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British Steel: 30th Anniversary Edition reviewed by

Friday, June 25, 2010

People throw out the term "classic" so often that it tends to lose its true meaning, but when talking about JUDAS PRIEST's 1980 grand slam"British Steel" the meaning of the word cannot be overstated. It is a classic much like AC/DC's "Back in Black", IRON MAIDEN's "The Number of the Beast", BLACK SABBATH's "Paranoid", andMETALLICA's "Master of Puppets". It is an album that has stood the test of time, sounding as relevant now as it did 30 years ago, based on the establishment of a genre-defining style and a collection of nine flawless, memorable, and immediately recognizable songs. The 30th anniversary edition is now presented to you in suitably remastered form with two bonus tracks, revised artwork (the original cover still stuns the eyes), and an accompanying DVD featuring a full performance and a very informative interview with vocalist Rob Halford, bassist Ian Hill, and guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton. 

As for "British Steel" proper, the only problem is describing its greatness is one of reigning in the unbridled enthusiasm and staving off the inclination to ramble endlessly. I'll try to be succinct. Though 1979's "Hell Bent for Leather" is a classic in its own right, something clicked during the "British Steel" sessions that resulted in the band sharpening its approach to songwriting by compacting its legendary armored attack into nine surgically precise compositions that pound for pound offered just as much, if not more, metal, while putting greater emphasis on catchiness. Both sound and delivery are distinguishing factors, as the recordings feature an unparalleled instrument clarity, as well as a lockstep, militaristic approach previously unheard of and in many respects still unmatched by albums released since.

Sandwiched between too all-out head bangers in "Rapid Fire" and"Steeler" were seven truly diverse tracks, each one a different kind of highlight and inclusive of some of the greatest riffs and melodies in the history of heavy metal. "Breaking the Law" and "Living After Midnight"are the breakout hits on a breakout album, each quintessential anthems with rousing, made-for-FM-radio choruses. "Metal Gods" is the metal march to end all metal marches and "Grinder" is just downright nasty with that clipped bluntness of the main riff and a chorus that is one of the most infamous ever written (yet it is a metaphor for breaking out of life's spirit-destroying routines, as Halford notes during the interview portion of the DVD). "The Rage" offers yet another stark compositional contrast with its reggae-gone-metal verse (still Ian Hill's most conspicuous moment) and a iron and steel avalanche of a chorus that is overwhelmingly heavy even by today's standards. "You Don't Have to Be Old to be Wise" is in many respects the album's most dynamic cut with a refrain tailor-made for the sing-along, while "United" is one of the most, well, unifying heavy metal shout-outs of all time; a simple song with a simple message, yet a message that defines the strength and life-long bonds of the heavy metal community, alternate interpretations notwithstanding.

Bonus-wise, the CD portion of the package rounds out with a live version of "Grinder" and a touching, if melodramatic, cut recorded in 1985 called"Red, White, and Blue". Additionally, Dave Shack's liner notes poignantly capture the feelings evoked by "British Steel" both when it was first released and 30 years later.

That brings us to a spectacular bonus DVD, the centerpiece of which is an excellent 16-song live performance from last year's 30th Anniversary Tour, beginning with "British Steel" played in its entirety. A special selection of tunes like "The Ripper", "Diamonds & Rust", "Victim of Changes","Freewheel Burning", and "You've got another Thing Comin'" follow, sitting alongside "Hell Patrol" and "Prophecy" (from "Nostradamus"). Great audio, great video; case closed. The 30-minute "The Making of British Steel Interview" is engrossing, as each member discusses each of the nine songs, a well as the details of the recording sessions at Tittenhurst Park. The stories behind the creation of the sound effects used for "Metal Gods" are worth the price of admission alone. 

What more can be said about "British Steel"? Lots more, but it's time to wrap things up. In a nutshell, "British Steel" is an album beloved by generations of fans and will continue to be loved by future generations. The 30th Anniversary Edition is an outstanding tribute to it. While an 11 would be a more accurate rating, we'll have to settle on a 10.

- Scott Alisoglu


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