Formed in Birmingham, England in 1969, Judas Priest are one of the biggest bands in the history of heavy metal. Their singer, Rob Halford, is known as the ‘Metal God’ and is known for his vocal range. From early albums like “Sin After Sin” and “Killing Machine“, through to their peak on albums like “Screaming For Vengeance” and “Painkiller“, this is a band that has always evolved and reflected the state of the art in heavy metal. After that album, Rob Halford left the band. It was not long after that that he revealed his homosexuality, thus telling the world that the love of leather and studs that they introduced to heavy metal had its origins in the gay scene. After a couple of disappointing albums with Ripper Owens, himself having his start in a Judas Priest cover band, Rob rejoined the band, and they have continued to release strong albums, albeit without founding member KK Downing, who left in 2011.
Early influences of Judas Priest included Bob Dylan (only in that their name came from one of his songs), and bands like Queen, Thin Lizzy, Budgie, Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple and Cream. Through the years, the band have kept an eye on the metal scene and as new styles evolve in metal, they have allowed those to influence their direction, from the more commercial sound of ‘British Steel’ to the highly produced ‘Point of Entry’, to the synths of ‘Turbo’, the thrash influenced ‘Painkiller’ and then the two poorly received albums with Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens that tried to go further in to a ‘modern’ metal sound at the time. It’s only since the return of Rob Halford as lead vocalist that they have explored their range of past styles on ‘Angel of Retribution’ and consolidated a style reminiscent of classic albums like ‘Screaming for Vengeance’ on albums like ‘Redeemer of Souls’.
(the albums even a casual fan owns)
British Steel (1980)
For many people, this album is ground zero for heavy metal. Of course, Black Sabbath had happened, but in terms of streamlining metal to a music that had no influences from styles like blues, was tight, focused and commercial, this is, for many people, where it started. There are at least three songs on this CD that you would expect to hear at any Priest show, in ‘Living after Midnight’, ‘Metal Gods’, and of course, ‘Breaking the Law’. Deeper tracks like ‘Rapid Fire‘, ‘United‘ and ‘The Rage‘ are just as strong. Priest did a tour where they played all of this album live. It’s that important in their history. It paved the way for mainstream commercial success.
Screaming for Vengeance (1982)
British Steel was a definite step in a commercial direction and the next album, Point of Entry, was definitely a further step and a step too far for many fans. Priest responded with this album and proved they were still a heavy metal band. The title track was deliberately written to be fast and heavy and a track written at the last minute, ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’’, went on to be their biggest ever hit. To this day, it closes every Judas Priest show, with Rob goading the crowd to do vocal exercises and sing along with him. The album opens with ‘The Hellion’ and ‘Electric Eye’, a one-two punch that is amongst the best known songs in heavy metal. Other tracks like ‘Bloodstone‘ and ‘Devils Child‘ round this out as one of the best albums in heavy metal. In fact, in a worldwide poll, this album came in at number 12 of all time best albums and was the top entry for Judas Priest.
Priest have always followed trends in metal. Turbo was Priest introducing synths in response to glam metal. The followup, Ram It Down, tried to return to a heavier sound, with limited impact. On this, their last album before Rob left, they hit paydirt. With a faster, more aggressive sound, they moved Judas Priest in to a new decade, a promise they sadly failed to live up to. The title track is a bonafide classic, songs like ‘Nightcrawler‘ and ‘Hell Patrol‘ are consistently good, fast and heavy. The ballad, ‘Touch of Evil’, is about the PMRC and censorship, Priest having just been sued over the suicide of two fans who were listening to the 1970s track, ‘Better By You, Better Than Me’ (actually this was a Spooky Tooth cover, but the law suit claimed that playing the track backwards would cause you to hear the words ‘Do it’.).
(the album that didn’t make it big, but every fan loves)
Unleashed in the East (1979)
This live album serves to consolidate the work of the previous years, ahead of the groundbreaking change that was British Steel. As such, it’s a strong introduction to early Priest, and songs like ‘Diamonds and Rust’ (a Joan Baez cover) are much better live. Tracks like ‘Victims of Changes‘ really show of Rob’s vocal range. The only shame is that ‘Beyond The Realms Of Death’ doesn’t make an appearance.
(One step below, but these albums still shine in the catalogue)
Defenders of the Faith (1984)
Screaming for Vengeance was so well received, Priest essentially recorded it again. This album is similar and style and also has a lot of strong songs. Instead of ‘Electric Eye‘, it has ‘The Sentinel‘. Instead of ‘Screaming For Vengeance‘, it has ‘Freewheel Burning‘. Sadly no song here matched the commercial success of ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’, but the song ‘Jawbreaker’ (obviously about oral sex) made the PMRC ‘Filthy 15’ list of songs most likely to corrupt youth in the late 1980s.
Stained Class (1978)
The song ‘Beyond the Realms of Death’ alone makes this a must purchase, but songs like ‘Exciter’ and ‘Stained Class’ also make this a strong album. Priest often did covers to try to get hit songs, and the cover on this album is the song that got them taken to court over alleged backward masking.
Angel of Retribution (2005)
Judas Priest have always moved with the times and made modern metal, but for this, their reunion album with Rob Halford, they essentially played in the style of a lot of their past albums. It was the right move for the time and it resulted in a strong, varied album full of classic tracks.
(The one fans disagree on)
In the mid 80s, hair metal was king, and so Priest did an album overloaded with guitar synths and the video of the following live album has them looking like they want to be Bon Jovi. This album was very poorly received, but nowadays is regarded as somewhat of a lost classic. For this reviewer (and I bought this album new), this album has always been weak because the songs are not strong. ‘Turbo’ and ‘Out in the Cold’ are both strong tracks, synths or not, but songs like ‘Parental Guidance’ and ‘Hot for Love’ sounded more like Ratt than Judas Priest.
Buy this last
(Not all bands have a ‘bad’ album, but this is their least good one)
Point of Entry (1981)
If you go back through their discography, Priest have always evolved and never released an album that doesn’t have at least a few strong tracks. This album is the worst not because of the songs, but because the success of British Steel saw them chase the American market, particularly in their production values and the result is an album that sounds flat and uninspired. The two best songs on this album, ‘Headed Out On The Highway’ and ‘Desert Plains’ are best heard on the Live album. It’s telling that the bonus track on the more recent CD release is stronger and heavier than anything on the CD.
(A killer playlist for your phone)
Victim of Changes (Sad Wings of Destiny)
Dissident Aggressor (Sin After Sin)
The Green Manalishi (Hellbent For Leather/Killing Machine)
Hellbent For Leather (Hellbent For Leather/Killing Machine)
Diamonds And Rust (Unleashed In The East)
Beyond The Realms Of Death (Stained Class)
Rapid Fire (British Steel)
Metal Gods (British Steel)
Grinder (British Steel)
Breaking The Law (British Steel)
The Rage (British Steel)
Electric Eye (Screaming for Vengeance)
Desert Plains (Live)
Headed Out On The Highway (Live)
You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ (Screaming For Vengeance)
Devil’s Child (Screaming For Vengeance)
The Sentinel (Defenders of the Faith)
Freewheel Burning (Defenders of the Faith)
Love Bites (Defenders of the Faith)
Turbo Lover (Turbo)
Out in the cold (Turbo)
Ram It Down (Ram It Down)
A Touch of Evil (Painkiller)
Worth Fighting For (Angel of Retribution)