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Judas Priest: Stained Class - Album Of The Week Club review

Judas Priest's Stained Class catches the band on the cusp; the ultimate hybrid of unbridled, flamboyant creativity and refined, distilled commercial intent. It’s a true metal milestone

Judas Priest - Stained Class
(Image: © CBS)
Judas Priest - Stained Class

(Image credit: CBS)

Exciter
White Heat, Red Hot
Better by You, Better Than Me
Stained Class
Invader
Saints In Hell
Savage
Beyond the Realms of Death
Heroes End

By 1978, the spirit of Johnny Rotten was everywhere. Punk and new wave were dominating the pages of the music press, if not quite the charts. The first wave of hard rock and heavy metal bands were past their prime or moving on. 

Deep Purple had split. Black Sabbath were strung out. Scorpions, UFO, AC/DC, Ted Nugent and Thin Lizzy all released live albums.

Hard rock needed a kick up the arse and it came in two very contrasting forms. Van Halen’s self-titled debut redefined the capability of the electric guitar and encouraged a whole new generation to pick up the instrument. 

The other adrenalin shot was Judas Priest’s Stained Class. It’s a pivotal album in the evolution of heavy metal, arguably the most influential after the work of pioneers like Black Sabbath. 

If Black Sabbath was the spark, Stained Class was the accelerant. In 2004, meanwhile, no less an authority than CR’s sister mag Metal Hammer named Stained Class the most influential metal album of all time. The foundation for what would define ‘pure metal’, and underpin almost all metal going forwards, is Stained Class.

Stained Class began a purple patch for Priest. Killing Machine followed later the same year, while Unleashed In The East in 1979 saw the band’s most classic tracks benefiting from the new unit and a live setting. 

After Les Binks quit in 1979, in part because of the band’s direction (the other members of Judas Priest felt a less technical approach to drumming was needed), the band went on to sell in excess of 30 million albums globally. But arguably they never made a better, or more important, record. 

Stained Class catches the band on the cusp; the ultimate hybrid of unbridled, flamboyant creativity and refined, distilled commercial intent. It’s a true metal milestone.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in February 1978

  • Earth - Jefferson Starship
  • Van Halen - Van Halen
  • The Kick Inside - Kate Bush
  • Tell Us the Truth - Sham 69
  • Watch - Manfred Mann's Earth Band
  • British Lions - Mott the Hoople
  • Drastic Plastic - Be-Bop Deluxe
  • Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush – Live - Mahogany Rush
  • Impeckable - Budgie
  • It Happened One Bite - Dan Hicks
  • Plastic Letters - Blondie
  • Street Action - Bachman–Turner Overdrive
  • Street Hassle - Lou Reed
  • What Do You Want from Live - The Tubes

What they said...

"Heavy metal had always dealt in extremes -- both sonically and emotionally -- but here was a fresh, vital new way to go about it. It's impossible to overstate the impact that Stained Class had on virtually all of the heavy metal that followed it, from the NWOBHM through thrash and speed metal onward, and it remains Judas Priest's greatest achievement." (AllMusic)

"A crucial turning point in Judas Priest’s career – and in the history of metal – 1978’s Stained Class was where the British band jettisoned the last remaining vestiges of their early progressive-rock leanings, and went for the jugular with faster, tighter and more menacing songs like Exciter, White Heat, Red Hot and Invader; even the album’s lone power ballad, Beyond the Realms of Death, sounded downright economical compared to their previous work. (Rolling Stone)

"All classic British heavy metal is indebted to some extent to the lavish progressive rock of the ’70s, and Priest are no different, even though they were quick to discard those pieces of their sound. As far as prog-Priest goes, it doesn’t get better than the sprawling Beyond the Realms of Death, a song embellished from a guitar demo laid down by session member Les Binks. For almost seven minutes, it’s the sonic equivalent of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. (Consequence Of Sound)

What you said...

