By the time Judas Priest entered the 1980s – their second decade as recording artists – the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was in full flow. As has been written many times before, their sixth studio album ‘British Steel’ is a genuine metal classic, more than able of standing proudly alongside Iron Maiden’s self titled debut and Saxon’s ‘Wheels of Steel’ as one of the greatest heavy albums of that year. No matter how much great music Priest had up their collective sleeve, that would always be a hard act to follow.
In 1981, Priest had high hopes of repeating ‘British Steel’s’ commercial success with another timeless set. Being the first time the band had actually re-entered the studio with the same line-up, in theory, they should have been a stronger unit than ever. However, the resulting album, ‘Point of Entry’ (released in February ’81) initially sounds weaker than Priest’s previous couple of albums and although parts of it seem very formulaic on the surface, in reality, their seventh LP features a couple of musical experiments that show a band attempting to branch out. Regardless of some interesting material, though, it’s no match for its immediate predecessors (‘British Steel’ and ‘Killing Machine’); that said, it’s far from the bad album its sometimes suggested to be.
It’s easy to see what Priest were aiming for with the strongest and most direct material. Driven by Dave Holland’s unassuming drum rhythms and Ian Hill’s pumping bass-line (almost too simple for its own good), ‘Heading Out To The Highway’ opens the record with a slice of classic Priest which lulls the listener into believing the album is of a similar high quality as its immediate predecessors. As an opening track, granted it doesn’t grab at full throttle in the way ‘Rapid Fire’ previously had, but it has more than enough charm to ensure sits comfortably alongside other Priest classics. A chunky riff leading into a strong chorus may be more melodic than many of their previous works, but it still shows guitarists KK and Glenn as having plenty of muscle and chorus-wise, it’s an absolutely stellar track. Unafraid to flaunt some of Priest’s more clichéd ideas, the themes of the open road and cutting loose serve the band well; Halford clearly relishes the opportunity to offer a slightly gruffer vocal, but still retains the distinctive presence that’s made him beloved by metal fans the world over, while Glenn Tipton & KK Downing go about their usual business in the guitar department, trading lead licks with flair, and always in a way that makes it seem effortless. The more commercial edge seeks to gain a greater appeal in the US market, but it’s by no means a sell out – there’s plenty of melodic heaviness here that calls back to a couple of ‘Killing Machine’ tracks, definitely setting ‘Point of Entry’ off with best foot forward.
‘On The Run’ equals ‘Heading Out To The Highway’ in terms of greatness; proof enough that Judas Priest hadn’t burnt themselves out completely after ‘British Steel’. Holland’s drumming – constructed around a hard rock boogie – puts the song onto a strong footing from the outset, but a top-notch solo from Glenn and an effortless vocal from Halford – turning up the intensity without resorting to full-on metal squealing – provides the album with another solid offering. A shared solo between Tipton and Downing may have improved things (it’s always great to have one of those lead breaks where the chaps take a few bars each and then bring it to a close), but as it stands, it’s certainly one of ‘Point of Entry’s more immediate numbers. Released as a single, ‘Hot Rockin’ has a heavily rhythmic quality not too dissimilar to ‘Breaking The Law’ – a definite attempt at repeating a winning formula. In terms of riffs, its great, but lyrically, it’s something of a weak link. Despite US rock stations thriving on simple hooks, ‘Hot Rockin’ is just too simple. Whereas ‘Breaking The Law’ had something of a sneer (albeit a rather silly one), this, by comparison, is just a bit silly. While the intentions of Halford and co are commendable in the way they’ve constructed a tough riff and singalong hook, the “cheese factor” is massive – this track represents every reason why non-fans have a habit of pointing and laughing at the band. That aside, Halford’s easily recognisable vocal and Holland’s mid-tempo drumming (very high in the mix), both go a huge way towards making this at least sound good, assuming you’re not bothered by little things like good lyrics. A lead solo (shared by Tipton and Downing) is suitably over-the-top and not their most tuneful, but a couple of the squeals ought to raise a smile. …And if that doesn’t, the promo video with Rob pretending to be a tough guy at the gym while Glenn and KK waggle their guitars about with flaming headstocks certainly will. It’s one of the greatest ever 80s metal videos…for all the wrong reasons.
