SadWingsOfDestiny_1At 40 years young, Judas Priest‘s sophomore record Sad Wings Of Destiny is about as Olde as Yer Metal can get. As metal music is now a complex, deliberately inaccessible web of micro-genres, I can see how the average metalhead today might have a hard time relating to a record like Sad Wings. And though it shames me to say it, it took me a while myself.

What makes this record fascinating is that Judas Priest had not yet fully become…you know, Judas fucking Priest. Signed to the small Gull Records label, the band members were living on meager rations and working part-time menial jobs. They did not yet own leather clothes or motorcycles, and mostly just dressed like hippies. Their lone album at the time, 1974’s Rocka Rolla, had been a disappointment both musically and commercially, putting pressure on the band to do better next time. Priest had some good things going for them, but Metal Gods®, they were not.

Sad Wings opens with Priest‘s first truly great song, the 8-minute “Victim Of Changes.” Parts of this song date back to the band’s early days with original singer Al Atkins, while other sections originated with Rob Halford’s previous band Hiroshima. It’s a testament to Priest‘s early songwriting skills that “Victim” sounds less like a grab bag of discarded riffs, and more like a multi-sectioned, gradually building composition. Halford uses a variety of vocal styles throughout, but the shrieking and growling at the song’s conclusion is still haunting, four decades later.

Up next is “The Ripper,” which is equally cinematic despite being, at under 3 minutes, one of Priest‘s shortest songs. Guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing have a lot going on here riff-wise, but once again it is Halford who takes it over the top. His piercing high notes convey the terror of living in Jack the Ripper-era London, and more importantly, it sounds fucking cool.

The following tracks show a Judas Priest that was still experimenting and finding their way. “Dreamer Deceiver” begins with gentle acoustic guitar, while Halford delivers a very ’70s lyric about meeting a mysterious being that offers happiness and freedom. This tranquil scenario is shattered first by a Tipton guitar solo, then by Halford’s impossibly high wailing at the song’s coda. Halford’s eventual singing style and persona did not yet exist — in 1976, he was just a guy who could sing really, really well.

“Dreamer Deceiver” leads into the far more aggressive “Deceiver,” which is the prototype for many of the Priest rockers that followed. “Prelude” is a short but dramatic instrumental that incorporates piano and church organ, betraying Priest‘s prog rock roots.  Ditto for the piano ballad “Epitaph,” which is not far removed from, say, Queen. As Priest focused their sound over the next few records, these influences would be toned down or abandoned entirely, which is a shame.

The remaining tracks are fairly heavy and straightforward. “Tyrant” finds the Tipton/Downing alliance delivering one of the album’s heaviest riffs, as well as a fucking sweet harmonized guitar lead. The midtempo “Genocide” is hampered by somewhat weak rhythms from drummer Alan Moore (no, not the Watchmen guy). Closer “Island Of Domination” is a little over the top, with Halford squealing at the top of his lungs over proto-metal riffage, but it ends the album on a fairly aggressive note.

While Sad Wings is a satisfying listen on its own merit, it’s also an interesting look into Priest‘s evolution. There are so many influences and musical ideas here that would be completely unrecognizable to fans of ’80s-era Priest, as the band quickly distanced themselves from blues and progressive rock. It’s also strange to hear Halford deliver such visual, poetic lyrics, considering he would go on to write “Eat Me Alive” and “Ram It Down” a decade later. On the other hand, the band clearly saw what was working for them — aggressive riffs, a pair of shit-hot lead guitarists, and an insanely talented singer — and made those elements the foundation of the rest of their career.

Sad Wings of Destiny is one of the blueprints for not only Judas Priest, but heavy metal as a whole. If you are into any kind of heavy music, regardless of genre, regardless of your age, you owe it to yourself to listen to this. You may not like it, in the same way that some people don’t enjoy spending time with their grandparents. But in both instances, you cannot deny that these are your ancestors, your roots, and if you listen, you might learn something. Oh, and check out Sin After Sin and Stained Class while you’re at it.

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  • Awesome review! As a lifelong Priest fan, its always fun to revisit their older stuff! Every single one of those early albums had great songs on them, from Beyond the Realms of Death, to Green Malanishi, to Desert Plains, there is so much great material in addition to the regular rotation classic rock radio tracks.

