The Importance of Being Metal: Judas Priest-Sad Wings of Destiny

1976; Rockfield Studios, Wales; Gull Records

1. Is It Any Good?

This is one of the consummate Judas Priest records for fans in the know to point to as their "heaviest" record, setting it as an example against Judas Priest's later "pop shit". In other words, it's sonic proof that sometimes a hardcore fanbase doesn't have any fucking idea what it's talking about.

To their credit, this is their second album, so because it's early that does automatically make it cooler than later releases according to the Rules of Music. And there's an interesting conflict going on with this one because it contains a few songs that are arguably among Priest's greatest works-"Tyrant" is an absolutely blistering anthem, which stands to this day as one of their most ripping songs. "Genocide" has one of the coolest, most sinister grooves this side of Black Sabbath, and "The Ripper" is pure fun-try to keep from mouthing the words yourself as Halford purrs out "I'm sly and I'm shameless, nocturnal and nameless/Except for The Ripper, or, if you like, Jack the Knife."

The real standout here, though, is "Dreamer Deceiver", a big middle finger to anyone who refers to metal as being "artless"-psychedelic, haunting and dramatic as all hell, it's an absolutely gorgeous song. Not quite a ballad and not quite a straight-up metal song, it stands as a testament to Priest's early progressive tendencies, and what's more, it stands as an example of artistry that metal rarely reaches outside of a purely technical definition of the word.

Unfortunately, the only two words I can think of to define the rest of the album is goofy and forgettable-"Epitaph" in particular stands out as a huge WTF moment, a piano ballad about a sad old man in his twilight years. No, the old man in question is not a general, a king or a wizard, and yes, it is probably the least metal song you can imagine outside of Elton John making a soft-jazz concept album about bridesmaids. "Victim of Changes" starts out well enough and has some really interesting passages but unquestionably wears out it's welcome after 8 minutes. "Genocide" sees Rob Halford really milking that goofy voice thing he does where he tries to sound like an intense black woman-it's kind of neat when he does it in songs later in the band's career, but here he sounds like he's trying to take part of another dude out of his butthole(which is not the most implausible of scenarios, really). Worst of all, "Deceiver" follows right on the heels of "Dreamer Deceiver", and next to such experimental beauty the dependable zippidy-doo riffs come off sounding like cold shit, and it turns out to be a really lame way to end the album.

There are some really amazing aspects of this album, and in some ways it's worth investing in just to see the early roots of a band that would eventually become a metal juggernaut, but this is an album where the sum of it's parts definitely turn out to be better than the whole. In other words, buyer beware.

That is one fuck of an album cover though, isn't it? Shit.

2. Is It "Influential"?

This is, for all intents and purposes, the album that really kicked off the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement, which was one of the principal components of creating thrash metal along with punk. It might also technically be the first progressive metal album, which is a little bit of a blessing but mostly a gigantic, horrible curse.

3. Is It A Good Entry Point For Beginners?

As an individual album, no, probably not-they'll probably nod off about halfway through. If you expose them to individual tracks, though, there's a good chance they'll want to learn more, as what's good here is really good. If they already like Judas Priest, show it off, but if they're still iffy on the genre as a whole then it might be a good idea to keep this one tucked away for a little while longer.



  1. You should know that, based on your (awesome) reviews, I finally broke down and downloaded some early Priest. This album, Sin After Sin, Stained Class. Not sure why I held out for so long--they're pretty fucking great. I prefer them to British Steel and later albums.

    I can't explain my prior aversion to JP other than I think Halford's ultra-cheesy vocals on the otherwise totally METAL Painkiller album kinda soured me on them for a while, plus the overplayed stuff like "Breaking The Law" never terribly impressed me. Oh well. These albums are the business, though.

  2. Yeah, I actually like "Screaming For Vengeance" but next to "Master of Puppets" it's probably the most overrated metal album of all time. Same with "British Steel". I like it and all but JESUS, people.

    I would say that "Stained Class" is their best album by leaps and bounds, but their older stuff is if not objectively better than their pop-metal work, at least more interesting.

    "Sin After Sin" is the last one of their proggy period that I need to get besides Rocka Rolla, but I heard that one sucked so I'm probably not going to bother.