Judas Priest - British Steel: Legacy Edition
1980 was a high water mark in the development of heavy metal, spawning Back in Black, Ace of Spades and even the debut of young hopefuls Iron Maiden (whatever happened to them?). Given the illustrious nature of the competition it’s testament to the innate quality of Judas Priest’s British Steel that even today it still sounds like a greatest hits package. Wall to wall, balls to the wall, heavy metal carnage.
It's an attention grabbing package, the cover featuring a vicious image of a bloodied razor blade. British steel, naturally. It cuts deep and it runs deep; the band, their families and their friends all worked, or knew someone who worked, for British Steel. This is an album which is arguably as important to our industrial heritage as our musical heritage, with every crunching riff replicating the noise and power of the industrial heart of England. Hard times bred hard people and heavy metal became the natural form of defiant expression for a disenchanted, disenfranchised provincial youth. Thatcher was being elected as the album was being recorded, Britain was coming apart at the seams and British Steel records that fractured society as eloquently as Ghost Town.
Although the album may sound relatively tame to modern 'post Metallica' ears it has to be borne in mind that Priest invented the classic ‘dual guitar’ partnership which went on to form the backbone of the classic metal era. Thirty years on tracks such as ‘Breaking The Law’ and ‘Living After Midnight’ are burned deep into our consciousness and have taken on the status of classic rock, hell even pop music. Back in 1980 though it was a different story, this stuff was incendiary and heavy metal was public enemy number one. Priest and Ozzy were genuinely considered to be corrupters of the nation’s morals; dangerous, satanic malcontents who reputedly recorded backwards messages of evil intent on their albums. In such circumstances to be ‘metal’ was to be part of a tribe and, in ‘United’, British Steel contains the ultimate fist pumping metal terrace anthem, rivaling the cockney punk schlock of Sham 69.
So, buy this for the classic album alone, although the extras DVD represents a welcome curio. It features a brief but illuminating interview with the band, plus a recent performance of the entire British Steel album. The boys show that they can still make a crushing racket, although they are beginning to look as though their idea of breaking the law these days might involve misuse of their free bus passes.