Released in September 1979, Unleashed in the East, recorded on the Japanese leg of their Hell Bent for Leather tour, capped Judas Priest’s first long and storied decade, six months before their mainstream breakthrough British Steel. It’s a killer set, brightly produced, and enlivened some of their early material, which could tend towards studio stiffness. It was itself partly a studio effort, as singer Rob Halford had to add vocals after the fact, but anyone who loves this band or live records in general couldn’t, or shouldn’t, care less: live albums, live rock albums in particular, are by their nature a conceit of production.
This was Judas Priest’s moment: between 1976 and 1980 they released six defining albums, all the while with punk nipping at their heels — and, I think, the band was listening to what was happening on the street, just based on the evidence of Killing Machine/Hell Bent For Leather and British Steel. But metal audiences were coming into their own too, thanks in large part to Priest’s own tireless touring and a body of work that laid the foundation for the faster, thrashier, “New Wave of British Heavy Metal.” Having grown out of the same general scene as Black Sabbath, Judas Priest’s trajectory was away from the early 70s heavy stoner rock that drove so many of that era’s bands into extinction (including, eventually, Sabbath mach 1). After a middling initial effort, Priest (like Rush) found a signature metal sound early on that wasn’t Sabbath or Zep redux and that benefited from a progressive rock outlook, so that they were as comfortable covering Spooky Tooth or Joan Baez (“Diamonds and Rust,” their first real taste of success) as they were busting out such chestnuts as “Island of Domination.”
“Victim of Changes,” as it appears on Unleashed in the East, is the highlight of Priest in the 70s. Originally recorded for 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny, the song is flagship NWOBHM, its galloping chug and dynamic shifts supporting metal’s best and darkest lyrical effort pre-Metallica, unwinding around themes of alcoholic deterioration and lost love that, as voiced by Halford in his keening wail, describe heart-rending loss. No sword and sorcery here, or southern crosses: the bedevilment in human relationships is fodder enough. Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, Priest’s twin guitar threat, are at their creative peak, with interplay both highly technical and soulful, while bassist Ian Hill and Les Binks (offering some early double bass drum action) lay down the solid propulsive core so important to Priest’s success. Heavy. Essential.
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