Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Judas Priest - Rocka Rolla (1974)

We all know that Black Sabbath are the grand fathers of heavy metal and the band that more or less invented the genre, but it was another Birmingham band that was the first to actually call themselves a heavy metal band. Judas Priest was formed in 1970 by guitarist K. K. Downing, bassist Ian "Skull" Hill and drummer John Ellis. They later added vocalist Al Atkins to the line-up, who's previous band was called Judas Priest, a name that the new group decided to take. This line-up however did not last very long because of several reasons, so both Atkins and Ellis left, and after a couple of short lived replacements (Alan Moore and Chris Campbell), the band finally found solid ground in David Hinch and Rob Halford. After another couple of years touring, the band added Glenn Tipton to the line-up, and got ready to release their debut album, entitled "Rocka Rolla".

This album did not create any big buzz when released, and even if Judas Priest is now considered one of the biggest and most influential bands in the history of metal, it still gets little to no recognition. Sure, the band has released several better albums over the 4 decades they have been around, but I always wondered why this album was often over looked. After several listening session, I see clearly why it has been so.

For a young fella like me, Judas Priest would not be the first band that would come to my mind when listening to "Rocka Rolla". During the time, it seems like the band was still in a phase of self exploration, because "Rocka Rolla" is sort of a mix between the progressive melodies of Led Zeppelin and the darker riffs of Black Sabbath. Hell, even Rob Halford is trying to find his inner Metal God in this album, performing a more softer version of himself here (although he does lay out some soaring screams throughout the album, indicating what was coming in the future).

If things would have gone a little different in the recording process, "Rocka Rolla" could have been a completely different album. The production is sub par, with the reason for it being technical issues in the studio. Also, the producer of the album, Rodger Bain, rejected several songs for this album, including "Tyrant", "Epitaph", "Ripper", and a early version of "Victim of Changes" (all these songs eventually made it into the following album, "Sad Wings of Destiny". Bain may be famous for producing the first three albums by Black Sabbath, but he did sort of drop the ball on "Rocka Rolla". Bain also had to cut down the song "Caviar And Meths" from its original 14 minute length, to a measly 2. Unfortunately, there is no recording of the original song, but Al Atkins did include it in his 1998 album "Victim of Changes" in a 7 minute form.

Looking past the production, there are a couple of songs that are pretty decent, even if they are no where near the band's best material. The title track has a nice groove to it, much like the one Kiss could create in their glory days. The guitars in it are also well crafted, reminiscing of ZZ Top's sweet blues rock. "Never Satisfied" is another nice little piece, one that could have easily been in one of Black Sabbath's early records, but the mesmerizing dual guitar of Downing and Tipton gives the song its own touch, and fortunately for us, this would not the last time we would hear these two guys make sweet music together.

Besides from those two, the rest of the songs in "Rocka Rolla" are either too slow or too muddy to fully enjoy them. It is painfully obvious that the production hurts the album in any way possible, and it does not help that some of the better songs was rejected for this album just because they did not have enough commercial attraction. Still, "Rocka Rolla" is a rough work that should be appreciated, not because of the quality in it, but as the start for one of the best, and one of the first, heavy metal groups of all time. Rocka Rolla all night long.

Songs worthy of recognition: Rocka Rolla, Never Satisfied, Run of The Mill

Rating: 5,5/10 Cheaters

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