Saturday, October 15, 2011

baby priest

what it is: sad wings of destiny / sin after sin
where i found it: the tour van

mister halford

You probably have some preconceptions about Judas Priest. Maybe you envision Beavis and Butthead singing Breaking the Law, the funny little documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot, or images of Rob Halford in leather gear riding a motorcycle on stage. While each of these things has it's value, what you should really be focusing on are their second and third albums, Sad Wings of Destiny and Sin after Sin.

This material precedes the fist banging, dumbed down, cartoon like band they would become. The compositions are exceedingly complex (but never sound forced) and the guitar players are ablaze and flowing with more riffs and ideas than you can shake a stick at. The thing really to hear here, though, are Rob Halford's vocals: highly operatic, endlessly surprising, never grating. Sometimes their sheer extremity makes me laugh, but there's really no precedent for the way he bats you from side to side with vibrato, echo, harmonies, shrieking, guttural blues howls and lyrics inspired by everything from Jack the Ripper to old ghostly men. 

This is metal before any template existed. Some parts sound like Queen, some like prog-rock. There's a Joan Baez cover and, a weird fugue, some heavy shuffle, and surprisingly angular rock twists/turns. You can hear a hundred omens fortelling of future bands to come. There's also a lot of thinly veiled sublimation of homosexual lust (e.g. a song about pick up spots on Fire Island*, and a song called Island of Domination), but this is before Halford came out of the closet, so everyone thought it was just super macho.

Like early Scorpions (see that earlier post), I first heard this stuff in the tour van. I'm not providing any download link because this is pure album rock, never meant to be listened to on any goddamned iPod.

*footnote: other popular lyrical references to Fire Island include the following:

When the gay messiah comes
He will fall from the star of Studio 54
And appear on the sand of Fire Island's shore
- Rufus Wainwright

Don't go in the bushes
Because someone might grab ya or 
Someone might stab ya.
- the Village People (referring to what might happen on Fire Island in the throes of a Funky Weekend)