Judas Priest: Sad wings of destiny
27/06/12 || Smalley
Some things are timed so perfectly, it’s fucken SCARY. A great example of just such timing is how Judas Priest rose to fame with their 1976 sophomore “Sad wings of destiny”, which coincided exactly with the downfall of the first notable metal band, Black Sabbath. Srsly, just the year before, Sabb was doin’ fine; they’d released the classic Sabotage (Ozzy-era hater or not, I can recognize a classic), which got good press, sold well, and produced some new fan faves. But in ’76? Oh, how the mighty did fall; Sabbath did the disappointingly light, keyboard-laden “Technical ecstasy”, and wouldn’t recover ‘til the 80’s, when everyone’s favorite magical singing midget saved ‘em from obscurity.
And that’s not even considering how some influential-to-metal-but-not-quite-metal bands like Led Zep and Deep Purple also had their downfalls that same fucken year; downright spooky timing! So, considering how this was before the NWoBHM, when it came to true metal, not just something like AC/DC that straddled the fence between hard rock & metal, but true-blue HEAVY METAL, the scene was lookin’ pretty sparse. In this context, “Sad wings” was exactly the push our beloved genre needed, courtesy of a band with enough great songwriting built up to create one of the most enduringly iconic metal records ever, and which made them THE preeminent post-Sabbath band for a while. And, while I’m sure the genre would’ve continued on without “wings”, metal would still look different today without this, that’s for damn sure.
8.5. If Sabbath overall had been more about creating dark, gloomy songwriting, with “wings”, Priest showed that they were more interested in crafting relatively lighter, more energetic songs, a truly “modern metal” style that many, many others would emulate in one way or another. Not to imply “wings” is as blistering as a say, “Painkiller”, but it still has plenty of pep in its step, and while it sometimes relies less on songwriting ingenuity to succeed, and more on Halford’s legendary vocals or Downing & Tipton’s almost-as-legendary guitar synergy (which prevents a 9 songwriting score), plenty of the song structures are still no slackers, with good, sustained energy, unexpected variations, and ambitious touches to enjoy. It doesn’t hurt that Priest had 6 years of existence beforehand to build up some awesome songwriting, or that some insane producer forced them to save some songs for “wings”, keeping ‘em off of “Rocka rolla”.
You get stuff like the epic, multi-part opener “Victim of changes”, which goes from driving metal to soft, beautiful ballad and back again, purely aggressive cuts such as “The ripper” and “Tyrant”, or straight-up, piano-laden ballads like “Dreamer deceiver” and “Epitaph”, so you get more than enough variety with “wings”. And, while some of Priest’s most iconic works may be the relatively commercial duo of British steel & Screaming for vengeance, I still sometimes hunger for the more ambitious edge of their pre-“Stained class” breakthroughs, so “Sad wings” definitely feeds my need with its more involved, often more emotional songwriting (ballads ftw!!!). So all in all, very good job here.
7. An old album, so duh, it sounds old; the rhythm guitar has this sort of dry, brittle aural quality, and the lead guitar sound is rather dated, so both get on my nerves just a little if I really have to focus on ‘em. Which of course, I do have to for this review, but when I’m just listening to the music “naturally”, it’s hardly an issue at all, so they don’t hurt the score here by much. Besides that, Rob’s voice is often given a medium reverb, which makes him sound even more epic, and he occupies a pretty good position within the mix, if perhaps not quite a perfect one. An acceptable drum sound and very audible bass helps to, er, help this section’s score a lil’ more, and distract some from the rhythm/lead sound issues. So yeah, “wings” is a decent, but still pretty old-sounding record, but that’s no biggie considering how great it is.
9. Three words: Tipton and Downing. Okay, so you’re gonna want more than just that, even though you shouldn’t if you’re a metalhead. But anyway, yeah, these guys are guitar heroes for damn good reasons, and “Sad wings” is the first real chapter in their legacy; you gotta love the synergy they have in the way they’ll double-team certain sections, either with one of ‘em holding a steady rhythm while the other goes exploring ‘round the frets some, or with both of them playing the same pattern together, doubling the punch.
