Killing Machine (known as Hell Bent for Leather in the US due to controversy over the Cleveland Elementary School shooting) is the fifth studio album by British heavy metal band Judas Priest. With its release in October 1978, the album pushed the band towards a more commercial style; however, it still contained the dark lyrical themes of their previous albums. At about the same time, the band members adopted their now-famous “leather-and-studs” fashion image, inspired by Rob Halford’s interest in gay leather culture. It is the band’s last studio album to feature drummer Les Binks.
The album was retitled Hell Bent for Leather for its U.S. release in early 1979, because the U.S. branch of Columbia/CBS did not like the “murderous implications” of the title. Both titles are drawn from songs on the album with “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)”, an early Fleetwood Mac cover, being added to the U.S. release.
The album was also pressed in red vinyl in the UK.
With Killing Machine, Judas Priest began moving to a more accessible, commercial format that abandoned the complex, fantasy-themed songs of their previous three albums. While this album still had dark undertones, it was more grounded in realism. This was reflected in their change of stage costumes from flowing Gothic robes to leather, but was also a reaction to the rising punk and New Wave movements. K.K. Downing had expressed doubts about the New Wave of British Heavy Metal stating “everybody was totally dedicated to having their own show, their own images”. Priest were part of the influence on the NWOBHM, but not part of it. The band’s new, simpler sound was the result of several factors, including a desire to compete with punk rock, produce songs that were easier to perform live, and also appeal more to American audiences. Tracks such as “Burnin’ Up” and “Evil Fantasies” are replete with S&M themes while “Running Wild” is about late-night partying and “Before the Dawn” a depressing ballad. “Hell Bent for Leather” reflected their newly adopted leather costumes as well as Rob Halford’s soon-to-be-trademark entrances on stage in a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The single “Take on the World” was an attempt at producing a stadium shoutalong tune in the mould of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, and was also covered by New Wave band The Human League on their 1980 tour. If the lyrics were simplified a bit from the band’s previous albums and adapted more into mainstream arena rock, the instruments retained their characteristic aggressiveness with heavier guitar riffing and elements of blues influence returned on some songs. The album is certified gold by the RIAA. Finally, the production of Killing Machine was markedly improved from Judas Priest’s earlier albums, which were criticized for having excessively flat sound, and would be further refined for their next and breakthrough album, British Steel.
“Delivering The Goods”, “Hell Bent For Leather”, and “The Green Manalishi” were the three songs from Killing Machine which became standard parts of the band’s live setlist, with the other songs being performed rarely or not at all.
This is the first Judas Priest album where Glenn Tipton incorporated the guitar technique of tapping into his soloing style, perhaps[according to whom?] inspired by Eddie Van Halen’s popularization of the technique, with his band Van Halen’s popular debut album having come out earlier that year. This is also the final studio album for drummer Les Binks who had joined the band in early 1977 in time for the Sin After Sin tour; he is credited with helping develop the traditional Priest percussive sound. Binks was dropped and replaced by drummer Dave Holland after the 1979 tour because of a financial disagreement where the band’s manager Mike Dolan wanted Binks to “waive his fees” for performing on the platinum selling 1979 Unleashed in the East live album.
Rob Halford – vocals
K. K. Downing – guitar
Glenn Tipton – guitar, keyboards on “Before the Dawn”
Ian Hill – bass
Les Binks – drums