The Best and Worst of Judas Priest (Part 1)
A Trip Through Time With the Metal Gods...
In 1986 I attended my first-ever heavy metal concert: Judas Priest's TURBO tour at the Meadowlands Arena in New Jersey, with Dokken in the support slot. (The ticket price -- yes, I still have the stub -- was a mere $15.50. Sheesh, I don't think that would even pay for your parking at the Meadowlands nowadays...) I was a sixteen year old metal nerd at the time, and needless to say I had the time of my life. Over the next 20+ years I would see literally hundreds of other concerts and bands (including three more Priest shows and two Rob Halford solo gigs), but through it all, Judas Priest has always represented the Gold Standard of the live metal experience for me.
As of this writing, the Judas Priest catalog encompasses seventeen studio albums, numerous live discs and an assortment of best-of/greatest hits compilations. In this three-part Hub, I'll be taking you directly into the mouth of the Priest Beast and listing what I feel are their finest (and not-so-finest) works. I'll be sticking mainly to the studio albums, though one or two live discs may make the cut as well. Put on your studded leather undergarments and follow me on a trip through the history of a band that helped shape Heavy Metal as we know it today!
THE ESSENTIAL PRIEST:
This entry will cover the albums that I feel represent the cream of the Judas Priest crop. This is a six-pack of the absolute finest, purest Heavy Metal ever to exist on this planet or any alternate dimensions thereof. In other words, if you're about to enter the Witness Protection Program and can only take one Judas Priest album with you, make sure it's one of these.
SCREAMING FOR VENGEANCE (CBS/Sony, 1982) Five simple words are all you need to know about this album: "You've Got Another Thing Comin'." SCREAMING was Priest's breakthrough album in America and remains their best selling record, deservedly so. In addition to the aforementioned signature song, SCREAMING also features the crushing classics "Hellion/Electric Eye," "Bloodstone," and "Devil's Child." Basically, if you don't own this album, you have no business calling yourself a Judas Priest fan, or a Heavy Metal fan, for that matter.
SAD WINGS OF DESTINY (Gull/RCA, 1976) When fans of the Priest's later material start digging into the early stuff, they are often shocked at how different their late '70s albums sound. The band displayed a much more intricate, almost 'progressive' bent during their formative period, and SAD WINGS OF DESTINY in particular has held up extremely well over the years. This sophomore disc was a complete 180 degree turn from the rather basic, bluesy/Zeppelin-ish ROCKA ROLLA debut and sees the band starting to discover their "own" apocalyptic sound. Some of Rob Halford's most insanely high pitched vocals EVER can be found here. Key tracks: "Victim of Changes," "Tyrant," "Genocide," and the classic "The Ripper."
STAINED CLASS (CBS/Sony, 1978) Priest's fourth album was their most highly polished slab thus far, and the more energetic sound drew a line in the sand between their early "progressive rock" period and the simpler, yet more aggressive, metal style that would become their bread and butter for the next several decades. "Exciter" is considered in some circles to be the first-ever "speed metal" song, while the bombastic "Saints in Hell" and the epic ballad "Beyond the Realms of Death" continue to blow minds even all these years later.
UNLEASHED IN THE EAST (CBS/Sony, 1979) One of the finest live albums of the late 1970s, UNLEASHED... captured Judas Priest at the height of their late '70s power in front of a rabid Japanese audience. It's been argued for years in metal circles that this one should be re-titled "Unleashed In The Studio" due to persistent rumors of massive post-production tampering, but when the material sounds this good, does it really matter? The then-current songs sound killer and the sprawling, epic songs from the earliest JP albums take on a whole new, much nastier dimension in the live arena.
PAINKILLER (CBS/Sony, 1990) After dabbling (mostly unsuccessfully) in radio-friendly pop metal during the last half of the '80s, Judas Priest came roaring back to metal prominence with PAINKILLER, an intense collection of full throttle anthems that quickly gave notice to all of the younger, heavier thrash bands that had popped up while Priest were exploring other sonic pastures: "We're still here, we're not going anywhere, and we can still kick your ass." Respect!! Despite rave reviews and the highest profile the band had enjoyed in several years, Rob Halford shocked the metal world when he chose to leave Judas Priest at the end of the tour for this album. Thankfully, he eventually regained his senses (though it took a while...)!
BRITISH STEEL (CBS/Sony, 1980) Let me get this off my chest right off the bat: I'm officially sick of hearing "Living After Midnight" and "Breakin' The Law," because both songs have been played to death by rock radio over the past 30 years. Despite that, BRITISH STEEL remains one of the pillars of the Judas Priest catalog and was one of their first albums to achieve chart success (thanks, no doubt, in part to the music videos for the two aforementioned singles). If you look past those two overexposed tracks, you'll find killers like "Metal Gods," "Grinder," and "Rapid Fire." With this album, Judas Priest officially positioned themselves as leaders of the Metal movement.
Part 2 Coming Soon...y'all come back now, y'hear?
But wait, there's more! In part 2 of this series we'll explore some Priest albums which may not be quite as famous or high-profile as the ones shown above, but are still well known and loved by the band's hardcore fans. Join us, won't you?