  • This is their best work by far. Nice shout out for Stained Class too. That one always seems to get overlooked.

    • Dr_Fisting

      I don’t know about “best work by far,” but it’s great.
      And “Stained Class” certainly wasn’t overlooked by the U.S. court system…

    • André Snyde Lopes

      Unleashed in the East is technically their best work. Most of the songs there sound even better than their album counterparts.

      Love Stained Class, though. Probably my favorite Priest album, moreso than Sad Wings.

      • lennymccall

        Agreed. Unleashed just does it for me every time. Probably the best live record of all time.
        Then this, Sin after Sin, Point of Entry, Stained Glass, Rocka Rolla.

        Oh and real sorry about this but Turbo is high up there too.
        I’m an 80s kid and the first time I got high that record was playing loud on the car stereo. Never forget that night!

        • sir_c

          Indeed. Turbo may not be their epic work, but it fits perfectly in the 80s era. I enjoy it more than I dare to admit

  • HammerofThor

    How many bands were inspired just by the album cover.

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Great cover, even by today’s standards.

  • Dr. A.N. Grier

    Great review dude. I, too, had a hard time with this when I ventured into bands/albums of our metal roots some 15-20 years ago. However, once it snagged me, it stuck forever.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    Indubitably one of the greatest albums of all time. The intro to Victim of Changes is the definition of “classic” and has been imitated countless times.

    But most importantly the best metal karaoke album. Singing along to The Ripper is so much fun!

  • This is my favourite album. However, the track order you have used is wrong. The original pressings have the correct order listed on the album sleeve (beginning with Prelude, ending with Deceiver) but incorrectly flip side 1 and 2 on the vinyl itself. Forgive me, but track order and flow of an album is critical and placing a piece of music called “Prelude” in the middle of an album is retarded. A prelude in musical terms is an introduction. Victim of Changes is the centrepiece of the album and Dreamer Deceiver/Deceiver is the epic closer. There is no other way. Gull fucked this up big time. Luckily for me I first owned it on cassette where it was actually in the correct order and never knew otherwise until I got a Snapper CD reissue and wept.

    • Dr_Fisting

      Yup, I’m aware of the track listing discrepancies, but didn’t want to get into that in an article that was already really long and convoluted.

      If someone was to go buy this album today (which is obviously what I’m trying to make happen), they would hear “Victim Of Changes” first, and “Prelude” would be track 5. That is the version of the record that’s been commercially available for years. I agree that it’s kinda stupid, but it is what it is.

      • I found a thread on Metal Archives about this. Some people prefer it the other way…but I can’t get my head around that. The Back on Black reissue puts Prelude at the end of side 1. Oh, the humanity. Coincidentally, I have experienced this problem with two Black Sabbath albums where the original cassette release (which is what I bought when I was a kid) had flipped sides A and B. Master of Reality and Technical Ecstasy. Both make more sense to me in the flipped order, especially since “Children of the Grave” has a ghostly fade out part which sounds like it should be the conclusion of an album…however, I am willing to concede that the original LPs were perhaps how they were intended by the band. Sad Wings, though…it is unforgiveable that the greatest heavy metal album ever conceived is subject to such sabotage!

        • Oh…and one last thing before I pipe down and crawl back into my cave. My band is recording at Rockfield next week, in the very room where Halford belted out The Ripper 40 years ago. Fucking choice.

          • Dr_Fisting

            No shit? That’s amazing! BTW, you should mention the name of your band, since headbangers are obviously reading this.

          • Monsterworks. Should probably post under a different name since I don’t speak for the band. But everyone likes Priest anyhow. Jon

          • Reese Burns

            The same Monsterworks that put out Existential Codex?

          • Surely the world is not big enough for two Monsterworkses! Yes.

          • Reese Burns

            Wicked, you guys rule!

          • I fear your opinion of us is fairly isolated. Sad face. But thanks all the same; it means alot! Smiley face.

          • Thatguy

            I know you didn’t come here to promote your band, but I just checked you out on Bandcamp. Great stuff!

