’s exhilarating speed metal stylings and the paint-pealing shrieks of Rob Halford, it wasn’t until later in my college years and finally seeing The Priest live in ‘98 (with Tim “Ripper” Owens on the mic) that Priest finally began to threaten the mighty Iron Maiden, Dio and Savatage as one of my favorite bands. Of course, during those years I did eventually purchase most of their back catalog on CD, including the original version of the subject of this review.

British Steel is not my favorite Priest album, though it certainly ranks somewhere in the top-five or six. It lacks the extremes of mind-bending speed, ear-piercing screams and gorgeously mellow ballads of many other Priest albums, sitting squarely in comfortable stylistic middle ground. But British Steel remains one of the most definitive albums in the heavy metal genre, the record that broke “Judas Priest METAL!” to the worldwide masses. For those facts alone the album deserves props, and it is indeed a classic slab of elemental metallic rock (insert favorite element from the Periodic Table here). This remastered version offers a slightly beefier and louder modern mix but not overwhelmingly so. Bassist Ian Hills’s simple yet driving bass lines are prominent in the mix, and the rhythm guitar crunch of deities Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing sounds a bit more powerful than in the original release. Overall, I reckon the remastered British Steel is a solid improvement over the original without suffering from the contemporary annoyance of being obnoxiously loud from overmastering.

Now for the songs. Come on, you know the songs. But here’s a brief recap anyway. The band (or the powers that be) chose to fiddle with the track listing a bit, so instead of the expected iconic riff of “Breaking The Law” opening the album, you hear the rapid double-bass drum intro and Rob exclaiming, “Pounding the world like a battering ram/forging the furnace for the final grand slam.” The frenetic “Rapid Fire” is perhaps a more appropriately energetic opening, while the pulsing power chords and crushing palm-muted verse riff of “Metal Gods” emphasize why Priest indeed are the Metal Gods. “Breaking the Law” has you fist-pumping and singing the title refrain like it’s yesteryear before the chugging guitars runs you through the “Grinder” while “looking for meat.”

Here the album takes a brief departure from the metal mayhem for the anthemic sing-along “United,” and then the upcoming mid-tempo rocker with some truly catchy riffs and vocal hooks reminds us, “You Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise.” The ubiquitous party-rock hit, “Living After Midnight,” follows, which is simply a warm-up for British Steel’s greatest moment, the incomparable “The Rage.” Opening with a slow, funky bass line and some syncopated reggae guitar chords, “The Rage” is a ponderously crushing number that features a monstrous main riff and some divine vocal highs from Sir. Rob. The tune is my favorite on the album, but the brisk closer “Steeler” is by no means a slouch either. It concludes with the somewhat hokey studio bonus track, “Red White & Blue” and a live version of “Grinder.” To say British Steel is an essential component of any metalhead’s collection is a severe understatement. So buy it again for the first time.

Making re-purchasing British Steel more than worthwhile is the bonus concert DVD included in the package. The 16-track DVD documents the Hollywood, Florida stop of the Priest’s 2009 world tour in which they played the British Steel album in its entirety. This is an extremely high-quality concert video, featuring professional direction and sound throughout. The band fires on all cylinders while accurately marching through British Steel in the same song order as the new CD version. Halford sings with passion here, although admittedly he can’t hit all those high notes cleanly anymore. Thankfully, this particular album didn’t feature too many upper-range notes for him to worry about. But he sounds good, even with his current raspy bite, on the high-note crescendos on songs like “You Don’t…” and “The Rage.” The band displays tremendous fire and enthusiasm while plying their trade on eight other tracks from their extensive back catalog, the personal highlights being the triple-threat barn-burning destruction of “Hell Patrol,” “Victim of Changes” and “Freewheel Burning.” Halford decides to take some of the more extremely-high vocal lines down in octave nowadays, most noticeable on eviscerating tunes like Painkiller’s “Hell Patrol,” but the dude’s been doing this since the early ‘70s and deserves some slack. The Priest is back! I will note that the audience here, what little we see of it, seems ridiculously laid back, unenthused and, for lack of a more sophisticated term, “lame” through most of the concert. Also included: a making of British Steel interview.–Jonathan Kollnot

–CD Tracklisting: 1.) Rapid Fire 2.) Metal Gods 3.) Breaking The Law 4.) Grinder 5.) United 6.) You Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise 7.) Living After Midnight 8.) The Rage 9.) Steeler 10). Red White & Blue 11.) Grinder (Live)

–DVD Tracklisting: 1.) Rapid Fire 2.) Metal Gods 3.) Breaking The Law 4.) Grinder 5.) United 6.) You Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise 7.) Living After Midnight 8.) The Rage 9.) Steeler 10.) The Ripper 11.) Prophecy 12.) Hell Patrol 13.) Victim of Changes 14.) Freewheel Burning 15.) Diamonds & Rust 16.) You’ve Got Another Thing Coming

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~ by jonnyboyrocker on June 19, 2010.

One Response to “JUDAS PRIEST: British Steel 30th Anniversary Edition (1980, 2010)”

  1. Hey, nice review Jon! \m/

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