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Judas Priest: The Making Of British Steel

In 2005, Metal Hammer unfurled the story of one of the most influential albums of all time. A tale of bottles and Beatles

It was 1980, one of the most important years in the history of metal. NWOBHM kicked in with the release of the debut albums from Iron Maiden and Def Leppard and two classics from Saxon. AC/DC offered up Back In Black, Motörhead gave us Ace Of Spades and Black Sabbath pitched in with Heaven And Hell. Oh, and someone had the idea of organising a festival at Donington Park, called it Monsters Of Rock and started an ongoing legend. Right up there with all of these landmarks was an album called British Steel from Judas Priest, which in many ways defined the style, sound and image of metal as we know it today.

Guitarist KK Downing refers to it as The People’s Album. And the recording process included broken milk bottles, a billiard cue and a cutlery drawer. Oh, and then there was the story that the tapes of the album were stolen and held to ransom.

“I think this is where we found our direction,” says vocalist Rob Halford, recalling that glorious period in Priest’s history. “Up until that point, although we’d done well, there was a feeling in the band that we really didn’t have a proper focus.”

Priest had started in 1969, although they came into their own five years later. By this time the line-up was cemented with Rob Halford (vocals), Glenn Tipton and KK Downing (both guitar) and Ian Hill (bass). For debut album Rocka Rolla (released in 1974), they had John Hinch on drums. But, in classic Spïnal Tap fashion, the band were to have a succession of drummers over the next few years, before Dave Holland arrived in 1979.

The first Priest classic album, 1976’s Sad Wings Of Destiny, was to be their last for independent label Gull. A deal with CBS (now Columbia) led to a significant step up for Priest. Each of the next three albums – Sin After Sin (1977), Stained Class and The Killing Machine (both 1978; The Killing Machine was called Hell Bent For Leather in America) – saw the band becoming increasingly popular. By 1979 they’d even had a Top 20 in the UK with Take On The World. The same year, the live Unleashed In The East gave Priest their first top 10 album in Britain, and finally cracked the top 100 in America.

“I think Judas Priest were ready for the big breakthrough in the States,” says producer Tom Allom, who first worked with the Brummie band on their Unleashed In The East album. “They had steadily built up their following, and what they now needed, really, was a commercial album.”

The band decided to work with Tom Allom again, on their next studio album.

“We’d met Tom a few years earlier, but turned down the chance to work with him, because we thought he was too posh!” recalls Tipton, with something of a chuckle.

“Tom really was a great man to be with,” adds fellow guitarist Downing. “He knew how to party as well. There were many nights when we’d have to get him home and tuck him in bed!”

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