For their sixth album, English metal gods Judas Priest collaborated with producer Tom Allom, who had acted as engineer on Black Sabbath’s first three. Allom encouraged Priest to streamline their songs, resulting in the undeniable immediacy heard in the classic metal anthems “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight.” “Tom helped us cut away all the stuff that wasn’t relevant,” vocalist Rob Halford tells Apple Music. “That’s why there’s no excessive fluff, no wandering around. There’s a real craftsmanship to it. In many ways, British Steel has been like a template for a lot of other metal musicians to see how you get the job done efficiently.” Recorded at Tittenhurst Park, which was then the home of former Beatle Ringo Starr, British Steel also marked Priest’s first album with drummer Dave Holland, who—along with Allom—would remain with the band for their next five albums and the decade that would make them superstars. “All the pieces clicked into place when we made British Steel,” says bassist Ian Hill. “Not just musically, but image-wise and all the rest.” Below, Halford and Hill discuss some of British Steel’s key tracks.
Metal Gods Halford: “This one is a bit of a sci-fi track, inspired by War of the Worlds. I love that book, the film and the British TV version of it—and the way it’s been reimagined by so many different people. But in my role as lyricist for Priest back then I was an avid science-fiction book reader. And the title ‘Metal Gods’ just popped into my head. It became a wonderful way to create imagery and larger-than-life visuals wrapped up in some really heavy riffs.” Hill: “Tom Allom came up with the idea to use cutlery and billiard cues on ‘Metal Gods’ to make it sound like robots marching. We were recording at Ringo’s house, so it was probably his cutlery. Next thing you know, Tom is picking this stuff up and dropping it on the floor in front of the mic. I remember he was smashing milk bottles for ‘Breaking the Law’ as well. We banged on radiators for another song. These days, you can probably just find these sounds on YouTube or something. In those days, you had to invent them yourself.”
Breaking the Law Halford: “It was a tough time in the UK in the middle and late ’70s. There was a tremendous amount of social upheaval in the country. Nobody really liked what Margaret Thatcher was doing. The trash men were on strike; the steelworkers were on strike; the coal workers were on strike. Kids were coming out of school with no jobs to go to. We’d watch the news and there’d be fights going on between police on horseback riding through demonstrators in London, knocking people over—and Molotov cocktails being thrown at government buildings. So the social angst and frustration is very prominent in ‘Breaking the Law.’”
United Halford: “This song definitely has a stance of us against them: We've got to be united and stick together. It's a song of solidarity more than anything else. And it's been picked up by so many people. I can remember doing talk shows in Bulgaria and Russia—songs like ‘United’ and ‘Breaking the Law’ were banned by the respective governments of the time because metal was looked upon as being too revolutionary for the youth. It was also picked up by football clubs with the word ‘United’ in their name, like Blackburn United and Manchester United. They’d play it at the matches and fans would be screaming along. It’s just got this empathy in that it reaches all different kinds of people.”
Living After Midnight Halford: “Glenn Tipton woke me up in the middle of the night playing the chord sequence that would become this song. That’s where the name comes from. So the next day we put together the verse and so on. It’s a rock ’n’ roll song about a band coming into town and leaving you at dawn. It’s a bit like our Beastie Boys’ ‘Fight for Your Right’—I’ve never said that about ‘Living After Midnight’ before, but it’s the same thing, isn’t it? When we play the song live, no matter where we are in the world, the room just lifts up and the fans go wild. It’s like we’re taking you on a time machine back to 1980 and you’re out partying with your friends.”
The Rage Hill: “Out of all the songs on the album, this one is probably my favorite—mainly because of that funky beginning. It’s got that almost reggae-ish style to it with the bassline. It just makes it a little bit different from the rest of the tracks on there. They said they wanted an intro, so I suggested a Latin beat and then I came up with that funky bit. The funniest thing is, I’m usually allergic to that kind of music. I’d come out with a rash. But it all stemmed from that offbeat thing—not playing on the beat.”