    • doom-erik

      Yeah, the original order starting with Prelude is superior in my opinion.

    • tomasjacobi

      I never knew this but you’re right, the album flows much better in the correct order. I’m only going to listen to it this way from now on :-)

  • Diego Molero

    I haven’t give Judas Priest a propper listen, I like some songs but never listen to an album completely, feel ashame about that, definitely have to do that.

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Yea, me too. This is (ahem) the first time I’ve heard this album. Great sound. Love the separation of instruments. A lot of critics seem to hold British Steel in high regard, but it never did much for me.

      And I’m not sure, but now that I’ve heard The Ripper, this seems to be the inspiration for Spinal Tap’s Saucy Jack.

      • Diego Molero

        I haven’t hear it (yet), I’m kind of in class right now. And as you said, British Steel does seem to be the greatest Priest’s album acording to critics

        • Dr_Fisting

          I’m a critic, and “British Steel” is nowhere near their best album in my opinion.

          • Diego Molero

            Yeah but I meant those shitty critics, the kind that write for Rolling Stones and Pitchfork

          • Dr_Fisting

            “British Steel” is probably the only Priest album those losers have even heard of, because the ‘hits’ are on it.

          • Monsterth Goatom

            Your comment applies equally well to how I feel about Led Zeppelin IV, which I’ve never liked as much as I-III and their other 70s albums. But, IV has “that song”, which everyone knows.

          • Dethjesta

            Agree(ish), although Houses of the Holy is top for me.

          • Iain Gleasure

            IV had some other great moments though. Going to California, Black Dog, Rock and Roll. Personally the stuff I don’t like so much from Led Zep is after Houses of the Holy.

          • Monsterth Goatom

            No, for sure, some great stuff on IV, as well as Physical Grafitti (imho), but, after that, Angry Metal Guy’s Law of Diminishing Recordings™ kicks in.

          • Iain Gleasure

            Oddly enough, even though I don’t like Led Zep after Houses , I don’t really feel that their work got worse. It just got different, and waaaaay too proggy for me. And times changed so weird long solo sessions just weren’t as cool anymore.

          • Diego Molero

            Well, that one and Painkiller, everyone knows Painkiller.

          • Iain Gleasure

            You’re not wrong but I believe British Steel still has a special place in metal and Priest’s catalogue because it introduced so many people to metal. For example: It introduced me to Priest, and Priest was my second metal band.

          • Dr_Fisting

            True, it was definitely the gateway drug for a lot of people. The first Priest songs I ever heard as a kid were probably “Breaking The Law” and “Living After Midnight,” whatever that’s worth.

          • Carlos Marrickvillian

            Whoa whoa, steady on there!
            British Steel is epically good.

          • Dr_Fisting

            I never said it wasn’t. But I’d still rank it below “Sad Wings,” “Sin After Sin,” “Stained Class,” “Defenders,” and “Painkiller.”

          • Carlos Marrickvillian

            True you didn’t!
            I’d have it near the top of my favourites, though in truth I probably put it on once a blue moon… These days Im more likely to put on Stained Glass or Hell Bent for Leather.

          • That is freaky. A few months ago I did a ranking of Priest’s discography on my blog (inspired by the AMG Maiden retrospective) and that is my exact top five order…except switching Defenders for number 2. British Steel was number 9.

          • Full agreement.

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        lol saucy Jack, so funny… I’m going to have to watch the Tap tonight I think :)

  • Reviewing the full discography myself right now (at Defenders of The Faith as of this moment), and I am enjoying this discography journey so far. The most interesting thing is that Judas has so many styles that they can work with, and they are not sounding too divided.

    Sad Wings is a magical album, blending both the agressive and the more progressive bits into something that is really special. The Priest may still have been unpolished by that time, but they could still beat most of the bands from that time period.

    Great review, great album, great site

    • Dr_Fisting

      “Defenders Of The Faith” is so good…

    • Diego Molero

      Where are you reviewing it?

      • Just click on my profile and you will eventually find the link, not sure that I should promote my blog on another blog. Don’t wanna turn Angry Metal Guy into Angrier Metal guy :P

        • Diego Molero

          Well I am asking so I’m sure it’s okay, don’t think that the Angry Lord would mind.

