British Steel by Judas Priest is one of the most important albums of my life. It is one of the first albums that I ever bought (on tape), and it’s one of the many reason why I became addicted to heavy metal. It is a phenomenal piece of music, and today 34 years since its release it still stands amongst the greatest rock albums ever produced. British Steel is a calibrated standard of Heavy Metal. It’s pure metal. Some tracks are fast, other slow, some commercial, (the album produced two hit singles), but every track has earned its place. British Steel is an album without fillers, a complete work.
It’s a Judas Priest album of course the guitars are outstanding: Palm muted rhythm playing, solos carefully placed and never to excess, but lyrically British Steel is very special. Rob Halfords writing is peerless.
1980 was a tough year for the UK. The Economic decay of the 1970s was being dealt with by Margaret Thatcher’s government and the medicine was tough. Businesses through the UK were closing, unemployment rocketing, government spending was being slashed. The British people had a grievance and we were getting just a bit pissed off with it all.
A happy lovey dovey “we are so great” album would be contra to public mood. It was just not what was needed. 1980 was therefore a year for the deeper messages and thinking of the Heavy Metal Fan. Judas Priest probably new this and British Steel is an aggressive album, with themes of anger, jealously, crime, but also hope, unity and self belief. The lyric“I’ve had enough of bein’ programmed, And told what I ought to do. Let’s get one thing straight, I’ll choose my fate and it’s got nothing’ to do with you” says it all.
The album opens with Rapid Fire, with its combination of speedy and big riffs. Halfords lyrics are presented to listener. Clear, easy to hear, precise, words selected for purpose not just sound. The second track Metal Gods has that different pace and rhythm that is needed to follow on from a big opener and the famous two word chorus “Metal Gods” . An anthem, an instant sing along. The third track “Breaking the Law” opens with that famous Riff in the Chord of A. Heavy metal can be commercial without selling out and this is not a song about a happy day out in the park. Grinder follows with another different tempo and big riff, and the last track on side one is United. “Going to keep on driving never stop”
British steel was released as vinyl LP which meant that listeners had to take a small break to turn the album over. Therefore the start of side two on an album needed to reflect this and ensure that the listeners attention was not lost.
The second side of British Steel starts with “you don’t have to be old”…A Priest classic and one of my favourites. A slow riff, which builds into a monster that has me, reaching for the air guitar every time I hear it. A song about self belief and taking control of your own destiny, and to think that the ignorant people believe heavy metal is all about Devil Worship, Sex and Beer. (Not that these subjects don’t have their place…..etc)
Living after midnight the other big single follows and then the Rage. Slow, moody a song definitely about a deadly sin but which one? The Steeler is the final track on the album. KK and Glen further demonstrate a complete range of effects, and British Steel ends with a giant power chord. THE END…
Heavy Metal is proven to be the music of the intelligent people and British Steel is an encyclopaedia of everything that is great about metal. Metal is raw, its deep, it’s clever, it’s creative, energetic, primeval, and instinctive. And this means that Metal is here forever.
My original tape sits in a box in the attic. My Vinyl copy of British Steel lives in another box in my bedroom. My digitally remastered CD is in a rack under the stairs and today I listened to the album on my IPAD. Ageless Classic Rock, Awesome Heavy Metal, and one of the finest Albums of all time.
If you don’t own it, pay for it and download it…..British Steel by Judas Priest.