Recorded during November - December of 1975 and released on March 23rd of 1976 by Gull Records, the second studio album of Judas Priest is one of the blueprints of heavy metal.
by Andreas Andreou
Having the same business arrangements just like the first album Rocka Rolla (a recording budget of £2,000), the band entered the Rockfield Studios in Wales, with producers Jeffrey Calvert and Max West, while Chris Tsangarides was listed as co-engineer. The band was very happy when Rodger Bain was brought to produce Rocka Rolla in June - July 1974, because they were fans of Black Sabbath and having the producer of their first albums was something important for them. However, the result didn't meet their expectations but it was an eye-opening learning experience. At that point, the recording line-up was Rob Halford (vocals), K.K. Downing (guitar), Glenn Tipton (guitar, piano), Ian Hill (bass), Alan Moore (drums) and the band were listed as "co-producers" convincing the producers to add in the new album tracks that were previously rejected by Bain.
Things were ready for the next level and there was going to be a departure from the Rocka Rolla sound but those years, where music terms were abstract, they didn't really want to be labelled as a "heavy band". "We don't like to be called heavy. We'd rather be thought of as a dramatic band", Glenn Tipton said to Sounds magazine in May of 1976.
Before the recordings of one of the most important albums of their catalogue (and the last one for Gull), the band visited former singer Al Atkins to sign a contract so they will include parts he wrote in the album. Those parts were added in "Victim of Changes" and "Dreamer Deceiver". However, Atkins doesn't really remember which part was included in "Dreamer Deceiver" (and if any was used) so in a few later pressings of the album his credit is discarded. "Victim of Changes", a song with a heavy influenced Black Sabbath riff, is a combination of the older "Whiskey Woman" track written by Atkins and Downing, and Halford's "Red Light Lady".
Read about the formation of Judas Priest.
"Victim of Changes" is by far the most-times performed-live song of the album, followed by "The Ripper". Sad Wings of Destiny is heavily influenced by Black Sabbath (who already had released 6 albums at that point) since a few Priest members were listening to Sabbath even during the writing and the recordings of the album. From the riffing of "Victim of Changes" up to more melodic arrangements, even lyrics themselves, and from the "Children of the Grave"-influenced riff of "Deceiver" (with a touch of "Under the Sun"), just like Rocka Rolla, this album is also dominated by Black Sabbath, mainly from the albums after Master of Reality. The heavy, progressive and diverse vibe of albums like Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is all over Priest.
The late Chris Tsangarides has told Martin Popoff, "They (Judas Priest) started writing lyrics that kind of set the way forward for most of metal, doom, gloom, that kind of thing, the odd demon here or there, but it was mainly that. They loved the Sabbath. In fact, they (Black Sabbath) were recording in the next studio to us and we would talk with them and go in there, listen to a couple of hours and whatnot." Chris Tsangarides, who worked again with Judas Priest for the Painkiller album, added, "Definitely Black Sabbath was the band that they liked and loved very much".
But it wasn't just Black Sabbath. This was the key influence, but there was also Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Queen. Queen and Freddie Mercury had the biggest impact on Halford who was impressed when he saw them live at the Birmingham Town Hall before Priest recorded the debut album, and when an early manager tried to nickname him, he gave him the awkward, Rob "The Queen" Halford, something that didn't last for a minute.
"Purple, Sabbath, Zeppelin, I was a fun of those bands'', Tipton noted, while Downing wrote in his autobiography, "As proud as I was of Sad Wings of Destiny, I could see the influence of other bands slowly creeping into our songwriting on what was a very important album" and he is very correct. An album blueprint for heavy metal, is actually a masterpiece that's balancing between their influences and the search of their personal style. A turning point where Judas Priest were still searching for their own identity and vision, even if it is considered nowadays as one of their best albums. For example the strong Queen influence that is all over Sad Wings of Destiny wasn't really present in the albums that followed.
