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Under-Reviewed: Judas Priest – “Killing Machine/Hell Bent for Leather”

So, I figured it was time for a series of reviews. In that light, I thought it would be interesting to do a series on under-rated, unsung, or undiscovered classic albums in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. This series will be called “Under-Reviewed”, and it will provide, not only a review, but also a bit of the back story of the album in question. So without further adieu, I present to you the first Under-Reviewed; Judas Priest’s 1978 album “Killing Machine/Hell Bent for Leather”

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The year was 1977 and the wheels of fortune had just begun slowly turning for Judas Priest. They had just released an album called “Stained Class” and, though it didn’t create the commercial waves they so longed for, it was slowly becoming revered in circles of metalheads around the globe. So it was with a renewed hunger that in 1978 Judas Priest would record, release, and begin a tour in support of their follow-up album, “Killing Machine”.

The album kicks into gear promptly with the grooving, heavy, undeniable, “Delivering the Goods”. Lyrically, the song (and whether this is intentional or not, I’m not sure) perfectly encapsulates the feeling of a Judas Priest live show, as does the music itself. Within the first track, the band has perfectly captured exactly where they were in at in 1978.

Then came a little foreshadowing in the form of “Rock Forever”, a more commercial song that would not be out of place on follow-up studio effort British Steel. Even lyrically, the song is fairly typical and it’s really nothing special in this version. However, definitely check out the live version present on Unleashed in the East to hear it as nature intended (with teeth).

“Evening Star” is an interesting number in that it starts off very much like a ballad, but come chorus time turns into a stomping party anthem. A very interesting and under-appreciated track in the Judas Priest catalog.

Then comes “Hell Bent for Leather”, one of the two title tracks (remember, the U.S. pressing of the album carried this title) and it is an absolute stormer. Full-on speed metal at it’s absolute finest, the song would begin preparing the world for the speed and chaos that would begin flowing from the U.S. West-Coast in about 5 years time (Re: Thrash Metal).

“Take on the World” is yet another bit of foreshadowing as far as the future of Priest is concerned, being a direct (and superior) big brother to the British Steel track “United”. The song is a stomping, anthemic track that would be released as a single. The single would see Judas Priest making their first appearance on the BBC’s “Top of the Pops” program.

Next up is a funky little song in the Judas Priest catalog, a fantastically written tune with lots of groove and plenty of personality. “Burnin’ up” would epitomize go on to become quite possibly THE most under-used and under-appreciated song in Judas Priest’s career, and although that’s a shame, the funkiness of the song also makes it logical.

The track that would be the only difference between the Killing Machine and Hell Bent for Leather versions of the album would also go on to become a concert staple and fan favourite. “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)” was originally written and performed by Fleetwod Mac, but would definitely find it’s popularity and notoriety in the Judas Priest Canon, the band turning into a slab of Molten Metal that Peter Green and Co. could never have imagined.

The title-cut to the original pressing of the album would continue where “The Green Manalishi” left off musically, and thematically it would provide a pre-cursor to the title track of Megadeth’s debut album from six years down the line. “Killing Machine” would tell the story of a hitman and his business, prowling the streets for his mark. The song is another slower-paced Hard Rock stomper and is incredibly serviceable. Another under-used gem in the Priest Canon.

“Running Wild” is up next and it’s another speed metal classic with a rock-and-roller lyric. Priest uses this song to great effect, doing something that a lot of bands have a hard time achieving: mixing speed with groove. The song is fantastic and is more than deserving of the tribute it would receive in a few years time when a German band would take the name for their own, and take it to relative success along the way playing, of course, Speed and Power Metal.

“Before the Dawn”, a ballad in the vein of the previous album’s song “Beyond the Realms of Death” is a very serviceable song and would serve as a foil to the rest of the album’s uncompromising Heavy Metal.

Although Rob’s vocals were fantastic through-out the entire album, they really shine on the final track “Evil Fantasies” where he takes on a Machismo that is more than befitting his eventual title of Metal God. The song would be yet another groovy stomper and would undoubtedly get one’s head bang and one’s voice singing along.

All-in-all, the album is, in this writer’s opinion, the ultimate document of Judas Priest in the studio. It was the mid-point between the early, somewhat progressive works of Priest in the 70s, and the stripped-down commercial Hard Rock of Priest in the 80s.  It would also serve as the stage for Priest crafting the ultimate Metal live document when they recorded Unleashed in the East on tour in Japan while supporting this album. Priest would soon find the success that had been after for nearly a decade upon the release of British Steel, but it was Killing Machine/Hell Bent for Leather that would influence an entire generation of metalheads commercial and underground alike. This album is the one that solidified Priest as leaders of the pack… the Metal Gods.

Score: \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ .5  (9.5 out of 10)

(For information on Judas Priest, visit JudasPriest.com)

(To buy this album, visit Amazon.com)

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