Judas Priest “Sad Wings of Destiny” (Heavy Metal) 1976 [Music/Review]

9/10

Year: 1976
Genre: Heavy Metal
Label: Gull
Album Versions: Discogs

”Any back alley street is where we’ll probably meet.
Underneath a gas lamp where the air’s cold and damp.
I’m a nasty surprise, I’m a devil in disguise.
I’m a footstep at night, I’m a scream of the fright.

THE RIPPER

OPINION

This could be called the bands real debut, since they where extremely disappointed with 1974’s “Rocka Rolla”, both the mixing, cover art and marketing of the album. They and most fans count this as the real debut album.

More or less all tracks are gold, with opening track “Victims of Change” as the crown jewel. “Dreamer Deciver” feels very different than later live versions, not in a bad way, just different. “Tyrant” is another of the top tracks, it gives me goosebumps everytime I listen to it. I think it’s only “Epitaph” I could do without. A milestone that is a must in every metalfans collection.

HISTORY

The recording took place over two weeks in November and December 1975 at Rockfield Studios in Wales with producers Jeffrey Calvert and Gereint “Max West” Hughes, and Chris Tsangarides as co-engineer. Calvert and Hughes were the main members of the pop group Typically Tropical who topped the UK charts in 1975 with “Barbados”, Gull’s first hit. Halford tells he was very disappointed at first since the guys new nothing about metal, but was very satisfied with the end result. The band stayed sober during the recording sessions, which lasted from 3:00 pm until 3:00 am every day. Mixing took a week at Morgan Studios in London.

Finances were tight: the record label Gull provided a recording budget of £2,000 for each of the band’s first two albums. During the recording of Sad Wings of Destiny, band members restricted themselves to one meal a day, and several took on part-time work: Tipton as a gardener, Downing in a factory, and Hill driving a delivery van. The group went into the studio with the intention of making an album that mixed straight-ahead rock with a progressive edge.

The backcover of the original UK LP

Sad Wings of Destiny was released 23 March 1976, and the same month “The Ripper” appeared as a single backed with “Island of Domination”. The album was initially published and distributed by Janus Records in the United States. The album had the A-side and B-side reversed, so that “Prelude” opens the second side and “Victim of Changes” the first, while the sleeve has “Prelude” opening the first side.

The album had little commercial success at first and had difficulty getting noticed due to critical competition from the rise of punk rock. The band supported the album with a headlining tour[6] of the UK from 6 April to 20 June 1976. The album peaked at No. 48 in the UK, and was awarded a gold record in 1989. Sad Wings of Destiny arrived at the same time as other influential metal albums from the late 70’s – the same year saw the release of Rising from Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow and Virgin Killer from Scorpions.

The band had grown dissatisfied with Gull; the tight finances led Moore to leave the band a second time—this time permanently. The album caught the attention of CBS Records, and with the help of new manager David Hemmings, the band signed with CBS and received a £60000 budget for their next record, Sin After Sin (1977). Downing described how the disappointed feelings the group had over Gull’s management influenced the dark themes that appeared on Sad Wings of Destiny. The signing required breaking their contract with Gull, resulting in the rights to the first two albums and all related recordings—including demos—becoming property of Gull. Gull periodically repackaged and re-released the material from these albums, such as on the 1981 double album Hero, Hero. For the most part, the band was to abandon the progressive rock elements of their first two albums for a more straight-ahead heavy rock sound; the band revisited these progressive elements in 2008 on the album Nostradamus.

Reception and legacy

Fans, critics, and the band have come to see Sad Wings of Destiny as the album on which Judas Priest consolidated their sound and image. In Rolling Stone Kris Nicholson gave the album a positive review, comparing it favourably to Deep Purple’s Machine Head of 1972.[Martin Popoff cites the album’s “reinvention” of the heavy metal genre. The technical dexterity and operatic vocals pointed toward trends in heavy metal that new wave of British heavy metal bands such as Iron Maiden were to follow, and the album’s dark themes reappeared in the 1980s American thrash metal, such as in the music of Slayer and Metallica. An early sign of the band’s influence was that Van Halen included “Victim of Changes” in their sets before achieving fame. Dave Mustaine of Megadeth relates that his brother-in-law punched him in the face for listening to Sad Wings of Destiny; Mustaine called this a turning point, where he chose heavy metal as a career as “revenge”. Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth named Sad Wings of Destiny his second favourite metal album. Halford has called the album his favourite of the band’s.

