Learn how photographer Bob Elsdale and art director Roslav Szaybo sharpened their blades and created the “Heavy Metal Gods” iconic album cover photo.
The word “EPIC” was made for albums like British Steel. Recorded at Startling Studios in early 1980 on Ringo Starr’s 100-acre Tittenhurst Park estate in Ascot, England, and featuring the ceaseless Priest classics “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight,” the album’s title was both a nod to the British Steel Corporation where Glenn Tipton himself, worked for over five years. It was a calling card for Judas Priest’s “galvanizing brand” of British heavy metal. It also boasts what is arguably considered the band’s most memorable album cover: The giant razorblade bearing Priest logo held firmly in the hand of what appeared to be a leather-clad metalhead.
British Steel photographer Bob Elsdale revealed: “It’s actually the art director, Roslav Szaybo’s hand, we made an oversized razorblade by having the album title and the Priest logo screen-printed on a cut-out piece of aluminum.” Of course there was no Photoshop in those days, so everything was shot “for real.” Szaybo and Esldale had also worked together on Priest’s previous album, 1979’s Hell Bent for Leather (which was released in the U.K. under the title Killing Machine), and both covers were shot in Elsdale’s studio at St. John’s Wood, London.
I almost certainly used a wooden 4×5 large format Wista camera, the actual photo shoot didn’t take that long—a couple of hours or something like that. All the work went into preparing the razorblade and screen-printing it!
In fact, Elsdale credits his art director with masterminding the visuals for both British Steel and Hell Bent for Leather. “All the shots I did with Roslav were his concepts. He’s really on the ball. He’s over 70 years old now, and he’s still at it, teaching at Warsaw University and doing freelance work. And he’s still in demand. Not bad huh?”
As of late, Elsdale shoots mostly animal-based photography. “I was doing album covers until people started using videos as a promotional tool,” he explained. “All of a sudden, all of the money went out of the artwork budgets and into the videos.”
Though Elsdale’s heavy metal days may have been short-lived, British Steel’s razor blade clearly made its mark. It’s been reproduced on literally millions of T-Shirts and has even turned up in a 2001 Absolut Vodka ad bearing the legend “Absolut Priest.”
“I’m really pleased with it,” Elsdale said of the image he shot nearly three decades ago. “I think we did a really great job. A lot of people looked at it and were really quite horrified. The edges of the blade seemed to be cutting into Roslav’s flesh, because he was really gripping it quite hard. But that wasn’t the case—it actually had blunt edges. It wasn’t bloody, but it definitely had an element of drama.”
The original British Steel blade hung on the wall of Elsdale’s photo studio for many years. But sadly, one day, it simply disappeared. “I think somebody made off with it,” the photographer explained in with pure grief in his voice…
“It’s too bad—it would’ve been a nice thing to have today.”