The best Judas Priest live album isn’t the biggest or the newest. It’s the first: the humble Unleashed in the East. The first Priest album to be produced by Tom Allom, the last with Les Binks on drums…this is a special album for a number of reasons but most important are the songs. It would not be going out on a limb to suggest that some of these tracks are now the definitive versions.
Like many live albums of the 1970s, it has been questioned how much of Unleashed in the East was redone in the studio. Rob Halford has maintained that only the vocals were touched up, but it does not matter one iota when the needle hits wax or laser strikes plastic. The band were at a musical peak in 1979, and with accelerated tempos, they attacked the best of their body of work, although neglecting the bluesier debut Rocka Rolla.
With “Exciter” (from 1978’s Stained Class) opening the set, this collection has more energy by comparison to the somewhat stiffer studio counterparts. Les Binks has his foot on the pedal and the band is fully energized on this proto-thrash classic. “Stand back for Exciter” indeed, as Halford has the Tokyo crowd in the palm of his hand, heavy on the echo. “Running Wild” (1978’s Hell Bent for Leather) is extra caffeinated compared to the in-the-pocket original, giving the album the feel of a race. KK goes bananas at the end, and then it’s his showpiece: “Sinner” from 1977’s Sin After Sin. Finally it sounds like Priest have stopped hurryin’ about. About half of the track features KK taking his guitar to outer space in a trippy solo segment.
In its original form, “The Ripper” (1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny) was thin and stiff by comparison. Here it is a beast, with Rob Halford fully unleashed and stalking the back-alley streets. Easiest contender for most definitive version of a song on Unleashed in the East. “Green Manalishi” also comes close, with this electrifying version containing the full-blown dual solo in fantastic, crisp, live glory in stereo. Each part of the solo is an essential part of the song, just as “Green Manalishi” is an essential part of the album. If you own the LP, this is where you flip sides and go straight into an adrenalized “Diamonds and Rust”, keeping the energy moving. Binks’ double-bass work is fun as hell to listen to, like a kid who can’t stop tapping his feet excitement.
The Priest epic “Victim of Changes” takes its time to unfold, though mightily it does. The live setting and the unstoppable Les Binks make this another definitive Priest live version. It is the climax of the album, with the last two tracks “Genocide” and “Tyrant” unable to surpass its mountainous metal spires. Regardless, both are far more fuelled than their seemingly crippled studio counterparts. Halford is more expressive and engaging live, while the guitars riff on relentlessly.
This album would be 5/5 stars right here, full stop, no need to elaborate. The already definitive Priest live album became even more definitive in Japan in 1979, and 2001 in the rest of the world, with additional bonus tracks. On the 2001 remastered Sony edition, all the tracks blend into one another without fade-outs.
Most of the tracks originated on Hell Bent for Leather, with one from Sin After Sin. “Rock Forever” and “Delivering the Goods” cook! Not too dissimilar from the originals, these are nice additions that extend the album without weakening it. “Hell Bent for Leather” was conspicuous by its absence from the album proper, so its restoration is significant. Finally the lengthy “Starbreaker” occupies the final slot, including a Binks drum solo. An odd positioning but a stellar version nonethless. All said and done, the version of Unleashed with bonus tracks is just over an hour long. By today’s standards that’s a bit short for a live album, but it certainly does feel more complete.
Though he was indeed a significant source of Judas Priest’s musical power both on stage and in the studio, Les Binks quit the band mid-tour to be replaced by ex-Trapeze drummer Dave Holland for the remainder. Binks was never made an official member on paper and was dissatisfied. To be sure, other Priest drummers can sympathise. The only taint on this otherwise perfect “live” metal album is the absence of the departed drummer on the front cover.
JUDAS PRIEST REVIEWS
- Rocka Rolla (1974)
- Sad Wings of Destiny (1976)
- Sad Wings of Destiny (1976) “Re-Review”
- Sin After Sin (1977)
- The Best of Judas Priest (Insight Series) (1978)
- Stained Class (1978)
- Hell Bent for Leather / Killing Machine (1978)
- Unleashed in the East / Priest in the East (1979)
- British Steel (1980)
- British Steel (30th Anniversary Edition)
- Hero, Hero (1981)
- Point of Entry (1981)
- Screaming For Vengeance (1982 + 30th Anniversary Edition)
- Defenders of the Faith (1984)
- Defenders of the Faith (30th Anniversary Edition)
- Turbo (1986)
- Turbo 30 (Anniversary Edition)
- Priest…Live! (1987)
- Ram It Down (1988)
- Trouble Shooters (1989 cassette compilation)
- Painkiller (1990)
- Metal Works 73-93 (1993)
- Jugulator (1997)
- “Bullet Train” (1998 Japanese CD single)
- ’98 Live Meltdown (1998)
- Concert Classics (1998)
- Priest, Live and Rare (1998 Japanese)
- Demolition (2001 + Japanese edition)
- Live in London (2003)
- Metalogy (2004 4 CD + DVD box set)
- Angel of Retribution (2004 CD/DVD)
- Rising in the East (2005 DVD
- Nostradamus (2008)
- Greatest Hits (2008)
- A Touch of Evil – Live (2009 + iTunes + Japanese editions)
- Redeemer of Souls (2014)
- Redeemer of Souls – Deluxe Edition (2014 bonus CD)
- Battle Cry (2016)
- Firepower (2018)