Carl Black: Is it the unpredictable times we live in that makes this album even better than I thought it was.? The album is littered with classics. Look no further than Exciter. A thrasher of a song and is criminal that it is rarely played live. Beyond the Realms of Death. I can remember seeing Priest at Hammersmith Odeon on the Painkiller tour. A guy in the front row of the balcony was practically throwing himself off it in time with Rob Halford singing. 

The title track. Better Than You Better Than Me. The list is endless. Just for the record I listened to this album and I did hear "Do it" on Better Than You..." However, I didn't kill myself. In fact I wanted to listen to more Judas Priest, which means I wanted to live more. The difference is I did not mix hard drugs, alcohol and a crippling, undiagnosed mental health condition. Maybe the government should have spent the money on treatment for those two guys.

A great album then, even better now

Nigel Lancashire: My very first experience of Judas Priest was via Saturday morning kid’s show Tiswas, when the video for Take On The World was snuck into the programme (as several rock and metal acts of the era were) by rock-loving presenter Chris Tarrant. I’d already had my interest piqued musically by Thin Lizzy, but Rob Halford strutting out from behind the drum kit, bare-chested and bedecked in studs and leather to that unrelenting Les Binks drumbeat was something else entirely!

Still at school and with no money, I eventually bought and devoured Killing Machine while my friend purchased Stained Class and we swapped them back and forth relentlessly. This is perhaps why, to this very day, I think of the two records as a complete, blended unit and can never remember which song comes from which album.

As a unit of work, the tetralogy released during the period from Sad Wings of Destiny through to Killing Machine is magnificent, showing a band constantly growing and then honing its style to a razor’s edge (shame in my book that that razor immediately became the simple-minded, lumbering oaf that is British Steel). The loss afterwards of Binks is marked, with Dave Holland’s more simplistic drumming hampering the band somewhat, especially live.

Listening to Stained Class on its own (and ignoring the rerelease’s added track Fire Burns Below which was written and recorded some 10 years later but what was then a very different band), the most obvious difference is the lack of self-penned ‘deliberate’ singles, with Better By You, Better Than Me being the obvious odd man out of the record - that said, I love its groove and the instant appeal of the song.

There is a lack of fire in the sound overall, but that is very much the fault of the uninspiring production rather than the band. The studio trend (?) for clinical, dry recording blights many albums during the late 70s, with Lizzy and UFO being two more examples of bands whose back catalogues were marred by it until their career-defining live albums.

This album is where Priest’s then-unique, unapologetic sound and image became the prototype for a generation of metal, with the tight twin guitars, sinewy riffs and muscular feel of Invader. Exciter and Stained Class itself. Beyond The Realms Of Death, still years away from the tarring and feathering it received in conservative 80s America, is simply titanic, beating fellow Brummies Black Sabbath for doom-filled, beautiful bleakness. 

Overall, despite the dry studio recording, Stained Class is a masterclass in metal, with the dynamism of prime-era Judas Priest shining through. An easy 9 out of 10.

Roland Bearne: Nothing stained about the sheer class of this album. Here is a band catching the energy of the punk era and sticking two fingers up to those fond of sticking up two fingers! Harder, faster, tighter (although I gather a lot of the solos were semi-improvised). Halford hits note after sustained note which may have caused discomfort to any bats near the studio! The wailing screams in Saints in Hell are almost disturbing. 

The album just blasts out of the speakers at full tilt and pummels you, with only Better By You... having a more commercial edge. Something niggled that it was a cover so I checked and it was originally by Spooky Tooth (I seem to remember Foreigner's Mick Jones was with them) anyway I digress. 

This is the sound of a band hitting their stride in jaw-dropping fashion, but it took them a few more months to get on Top of the Pops and tickle the charts with Take On The World from Killing Machine. Lucky us we get to listen to the whole catalogue whenever we want. This is definitely one of the highlights. White Heat Red Hot indeed!

Brian Carr: Really surprised I haven’t listened to Stained Class more than I have because it is a killer: great riffs, exceptional playing and one of the greatest metal vocalists of all time. Maybe I was turned off in past listens by the very dated sounding production and guitar tones. As excellent as the album is, I wanted it to sound bigger. I can imagine Stained Class growing on me the more I listen.

