Judas Priest - Stained Class
Heavy Metal
9 songs (43:53)
Release year: 1978
Judas Priest
Reviewed by Goat

A courtroom, Reno, Nevada, 1990. Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford is defending his band from accusations that they insert subliminal messages into their music, a clear look of exasperation on his face as he answers banal questions about his singing style. This ridiculous civil action was brought by the parents of James Vance and Raymond Belknap, two young men who after hours of indulgence in alcohol, marijuana and heavy metal, attempted to kill themselves with a shotgun – Belknap succeeded, Vance disfigured himself terribly and died three years later from drug complications. A tragedy, yes, but the band’s fault, no – the accusation that rock and metal bands insert demonic messages into their music is a familiar one to us, many times disproven and discredited, yet one still firmly believed by certain fundamentalist Christian sects. The legacy of this has hung over Stained Class and to some extent damaged its reputation amongst Metalheads – as worshipped as the likes of Painkiller and Sad Wings Of Destiny are, this rarely gets a mention except from the truest of Priest fans, despite it being a very, if not THE SINGLE MOST important album in metal’s formative years.

The most frequent complaint against Stained Class is that it sounds dated. Amazing as it may seem, albums made in 1978 aren’t going to be as smooth and unthreatening to your Pro-Tooled ears as albums made in 2011 – the production is fine for what it is. True, certain songs may sound heavier elsewhere, yet on examination the songs themselves are hard, if not impossible, to fault. Opener Exciter is outright speed metal, opening with Painkiller-esque drum-bashing and soon launching into metallic perfection, Halford’s high squealing working wonderfully alongside Glenn Tipton and KK Downing’s melodic twin-guitar assault – the first of many killer songs on this album. The following White Heat, Red Hot takes a slightly calmer, slower-paced, groovier route without backing down on quality, whilst Spooky Tooth cover Better By You, Better Than Me is a total classic, hints of epic grandeur covered in depressive world-weariness.

It’s a surprisingly diverse and progressive album, especially considering the more straightforward and poppier 80s Priest material that people are more used to. The title track’s majestic and complex gallop was clearly an influence on Iron Maiden (as of this time not having released a thing) as was the following Invader, opening with particularly Hawkwind-y synths and chugging. Halford gives himself an especially intense workout on Saints In Hell, a song that would verge on classic rock flamboyance were it not for the heaviness of the guitars, given their own technical chasm to surpass in the centre section of the song. The song goes on to approximate an early form of thrash riff, proving just how far ahead of their time Priest were. Even if you’re not interested in metallic history, you can’t help but be moved by Beyond The Realms Of Death, a seven-minute epic that moves from ballad to stomper, taking in glorious solos and ending with an especially jawbreaking shriek from Halford. The closing Heroes End can’t help but feel like a bit of a let-down after that, but it’s still a great track and I’d rather have it than not.

And that’s it! Nine tracks of perfect classic metal, one of the band’s most solid and filler-free releases and an easy contender for their best album ever. Of course, part of the joy of Priest is that when they’re good, they’re amazing, and they’re good a lot – picking the actual best album from them is nigh on impossible, even when considering their 70s material alone. Fortunately, that’s not a question I have to answer right now, so I’ll content myself with saying that Stained Class is a truly excellent album and a shining golden metal classic. The remaster comes with two bonus tracks, a previously unreleased demo version of Fire Burns Below from the Ram It Down sessions, and a live recording of Better By You, Better Than Me from LA in 1990. Neither are as good as the main album tracks, but are more than worth a listen, a bonus addition to what is, again, a classic album. Simply a must-own, and a source of personal shame that it took so long to gain official recognition.

Killing Songs :
Goat quoted CLASSIC
Other albums by Judas Priest that we have reviewed:
Judas Priest - Firepower reviewed by Goat and quoted 90 / 100
Judas Priest - Redeemer of Souls reviewed by Thomas and quoted 70 / 100
Judas Priest - Killing Machine / Hell Bent for Leather reviewed by Goat and quoted CLASSIC
Judas Priest - Screaming For Vengeance reviewed by Goat and quoted CLASSIC
Judas Priest - Sin After Sin reviewed by Phil and quoted CLASSIC
To see all 21 reviews click here
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