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Pioneer presents
Classic Albums: Judas Priest - British Steel (2001)

"I think British Steel is one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time, and by that I mean heavy metal, not hard rock, not alternative rock, not any other type of music. It is the archetypal heavy metal record, end of story."
- producer Tom Allom

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: November 06, 2001

Stars: Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton, K.K. Downing, Ian Hill
Other Stars: Tom Allom, Phil Alexander, Mick Wall, Scott Travis, Dave Holland
Director: Tom Kirby

Manufacturer: IFPI
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 00h:49m:37s
Release Date: November 06, 2001
UPC: 801213900299
Genre: metal

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ AAA- B+

DVD Review

"British Steel wasn't overnight an amazing album or a classic album—it's earned that accolade." -Glenn Tipton

For this reviewer, the opportunity to write about a band and an album that has been one of the most influential in my career as a musician, is both an honor and a daunting task. Judas Priest defined the term heavy metal, long before it had became the global force it has evolved into. Where acts like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath preceded Priest in the heavy metal movement through the early 1970s, Judas Priest's aggressive twin guitar format and searing vocal performances would redefine the genre. With the release of their 1980 album Priest would kick the doors open and provide the prototype for the thousands of bands who would follow in their footsteps. This was quintessential heavy metal—this was British Steel.

Their roots were appropriately in England's industrial heartland, where iron works (and in fact the British Steel company) were part of the landscape. Where many of the heavier bands of the day were relying on blues patterns for their influence, Judas Priest would steer their music away from the formula with the benefit of two guitars, supplied by Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, and began experimenting in more complex arrangements. Their debut album, 1974's Rocka Rolla, evidenced their blues roots, but its 1976 followup unleashed the first of a series of albums with innovative guitar harmonies and blazing, signature solo work, which framed the powerful vocal abilities of singer Rob Halford. With trademarks like The Ripper, Genocide and the epic Victim Of Changes, the album Sad Wings Of Destiny would provide the groundwork for its successors: Sin After Sin (1977), Stained Class (1978), Killing Machine (1979 - released in the US as Hell Bent For Leather) and the Japanese live album Unleashed In The East (1979). With constant touring, the band had built up a huge and loyal international following, but the release of British Steel would finally break the band in America, and elevate them to the stature of Metal Gods.

Recorded at Tittenhurst Park, the studio in Ringo Starr's (and previously John Lennon's) home, British Steel combined all the elements that had made Judas Priest a force to be reckoned with. Tom Allom's production showcased the band's crunching guitar sound in its heaviest production to date. Rob Halford's commanding vocals were front and center, delivering the unrelenting rasp and range that few can muster. Ian Hill's bass parts solidified the bottom end, while Dave Holland's tight drumming tied everything together. Dueling guitar solos, interesting arrangements, and a diverse mix of powerful and catchy songs were enhanced by a number of home made sound effects, and gave the album a signature sound that would become the hallmark of 1980s' metal. The single Living After Midnight became a metal anthem, and got the band its first real radio exposure in North America. The tracks Rapid Fire, Metal Gods, Breaking The Law, Grinder, The Rage, You Don't Have To Be Old To Be Wise, United, and Steeler combined to create a record that has since become a classic, and a staple in any metal collection.

This Classic Albums DVD takes us back to the creation of that album. Band members Glenn Tipton, K.K. Downing, Rob Halford and Ian Hill appear in a series of present day interview clips recounting the process of recording their breakthrough album. Glenn and K.K. are featured both in live demonstrations of many of the guitar parts written for British Steel, and joined by producer Tom Allom in the studio discussing many of the challenges and stories in making that record. The history of the band is intercut with a number of period live performance outtakes, which were of surprisingly high quality—including all too brief Island Of Domination and Rocka Rolla clips from a Sad Wings Of Destiny era Old Grey Whistle Test TV appearance that I hope we see more of in the future. The band discusses how they ended up taking over the whole house for their recording sessions, and how they achieved many of the signature sound effects that embellish their tracks. While not every track is examined individually (notably absent are Steeler and You Don't Have To Be Old To Be Wise), the majority are looked at, with focus on some of the elements which defined each piece. Kerrang! editor Phil Alexander and journalist Mick Wall also add commentary to the documentary on the band's style and the album's influence.

