Review Summary: Judas Priest's debut is surprisingly different than their later ourputs, but in a refreshing way. The music itself does not excel enough for this to be considered anything else than a good record, and a fine start.
With releases as 1980’s British Steel
and 1990’s Painkiller
, Judas Priest
have, over the years, become one of the most famous heavy metal bands off all time, as well as being pioneers of the genre, just after Black Sabbath
. In the more than 4 decades they have been around, their style has ranged from a classic metal to hard rock approach, and even borrowed from the speed and thrash scenes at some time. Judas Priest has had high highs and low lows, but their debut album Rocka Rolla
from 1974 is often forgotten in the vast amount of material they have put out since their formation, and features a young band still experimenting with its sound. The core line-up of lead guitarists K.K. Downing
and Glenn Tipton
, vocalist Rob Halford
and bassist Ian Hill
was already present at this time, with Tipton having joined shortly before the release of this album. Halford also had not been with the band from the start, and so Al Atkins
, the previous vocalist, shares some songwriting credits, both on this album and follow-up Sad Wings of Destiny
. Partly due to him, Priest’s first 2 albums were more ‘rock and roll’-influenced than the ones that would follow, especially lyrically. Musically, the band leaned heavily towards blues-rock at the time, but it was a approach they were soon to abandon. Also, the band themselves were not included in the production process, and many live favourites were left out, such as Tyrant
and The Ripper
. These would later appear on Sad Wings of Destiny
Rocka Rolla’s Judas Priest was:
- Robert Halford ~ Vocals, Harmonica
- K.K. Downing ~ Lead Guitar
- Glenn Tipton ~ Lead Guitar, Synthesizer, Backing Vocals
- Ian Hill ~ Bass Guitar
- John Hinch ~ Drums
Often, the (main) riffs are bluesy, and can remind of the way Led Zeppelin
mixed blues into their music before. Examples are the riffs in One for the Road
and the title track. They tend to be simple, but yet effective. What does plague the album slightly is that the main riff used for the song is often overused, leading to repetitiveness. Another downside is that the famous Downing & Tipton twin lead guitar is still underdeveloped and barely shows its full potential. This is a minor setback though, as it suits the style of the album not to make use of a full twin lead assault.
The bridge that Priest already partly makes from blues to metal is interesting, and is similar to what Black Sabbath did with their debut. The way it is done is different though, as Sabbath went for a heavy and doomy sound, while Priest adds more adrenaline to the guitar, as well as vocals, instead of slowing things down. Some screaming is already present from Halford, as well as the theatrical vocals that would become typical of 80’s metal. Run of the Mill
, an epic of 8 minutes, showcases this best and is the highlight of the album.
The rhythm section though, is lacking. Ian Hill’s bass is not audible enough, although he has shown to be a solid bassist in later times. This could have been caused by the recording of the album, which was done entirely ‘live’, meaning one recording of the entire band playing was made instead of recording all parts separately and mixing them together. The drums are basically non-existing, but have never been a core part of Judas Priest anyway, but could have been spiced up just a little .
Individual songs that are also stand out are Dying to Meet You
, another (semi-)epic that does not live up to Run of the Mill, as it is less well delivered. It has, for a change, got great bass work though. One for the Road
is a great opener and sets the rock ‘n roll atmosphere. Never Satisfied
is interesting for it shows that transition from blues to metal guitar work very recognizably. The weakest part of the album is the song in 4 parts: Winter/Deep Freeze/Winter Retreat/Cheater
. The first 2 parts are too much like filler tracks, and the first part of Winter Retreat
is just background noises. Cheater
is great though, featuring Halford at his best on the album, who sings greatly and also does additional harmonica work. All in all it just doesn’t add up together, and brings the album down. The rest of the tracks are all satisfying enough.
With their debut album Rocka Rolla, Judas Priest took an entirely different direction then they would later pursue. Containing many blues-rockish riffs and simple rock lyrics, it really doesn’t sound like Judas Priest anyhow. What is does show is hints of their later work, and at careful listen it seems to have been a logical starting point for what would grow out to be one of the world’s most famous metallers. Not outstanding anyhow, but interesting nonetheless.
+ Simple riffs that work well
+ Not as lyrically cheesy as Priest’s later albums
+ Shows the transition from blues to metal clearly
- May not be metal enough for Priest fans
- Main riffs are sometimes overused
- Sub par rhythm section
- Some filler
Run of the Mill
Dying to Meet You
One for the Road