Happs Richards: Once again a great excuse for me to bust out the vinyl and give it some volume, obviously in the name of fair reviewing!!😉

A great album from a really interesting time in Priests musical development, with a mix of huge NWOBMH tracks and some of the softer moments seen on Sin After Sin.

I’m a bit biased, as along with British Steel this was one of the first Priest albums I owned, but I still like it all these years later. a great shout by Tony Hayme nominating it!

Gary Claydon: Lost track of the days again & nearly forgot to post my review ! Suffice to say, 70s Priest were one of my very favourite bands. The run of albums they had, culminating in Unleashed In The East (the second best live album ever) was simply brilliant. 

Yeah, the production on Stained Class lets it down slightly but that's a minor distraction. Exciter might not be as good here as on Unleashed... but what a way to open an album and the drumming kinda belies the 'feathertouch' sobriquet that Les Binks was later saddled with. 

Other highlights? Take your pick. Beyond The Realms Of Death is magnificent, Saints In Hell is a great overlooked Priest classic, and the title track with its galloping bass line and twin guitar attack serves as a blueprint for what Iron Maiden would do so well in years to come. Ah, it's late, I've had a drink so I'll finish by saying, this is the real Judas Priest. They don't make em like this any more.

John Davidson: Judas Priest are among those founding bands of heavy metal and Stained Class is the pinnacle of their early period before they achieved widespread commercial success with British Steel.

I first heard Invader at my sister's 17th birthday party. I was 14 at the time and just starting out on my hard rock journey. Needless to say I was blown away.

It remains, for me, one of the better songs on this album.

One of the problems I have with the Judas Priest sound is the density of the guitars. For all that I love great guitar music, the relentless chug under Rob Halford's wailing vocals can get a bit samey after a while and many of their songs lack the dynamic range to bring out the bass and drums. It's not a tinny sound, but it's presented in a narrow register somehow (I don't have the words or technical know how to describe this).

That said, Stained Class contains a collection of cracking songs. The whole of side one is superb with Invader and Stained Class being personal favourites.

Side two is pretty strong too. Only Savage is mediocre.

Beyond The Realms Of Death is the standout, although I swear the finger picking bears more than a passing resemblance to Styx's Suite Madame Blue. Saints In Hell is saved by some fantastic soloing as is Heroes End which, while not an epic, has a more open song dynamic.

For me, if you have this album and Unleashed In The East (live or not) you have the best of their 70s output. They were never my favourite band but this is one of their best. 9/10.

Pavel Ljubičić: That trilogy of Sad Wings Of Destiny, Sin After Sin and Stained Class is just terrific. This is a masterpiece album. I mean, that scream at the end of Exciter is one of the best vocal performances ever.

Mike Knoop: "Pure metal" is the best description I can think of for Saints In Hell, my favourite song on this album and definitely top five Priest overall. The song just sounds so sinister, and Halford cements his reputation as a metal god with his inhuman wails and screams. Exciter is a solid opener and Better By You, Better By Me is another great juiced up cover. Granted, it's not the total overhaul that their brilliant Diamonds and Rust was, but having listened to the original version by Spooky Teeth as homework this week, Priest definitely gives it a good kick in the ass. 

Then there's the epic album closer, Beyond the Realms of Death. Lots of times I forgot it's not actually the last song. Sorry, Heroes End.

Shane Reho: I'm not a headbanger by any means, but damn Priest are great, and this is one of their best (I've got a hard time picking between this and British Steel). This is the first album of theirs I ever bought, hell, one of the earliest albums I ever bought on vinyl (not the first JP album I ever listened to though: Hell Bent For Leather and British Steel hit my ears earlier, Screaming for Vengeance, Point of Entry and Unleashed In The East might have as well, not sure). 

I was mainly drawn to this at first because of its awesome cover art, but found out rather quickly that the music was even better. Exciter is possibly the best opener to any of their albums (they were good at that too, Victim of Changes, Sinner, Delivering the Goods and Breaking the Law come to mind). The second guitar solo on that track is perfect. Better By You Better Than Me is a great cover from Spooky Tooth's great Spooky Two album (one I think this group should get around to). It's hard for me to pick between this and the original. 

