by Brian Krasman
What’s more iconic to the heavy metal industry than that cover? You know the one. Hand clutching an oversized blade, with the words “British Steel” emblazoned across the top and bottom. That picture’s in your head right now, isn’t it?
Not only is the cover a defining portrait for metal, but that 37-minute album also helped the genre make its transition into the 1980s, when it would become its own animal, with its distinct brand of DNA, never to be confused with anything else ever again. And Judas Priest would be the band to bring it screaming along, quite obviously, with their pin-point, twin guitar assault (courtesy K.K. Downing/Glenn Tipton) and “Metal God” Rob Halford’s voice reaching into the stratosphere for a bolt of lightning.
Yet, as metal was getting used to its legs, it also brandished something else, a trait that made people tilt their heads – accessibility. See, “British Steel” was the band’s sixth album and the one to really break Judas Priest with the masses in America. Imagine that. Six albums before raging success. In today’s world, Priest would have been on the scrap heap, tossed there by a business bingo playing suit who, himself, would be here today and gone tomorrow. Hearing this record today, in its 30th anniversary remastered form that was just reissued by Columbia Records for a new era of ears, it’s clear that “British Steel” is a classic, a record anyone who deems himself/herself a metal patron must own.
Originally a nine-song pack, with “Red, White and Blue” and a live version of “Grinder” added in 2001, “British Steel” is best-of-both-worlds perfection. It launched a harsher (for its time) brand of metal into the arenas, yet Priest buffed the corners just enough that it wouldn’t be too sharp for more mainstream listeners. People call that selling out. Fine, go ahead and levy that claim, but to do so would be to dismiss one of the most seminal albums of all time, a collection that has one great anthem barreling into another, be it “Metal Gods,” “Breaking the Law” and arguably their most well-known song “Living After Midnight.” Yes, the record may have geared some listeners toward the Bon Jovi/Cinderella/Ratt pack, but surely just as many bit those searing lead lines and that hellion of a voice and folded into Iron Maiden, Mercyful Fate and Metallica. It’s truly that all encompassing.
Packed in with the re-finished album comes a 16-cut live DVD, straight from the band’s 2009 tour where they played “British Steel” in its entirety, as well as some nice add-ons such as “Victim of Changes,” “Hell Patrol” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming,” yet another Priest classic. There’s also an interview segment about the making of the record. An even more expanded package also lands you a live CD version of what’s contained on the DVD concert (minus one track “The Prophecy,” which is no great loss), that sounds awfully damn impressive.
Plenty has changed in 30 years, but there’s no arguing the staying power and influence “British Steel” has had both on metal and Judas Priest’s still burning embers. This remains one of the genre’s go-to accomplishments, inspiring many to learn guitar through online classes, and it sounds just as mighty emanating from a sweaty outdoor shed as it does from your car’s stereo.