Judas Priest, Breaking the Law (April 1980) — Heavy Metal timeline, part 17

Meanwhile, also part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and coming out in the same month as Iron Maiden, we have Judas Priest’s album British Steel. Here’s Breaking the Law, the second (and most successful) single from that album:

Having formed right back in 1969, Judas Priest had been a going concern for a full decade and British Steel was their sixth album. But it was their commercial breakthrough, and marked the arrival at what’s considered their classic style. If Iron Maiden stripped away some of the accoutrements of classic hard rock (keyboard textures, the blues influence), then Judas Priest took this simplification process to an extreme. Breaking the Law comes in at a positively economical 2:36, and makes no effort to cover a lot of ground in that time. Here, for example, are the lyrics of the chorus:

Breaking the law, breaking the law
Breaking the law, breaking the law
Breaking the law, breaking the law
Breaking the law, breaking the law

Although the musical vocabulary is pure hard rock — distorted guitar riffs, wailing solos, heavy drumming and powerful half-screamed vocals — the structure of most of the songs is more like pop music. The result of this hybrid is songs that are immediately memorable on a first listen, but which achieve that at the cost of not necessarily having much to add on second and subsequent listens. It’s telling that the AllMusic Guide entry for British Steel classifies it as “Pop/Rock”. The first single from the album, Living After Midnight, takes this approach to its logical limit.

It’s hard to know exactly what to make of this. To me, Priest’s songs have that Chinese Food quality that you can enjoy them while you’re listening, but five minutes later you’ve forgotten all about them. Or looking at it another way, I like any given Judas Priest song, but a whole album of them is wearing: by the time I’ve heard three or four, I’m really done.

In the end, I suppose bands like Judas Priest are the reason why I’ve never been a huge fan of the NWOBHM, and find classic-rock era bands much more rewarding. That may be related to my tendency to listen to albums rather than songs.

Special bonus observation: when our four-piece band played the prog-jazz epic Luminol at Mitcheldean Folk Festival, our bass player was Mario Ermoyenous. His main gig is with the metal band Voodoo Sioux. Their drummer, Nigel Halford, is Rob Halford’s brother, and I figure they must have been in a band together at some time. So that gives me a Judas Priest Number of three.

4 responses to “Judas Priest, Breaking the Law (April 1980) — Heavy Metal timeline, part 17

  1. Pingback: Whitesnake, Fool for Your Loving (May 1980) — Heavy Metal timeline, part 18 | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  2. Pingback: Motörhead, Ace of Spades (October 1980) — Heavy Metal timeline, part 20 | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  3. Pingback: Iron Maiden, Phantom of the Opera (April 1980) — Heavy Metal timeline, part 16 | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  4. Pingback: What I’ve been listening to in 2015 | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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