You wait and wait... the anticipation kills you as the silence gradually leaves the ears. The distant sound of harmonized guitars becomes closer and more prominent as a dark atmosphere is set right before you. Soon, the guitar wizards Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing begin their descent into a riff of mammoth proportions and a new journey that is equal parts brutality and serenity is opened up for you to explore. As the picture becomes clearer in your head and all is said and done, also clear is the conclusion you reach: Judas Priest have come to carry Black Sabbath's metal torch, and they're right on time. Welcome to Sad Wings of Destiny.
While the band made another album known as Rocka Rolla back in 1974, it hadn't yet established their trademark sound. While Judas Priest aren't exactly the heaviest band to grace metal music, Rocka Rolla was light even by those standards; in short, it was more like a bluesy hard rock record. The irony of this whole thing is that numerous songs from Sad Wings of Destiny ("Tyrant," "Victim of Changes," and "Genocide") were originally going to be on Rocka Rolla before being forced out of the product by their dickish producer Roger Bain. Well, while this move may have initially seemed stupid and unfair to the band, it ended up being a blessing in disguise because of how much more the songs fit here. The atmosphere of Sad Wings of Destiny is considerably darker than its predecessor, going for a more gothic sound all the way to its operatic harmonized screams from Rob Halford and Gothic Script logo adorning the album cover. Not only is the experience quite heavy and distorted for its time with songs like the doomy classic "Victim of Changes" or the hard-hitting fast-tempo rocker "Tyrant," but it also has a certain beauty that's rarely been matched by other metal records. It certainly helps that two piano interludes adorn the record and switch the dynamics up, but these songs and the reflective ballad "Dreamer Deceiver" are simply gorgeous. Rob Halford also alters his vocals easily to fit each atmosphere and songwriting style, from the quietest whispers to the most gut-wrenching screams. There's a real sense of passion and charisma on this record, not just from Halford but from every member's performance; almost every note feels perfectly in place and executed with meaning and purpose.
That is, except for one blemish of a song: "Genocide." For how great Sad Wings of Destiny is, it's sad that one of the most well-known songs on the record is quite lacking. "Genocide" isn't a terrible song, but it feels remarkably uninspired and its riffs feel pretty recycled; other than a recurring low-E riff that showcases the power and volume of the bass, the whole thing is a bit boring and overlong. This is, however, made up by just how great many of the shorter numbers such as "The Ripper" and "Deceiver," which opt for a more varied approach, the former in particular combining the record's trademark eerie atmosphere and well-executed storytelling with numerous tempo changes and an emphasis on harmonies (particularly in the vocals and the guitar intro). At the end of the day, the exciting aspect of Sad Wings of Destiny is that it feels like a genuine musical adventure. Especially taking its historical importance to metal into account, it's fascinating to hear the results of the band's exploration and their desire to make things heavier and more intense. There's a reason it's considered such a classic today; you're able to hear everything from doom metal, slow acoustic balladry, classic hard rock, soft piano interludes, a distinctly dark musical tone, great lyricism, and everything else in between. Then once closer "Island of Domination" comes along and you feel you've listened to every aspect of Priest's sound, they throw a curveball and burst in with Queen-like vocal melodies before transitioning to easily the bluesiest and most entertaining song on the whole record. Every song has something different to offer, and while the experience as a whole isn't perfect and perhaps isn't the best in the band's discography, it's damn close to both of those distinctions. Plus, this is the record in which the band came into their own and you're able to realize just how special this band would be. If you enjoy metal or even rock in general, this is essential.