The stomping anger behind ‘Solar Angels’ instantly feels like a re-tread of the previous album’s ‘Metal Gods’ – right down to its use of overdubbed sound effects. The Priest-by-numbers aspects should mean it’s laziness works against it, but somehow it represents one of the few times Priest take an obviously tried-and-tested formula and make it work properly. While ‘Hot Rockin’ is so obviously a re-working ‘Breaking The Law’ and sometimes suffers for it, ‘Solar Angels’ thrives in its over-familiarity. With a great riff and a sense of presence, it’s one of the album’s highlights. Granted, some of the guitar parts appear to have been recycled, but the buzz-saw qualities in the intro help generate excitement and both solos (performed by Tipton) are played with absolute conviction. That alone will be enough to secure it as a favourite among some fans. ‘Troubleshooter’, meanwhile, is a great rocker that’s driven by a taut rhythm section. With Hill’s bass taking the lead through the verse, there’s plenty of room for Halford to steer a hard vocal between the riffs, while a sharp turn towards melodic rock on the chorus, once again, hints at Priest’s bid for a place on the soon to be launched MTV. Factor in a short and sharp guitar solo, this has many of the hallmarks that made the bulk of 1978’s ‘Killing Machine’ a classic, while simultaneously embracing the more commercial style of the new decade.
As for the rest of the album, at best, you could say the songs are a mixed bag, although it’d take the most ardent of fans to claim any of them were classic. ‘Don’t Go’ makes use of a decent chorus, but beyond that is completely disposable. Its drum heavy verses appear somewhat disjointed and Halford in turn does his best to deliver badly written lyrics in a way which makes them seem convincing. Despite featuring one of the album’s most upbeat riffs, ‘You Say Yes’ is little more than fun filler material. Some of its lyrics sound like they were tossed off in about ten minutes as a guide vocal: you’d expect better from the mighty Priest than a chorus that merely chucks out the refrain “You say yes, I say no”, even on an off day. Also pointing toward it being filler is the fact that it doesn’t feature a lead guitar break; even with Priest’s weaker material, at least they could often be relied upon for a guitar solo or two…but this just seems like a half-baked rocker with no real point.
A marked improvement but still somewhat wobbly, ‘All The Way’ has a very seventies feel; too rooted within hard rock to be glam, but far more party-fuelled than the classic Priest of previous years. The stomping beats and handclaps suggest this was an attempt at creating something to be enjoyed by audiences on a big scale, but it’s totally missing the obvious anthemic chant of material like ‘United’ or ‘Take on the World’. Its upbeat nature seems far too contrived, but it’s certain better than ‘You Say Yes’. ‘Desert Plains’, meanwhile, is an okay mid-paced rocker. The chorus is more memorable than some on the album, but musically, there’s a feeling that the song doesn’t really make the best use of its arrangement. More melodic once again than most of Priest’s material of the previous couple of years, it hovers in that musical no-man’s-land that’s far too melodic to be of long term appeal to your average metal fan, but far too metallic to keep melodic rock fans returning in the long term. The reverb on the guitar gives the song a kind of spaciousness not previously associated with Priest, and that overall atmosphere makes it unlike anything else from the album. It’s only when the pre-solo bridge section comes in at about the two minute mark and there’s a key change that this becomes blindingly obvious. That key change is like a ray of sunshine and the guitar solo which follows is also praiseworthy. The most notable of ‘Point of Entry’s more experimental material, ‘Turning Circles’ works a hard, staccato chord pattern that’s fairly far removed from the band’s typical metal sound. As the track finds its feet, it becomes a glam/metal hybrid that’s reasonably confident, but no matter how much of a new melodic slant the band tries to bring, Halford’s You’ve got to tip your hat to them for trying something different, even if the end result isn’t the smash they were hoping for.
‘Point of Entry’, perhaps rightly, isn’t ever considered a Priest classic, but its strongest moments are superb. In some ways, it’s a pity that its best strengths often seem to languish in the shadows of half-baked ideas like ‘You Say Yes’, but at least this wasn’t a band who were stuck in a musical rut. The album’s more melodic and commercial style didn’t actually bring greater success (it merely peaked in the top 20 of the UK album chart; ‘British Steel’ had broken the top 5), so the band retreated into their comfort zone and returned the following year with a more metal-oriented album, the almost peerless ‘Screaming For Vengeance’ – one of their heaviest at the time of release. That classic album and it’s follow up – 1984’s ‘Defenders of The Faith’ – helped secure Judas Priest’s almost unshakeable position as one of Britain’s greatest metal bands. In their own way, those albums make ‘Point of Entry’ seem even more like a weird experiment, but on its own merits, it’s an album that still brings more than enough to the table, even if the best moments need to be cherry picked. Decades on from its original release, it definitely deserves a revisit.
August 2010/February 2021