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"We had no idea we were making anything special," says Judas Priest guitarist Glenn Tipton of the 1980 album British Steel, now celebrating its 30th anniversary and heralded by millions of fans as a defining moment, not only for the band but for heavy metal as a genre.
"After we finished it, we listened back and we knew we liked it, but we couldn't have anticipated the effect it would have on our careers. Its success shocked us all."
Co-guitarist KK Downing recalls that “the songs felt a bit tighter than anything we had done prior. But we didn’t sit down and say, 'Right, this is what we need to get on the radio.' As the saying goes, we were flying by the seat of our pants.”
The band (Tipton, Downing, singer Rob Halford, bassist Ian Hill and then-drummer Dave Holland) set up shop at Tittenhurst Park, a Georgian manor house located on 72 acres of land in Sunninghill near Ascot in England. Previously owned by John Lennon, it was then the residence of Ringo Starr.
Tipton: “It sounds rather elegant to say, ‘Oh yeah, we recorded where two of The Beatles lived', but we went there because it was available and we thought, 'Let’s get out of the same old studios and see what happens.'
"We did what Led Zeppelin had started doing in the early '70s, putting our amplifiers all over the house and situating the drum kit near the stairwell. Those kind of tricks really did get you some nice sounds."
Containing the radio hits Breaking The Law and Living After Midnight, some diehard Priest fans claimed the band had 'gone pop,' but Downing sees the record as "most definitely a metal album. Sure, it does have a more universal appeal than our earlier work. But we were just trying to make something that we liked. If you'd told us that we’d still be talking about British Steel 30 years later, we would’ve thought you were crazy.”
As for Tipton, he views British Steel as "that moment where everything was right and nothing went wrong. Between the title, the album cover with the giant razor blade, and the way we were defining our look and sound, all the pieces fell into place. We were damn lucky.”
With the newly remastered, deluxe 30th anniversary edition of British Steel about to be released, guitarists Tipton and Downing sat down with MusicRadar to reflect on the original nine-song disc that changed their lives.