Killing Machine (also known as Hell Bent for Leather) 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" image.
Killing Machine 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 album title (both titles are also names of songs on the album), with "The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)", an early Fleetwood Mac cover, being added to the recording.
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 also may have been inspired by the rising punk and New Wave movements. Glenn Tipton said in a contemporary interview that "I believe we are part of the New Wave. After all, we're fast, aggressive and exciting, which is what it's all about." 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.
The album was remastered in 2001, with two bonus tracks added (three in the UK). The bonus track "Fight for Your Life" was the "original" version of Judas Priest's "Rock Hard Ride Free" from their Defenders of the Faith album. "The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)" is considered a bonus track on the UK remaster, but a regular track on the U.S. version.
In 2010, audiophile label Audio Fidelity released a limited-edition 24-karat gold CD of Hell Bent for Leather. Mastering was done by Steve Hoffman. This does not contain the bonus tracks from the 2001 edition.
This is the first Judas Priest album where Glenn Tipton incorporated the guitar technique of tapping into his soloing style, perhaps inspired by Eddie Van Halen's popularization of the technique, with his band Van Halen's popular debut album having come out early in the year. This is also the final album for drummer Les Binks who had joined the band in late 1977 for the recording of Stained Class; he is credited with helping develop the traditional Priest percussive sound.
In 2005, Killing Machine was ranked number 321 in Rock Hard magazine's book of The 500 Greatest Rock & Metal Albums of All Time. This album, as well as subsequent albums by the band, have somewhat divided fans, with some preferring the complexity and darkness of the early albums, while others prefer the more mainstream and polished later albums.