From that point on though, Sad Wings of Destiny took the torch and influenced more people and bands, leading to the next albums where Judas Priest finalized their own unique heavy metal style. Added to that, the huge leap from Rocka Rolla (a Bottom-5 Priest album) to Sad Wings of Destiny (a Top-5 Priest album) is probably one of the biggest gaps in the catalogue of all major bands.
The album wasn't an instant success. Actually, it took a few years to be recognized and that's why its influence wasn't instantly, just like Black Sabbath's albums.
The original track list was
5. Island of Domination
1. Victim of Changes
2. The Ripper
3. Dreamer Deceiver
but Gull Records pressed the vinyl by putting side B before side A, even if in the back cover of the first pressing it was written as intended to be. Actually, the original idea makes more sense (who would put a "Prelude" track in the middle?) but that mistake is how we learned the album and what's considered correct in the history of Judas Priest. After all, the history of music itself has many stories of mistakes which later considered as the "normal" because that's what was presented by the labels or the artists or the press.
There is a diversity that might be considered as a flaw in the track list and the final recordings, something like the track list of Black Sabbath's Vol. 4 or Sabotage, where it is uneasy for someone that listened to those albums for the first time having in mind what followed. "Prelude" probably makes no sense before "Tyrant" and it was scrapped from a few later album repressings, while "Dreamer Deceiver" and "Deceiver" sound better as one track with the first part being the "dream" ("followed the dreamer through the purple hazy clouds") and the second part being the "deception" ("all is lost, doomed and tossed"). For some people "Epitaph" sounds out of place and equally different in the flow just like Sabbath's "Changes". K.K. Downing felt the same and didn't like the song but it ended in the album as a Tipton composition and a homage to Queen who Halford loved.
And finally, you have the fade-in at "Victim of Changes", a criminally editing decision that's corrected in the live versions of the track where you listen to the twin guitar harmony of the intro in its full glory. The intro of "Victim of Changes" had many incarnations, from the early stages of "Whiskey Woman" up to the unreleased track "Mother Sun" whose beginning was also considered. But let's remember that Judas Priest were experimenting those years, looking for their identity between their influences and their raw talent, shaping the foundations of heavy metal.
The "Fallen Angel" cover art was commissioned for the album by Dave Howells of Gull and created by Patrick Woodroffe, also known for his work on Budgie's Bandolier, Pallas' The Sentinel and Stratovarius' Fright Night. Around the angel's neck, we will see the Devil's Cross, a symbol adopted by Judas Priest, while the band's gothic-style logo was used one more time in the next album Sin After Sin before it would be replaced by the band logo on Stained Class. The iconic cover art is an undeniable link to the lyrical, dramatic and mournful side of Sad Wings of Destiny.
Speaking of Sin After Sin, the cover of "Diamonds & Rust" song (originally written and performed by Joan Baez) was supposed to be included in Sad Wings of Destiny after Gull Records's suggestion (a version of the track was already recorded in those sessions) but finally ended in Sin After Sin. At that point, Judas Priest broke the contract with Gull, losing all the rights of those two albums, and joined CBS. They became full professional musicians and quit their daily jobs. Judas Priest also had the opportunity to fill the gap other major British acts created after Deep Purple's disbandment in 1976 and Black Sabbath's inner problems after Technical Ecstasy. It was a period where everything worked in favour of the band and they grabed every chance creating the albums that helped shaping heavy metal music.
Just like a few more Priest albums, there is not a track with the album title, that is mostly used as a statement for the content and the aura of the music and lyrics. In the album Winter Ethereal of Arch / Matheos (released in 2019), there is the track "Wanderlust" with the line "so whimsical and she'll be no angel falling, sad wings of destiny won't carry her away" that sounds like a beautiful and poetic reference.
Sad Wings of Destiny is one of the most important heavy metal albums and one of the best Judas Priest releases. Decades later, its influence is a huge part of the metal history that led to Priest's iconic style.