on 28 July 2014
There are quite a few different versions of Judas Priest's first two albums ('Rocka Rolla' and 'Sad Wings of Destiny') knocking about. Some are separate releases, some boxed together, some have different names, some have different artwork and some have different track listings/orderings too. It can be a little baffling if you're new to the band or unaware of the situation. Whilst some might view these various re-releases/licensings as cash-ins by their initial record label Gull (with whom the band broke their contract when they signed to CBS) I find them quite fascinating and can't really begrudge them from doing what they want with their own property.
This compilation is from Castle Communications and was released in 1989 and is essentially the first two albums back to back with one track omitted - 'Caviar and Meths' which is a short-ish instrumental that normally appears as the final track of their first album 'Rocka Rolla'. On initial looks, it bears a remarkable similarity to 'Hero, Hero' as they share the same cover painting (a rather wonderful piece by Melvyn Grant) but the lettering design is different, as is the track selection and order.
I won't go into depth about each album that this collects from but would say that I think the first two albums are amongst Priest's finest. They're perhaps not the most representative of the band's output or signature sound, but to me are far more interesting than the formulaic, more commercially successful albums the band are probably better known for. These early releases (from 1974 and 1976)see the band's sound evolve from more bluesy, hippy-ish and even prog-ish roots and to me just have a certain quality to them that I find hard to explain. I don't tire of listening to them at all and 'Sad Wings...' really starts to display the early metal sound that they came to develop more fully.
What I find so fascinating about all these re-releases is that they all sound different. Maybe the source tapes varied in quality, I don't know, but they all have their own sound. I can only assume they've all been remastered or taken from the master tapes slightly differently by different people at various times. For example, the Koch Records releases of 'Rocka Rolla' and 'Sad Wings...' sound kind of deeper, more bassy and slightly muffled compared to the Snapper Music 2-CD set called 'Genocide' which has a brighter, crisper tone to it.
There are also other reissues by Snapper and Repertoire records but I've yet to hear them to compare.
What I like about this compilation is that it has a nice warm analogue tone that seems fitting for the period these albums were released in. Some of the hiss that's often apparent on 'Rocka Rolla' has been minimised and the CD has not been cranked up to sound loud at the expense of dynamic range like a lot of CD's are these days. Unfortunately, I've never heard any of the original vinyl pressings of these albums so ultimately, I don't really know how these records were meant to sound. All of this is pretty subjective anyway. I'm not sure it really matters, they're classic albums to me and I love 'em.