Judas Priest digitaljournal, From mid-70s eclecticism to the definition of early-80s metal, and a latter-day reformation with singer Rob Halford, the band is a scream
1. Victim of Changes
The early Judas Priest albums contained an eclectic mix of styles. Out-and-out rockers sat alongside acoustic ballads. the odd quirky cover and ambitious multi-part epics that owed as much to Queen as to Black Sabbath. This song from the second album, 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny, is one of the best of the epics. still appearing in live sets decades later. The end section showcases Rob Halford’s remarkable falsetto screams. his voice is as much a lead instrument as the twin guitars of Glenn Tipton and KK Downing.
“Fall to your knees and repent if you please!” Their fourth album, 1977’s Stained Class marked the point. where the Judas Priest sound as we know it today began to emerge. a move away from the proggier elements towards straight-ahead metal that would come to define the genre in the coming decade. The galloping rocker that opened the album set the pace. beginning with a fusillade of drums, and the twin lead guitar harmony break towards the end is a delight. The fire-and-brimstone imagery of the avenging angel sent by God to punish. the wicked would become a recurring theme throughout their career. Halford highlighted the ridiculousness of the claim that they had been driven to do so by subliminal messages. on the record when he pointed out that the chorus of Exciter, played backward, appears to have him singing: “I asked her for a peppermint.”
3. Beyond the Realms of Death
The last and greatest of the big epics from the early years is their closest equivalent to Stairway to Heaven or Stargazer. It uses the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic to great effect, with guitar arpeggios on the verse leading into that monstrously heavy riff on the chorus, coupled with powerful. if enigmatic, lyrics on the theme of depression and alienation. If that wasn’t enough, Tipton’s masterful extended solo lifts things to another level.
4. Hell Bent for Leather
When Halford came out as gay, there were those who were shocked and surprised. and those for whom it confirmed what they’d already guessed. The campy elements of songs like this ought to have given the former a clue. especially when live performances featured the leather-clad Halford whipping a motorcycle on stage. Aside from the themes, this short and punchy number, less than three minutes long, still finds room for a delightful if a brief burst of classical guitar.
5. Rapid Fire
Released in 1980 when the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was hitting its stride, the band’s sixth album, British Steel, was their breakthrough record. The long-established Judas Priest wasn’t an NWOBHM band, but they rode the wave and catapulted themselves into the big time, and the UK tour to promote the album saw a fledgling Iron Maiden as support – the only support tour Maiden ever did. The record spawned several chart singles, but the standout has to be this face-melting opener. New drummer Dave Holland is a force of nature here, the result is the sound of the apocalypse taking place within a West Midlands steel foundry.
6. Breaking the Law
One of the three big hits from British Steel, this story of the hopelessness of life – later claimed by Halford to be a commentary on Thatcher’s Britain – is probably their best-known song. Its instantly recognizable riff makes it Judas Priest at their most commercial, but it has become a much-covered rock standard, with versions by artists as varied as the Meteors and Babymetal. Even if no laws were broken, milk bottles were still harmed in the making of this video.
7. Screaming for Vengeance
The radio-friendly album Point of Entry, recorded in the wake of chart success, lacked the fire of its predecessor, and the singles from the album failed to storm the charts. So with the 1982 follow-up, Judas Priest reverted to a harder, heavier sound, typified by this belter of a title track, with its uncompromising in-your-face guitars and archetypal Halford screams. This is quintessential Judas Priest, at a time when they had become the very definition of metal.
8. Freewheel Burning
Defenders of the Faith (1984) picked up where Screaming for Vengeance left off. The opening number and lead single from the album are another face-melter coming from the same place, musically at least, as Rapid Fire. Lyrically it’s closer to a biker anthem, with just as much fire but a little less brimstone. The rapid-fire middle-eight is yet another great example of how Halford’s vocals serve as a lead instrument alongside those twin guitars. Judas Priest at their best are always over the top, larger than life, and frequently teetering on the edge of self-parody, but that’s a major part of their appeal.
9. Turbo Lover
With 1986’s Turbo, Judas Priest introduced electronics and guitar synthesizers into their sound. The synthesized opening provoked revolt from some of their more traditionalist fans, who accused them of sounding like a poor man’s ZZ Top. Even if aspects of the production sound a little dated now, it was a bold attempt to try something different, though the fan backlash might have been one reason the material they later recorded with Stock, Aitken and Waterman never saw the light of day.