As for soloing, there’s a lot of wild, crazy, agile energy in their’s, and plenty of it to boot, and I have to imagine many a modern metal guitarist was first inspired to pick up an ax as wee ones when they heard their incredible playing. The occasional more relaxed parts in the slower parts of the record particularly shine. I also love how a lil’ touch of soloing can sometimes come in completely unexpected and then cut out, which adds a nice accent to the proceedings without having to go so far as to take center stage and hog the song for a minute or so. Some pretty clean/acoustic guitar work helps out further, and just about every riff is intuitively catchy, though I wish a few of ‘em were just a little bit faster. Still, the generally good energy and thought put into all aspects gives T&D (tits ‘n dick?) the 9 here, so enjoy it, boys.
9. At this point, The Metal God’s vocals were generally a little bit “lighter”, and with less of the rough in-your-faceness we’ve become accustomed to on subsequent records, but his signature style is still in place; still plenty of energy, variation, and vocal range, with a lot of those long, high shrieks, which helps some tracks power through the occasional songwriting lull, and he switches styles up nicely for the ballads here (he even sounds like Elton John on certain moments of “Epitaph”, which is one of the piano tracks!!! Did they have an extra-special, secret collaborator here??).
You want the birth of operatic vocals being used in metal, you pretty much got it right here; his dramatic, climatic shrieking (teehee) near the end of “Victim of changes” is nothing short of a fucken star-making performance. Compared to Rob, some of Tipton’s backup vocals sound rather standard, but they still add to the depth of sound, achieving a “wall of voices” effect at times, so that’s definitely a cool addition.
8. Ian Hill provides nice, steady, rhythmic backing to the riffs all throughout here, with no real surprise bursts of noodling or anything, so the performance itself probably only deserves about a 7 or a 7.5, but I can hear it really well and it has a nice sound, so I feel inclined to go easy on it anyway, and hand it plenty of weed brownie points (MUCH better than the normal kind of brownie points, trust me). Typical, but enjoyable metal bass.
7.5. Alan Moore, while nowhere near being Gene Hoglan-fast, Tomas Haake-technical, or Dave Lombardo-groovy, still does a solid job here by giving every part of his kit good attention, and by doing either entertaining percussion that still doesn’t try to hog the spotlight, or by occasionally shining out by putting in energetic fills (his work on “Victim of changes”, baby!). The only sticking point is a relatively boring performance on “Deceiver”.
8.5. Yup, Tipton tickles some ivory on “Dreamer deceiver”, the foreboding interlude track “Prelude”, and “Epitaph”, and does a pretty, classy job of it on all of ‘em, especially the last. I don’t have much frame of reference when it comes to judging the quality of piano performances (or to judge anything really), but for its novelty factor, grace, and how well it’s integrated alongside all the metal, I have nothing but good to say for it.
8. Imaginative, personal writing about shit like alcoholism, finding/losing fairytale love, oppression of mankind, loneliness, with an unexpectedly epic, astrological sort of edge to them, plus a menacing lil’ charmer ‘bout Jack The Ripper. Anyway, check this out, off of “Dreamer Deciever”: “He said in the cosmos is a single sonic sound/That is vibrating constantly/And if we could grip and hold on to the note/We would see our minds were free/Oh they’re free/We are lost above/Floating way up high/If you think you can find a way/You can surely try”.
Now some of that is some trippy shit that even Tool would go green over, eh? Nicely done.
9. Fucken beautiful, tragic, handdrawn scene that seems to serve as a metaphor of nature/mankind being devoured by fire, while a sad golden angel tragically weeps. Sad wings indeed. Plus, the first appearance of the Devil’s tuning fork-logo as the angel’s necklace!
9. Classy all the way, Gothic font-logo in a nice bright yellow, with some cool flowing lines to boot.
N/A. Sry booklet lovers!
Overall and ending rant
Not only is “Sad wings of destiny” an extremely important record in the history of metal, its music still blows me the fuck away 36 years after original release. Energy, passion, emotion, creativity, and incredible staying power; what more could you demand from an incredibly iconic metal record? Absolutely nothing, that’s what.
- Released: 1976
- Label: Gull
- Website: www.judaspriest.com
- Rob Halford: vocals
- K. K. Downing: guitars
- Glenn Tipton: guitars, piano, background vocals
- Ian Hill: bass
- Alan Moore: drums
- 01. Victim Of Changes
- 02. The Ripper
- 03. Dreamer Deceiver
- 04. Deceiver
- 05. Prelude
- 06. Tyrant
- 07. Genocide
- 08. Epitaph
- 09. Island of Domination