Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Judas Priest - Sad Wings Of Destiny

Judas Priest
Sad Wings Of Destiny

Released 1976 on Gull / RCA
Reviewed by Dog 3000, 20/06/2003ce

So how come Black Sabbath gets all the credit?

Sure they "came first" (*cough*ledzeppelin), but Judas Priest added a lot of important riffs to the lexicon of what we know and love these days as "Heavy Metal." For starters, the DOUBLE LEAD GUITARS of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing: allowing for a lot more dynamics of shred than the solo work of a Jimmy Page or Tony Iommi (who had to resort to overdubbing to get the following effects): 1) one guy riffs while the other guy solos, or 2) better yet toss the solo back and forth between the two guitarists like a hot potato, 3) simultaneous double guitar solos, which could either be a) harmonized or b) dissonant, and most important of all 4) when both guitars bear down on interlocking rhythms and unleash that Teutonic chugga-chug noise that has made Iron Maiden and Metallica into zillionaires. For the mere fact that "Sad Wings of Destiny" was the FIRST record EVER to feature "THAT METAL RIFFING SOUND" (so says me, dare ya to prove otherwise!) this qualifies as one of the greatest of unsung records.

And forget ye not the VOICE of Rob Halford. There are precedents for high-register wailing in "heavy rock" (see: Uriah Heep, Queen, the JP debut "Rocka Rolla") but never before had a wailer positively SHRIEKED the way Rob began to on this, the second and finest Judas Priest LP. It's not just that he hits high notes, he delivers those high notes with tremendous emotional POWER (or KRAFT as the Germans say), like Janis Joplin you can immediately "feel it" without even hearing the words. Now you take leather-lungedness like that and throw in a dose of "relatively subdued" (!) Peter Hammill-style histrionics, and again you've found the Vocal Stylistic Rosetta Stone for later metal millionaires like Bruce Dickinson, Jim Hetfield, and their thousands of lesser-known 3rd generation metal minions.

My (vinyl) copy of this unsung rocker is an American reissue from 1983, at which time Priest was ruling over the Hessian kiddies in the USA with corny teen rebellion anthems set to robotic Ramonesoid riffs, like "Breakin' The Law" and "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" Now if this is the sort of thing you think of when you hear the name "Judas Priest", hold the bus. In 1976 they were still mired in the murk of seventies doom and prog rock, and a doomier platter the world had never seen before (though plenty of later "death metal" bands have taken the "Sad Wings" vibe and run with it.) The cover art depicting an angel weeping in Hell nails it perfectly. Song titles like "Genocide", "Island of Domination" and "Deceiver" give off a stink of outright fascism. Like the Great Ring of Sauron, this metal was forged in all the pain and hatred of the world.

There is something weird about my LP in that side A and B are reversed on the label and the album cover, so I really don't know which side is first and which is second (in fact I've seen CD's listing it both ways!) But fortunately it doesn't matter -- each side works as a piece in itself, in fact at many points the songs segue right into each other. Thematically, the side that comprises "Victim of Changes", "The Ripper", "Dreamer" and "Dreamer Deceiver" focuses on evil perpetrated at the individual level: alcoholism, insanity, brainwashing cults, murder. While the other side comprising "Tyrant", "Genocide", "Epitaph" and "Island of Domination" focuses on larger collective horrors: fascist political urges and the inevitability of death and decay. (One theme that dominated the work of earlier proto-metallions like the Zeps and Sabs is glaringly absent: love, romance, man-woman relationships.)

"Wings" is also the strongest Priest album in terms of the song compositions themselves -- "Victim of Changes" features some marching-down-the-road-of-bone riffing that out-Sabbaths anything Ozzy & co. were doing by 1976. The creepy "Dreamer Deceiver" is exactly the sort of song that could make your parents believe there are subliminal suicide messages in rock music -- all creepy coked-out atmospheres, psychedelic as a vision of Satan at a midnight mass. "Epitaph" sounds like a suicidal Freddy Mercury piano ballad and includes a straight-from-the-Twilight-Zone twist ending (the name on the grave? It is YOUR name!) "Island Of Domination" is a loopy deth-boogie with lyrics about horsemen abducting you in the night to take you to The Island and stick needles in your face!

But best of all are the mini-epic "Tyrant" with it's twisting cascade of riffs and baroque doom lyrics ("As you perish each of you shall scream as you are slaught!"), and "The Ripper" which would have been a Top 10 hit in the Bizarro-world. Kaleidoscopic science fiction riffs, amazing dynamic tension (including one of the best gong accents ever) and more operatic nonsense in 2:50 than Queen managed on their entire "Night At The Opera" album, "Bohemian Rhapsody" included! "Prog" was never this catchy, and even better, the song is actually genuinely creepy and menacing as Rob slashes out in his role as Jack the Ripper: "I'm a nahhsty surprise / I'm the Devil in disguise! / I'm a FOOTSTEP at NIIIGHT! / I'M A SCREEEEEEAAAMMM! OFFFF! FRIIIIIIGGGHHHTTT!!!" "Oh heed my warning" indeed! I wouldn't want THAT sneaking up behind me on a cold London (er, Birmingham) night!

I figure if you got to boil your Metal down to just the purest of the pure, ditch your Maidens and your Metallicas and take this Sad Flight to the final Destiny of all ye sinners . . . for "He is Destructor / every man shall FAAAAAAALLLLL!!!!!"

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