The 10 Best Judas Priest Albums
Judas Priest are known as the Metal Gods for good reason. Black Sabbath might have invented it with a single Devil’s tritone but Judas Priest went on to define pure, rampant, all-guitars-blazing heavy metal for more than four decades. They released their debut studio full-length Rocka Rolla way back in 1974. In truth it wasn’t that great, with more of a hippified psychedelic-rock vibe, but ever since then they’ve released classic metal album after classic metal album.
So which are their best?
Read on to find out… then feel free to give us your opinion. Even though it’s wrong.
10. Turbo (1986)
Ooh, a controversial one to start. When it first came out, Turbo was reviled by fans. It saw Judas Priest embracing synths and adopting a more polished, glam-tinged pop-metal approach. More than 30 years on it still divides opinion, but the likes of Turbo Lover with its sleek, purring engine and the anthemic Locked In stand revealed as simply great songs. It was also the sound of a band refusing to be, uh, locked in to the strict genre standards that they themselves had pretty much defined.
9. Angel Of Retribution (2005)
No disrespect to Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens, who went from a Judas Priest cover band to replacing Rob Halford in the genuine article. He’s got a great set of pipes but, in much the same way that few Iron Maiden fans would count the Blaze Bayley albums amongst the band’s best, so that era of Priest is often written off. The two Ripper albums weren’t terrible but when Rob returned for his first Priest album since 1990’s Painkiller, it felt like a genuine event. The result was a revitalised stormer, loaded with classic riffs and lyrical references to previous Priest triumphs.
8. Sad Wings Of Destiny (1976)
After the false start of Rocka Rolla, Priest found their metal-shod feet in spectacular fashion with Sad Wings Of Destiny. It’s far more layered and progressive than most subsequent albums. Victim Of Changes was a grandiose 8-minute epic but the likes of The Tyrant and Ripper introduced that distinctive sheet metal riffage for the first time, along with Rob’s peerless wail. Judas Priest had arrived and a still developing metal scene had its gods-in-waiting.
7. Firepower (2018)
In most walks of life a bunch of men mostly in their late 60s (and a 38-year old whippersnapper in ‘new’ guitarist Richie Faulkner) would be more likely to be found pottering round a garden centre than forging one of the year’s best metal albums. Firepower continued the band’s return to classic metal form after the divisive prog-doom concept experiment of Nostradamus. At the time of writing it is, of course, the band’s most recent but it’s also here on merit. There’s not a duff song in sight and it’s all delivered with as much fire, passion and sheer unstoppable energy as anything they’ve released in their incredible career.
6. Killing Machine (1978)
Known as Hell Bent For Leather in the States, Killing Machine introduced the punchier anthemic sound with which Judas Priest would conquer the world in the next decade. It also saw them adapting the studs and leather look that Rob borrowed from gay S&M clubs – a fine private joke when you consider the unreconstructed machismo of the metal crowd back then. A little further down the line, the song Hell Bent For Leather would also go on to provide one of the band’s most gloriously OTT metal moments when the singer took to riding onto the stage on a Harley Davidson motorcycle.
5. Sin After Sin (1977)
This, along with the following year’s Stained Class, was the sandwich filling of their collection of 70s classics and was suitably satisfying, providing the bridge between the more sprawling Sad Wings Of Destiny and the direct assault that would come with Killing Machine. Live album Unleashed In The East remains the best introduction to that era incidentally - the production here lacks some power but the songs certainly don’t. Sinner remains an all-time galloping classic, their cover of Joan Baez’s Diamonds & Rust was both powerful and haunting while the stinging Dissident Aggressor would go on to influence a new breed of even more aggressive metalheads (see Slayer’s own cover on South Of Heaven for proof).
4. Screaming For Vengeance (1982)
Preceding Iron Maiden’s Piece Of Mind by a year, Screaming For Vengeance did more than any other album to take metal to the masses. Maiden actually supported Priest on their US World Vengeance Tour, during which pure heavy metal first exploded into arenas. Musically it’s lean and mean, with all traces of flab and the former bluesy elements excised. It was a blueprint for the ‘classic’ Priest sound that runs through most of their latter-day releases and still stands tall with a clutch of classic songs.
3. Painkiller (1990)
Painkiller would be Rob Halford’s last album with Priest until 2005’s Angel Of Retribution, but to say he bowed out on a high would be an understatement. The title-track is perhaps the single finest pure metal song ever written, exploding in an orgiastic welter of speed metal riffs, furious rhythms and lung-bursting screams. Not every song here is faster than a laser bullet but they all consistently slay, from the sinister creep of A Touch Of Evil to the piledriving stomp of Between The Hammer & The Anvil.
2. British Steel (1980)
By the turn of the ’80s Judas Priest were already veterans but they gate-crashed the NWOBHM party like cool older cousins who could bring the booze. Fittingly, British Steel boasted the ultimate party song in Living After Midnight. It kicked off with the proto-thrash Rapid Fire but generally featured a more singalong, anthemic sound. Breaking The Law remains their most recognisable song while Metal Gods gave the band their epithet. Bonus fact: in a time before digital sampling was commonplace, they made the sound of marching metal feet by rattling trays of cutlery in the studio.
1. Defenders Of The Faith (1984)
“Rising from darkness where hell hath no mercy, and the screams of vengeance echo on forever, only those who keep the faith shall escape the wrath of The Metallian… Master of all Metal.”
The only thing that even comes close to being as metal as the legend on the back of this album is maybe the titanium plate implanted into Slayer frontman Tom Araya’s neck from too much headbanging. And, of course, the contents of the album itself. Defenders Of The Faith is frequently overlooked in favour of its predecessor Screaming For Vengeance. In terms of breaking the band and overall impact, there’s no denying that Screaming… was more important but here they perfected the formula. Freewheel Burning, The Sentinel, Jawbreaker… these are slabs of pure metal perfection and this is the pinnacle of Priest. And, therefore, classic metal as a whole.
Words: Paul Travers
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