15
Feb

Blast From The Past: Judas Priest – Rocka Rolla

As a huge metal fan, I am surely a huge Judas Priest fan. Well the two are synonymous after all, because JP are in fact one of the very founders or our genre and not all metalheads today realize just how much they owe to Priest for their favorite bands sound!

It may have been Black Sabbath who introduced the world to dark / doom metal, but It was Judas Priest who were the first mainstream act to have the “Heavy” guitar double attack, they were the first along with Motörhead to bring the biker image to metal with the leathers and Rob’s Harley becoming a stage mascot. So even if you have never really gotten into this band, its well worth giving them a try and at least having something of theirs in your collection, because without them, there would simply not be the sounds that we know and love today and they have done some great songs through the decades.

1. One For The Road – 4:38
2. Rocka Rolla – 3:07
3. Winter – 1:42
4. Deep Freeze – 1:20
5. Winter Retreat – 3:28
6. Cheater – 2:58
7. Never Satisfied – 4:50
8. Run Of The Mill – 8:33
9. Dying To Meet You – 6:19
10. Caviar And Meths – 2:02
11. Diamonds And Rust – 3:14

While all album reviews are subjective, I have to try to develop a fair system to base my opinion, so, here is the method that I use to rate albums:

Points Given:
½ skull for good album art (quality & innovation)
½ skull for good track length diversity (duration & style)
½ skull for good vocals (lead & backing)
½ skull for good bass / percussion
½ skull for good rhythm / technicality
½ skull for good lead / solo’s
½ skull for good lyrics
½ skull for keeping it metal & standing the test of time (timeless album)
½ skull for having one or more hit / concert hall anthem
½ skull for doing something different that worked well for the fans and or production quality

Points Deducted:
1 skull for disappointing the majority of existing fans
3 skulls for totally leaving the metal genre (by not actually having heavy guitars in the music)
1 skull for any combination of poor vocals and or weak lyrics
1 skull for lack of originality as an artist
2 skulls for not writing own material
2 skulls for weak musicianship (instrument playing ability / use of too many effects to mask skill)

 

One comment which surely should not need to be made is, if you don’t like 70’s Rock / Metal then you will not like this album, but that should be obvious right? So with no further blabber from me, where better to start than their debut album Rocka Rolla!

It was released in 1974. The first single was the track “Rocka Rolla” from which the album took its name. One crucial thing about this album is that it was not just the first, of such an important band to the metal scene, but also the fact that pressure from the label to add an extra musician to increase the “Wall of sound” effect, was aiming at bringing in a keyboard player, that would have totally changed the dynamic of the bands sound and style, which would have no doubt impacted on every band they influenced going forward! But luckily for us, they added a second guitarist instead, thus the birth of the dual guitar metal sound was born! They did add keyboard synths at a later stage of their career, but due to having the dual guitars so early on, it colored their style at the infancy of their recording process and so this is an important matter that reflects the choice of many of the best metal groups playing today.

It’s worth a mention that there were some technical issues during the recording of this album and so the quality was considered fairly poor, they had the very same producer who had been working previously on Black Sabbath‘s albums, so this was not expected. Another thing that is surprising was that some of the bands most popular songs of that early time were omitted from the final cut and some of the fans did not like that. But nevertheless it was the first taste of things to come.

So straight off, we see that the artwork for this album like most JP covers is actually pretty good for the time, we see that there is something original about it and then we look at the track list. Here we can determine that we have some longer tracks and some shorter ones. This again is a precedent set by these early metal bands which pioneered diversity in track length and demeanor.

So now to the songs themselves. We start off with “One For The Road,” it has a real 70’s groove and you cant help but hear a touch of Zeppelin going on there. It’s a decent start but at this early stage, it’s none too metal. Then we go into the title track “Rocka Rolla” which has a kinda David Bowie sound to it, but it definitely picks up the pace a bit, obviously a bit of a dated sound now but remember we are in August 1974 so this was cutting edge.

Track 3 is “Winter” which is a very Sabbath-esque, it’s short but dark, I like it!

Track 4 is the shortest on the album and called “Deep Freeze,” it is almost part of the same track as 3; in as much as it has the same riff and the two flow one into the other. Again I like it.

5 is “Winter Retreat” and is initiated with a wailing crash of 1970’s effects and at the time had not been done to death yet, so kudos for the experimentation. This track changes halfway through and becomes a mellow guitar piece with lyrics to match, there is something Deep Purplish about it somehow, even though I also think Rob’s voice is better than just about any of his contemporaries of the time, except for Plant and Coverdale whom he matches.

Track 6 is “Cheater” and is a rocker, it has the typical early JP blues rock sound, complete with harmonica and a standard rock beat. Its a highlight in terms of a good old fashioned tremolo ended solo from KK.

Track 7 is “Never Satisfied” which reminds me of my ex-wife, fortunately she won’t be reading this as she is not a metal fan. The track is pretty decent and another fair album track. By the time these songs were written and recorded Priest had already toured with Sabbath and I think they had gone about the business of taking some inspiration from them while also looking to differentiate themselves at the same time.

Track 8 is “Run Of The Mill” which says it all really, not the most fun track for me, but its the longest song on the entire album and for me went on a bit too long at eight and a half minutes. It does show off Rob’s vocal ability some though in parts. This track is one of the more popular songs on the record, although its not my cup of tea.

Track 9 is “Dying To Meet You” which I cant help but feel sounded like so many typical 70’s guitar bands. Its not one that does much for me. It does however keep some darkness to it and shows the mellower side of the group at the same time. I think its a track which could be good if they decide to rescue it in the future with a new version of it. It starts off different to how it ends, its another song of two halves and the second half does pick up and have some better riffage, again its very Led Zep. (Whom I love, but just this is not like a class Zeppelin song).

Track 10, “Caviar And Meths,” starts slowly, builds and shows some character. I actually quite like this. It’s a instrumental and for me is a small highlight.

The final track is number 11 “Diamonds And Rust,” which is the epic anthem of the release. It is played at many JP shows till this day. Its another highlight when the chorus kicks in “We both know what memories can bring, they bring diamonds and rust.”

Okay, there you have it, that’s the album. So whats the verdict?

Based on my ranking system, they picked up full half skulls for each element (taking into consideration the period) except they failed for poor quality production and not putting live fan favorites onto the album and not making the album so that it stands the test of time.

So with 4 skulls, it is now time to look at what I would deduct. I could only take away one skull, that was for disappointing the majority of fans by not putting on tracks like “The Ripper” which many of their faithful concert going groupies would have despaired at. So overall rating = 3 skulls, not bad really for such an old record and a first attempt. Luckily they went on to get much better!


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