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Book Review: Judas Priest’s British Steel by Neil Daniel

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Following in the tradition of the 33 1/3 series, which devotes a pocket-sized book to a particular album, England’s Wymer Publishing have introduced Rock Landmarks, an imprint which is devoted to hard rock classics. These books are the size of a standard CD jewel case, and are under 100 pages in length. The inaugural title was Jerry Bloom’s study of Rainbow’s Long Live Rock And Roll. The second in the series focuses on Judas Priest’s classic 1980 LP British Steel, and was written by the prolific Neil Daniels.

For heavy metal, 1980 was a banner year. Maybe it was a belated answer to punk, but metal bands old and new stepped up with a vengeance that year. Judas Priest’s British Steel was their sixth album, and while they had been steadily gaining traction, they were feeling the pressure to deliver a hit.

Daniels begins with a short history of the band, and their various permutations since forming in 1969. By 1980 they had coalesced into the classic lineup of Rob Halford (vocals), K.K. Downing (guitar), Glenn Tipton (guitar), Ian Hill (bass), and Dave Holland (drums). He then discusses the albums that led up to British Steel, including Rocka Rolla, Sad Wings Of Destiny, Sin After Sin, Stained Class, and Hell Bent For Leather. While working British Steel, the live Unleased In The East was becoming the band’s best selling record yet, and the stage was set for a breakthrough in the U.S.

As Daniels shows in his track by track breakdown of the nine songs that make up British Steel, Judas Priest delivered the goods. Both “Breaking The Law,” and “Living After Midnight” became radio anthems, and the videos really broke the band Stateside. There were a number of album cuts which contributed to the high esteem this record is held by so many. Cuts such as “Metal Gods,” “Rapid Fire,” and “Steeler” not only proved to be popular at the time, but proved to be inspirational to later thrash heroes Metallica and Anthrax.

In closing, Neil Daniels includes various reactions to the album, and its iconic cover art, from other musicians and critics. There is also a chronology, discography, and a listing of the 1980 supporting tour. For a relatively small book, Judas Priest’s British Steel provides a surprising amount of information on this classic album and band.

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