With over a quarter century of history behind them now, Judas Priest have stood the test of time. Their definitive style exhibits a sense of taste and class that few can supercede. The twin guitar, full frontal assault of Tipton and Downing, and Halford's gritty, authoritative vocals, which stretch the sonic boundaries of the human voice to its extremes, are anything but subtle, but Judas Priest's place in metal history is not born out of sheer intensity alone. The compositions written by this band show attention to detail, both in their musicality and arrangements, and British Steel stands as a testament to this accomplishment. Priest's 1982 milestone, Screaming For Vengeance, may have brought legions of younger fans onto the bandwagon, but British Steel set the stage for the band's continued success, and remains one of the all-time classics in the metal genre, and stands its ground to this day. Highly recommend.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Classic Albums: Judas Priest—British Steel is presented in anamorphic widescreen. Image quality is exceptional for a documentary, with great color rendition, solid black levels and a lack of source-based anomalies. Most of the archival footage looks extremely good, though clips from the promotional videos do exhibit minor nicks and scratches and have less color fidelity. I think fans will be quite pleased with this.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: As a documentary, there are several different sources of audio. The interview footage sounds perfect, as do the musical overlays from the album that are featured during each segment. The in-studio footage where the band members are listening to the tracks is captured with room mikes, so the musical parts in these segments are not as prominent to accomodate the commentary being provided. Archival material also varies in quality, but none is anywhere near unacceptable. The guitar demonstrations sound a little raw due to the location recording, but it is still very easy to discern who is playing what.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 7 cues and remote access
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Promo videos
  2. Live footage
  3. Extra interviews
Extras Review: The extras section provides almost as much content as the feature, with a total time of 36m:08s. These features can either be accessed on a chapter-by-chapter basis, or played through in their entirety.

First, a 1991 live performance of Grinder from the Rockin' In Rio festival. Video quality is acceptable, with audio being the weak point here, lacking a lot of the definition and heaviness we have come to expect from Judas Priest.

Next are the original promo videos for Living After Midnight and Breaking The Law. This is the kind of extra I really look forward to, as this vintage footage is now available for our home libraries. They don't have the gloss and glitz of a modern MTV productions, which makes them ever more valuable to this collector.

With its importance as one of the first "speed" metal songs, a segment on Rapid Fire, which didn't make the feature section, is included here. Rob discusses his choice of power lyrics, including the initiation of the word "desolisating" to the English lexicon.

Current Judas Priest drummer, Scott Travis gets a feature discussing his entrance into the band, where he also demonstrates a few of the licks used on the British Steel album, including the signature intro to Living After Midnight, which is about as rudimentary as Scott's playing ever gets. How about showing us some of those fills from Steeler?

More outtakes include discussions of some of the band's earliest performances, which were not quite the leather studded, highly explosive productions modern Priest fans have gotten used to.

The next section has the band discussing the origins of the name of the album and its somewhat controversial cover art, though I'm not certain there is a consensus here. British Steel is the name of an iron foundry where Tipton had worked at one time, though Rob and Ian differ in their recollection of who actually penned the name. This cover remains an icon in metal history.

One of the rooms at Tittlehurst Park was used to film John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Imagine video, and the band recount their feelings while watching the video from that room after John's assassination.

The final segment recounts a couple of road stories, including Halford's last live appearance with Priest in Toronto, where the show got off to a rather dubious start.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

With the remasters of their CD catalogue making their way to store shelves, the release of the Classic Albums: Judas Priest—British Steel documentary on DVD is more than welcome. British Steel is indeed a classic album, and this disc gives fans an opportunity to look at its production through the eyes of the band itself. The archival footage is worth the price of admission alone, but the interviews shed light on the making of part of the heavy metal dynasty, and I highly recommend this disc to all lovers of true heavy metal.


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