Judas Priest’s Point of Entry nearly slammed the brakes on one of heavy metal’s most unstoppable career arcs.

Leading up to this seventh studio effort, Priest had taken all of the career-building groundwork laid down throughout the '70s to unprecedented heights of commercial success, via to the impressive marriage of heavy metal authenticity and hard rock accessibility presented on 1980’s instant classic British Steel.

Despite that widespread acclaim, Judas Priest wasn't content to simply fast-track a quick carbon copy for their next effort. The problem was, they couldn't agree on their next step, according to frontman Rob Halford. “We were really scratching our heads with Point of Entry," he told journalist Garry Sharpe-Young for the book Metal: The Definitive Guide. "The band wanted to do something different, but the record company had seen we could deliver hit singles and wanted more of the same. We were not so sure, so I think Point of Entry suffers from too many people pulling in too many directions.”

This atmosphere of uncertainty even affected the album’s cover art, as the U.S. office of CBS records rejected the vaguely futuristic design chosen overseas. They replaced it with an arguably more abstract interpretation of the title, featuring a continuous sheet of line printer paper stretching into the distance of a desert landscape.

Similarly, the project – released on Feb. 26, 1981 – began promisingly enough, as glorious staccato riffs powered Judas Priest's latest (and maybe greatest) motorcycle anthem, “Heading Out to the Highway,” but then confusing and conflicting musical agendas set in.

Listen to Judas Priest Perform 'Solar Angels'

On the one hand, cuts like “Don’t Go” and “On the Run” were so basic they were boring, doing little more than draping spare power chords around some catchy choruses. On the other hand, more thoughtful numbers like “Desert Plains” and “Solar Angels” merely hinted at the experimental side of Judas Priest, without the conviction to commit to doing anything truly groundbreaking.

Elsewhere, both “Hot Rockin’” and “Turning Circles” did a better job of replicating the simple but effective heavy rock template found on British Steel, but the key word was “replicate” because they also didn’t measure up. Finally, there was some out-and-out filler crammed onto side two, specifically “You Say Yes,” “All the Way” and “Troubleshooter” – each of them generally forgotten by all but the most dedicated Priest disciple.

The only consolation is that these mostly unsatisfying songs (and the disappointing sales and chart ranks that followed) could do little to dent Judas Priest’s building momentum on the road, as they embarked on their most ambitious tour to that point. The subsequent shows featured expensive hydraulic risers and light rigs, and were backed by openers like Whitesnake, Iron Maiden and the Joe Perry Project.

“The tour was our biggest yet, and when we played 'Solar Angels' and 'Desert Plains,' they were super heavy," Halford told Sharpe-Young. "I think we maybe went a bit more over the top to compensate, and it worked.” So did Point of Entry’s major standout "Heading Out to the Highway," which hereafter entered Priest’s rarefied shortlist of nearly mandatory concert staples.

Of course, we now know that Judas Priest would bounce back to deliver a no-holds-barred metallic onslaught with their next LP, the heavy-metal benchmark Screaming for Vengeance. That likely only exacerbated the sense of disappointment surrounding Point of Entry, which had its occasional bright spots but was unfortunately sandwiched between two of Judas Priest's greatest achievements.

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