Review Summary: Stained Class was the first album to show signs of a sharp shift in Judas Priest's style. It contains the best of the old and the to-be genres and remains one of the best records the band have put out.
There was certainly not only one album that layed down the foundations for the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Starting with the all-time hits "Iron Maiden" and "Heaven & Hell", and finishing with the lesser known "Angel Witch" and "Wheels Of Steel". There is one album, though, that came two years earlier that was probably the first milestone in NWOBHM history. This album, as you have already guessed, is Stained Class by Judas Priest.
After releasing two straight-forward Heavy Metal albums Judas Priest experienced a significant style change. They turned from a classic Heavy Metal band, very similar to the likes of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple to the New Wave Of Heavy Metal band we all know and love. But before becoming extremely cheesy and popular; before writing the well-known anthems Hell Bent For Leather and Breaking The Law, Judas Priest released their perhaps most influential album. Recorded just on the course of the big twist, Stained Class takes the best from both genres. The production got far better, the riffs got crispier and the vocals were still amazing (unlike the next three Priest Albums, where Rob clearly holds himself back). In other words, this record has everything. Thanks to its uniqueness – there was not a single Priest album that sounded like Stained Class – I consider it to be the greatest Judas Priest record.
The album opener, "Exciter", already shows how efficacious Stained Class was. The fast (to its time) track was probably one of the major early influences to the Thrash/Speed Metal scene. Additionally, the track is one of the best tracks off of the record- its melodic bridge and solo are just beautiful - even though the song might drag just a little too long.
Downing and Tipton are each at the top of their game, playing some of tastiest Priest riffs ever (White Heat Red Hot, Heroes End), and adding some breathtaking solos. Les Binks is an amazing drummer, and his contribution to this album is obvious. As I have already mentioned, the drumming here alone influenced the Thrash/Speed Metal genre.
Other tracks worth mentioning are the title track, which must be credited for giving the album its 'epic' atmosphere, the Spooky Tooth cover, which is just brilliant, and Beyond The Realms Of Death, a worthy nominee for the title of the best Judas Priest song. The latter also adds to the 'epic' feel I spoke of previously. I remember the first time I listened to that song, just by seeing the title I already knew that I'm about to listen to a legendary song. It starts off with a simple yet beautiful acoustic melody, and then builds into the amazing chorus. Halfway through the song the solo kicks in, and it definitely is, without any contest, the best solo from the album, and I'll be damned if it's not one of the best solos the band ever put out. Another plus for Beyond and for the album generally, is the lyrics, which are usually a downside of a Priest album (especially the next ones). Sometimes I jokingly try to imagine Beyond The Realms Of Death with Take On The World or Metal Meltdown's lyrics. The results are rather hilarious.
Stained Class is Judas Priest's pinnacle, it succeeds in every field. In terms of lyrics, song writing, performance and production, the album just won't let you down. Priest have perfectly combined the key points of the old and the new Metal to create a near-perfect album, an album that was also probably Priest's most important and influencing album.
In an unrelated note, I think it's necessary to mention the '90 civil lawsuit against Priest. Two drunk and high young kids were listening to 'Better By You, Better Than Me' and according to them they heard subliminal messages telling them to kill their selves. So they committed suicide.
For me, the only reason I can imagine wanting to kill myself after listening to Stained Class is to go to hell and jam some Priest with the devil.
Stained Class was released in February 10th, 1978. The record label is CBS and it its 44:02 (54:10 remastered) minutes long.
Rob Halford: vocals
K.K. Downing: guitars
Glenn Tipton: guitars
Ian Hill: bass guitar
Les Binks: drums
Dave Holland: drums (Only on the Bonus track "Fire Burns Below")
Scott Travis: drums on live version of "Better by You Better Than Me" on 2001 reissue
Producer – Dennis Mackay, Judas Priest, James Guthrie (track 3)