By Bill Adams
While the river of reissues pouring out of the major label music business is only swelling with time, some records just come with a fantastic story that would keep it selling well even if it hadn’t been repackaged and re-placed on new release racks; they just have an enduring appeal. Judas Priest‘s British Steel is that kind of record; over the last couple of years, the members of Judas Priest have begun to re-examine the record at length – last year, they embarked on a multi-continent tour that found them performing British Steel from beginning to end – and tell the stories of making it, thereby reliving their cherished memories of the time and circumstances that yielded British Steel.
The story is pretty grand too:
“British Steel was one of those albums that came together very quickly,” remembered Priest guitarist Glenn Tipton when asked by this writer about the circumstances behind the album, last year. “We recorded it at a place called Tittenhurst Park which was originally John Lennon’s house – he recorded “Imagine” there while he was sitting at that piano in that white room so there was a great vibe there. It was one of the few albums where we wrote at least fifty per cent of it in the studio while we were recording – which was very unusual for us – so it was a very spontaneous album as such; it wasn’t complicated at all and was very straight forward. Songs like “Breaking The Law” or “Living After Midnight” – which are immediate and straightforward songs – all just sort of clicked and fell into place.”
“[British Steel] was unique in the sense that we actually wrote a lot of it while we were in the studio which we had never done before or since at that point. We’d do up to a dozen takes of songs and then pick the best one – the one that had the best tempo and the one that captured the right feel – and work with that.”
Excellent conditions yielded excellent results for Priest as, clearly, they discovered that they had an enduring classic on their hands when they left Tittenhurst with the sessions completed for British Steel in February, 1980. Even now, the songs stand up as representative of the first high point that the band enjoyed in the 1980s.
From the very beginning, as the band unloads with “Rapid Fire,” even previously unfamiliar listeners know they’re in for an event. With consistent and ceaseless marches of guitars, the band charges hard into an eighth note salvo while singer Rob Halford snarls and howls with the battlefield command of a seasoned veteran. The result is better than infectious; in that opening demonstration, there is a reason to throw your hands up and cheer – even if you’re in the comfort of your own living room.
With that stage set, Judas Priest bears down and digs in for a set that doesn’t do anything so contrived as the ‘praise our unholy lord’ shtick that so many metal bands are given to doing now as run the adrenaline up and keep it plateaued while glorifying a little vice. Songs like “Breaking The Law,” “Living After Midnight,” “Grinder” and “The Rage” don’t get explicit on any details in any of the songs here, they simply imply that the vice (and joy of it) is there and that implication proves to be more attractive than the actual dirty work; in this case the tease is better than the deed.
That tease and the performance of it is what sustains British Steel now just as it has since the album was first released; it’s dark and dangerous sounding, but doesn’t actually get its hands dirty. That sense continues to work for the band on stage too – as the 30th Anniversary DVD included with this reissue shows. On stage now – although perhaps a little older and greyer – Judas Priest still wields their British Steel with an imposing stance and sneer as they soar through each of the songs from the album as well as a few additional period gems like “The Ripper,” “Freewheel Burning” and the classic “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming.” As theatrical as the band can be (particularly Halford), none of the show feels put on; when Judas Priest rumbles through “You Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise,” “Rapid Fire” and “Metal Gods,” each member of the band really seems to be in the moment as if it hasn’t faded one iota with the time or additional mileage that has passed. While it’s true that the songs from British Steel have aged remarkably well in their own right, on stage Judas Priest proves that they have too – or at least they can find their way back to when these songs first overtook them easily.
Album review courtesy of groundcontrolmag.com