Judas Priest: British Steel: 30th Anniversary Edition

The metal gods' commercial breakthrough album has been deservingly given the deluxe reissue treatment.

Judas Priest

British Steel: 30th Anniversary Edition

Label: Sony Legacy
US Release Date: 2010-05-11
UK Release Date: 2010-05-10
Artist Website

Although Judas Priest had already enjoyed an extraordinary career by 1979, with five landmark albums and a superb live album already behind them, what remained out of their grasp was the much sought-after American market. Sure, the Birmingham quintet had played a pivotal role in reshaping mid-'70s heavy metal with Rainbow and Scorpions. The trifecta of Sad Wings of Destiny, Sin After Sin, and Stained Class remains one of the most towering three-album runs in the genre's history. However, for a band as preoccupied with global success as Priest was, innovation didn't amount to a hill of beans if the US sales weren't there.

1979’s superb Killing Machine (renamed Hell Bent For Leather in North America) streamlined the band’s sound considerably. Tracks like “Delivering the Goods” and “Evening Star” incorporated a strong pop element into the music, but it remained a rather dark album. Despite a wickedly good cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)”, the album was a commercial disappointment, barely making a dent Stateside. With a new generation of British heavy metalers set to steal the spotlight in 1980 (Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, and Diamond Head would release explosive debuts), it was imperative that if Judas Priest was going to make a statement, it had to happen immediately.

The end result was the sleek, über-catchy British Steel, and it was the crossover success they'd been striving for all that time, peaking at a very respectable position at number 34 on the Billboard album chart. While it's not the band's best album, they're still very proud of it because it was such a major turning point for them, and it remains a very popular title among their worldwide fanbase. So it's no surprise that they'd celebrate its 30th anniversary like they have, presenting the album along with a DVD of a complete 2009 live set in which they play the album in its entirety.

Several crucial factors separate British Steel from its five predecessors. Most noticeably, it's incredibly hook-oriented, led by two of the band's most enduring singles. At a paltry 2:43, "Breaking the Law" is the most immediate song in Priest's discography and also the most timeless. Guitarist Glenn Tipton's main riff is one of the simplest and most recognizable in rock history, and singer Rob Halford leads the charge with a performance that exudes swagger. To this day "Living After Midnight" is an anomaly, an oddly ebullient, slightly forced rave-up that resembles Kiss more than Judas Priest, but anyone who claims to be immune to the tune's positive energy and singalong chorus is lying. It's a great rock 'n' roll song that continues to bring down the house at concerts.

This album is also the band's first collaboration with producer Tom Allom, who would helm all of the band's albums in the 1980s. Previously an engineer on Black Sabbath's early work and producer of prog rockers Strawbs, Allom strips away the density of Priest's early sound in favor of a far cleaner tone. While it does render "Rapid Fire" and "Steeler" a little stale compared to Stained Class's "Exciter", it suits the more accessible fare perfectly, as well as the slower, heavier material like Halford's colossal signature song "Metal Gods", the churning "Grinder" (highlighted by Halford's brilliant use of lower-register vocals), the hugely underrated "You Don't Have to be Old to be Wise", and the stately march of "The Rage" (complete with an inexplicable yet oddly fitting reggae intro). The album's only big misstep is the plodding "United". This blatant knock-off of Queen's "We Will Rock You" and Killing Machine's single "Take on the World" is more boring than anything, a three-and-a-half-minute slog that kills the momentum between "Grinder" and "Living After Midnight".

Unlike past albums, this one is very focused lyrically. Metal "epics" like "Rapid Fire", "Metal Gods", and "Steeler" aside, youthful energy dominates the bulk of British Steel. The anti-authoritarian "Breaking the Law" speaks to disenfranchised teens ("You don't know what it's like!"), "Grinder" is a thinly veiled metaphor for conformity ("Never straight and narrow / I won't keep in time"), "You Don't Have to be Old to be Wise" is fairly self-explanatory, and "Living After Midnight" is sexually charged to an almost tongue in cheek degree ("My body's coming all night long!").

As for the DVD, it gives the fans exactly what they want. Shot in high definition at a cozy arena in Florida's Hard Rock Casino, the concert is an excellent glimpse of Priest in the present day. Sure, they've aged, and Halford's pipes aren't like they used to be, but Tipton and longtime co-guitarist KK Downing sound as flawless as ever. Halford uses his limited range to his advantage, offering unique vocal interpretations of classic songs, while still displaying the ability to dish out those glass-shattering screams every once in a while. Ironically, of the British Steel songs these old guys perform, "You Don't Have to be Old to be Wise" is the biggest revelation, the song having more bite in a live setting than it does on record. Of the seven other songs that comprise the concert's second half, early classic "The Ripper" and the oft-overlooked speedster "Freewheel Burning" are the two biggest standouts.

Also included on the DVD is a segment that goes into the making of the album. It's very straightforward, simply a hotel interview with Halford, Tipton, Downing, and bassist Ian Hill chatting away politely, but the band does an excellent job offering a detailed back story, even going over each and every song, something diehard fans will appreciate.

Oddly enough, on this special anniversary edition the album actually feels like it was lazily tossed in as a companion to the live DVD. The original artwork is nowhere to be seen, the bloody razor on the reissue paling in comparison to the iconic image designed by graphic artist Roslav Szaybo. In addition, the CD is sonically the exact same as the 2001 remaster, even coming with the same two pointless bonus tracks, and even worse, none of the album's credits are included in the booklet, with nary a mention of drummer Dave Holland. The fact that the band is trying to distance itself from Holland (who was convicted of raping a 17-year-old music student 16 years after leaving the band) is understandable. However, Holland played an important role on British Steel, providing the kind of taut rock 'n' roll backbeat that the material needed, and to simply turn a blind eye to his musical contribution to the band is a mistake.

In the end, although this 30th Anniversary Edition turned out to be a bigger mess than it needed to be, it's still easily worth purchasing. If you own the 2001 remaster, you will want to see the excellent DVD. If you're new to British Steel, this is as good an introduction as you'll find. Whether it deserves to be a canonical metal album is debatable, but it's one of the most important albums in the Judas Priest catalog, and for the most part it has aged wonderfully. It definitely deserves to be celebrated.






Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".


Roots Rocker Webb Wilder Shares a "Night Without Love" (premiere + interview)

Veteran roots rocker Webb Wilder turns back the hands of time on an old favorite of his with "Night Without Love".


The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.


July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.


With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.


Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.


MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.


Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.


Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.


John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."


'Run-Out Groove' Shows the Dark Side of Capitol Records

Music promoter Dave Morrell's memoir, Run Out Groove, recalls the underbelly of the mainstream music industry.


It's a Helluva of a World in Alain Corneau's 'Série Noire'

Alain Corneau's Série Noire is like a documentary of squalid desperation, albeit a slightly heightened and sardonic one.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.