Yes, Judas Priest sell out but in rather excellent fashion.
It was my first Priest album, it was your first Priest album and hell it was probably your mums first Priest album. `British Steel' is one of those albums that magically turns up in the post on your fourteenth birthday and says "here you go son, HEAVY FLIPPING METAL!". `British Steel' is one of those albums that every metalhead owns and there's a reason for that; it's a monumental achievement in heavy metal precision and memorable songs.
Now, some people have decided that this is a bit of a let down considering the bands far more experimental and less commercial 70's output and yes I'll take `Sad Wings...' over this any day but a change of direction was inevitable for Priest and even though you may have quibbles with the direction you can't really argue with the songs. What Priest did was on `British Steel' was strip down their sound to its very bare bones trimming away every excess to make the most straight forward `meat and potatoes' heavy metal album ever...well except for one cod reggae bit. To modern ears `British Steel' could sound clichéd, but lest we forget Priest invented the flipping clichés.
There are undoubtedly some stone cold metal classics here, not even the albums detractors could doubt that...well maybe they could but their just being pedantic anyway they hear the words commercial and hit single and go into shock.
`Rapid Fire' is essential pioneering speed metal this and Saxon's `Heavy Metal Thunder' set the standard for every thrash band that followed. It really is an exercise in twin guitar precision with Glen and Ken riffing so deceptively simply that you can't believe they hadn't already written this riff. Halford's lyrics have an almost Shakespearian flair to them and feel impossibly grand and pompous, albeit in a campy way. Even Dave `I molest disabled children...but my moustache is still creepiest thing about me' Holland gives a good performance on drums. `Metal Gods', again is an exact piece of metal a mid paced plodder with some brilliantly camp vocals and kitsch sound effects. The chorus perhaps could be the cheesiest the band ever did without singing about oral sex at gun point, well done lads! `Grinder' is another ridiculously simple song. The rhythms are so straightforward that you'll find yourself simply unable to resist nodding your head and stamping your feat...unless your one of these people raised on extreme metal trying to get into the classics perplexed by the lack of blast beats...STICK TO EMPEROR YOU JAMES BLUNT! This is sonic bliss boys and girls no pretensions, nothing fancy just clear cut 80's metal with a massive chorus in every song and of course Glen and KK ripping away at every opportunity.
Oh now for the real controversy, big hit singles! `British Steel' features two of the best known metal songs of all time, giving Johnny `I only listen to black metal demos' Foreigner (oh wait I've just gone a bit Daily Mail) further reason to soil his pants and hate this with all his blackened heart. `Living After Midnight' is perhaps closer to AC/DC than the bands say `Sad Wings...' or `Stained Class' but its such a corker and a iconic single in terms of heavy metal it was probably `Enter Sandman' for the 80s accept with some level of finesse. The chorus is one of those so huge it would fill stadiums for the next decade and introduce a whole generation of Coors drinking Vince Neil look alikes (or maybe that was their girl friends) to the Priest. Even if you despise this song its still going to get stuck in your head for weeks and that is a measure of a hit. And that riff is quite possibly the most knuckleheaded thing Priest wrote...brilliant! `Breaking the Law', now lots has been said about this song, I'd like to add something different, read the lyrics. About a frustrated youth stealing something right? `Breaking the Law' is probably about sodomy (aw c'mon read the lyrics...Rob is totally thinking bumming!) and is a equally massive hit, in a sort of love it or loath way, but you can't deny it's hella catchy!
So although one could accuse Priest of playing it safe on `British Steel' we do get a bit of experimentation from the boys as `The Rage' has a delightfully cod reggae intro with Ian `You Can't See Me!!' Hill actually playing a noticeable bass line. After that its more straight up metal with Rob's emotive vocals schooling you all. The whole cod reggae thing was a bit bizarre in the late 70's and 80's as other metal and hard rock bands did it too for instance the Scorpions have a crappy reggae track on the otherwise excellent `Lovedrive'. However, Brummie reggae is more acceptable due to UB40 (first time they've been mentioned here...another barrier broken!) so the Priest do fine.
If your one who has the god awful disposition of despising commerciality in metal or the fact that your mum may well know these songs, I suggest you avoid `British Steel' like the plague...except you probably want the plague as its totally black metal! But, for those of us with taste and more specifically a taste for good time Spartan (not like 300, think stripped down) metal will find `British Steel' is another essential Priest record to be cherished for ever more.