Review by Tymell for Judas Priest - Sad Wings of Destiny (1976)
Judas Priest is a band that's gone through a number of different evolutions over their lifetime, especially for a band so important in the evolution of an entire genre of music. Different people will often think of very distinct things when they hear the band's name: to some it means the hard rocking, leather studded 80s, to others the sheer fury and boundless energy of Painkiller, and to some it calls to mind the formative 70s, where both Priest and heavy metal itself were still developing.
That's always been my favourite era of the band. It's where their songcraft was truly at its strongest, with cheesy fun tempered by smart, effective writing and nice variety in styles. And Sad Wings is where that approach was properly birthed. Rocka Rolla may have been their actual debut full-length, but it's often forgotten for good reason, this was where Priest really came into their own.
The sense of theatricality is king here, and, complimented perfectly by Halford's glorious vocals, is what truly sets Sad Wings apart. The band just sound like they're having such a good time, and it feels wrong not to join in with it. Halford is a rock 'n' roll preacher here, a demagogue wailing and howling the gospel of heavy metal with irresistible vitality.
All the classic tracks in this one are grounded in that sense of theatrics: "Dreamer Deceiver" acts as a perfect build, satisfying in itself, but ensuring such a fun pay off in epic rocker "Deceiver". "The Ripper" is a showcase of those larger-than-life vocals, full of so much power that you have no choice but to go along for the ride. In lines like "Or, if you like, Jack the Knife..." you can just hear the wicked grin accompanying the delivery. "Island of Domination" and "Tyrant" are true templates for good classic metal tracks, driven by Ian Hill's rumbling bass and solid rhythms throughout.
The only real misstep of the album is "Epitaph". I appreciate the band trying to do something different, and Halford's a talented vocalist...but this one just doesn't work. The backing harmony vocals in particular are full of cringe and silliness, and it sticks out like something from a parody.
But that's a pretty minor point. The whole album represents a massive leap forward in the development of heavy music, much like Black Sabbath's early albums did in their own way. While it can still loosely be termed "rock music", it sheds much of rock's conventional tropes at the time and places greater emphasis on riffs, larger-than-life vocals and presence, and increasingly complex song-writing, while still remaining effective and catchy. This is where the razor-edge begins to be honed.
Where Sabbath donned robes and performed the rituals to usher in a dark, doomy side of heavy metal, Priest geared up in leather and spikes and rode out, the razor edge to Sabbath's crushing hammer.
Choice cuts: The Ripper, Tyrant, Dreamer Deceiver/Deceiver, Island of Domination