  • Dethjesta

    I never got around to Judas Priest, and i do owe it to myself to listen to this record (because I’m worth it).

    So I’ve got this, Sin After Sin, then Stained Class?

    • I’d switch those around, but both are classics. Then onward to Hell Bent for Leather!

      • Dethjesta

        Will do, cheers Druhm.

    • Brother Ben

      You’re in for a treat dude! Stained class is better than Sin After Sin imo, and it is the last of the proggy-proto metal styled albums, as Hell Bent takes them into more straightforward groove driven territory.

  • Westpaceagle

    “…you know, Judas fucking Priest.” Nuff’ said

  • I’m divided between this one, Defenders of the Faith, Screaming for Vengeance and Stained Class for my favorite Priest album.

    Nevertheless, I must remind myself that this band with this record in particular paved the road for nearly all the bands using a melodic approach to their music.

    Hail the Priest!

  • Presence was a better album that year for my money, but this wasn’t bad. Better than a lot of their arena rock that came later.

  • Brother Ben

    It’s a pity so many seem to ignore Judas Priest’s early discography, as I think it’s their best work (except for perhaps Screaming for Vengeance and Painkiller). Great review!

  • doom-erik

    Best Priest album by far, and quite possibly the best metal album of all time. Every single song is a classic except maybe Genocide which I never really got into. Dreamer Deceiver and Tyrant are my favourite tracks.

    • It makes life easy having a default answer to “what is your favourite album?” by being able to say “Judas Priest – Sad Wings of Destiny” without pause for reflection or justification. In my teenage years it was a toss up between this and Highway to Hell (and I still get a lump in my throat listening to Bon Scott’s last words closing the album) but Sad Wings is just so comprehensive. Personally, my least favourite track is Island of Domination….which is still awesome. Dreamer Deceiver/Deceiver is Priest’s answer to Stairway to Heaven and a modern audience could be forgiven for “not getting it” but that song is basically everything I love about metal with the greatest soaring screams ever committed to tape.

  • beurbs

    I’m excited to try it, this one has been on my list for too kong. Also I believe I read an interview where Mikael Åkerfeldt said it’s his favorite album.

    • Heh, he seems to change what his fave record is from interview to interview (fair enough, mine changes too…)

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Nice one Dr Fisting
    My first encounter with Priest was Priest…Live! Which I loved, but it didn’t have any of the songs from their first 5 or 6 albums. As a result I ended up being really into the big 80’s Priest albums … Turbo rvlez, bite me.
    The first time I heard SWoD i remember thinking it sounded a bit ‘old fashioned’ like a Saxon album or something then foolishly ignored it and the other 70’s albums for a long time…
    The worm has turned though, these days if Im in the mood for some priest my usual go to albums are Stained Glass, Hellbent for Leather and this. Victim of Changes could well be my favourite Priest song.

    • Dr_Fisting

      I actually like Turbo. “Turbo Lover” and “Out In The Cold” are both awesome songs.

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        Yeah right on, Turbo Lover is a killer song so is Private Property and Parental Guidance. Out in the Cold might even be the best ballad they ever did too.
        People still get butt hurt about Turbo, It was meant to be a good time record. It’s cheesy as fuck and a bit dated but that’s part of its charm for me now.

      • I love Turbo. Best cover art, too.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Just the mention of “Victim Of Changes” gives me the good old goosebumps. That’s what Metal is all about.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Is it just me or does Rob Halford look like an altar boy in that picture?

    • Monsterth Goatom

      And he got his hands on some Communion wine. ; )

  • BenMech

    THE ONLY ESSENTIAL ALBUM in the PRIEST Discography though Stained Class is close)

  • IronBerserk

    Second Favorite album of all time. Right behind The Number of the Beast.

    Also I think it’s been confirmed by Rob Halford that the TRUE first part of the album is Prelude, Tyrant, Genocide, and Island of Domination. Followed by Victim of Changes, Ripper, Dreamer Deceiver, and Deceiver. It was released as such when Judas Priest sold their entire discography collection. The album in that order flows much much better.