Judas Priest-Hell bent for leather, 1978
My favorite Priest album is Screaming for vengeance, however when pressed for what my second favorite is I would have to really think about it. Defenders of the faith is a prime consideration, but the later songs are a little weaker. British Steel has some great songs, but a few fillers as well. Painkiller is explosive at times, yet a little repetitive as well. So for Priest's second best album I may actually turn to the 1970's and consider either Sad wings of destiny or this album. It was almost the end of the decade and along with Motorhead plus a few others Priest were maybe unwittingly carrying on the torch passed on by declining metal acts like Black Sabbath. Both Hell bent for leather and the previous album Stained Class see the band really progressing and coming into their own. This is an album that always felt short to me, but not in a bad way. None of the songs overstay their welcome yet many of them quickly make an impact. There are some heavy hitters like "Delivering the goods", the title track, "Killing Machine" and a big monster called "Running wild". On these tracks the guitars are blazing, Halford is in fine form and one can see why some people think drummer Les Binks may have been the best drummer to sit behind the kit for Priest. Their are anthems like the single "Rock forever" and the a few years ahead of it's time "Take on the world". I think with songs like this, these guys were laying down the foundation for the metal anthems that would be popular to some extent for much of the 1980's. "Burnin' up" is a little dated in it's approach, but it's also a bit unique as it is certainly different from most of the rest of the album. Their cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Green Manalishi (with the two pronged crown)" is solid and Priest don't get enough credit for doing good covers. They knew how to be respectful yet add their own sound. "Evil Fantasies" is maybe the one song here that I think is merely decent. There are good riffs and tight vocals, yet it's difficult to get past the high cheese factor on this song. That leaves the two vocal gems in "Evening Star" and "Before the dawn". "Evening star" is more accessible overall and Halford's vocals are simply amazing as he weaves and builds the song up. "Before the dawn" is bit more odd in it's approach, but no less spectacular. At the start it's perhaps very removed from the other metal workings on the album. The music is very much in the forefront and Halford's vocals start soft and slowly he brings that up over the music and it all just works so well. There is also a brief, but stunning guitar solo in that track. This is just a truly fantastic album and one of several examples of the huge contribution Priest made to metal.