Sound — 6
The Priest's debut album is quite debated among the fans of the band. Some consider it a charming, innocent first step in the right direction. Others find no clear purpose of the album, which they regard as anything from an "okay" debut album to a total snoozefest. Where do I stand in this discussion?
Well, I have to confess that when I first got this album, I was quite disappointed. I was in my most intense Priest-phase, indulging in the sound of albums like British Steel and Defenders of the Faith. The thick twin-guitar riffs and the manic screams from Rob Halford; none of these features were to be found here. Instead, we get an album which often has an abundance of atmosphere, at the expense of heaviness.
However, it grew on me, and now I can definitely enjoy this album from time to time. Apart from some stupid, bouncy rock n' roll tracks, it's actually quite a nice album, with some slightly progressive time-signatures appearing here and there to spice things up a bit. The production, however, will forever be lackluster; It was done by Sabbath producer Rodger Bain, and it's easy to tell he was more into the Sabs at the time.
Lyrics — 7
Some of the lyrics were written by former singer Al Atkins, and it's clear that he couldn't hold a candle to Halford even as a lyricist. "Winter" and "Never Satisfied" are both pretty devoid of a message, and they don't even feature any interesting wordplays. That's not to say Rob did everything great on Rocka Rolla either: Songs like the title track and "Cheater" could as well have been Status Quo tracks, as far as lyrics go. Although it IS quite nice to hear Rob singing about women for a change...
But at least he managed to pen some hauntingly beautiful words to the last two songs (not including the closing instrumental); "Run of the Mill" is a tale of an old man confused at the state of this modern world, and "Dying to Meet You" is one of a few anti-war songs by a metal band that don't use gory detail to get the message across. Then again, Priest weren't metal at the time...
Halford's vocals are... Well, this was recorded in 1974, and I think most of us know what a God he truly was throughout the seventies. His aggresive screaming is nowhere to be found here, but instead we get a showcase of his incredible mid-high-range tone. "Run of the Mill" could even be one of his biggest moments altogether, combining his mournful mid-range with a climactic ending (where he pretty much seems to float out into space).
Overall Impression — 6
If I were to point out a target group for this album, besides the diehard JP fans, I definitely wouldn't go for the average metal fan. Since the rock n' roll tracks have nothing spectacular or unique about them, except the annoying 5/4 beat of "One For the Road". Well, in all fairness, the title track is really catchy, and you'll be humming along to it in no time, but that's the exception.
Instead, I would turn to fans of vintage, early 70's minor-key pub rock, preferably with a progressive edge: Fans of early Wishbone Ash (Debut album/Argus/There's The Rub etc.) or early Thin Lizzy will probably have a good time with this record. At the time, Priest resembled those bands, but were already quite a lot darker. Tracks like "Run of the Mill" or "Dying to Meet You" are way too good to be missed out on, and if you're into weird suites, try the "Winter" suite on Side A.
One of the things about Priest which makes them so highly regarded in my book, is the diverse nature of their discography. They've covered most aspects of metal, including even pop-metal and nu-metal, and they've even released oddball stuff like Rocka Rolla. For those of us who can enjoy the sound of a clean Stratocaster under a breezy vocal melody, this is music to be enjoyed on a still, late summer evening, with a glass of Red Wine...