“Victim of Changes”, “The Ripper”, “Tyrant”, and “Genocide”—with an extended introduction—appear on the band’s first live album, Unleashed in the East (1979). The first three of those songs have survived until 2019 in the band’s setlists, with “Victim of Changes” being one of the band’s most played songs ever, while “Genocide” got retired in the early 1980s. With “Dreamer Deceiver”, “Deceiver” and “Island of Domination” present on 1975-76 set lists, 7 of the album’s 9 songs have been performed in concert.

American 8-track version of the album.

During the Sad Wings sessions, Howells encouraged the band to work on a heavy metal cover of “Diamonds & Rust” by folk singer Joan Baez, but it did not appear on the album. The band had a hit in the UK with a re-recording of the cover version the following year, after they had moved to CBS Records. Gull released the version from the Sad Wings sessions in 1978 on the compilation album The Best of Judas Priest.

Judas Priest’s 1990 album Painkiller features a winged figure Halford has described as a futuristic version of the Fallen Angel from the Sad Wings of Destiny cover. The band’s 2005 album Angel of Retribution—with Halford again in the band—revives the Fallen Angel again: the cover concept has the angel rise and seek retribution, and the song “Judas Rising” has him cast off his gloom and rise in optimism.

After Halford left the group in the 1990s, Tim Owens was hired to replace him after auditioning “Victim of Changes” and “The Ripper”. Downing and Tipton thereafter nicknamed Owens “The Ripper”. Judas Priest’s original singer Al Atkins recorded a version of “Victim of Changes” for his album Victim of Changes of 1998.  Judas Priest frequently performed the song “Mother Sun” during the Sad Wings era, but never recorded it. The ballad, with its Queen-like vocals, has survived only in bootleg recordings. In 2014 Swedish metal band Portrait released a cover version as a B-side on a 2014 CD single.

The American Tape Version.

SONGS

Victim of Changes
The nearly eight-minute “Victim of Changes” displays a wide dynamic range in rhythm, texture, and mood, with heavy riffing, a melodic ballad section, and extended guitar leads. An almost classical-sounding twin-guitar introduction leads to the violent main riff. The lyrics tell of a woman whose hard-drinking results in losing her man to another woman. Inspired by Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog”, the heavy riff alternates with a cappella passages, Halford breaking into screaming falsettos during the slow break and dramatic conclusion of the song. The track began as two songs: “Whiskey Woman” and “Red Light Lady”. “Whiskey Woman” was an early Priest song by Downing and Atkins that the band chose not to include on their first album, though it had long been a crowd-pleasing opener at live shows and features on early demo recordings. To this the band wove in the slow “Red Light Lady”, a song Halford brought with him from his previous band, Hiroshima.

The Ripper
A busy, chugging, riff-heavy rocker, “The Ripper” features arrangements inspired by Queen–particularly in the high-pitched layered opening vocals and classical-tinged twin guitars. The lyrics of the Tipton-penned track are from the point of view of Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper.

Dreamer Deceiver
A slow ballad with crooning vocals and screaming lead soloing, the song serves as introduction to the heavy “Deceiver” which follows it. Atkins originally received partial credit for both tracks, but disclaimed involvement in them; later releases removed it.

The French 7” Version.

Deceiver
A heavy song with a chugging riff presaging the technical style of speed metal, “Deceiver” features energetic soloing and a heavy, Black Sabbath-like break with soaring, high-pitched vocals, climaxing in a repetitive acoustic closing.

Prelude
“Prelude” is a short baroque instrumental, alternating between the tonic and dominant, and is arranged for keyboards, guitars, and tom-tom drums. Despite the title, “Prelude” is musically unrelated to the following track, “Tyrant”.

Tyrant
A short track full of many parts and tempo changes, Halford has said “Tyrant” expresses his “aversion towards any form of control”.

A Japanese 7” version.

Genocide
A forward-looking, riff-heavy rocker, bearing the influence of heavy rockers such as the Deep Purple tracks “Woman from Tokyo” and “Burn”. Halford expressed hope that the song’s “strong and graphic” lyrics would “be provocative and somewhat controversial and to stimulate people”. The phrase “sin after sin” from the lyrics to “Genocide” provided the title to the band’s next album.

Epitaph
A quiet track with piano backing and Queen-like layered vocals, Halford said the lyrics to “Epitaph” express frustration at a lack of place for the young or old in modern cities.

Island of Domination
The side-closing “Island of Domination” is a heavy rocker with a complex riff in a style reminiscent of Black Sabbath. Downing described the lyrics as personal to Halford, joking of their having “probably a few innuendoes”.

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