Review Summary: One of the best things Priest put out in the 70's, if not in their entire career.
1977’s Sin after Sin
saw Judas Priest almost fully developing their core sound, their true heavy metal style that would serve as a cornerstone whereupon all of their next releases would be built. Guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton were using their talents more than ever to create innovative, stunning guitar work, vocalist Rob Halford was growing more and more confident, bassist Ian Hill did not go unheard, and finally a drummer competent in the heavy metal scene would join. This drummer however, Simon Philips, was only a session musician who left after the recording of Sin after Sin. Soon afterwards, Les Binks was chosen as a tour drummer, but the band was so impressed with his performance they asked him to stay. Binks was an accomplished and technically skilled drummer who contributed just as well, if not better than Simon Philips, to Judas Priest’s heavy metal sound. The production of the album, at that point, was the clearest and cleanest so far. Coinciding with these changes went the introduction of what would become the classic Judas Priest logo. A logical change, because of the logo’s metallic look that would work better with Priest releases from then on, in contrast with especially Sad Wings of Destiny
, with which the gothic-styled look suited perfectly. Priest’s fourth record was released in 1978 and called Stained Class
, and has remained the only album in the band’s history that contains song writing contributions by all band members. It is often hailed as a classic in their catalogue and as an influence on the speed metal genre.
Stained Class’ Judas Priest was:
- Robert Halford ~ Vocals
- K.K. Downing ~ Lead Guitar
- Glenn Tipton ~ Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
- Ian Hill ~ Bass Guitar
- James Leslie Binks ~ Drums
Both of those last two claims are understandable. Stained Class contains many of the band’s famous songs, such as Exciter
and Beyond the Realms of Death
, as well as the notorious Better Than You, Better Than Me
cover, originally recorded by British progressive rock band Spooky Tooth
. As for the influence on speed metal, one would have to think back to the late 70’s. By today’s standards, Stained Class is nowhere near speed metal, but the influence can be clearly seen, especially in the typically blistering guitar solos.
Priest’s fourth album has a lot of potential to become a classic. The main reason for this are the band members, who are all on top of their game. Halford delivers powerful vocals and succeeds in hitting those high notes more than ever, Downing and Tipton are an unmatched twin guitar lead, as well, bringing forth one excellent solo and harmonization after the other. Newcomer Les Binks is quite the solid heavy metal drummer, and an excellent replacement for session player Simon Philips.
Stained Class blasts off with its immediate high point, Exciter
, which is highlighted by well-carried out switched between vocal and guitar parts, and a fantastic chorus that has Halford hitting a very powerful high note.
The quality keeps up for a while. White Heat, Red Hot
is an excellent offering that is marked by Halford’s pauses in between singing, which gives the song an extra edge. Better By You, Better Than Me
has a great groove to it, and is one of Priest’s finer covers, and the title track has nice tempo switches that keep the variety going. The real epic here is Beyond the Realms of Death
, and has no intention in hiding it. The title itself, the soft parts that are typical of the song type (interestingly enough, the recurring soft riff was written by Les Binks), and two extended solos all contribute to the feel of the song. Excellently carried out, and rivals Exciter
for best song on the album.
Unfortunately, the album is not completely flawless. Especially Downing & Tipton’s guitar leads can start to sound samey towards the end of the album, and Halford can’t seem to stop showcasing those high notes, which might get on the nerves. Song-wise, the middle part is somewhat lacking with Invaders
, Saints in Hell
nicely blending in with the album’s sound, but lacking an uniqueness to stand out. This makes Stained Class drag on for just a bit too long in that part. Luckily, Heroes End
closes off things on a high note, with differing vocal styles that may somewhat remind of Sad Wings of Destiny’s closer Island of Domination
. A blistering guitar solo is presented at the end, and fades out softly, leaving the listener with a fulfilled listening experience.
Judas Priest studio offering #4 proves to be an excellent output, and a high point in the band’s career, containing much of the band’s most enduring material. The band has finally grown fully confident with their trademark style, and this leaves many fantastic results. Though the album has its flaws, Stained Class is one of the best Judas Priest albums from the 70’s, and deserves being picked up.
+ Halford has mastered the high notes and hits them frequently
+ Downing and Tipton are on top of their game
+ Drumming has, once again, improved
- Main riffs start sounding samey towards the end of the album
- The album drags slightly in the middle
Beyond the Realms of Death
Better By You, Better Than Me