In music, “genre defining” is a phrase limited to the very best albums. It’s a goal every artist strives for, but only a select few actually achieve. Judas Priest is one of those fortunate artists, and they first reached that plateau with 1980’s British Steel. Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, the album has been rereleased in both two- and three-disc versions. This review covers the two-disc version.
Recorded at Tittenhurst Park, the former home of John Lennon, British Steel mixes hard-charging radio anthems such as “Living After Midnight” and “Breaking the Law” with blistering metal such as the album’s opener “Rapid Fire” and its closer “Steeler.” When Rob Halford sings, “pounding the world like a battering ram,” he isn’t kidding. The album grabs the listener by the throat from the opening buzz saw guitar licks and never lets go. This is the album that turned Priest into headliners after years of opening act status.
The album also features in-concert favorites such as “Metal Gods” and “Grinder,” the former of which has become Halford’s nickname. In addition, the band stretches out on the anthemic “United” and mixes a reggae-like intro with the powerful “The Rage,” a track that features some of Halford’s best vocals. The album remains a collection one could present to skeptics to defend metal’s validity.
To celebrate the album’s anniversary, Judas Priest hit the road in 2009 playing British Steel in its entirety. The included DVD features a full concert recorded live at the Seminole Hard Rock Arena in Hollywood, Fla.
Opening with “Rapid Fire, the band plays through all of British Steel before returning to deliver an additional hour of Priest classics. Highlights from the album portion include “Metal Gods,” the seldom-played “You Don’t Have to be Old to be Wise,” and “The Rage.” Revisiting these songs seems to have revitalized Halford in particular, who hits notes that didn’t seem possible for him anymore. The second part of the set includes killer versions of “The Ripper” (with Halford hitting the big notes), “Prophecy” from the band’s concept album Nostradamus and a lightning-fast “Freewheel Burning” complete with motorcycle intro.
The DVD is well filmed, without too much rapid-style editing found in many of today’s rock DVDs. Too many of these discs seem to have five shots per second and never linger on any of them long enough to figure out what is going on. Thankfully, that is not the case here.
Also included on the DVD is a half hour documentary about the making of British Steel. The documentary features interviews with Halford, bassist Ian Hill, and guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing as well as new and archival video footage. As the album’s drummer, Dave Holland, is still in jail for attempted rape of a boy he was giving drum lessons to (charges Holland denies), there is no interview footage of him included.
The Priest catalog was given the remastered treatment in 2001 and that is the CD that features here. Priest fans were upset at the time, as many of the bonus tracks on the discs had nothing to do with the sessions for the album they were included with. “Red White & Blue,” for instance, was not from the British Steel sessions and while the studio version of “Grinder” is on the original album, the live version contained on this disc is not from the British Steel tour. This may be nitpicking to some, but Sony had an opportunity here to expand this CD properly, with demos, unreleased songs (if they exist) and/or live cuts from the era and didn’t. Fans who own the 2001 CD would be buying this album strictly for the DVD (and live CD if they opted for the three-disc version) and the packaging.
The artwork for this collection has been modified from its original iconic image of a man’s hand holding a razorblade. Now the hand is gone, instead replaced with blood dripping from the blade (The original image is inside the booklet). Perhaps this was done to avoid confusion among fans, but this is the metal equivalent to changing the cover to Abbey Road. As for the DVD, the concert itself is fantastic, but one wonders if the band has any shows filmed from the actual British Steel tour they could have included. Still, the show included has the band in fine form both musically and vocally.
There isn’t much that can be said about British Steel that hasn’t been already. In spite of a few flaws, the positives here greatly outweigh the negatives and British Steel remains a must-own album not only for fans of Judas Priest, but for fans of metal as well.
Article first published as Music Review: Judas Priest – British Steel: 30th Anniversary Edition on Blogcritics.org