The world of hard rock and heavy metal is a pretty diverse place. Be it the 70s pub rock of Australia or the current wave of speed and glam metal in Canada, one phrase that never ceases to get thrown about is “sell-out”. Perhaps as old as the genre itself, the frustrated cry that eases the pain whenever your favourite band decides to cut their hair, down-tune or throw in clean vocals never fails to sum it all up. Or does it?
Take for instance a band that, throughout their career, have been met with the two word phrase a number of times, and undoubtedly proved their detractors wrong every time: Judas Priest.
When examining the diverse sounds of Judas Priest's extensive catalogue, a trend-hopping mindset might be the first thing to explain the often starkly different flavours throughout, but in reality what is on offer is a band who have always written their own book, playing metal exactly how they see fit – ranging from straight-up rock n' roll on Rocka Rolla, to early speed metal and occasionally funky sounds on sounds of Screaming For Vengeance, Killing Machine/Hellbent For Leather and British Steel, to the heavy-as-a-heartattack, metal extravaganzas of Jugulator and Domination, and right up to the symphonic metal leanings of Nostradamus. The band have adapted to the metal environment that surrounds them - but on their terms, not the trend's.
Wit that said, it is easy for a 20-something to look back on the 80s glam scene and see it as nothing but a good time. After all, there are guitar solos, bluesy riffs and pounding drums – what's the problem? I can't vouch for how much the hatred may have been exaggerated over time, but it does seem that to a lot of headbangers, Glam was the enemy – watered down riffs, poppy lyrics and way too much synth.
Even as a big fan of the genre, (Although beer and my stomach seem to have other plans for my wardrobe...), it was clear to see that the corporate music world saw they could make a lot of money out of glam metal – did some of the bands, too? Saxon, Whitesnake and Tygers Of Pan-Tang all at some point – for whatever reason – took their cues from the synth-laden genre to varying degrees of success, and so did Priest with Turbo.
Turbo was – to put it lightly – busting at the seems with big happy riffs, choruses for stadiums, and hairspray. Not only that, but the band were donning a lot more colours, and put out a number of commercials that were...well...
Undoubtedly, songs like “Turbo Lover” and “Parental Guidance” had more hooks than a fisherman's tackle box, opening the band up to a new market of fans. The after-effects of this resonated into the release of Ram It Down and subsequent tour with Dokken. As well as making this guy pretty damn famous:
So, was Turbo a “sell-out”? For my money, absolutely not. Sure, it might seem convenient that the band had decided pompadours and colourful clothes were a good idea around about the same time the record labels did - but despite what may have gone on behind the scenes, Turbo spawned some Priest classics that could easily be woven into live sets today without too much trouble - “Out In The Cold” being an undeniably epic, fist-raising ballad.
The thing is – what's the difference between Priest's turn to a glammier sound with Turbo, and their reverting to a much heavier sound on Painkiller? Both fit in nicely with the metal surrounding them at the time, but stand out as benchmarks in the genres. Priest, like many of their peers, took cues from the younger generation in the 80s. This is something that Priest has done throughout their career,drawing on the influences of the bands that surround them, and releasing records that offer their own – often superior – take.
No one can know the true thought process behind a band's latest record except for the band themselves. The way it is marketed, the image adopted, and the bands they tour with are often decided by management and promoters. With this in mind, is it really fair to sweepingly judge all bands who “went glam” in the 80s as sell-outs and dishonest? The notion can be echoed throughout the history of popular music.
Priest are an example of growth for the better – they are a band who have stood the test of time by remaining fearless enough to look at the current state of metal music and say “we can do better”. Hell, I'm still waiting on that Halford/Ihsahn project I heard rumours about awhile back.
So whilst sometimes a change in a band might be based completely on the dollar signs in their eyes, other times? Its just the nature of The Priest.