The title track and Saints in Hell are both great (slightly) extended pieces, but better yet is Beyond the Realms Of Death, which along with the live version of Victim of Changes may be their best songs. They are for me, anyway. The remaining songs are by no means bad, but don't really stick out from the ones mentioned above. Also notable is the inner sleeve photo of the band, which shows them about as far away from the leather look of the next album as they could be. 9/10.

Bill Griffin: On first listen, this album should be remixed. Maybe even re-recorded. It's decent; I like the music but the guitar and drums sound like they were recorded from the other side of a wall and, in a first for me, Rob's vocals are frequently irritating. On second and third listens, my criticisms stand.

Graham Tarry: Great album. Before they discovered they could have hit singles by selling out. I saw them on this tour at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, and they were immense. There was one section where they played three on the bounce and the crowd were on their knees!

John Edgar: One morning when I was in college, a high school acquaintance invited me to his car where I heard a few cuts from Sin After Sin. I was impressed and intrigued, but I couldn't find the album or tape in any local music stores. So, when Stained Class came out I bought it immediately. 

I loved it first time through and it's one of about three classic Judas Priest releases that I still spin a few times a year. I think it was a Judas Priest sound that was not at all propelled by any hopes of producing the next big heavy metal radio hit, but instead it came from a heavy metal pioneering spirit that obviously drove the band in those days. 

In some ways the last few Judas Priest releases have returned to this 'flavour' of Priest music. For anyone that boarded the Priest train via Hell Bent For Leather (Killing Machine) or British Steel, I highly recommend seeking out the remastered version of Stained Class. All the tracks are great. There ain't a loser in the bunch.

Jonathan Novajosky: Much like High ‘N’ Dry a few weeks ago, Stained Class is a juggernaut of an album packed with killer hard rock tracks one after another. Exciter kicks off the album by bringing the speed with ferocious drumming and guitar action. I love the solo/bridge towards the end – it’s catchy and slows things down just a tad before Halford builds up for his final verse. 

White Heat, Red Hot is my favourite. You can’t help but grip on to every word during that hook. Better by You, Better Than Me feels more like old fashioned foot-stompin’ rock compared to the other songs here, but it’s still awesome.

If there’s one complaint to say about Stained Class, it’s that it feels a little top-heavy to me. After Invader and its slick intro the album loses me a little. After five blistering tracks, Saints in Hell and Savage come off as just slightly above average. They’re still good, but not as strong as what came before. However, I really enjoyed Fire Burns Below, a song that feels completely different than the rest. 

You can definitely see early signs of progressive hard rock here with the synth background, echoing guitar, and that sweet acoustic section to close the album. All in all, there’s very little not to love here. Stained Class is definitely deserving of a high score. 8.5/10

Michael Laughridge: Saw Priest open for Zeppelin and Derringer in '77 (DOTG). The stage announcer finished his preview of coming shows with, "...and we'll be right back with Judas Priest!" You could hear 55,000 people echo, "Who?" I had no idea who they were either. But, when a friend bought this the next year, we were just blown away... especially our favourite song on the album, Beyond The Realms Of Death. Been a huge fan ever since.

Mauricio Telles: Great album, one of the best Judas have in their catalog. Some killer classic gems like Exciter, White Heat, Red Hot and Beyond The Realms Of Death, plus a few other also great like Saints In Hell, Better By You..., Stained Glass... wow. Glenn Tipton was at his best in my opinion. Rob Halford always great, and Les Binks should have never being fired, eons better than Holland. I never got tired of this album. 9 of 10.

Uli Hassinger: Superior album of the best era of the Priest between 1976 and 1980. Exciter is a deathless classic especially live. The album shows quite a good variation from harder stuff to even softer moments. I love Beyond The Realms Of Death therefore. Fire Burns Below and Better By You, Better Than Me are also outstanding.

Final Score: 8.15⁄10 (324 votes cast, with a total score of 2642)

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