Well, they will be the metal gods in name but that title won’t come until after Judas Priest releases British Steel in 1980 with the song of the same name. An apt bit of timing, “Metal Gods” and an album with steel in the title because truth be told that is what happened in 1976. Metal got sent to the forge, and in the hands of Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton, and K.K. Downing came out the other end forged into a steel weapon.
In other words, Judas Priest improved what we called heavy metal. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the music is automatically better (although I’d imagine enough people would actually agree with that). Personally I can name a number of albums easily from the past eight years that for my money blow away 99.9% of what is to come. But I can also admit that each man is partial to those songs he tipped his first beer to, combined with the long range view of history easily say that Judas Priest effectively did a rewrite on the idea of metal bare minimum. Certainly they distilled the essentials into something much closer to the beast we love today.
Bottom line is that next to Black Sabbath they are the most essential heavy metal band musically and historically. If you could imagine a mythical instrument that “measures metal”, perhaps a stereo with a volume screen that looks like a speedometer measured in raised horns one to ten, up to 1976 the only band that was really putting that needle across the screen would be Sabbath. Deep Purple of course hit it on certain songs while albums fluctuate more. But hell, even Sabbath bounces around a little too. Outside of this, things get a little rocky on the metal-o-meter. Great music but it was a mix of influences.
This is precisely because of the psychedelic influences, hard rock, rock, blues, and even folk that runs through the genre at this point. And to various extents metal will never lose that. But things were trending as the idea of metal was getting stronger while those influences continued to get turned down, some more than others. Black Sabbath releasing the mighty Sabotage in 1975 was a huge step in making one of the most complete metal albums to date, and it went from there to Judas Priest recording Sad Wings Of Destiny that metal became pure steel. The extra’s became little more than vapors and minerals buried in the new forged metal that was pure riff delivered destruction. The production belies the heaviness but the music and delivery is a pure technical feast of state of the art metal. Starting now and over three more albums Judas Priest will continue to forge and sharpen that steel into a weapon of war. This is without a doubt the singular most important event in the history of metal baring Sabbath and Purple actually giving the form a proper birth. Outside of us loose cabals of traditional doom fans, everything that comes started here.
And when Judas Priest finishes sharpening the steel, they will hand it to an army of NWOBHM fans. Those armed NWOBHM fans will raise hell for several short years and go every which way. Some will gather in the Bay Area circa 1983 for the band that will lead them into battle. Others will be bitten with cold Frost and poisonous Venom to teach the meek where to put the pointy end of the weapon.
But those are stories to come…