Judas Priest invented heavy metal. Don't bother arguing because I'm right. Some folks claim it was Black Sabbath, but they were never metal, just dark, heavy rock. Sabbath owed too much to the sixties to ever be truly metal, although they made a decent enough job of it with Ronnie James Dio in the band.
Judas Priest, however, shook of the shackles of the past, and with twin lead guitars in tow, created a whole new sound, one that every single metal band of the last thirty years has aped in varying degrees. Almost as important as the music, they also invented the look. The leather boys with electric toys that leered out of every metal album cover and photoshoot right up until the present day.
And British Steel was the album that kicked it all off. They'd come close on Killing Machine (Hell Bent For Leather in the US), but with the opening track on British Steel they defined a genre. "Rapid Fire" is the song, and to this day, it's one of the most viscerally exciting metal songs of all time. Off the back of a trio of UK hit singles – "Breaking The Law", "United", and "Livin' After Midnight" – this was the record that took Judas Priest on the way to the enormodomes that were their home in the early to mid eighties. They would go on to make better albums in the shape of Screaming For Vengeance and Defenders Of The Faith, but this was the groundbreaker.
So, it's an album that's well worth celebrating, and on this triple disc, special edition, it's been done proud. I'm not sure about the new cover art, which loses a lot of the original impact, but once you get into the cross shaped foldout box, there are some delights in store. As well as some not so delightful moments.
First up is the original album. Or rather a straight reissue of the 2001 remastered edition, with the two bonus tracks – "Red, White & Blue", which as a Turbo outtake is well out of place, and a much more welcome live version of "Grinder" from 1984. The record holds up well, although there is a sag in the middle with "United" and "You Don't Have To Be Old To Be Wise", but those aside, the likes of "Rapid Fire", "Metal Gods", "The Rage", and "Steeler" are the templates for all Heavy Metal.
As a special thank you to the British fans who supported them through their lean, early years, and who propelled British Steel up the charts, 2009 saw Judas Priest performing the album in its entirety on a North American tour! The show on the 17th August at The Seminole Hard Rock Arena, Hollywood, Florida was recorded and filmed, and the 15 track CD and 16 track DVD which makes up the rest of the package is the result. Now, I saw Judas Priest last on their Nostradamus tour a couple of years back, and was shocked at the plodding, strained, performance of vocalist Rob Halford. I had hoped it was an off day, but not if this show is to be believed.
The DVD kicks off with the band blazing into "Rapid Fire", with Messrs Tipton, Downing, Hill, and Travis showing that time has not mellowed them. But the entrance of a barely audible, portly, denim clad(!) Halford knocks you for six. Again, you hope it's just a problem with the mix but, sadly, his hoarse, strained, pained looking performance lasts for the entire show. Which is a real shame, as the other band members, who've been together as a unit for 20 years, is impeccable. There are musical highlights a-plenty with the key tracks from British Steel augmented by some choice back catalogue material including "The Ripper", "Victim Of Changes" and "Freewheel Burning". The audio CD suffers from the same problem, but the joys of 5:1 surround and stereo sound, courtesy of original British Steel producer, Tom Allom, can't hide the one big flaw. The audio CD actually sounds better, but that may be down to the lack of visuals.
The DVD also throws in a 30 minute "Making of British Steel" interview, which is cheerfully billed as featuring the four original members of Judas Priest, something that had the pedant in me riled up, seeing as how technically, none of them are original members, and only Hill and Downing kind of, sort of, qualify, as honourary original members. Nothing new is shed on British Steel in the interview segment, but it is nice to see Ian Hill getting some long overdue praise. The package also contains a 20 page booklet, which has very little worth reading, and some grainy, ripped from DVD, photographs of the live show. A lost opportunity, when it could have been a vintage retrospective.
Despite my reservations at what could have been, this is out at a decent price, and if you don't have British Steel, then this is the version to buy. However, long time fans will probably walk away feeling a little bit cheated, as they're being asked to buy another copy of the 2001 CD, along with the DVD and live audio. Surely the live material could have been put out as a standalone package? But, and it's a big but, this is the birth of heavy metal, and that is something well worth celebrating.