The Most Prophetic Rock Album Ad Ever?

Some promotional ads like to stir up controversy. And it turns out that some predict it years in advance.

Forty years ago in the UK — October 1978, to be exact — Judas Priest released their fifth studio album Killing Machine, an album with an ominous title and sinister cover art. The title would prove to be too intense for Columbia’s U.S. branch, which would later release the album as Hell Bent For Leather in America. In his autobiography, Priest co-founder and former guitarist K.K. Downing says the name change was prompted because of a then-recent school shooting in the United States. (A regular event that we have sadly become numb to.)

What makes the this ad (pictured at right) so provocative is what it says. While the tagline jokes about Killing Machine being a deadly slab of vinyl, its predecessor Stained Class (pictured at the bottom right) would prove to be a lethal sonic cocktail. At least it was in the minds of parents and prosecutors who went after the band in a July 1990 trial alleging that subliminal, backwards messages on that album incited two Nevada teens to execute a shotgun suicide pact in December 1985. One of the boys died, and the other blew a large part of his face off and would live uncomfortably for three more years. The trial was a farce and the band was exonerated of the ludicrous charges (and a $6.2 million payout), but for a few weeks it seemed like heavy metal might be held accountable for the kinds of tragic lives and circumstances that attract followers to such insurgent music to begin with.

Looking back, the unintended prophecy of this British advertisement feels downright creepy. One wonders what the reaction to the ad would have been had it been released amid the Satanic Panic of the 1980s.

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