If Black Sabbath are the grandfathers of heavy metal, then Judas Priest is the father that outdid them in almost every way. If you ask me to show someone what heavy metal is, I won’t hand them a copy of Paranoid or Master of Reality. I’ll instead hand them a copy of Screaming For Vengeance, British Steel, or Painkiller. That’s what Judas Priest means to the heavy metal community. Without them we wouldn’t have a classic look for heavy metal with studs and leather.
Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash might have been the first to use the twin-guitar attack, but Judas Priest was the one that solidified it in the heavy metal sphere. K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton were and still are probably the best twin guitarists for any band. It was set to be the 50th anniversary celebration for Judas Priest this year. To make up for those shows being postponed, it’s high time for Judas Priest-A-Thon. The brother to the album by album reviews, Iron Maiden-A-Thon and the cousin to our series of Rush album reviews. You’re going to be getting a Judas Priest album review, every business day, until we’re all through.
Screaming For Vengeance is the shining example of Judas Priest in my mind. It was their highest selling album and it contained their quintessential song in “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”. Their next effort, Defenders Of The Faith, would look to top that album. It wouldn’t be an easy task.
Background on Defenders Of The Faith
Judas Priest would return to Ibiza Studios to record and Bayshore Recording Studios in Miami, Florida from September to November of 1983. Tom Allom was back in the producers chair for this record. Judas Priest took 1982 and 1983 to promote and tour for Screaming For Vengeance. They would appear at the 1983 US Festival in San Bernardino, CA. That show was a major catalyst for their rise in popularity in the US. In addition to this, they had a hot single in “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”. The follow-up, Defenders Of The Faith would release January 4th, 1984. Judas Priest kicked off their tour on the same day playing in Europe, the US, and parts of Asia.
Like the previous three albums, Judas Priest would continue their lineup with KK Downing, Glenn Tipton, Ian Hill, Rob Halford, and Dave Holland. The single “Freewheel Burning” was released earlier than the album, in 1983. It was a hit single and video in the US. It was performed on that short European tour before the worldwide release of the album. On the Metal Conquerors Tour in 1984, they played almost every song on the album live, except “Eat Me Alive”. That song would later be played on the 2008 Nostradamus tour, making it the third album that Judas Priest had played every song from live.
The album cover would also share the same artist with Screaming For Vengeance. Doug Johnson drew and designed the Metallian on the cover. The album was criticized at the time for not having a lead single like “Breaking The Law” or “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”. It was also criticized and called Screaming For Vengeance II for it’s similarities in sound. Let’s get to the music.
1. Freewheel Burning
Judas Priest starts off with the lead single from this album. “Freewheel Burning” is about driving/cycling fast and hard. It’s that simple. Judas Priest knows how to write a song about motorcycles and speed. This one evolves the sound set forth on Screaming For Vengeance in a natural way. Speed metal was still in it’s infancy, but this track is another brick in that movement. The video is pretty silly and fun with Rob Halford and the band superimposed over the arcade game Pole Position.
The guitar solo played by Glenn Tipton is one of the best in the catalog for Judas Priest. It also has a section where Rob Halford basically raps out lyrics faster than most singers could. So in addition to being a power metal building block, you can have Korn and bands like that give their thanks to “Freewheel Burning”.
“Jawbreaker” is a fantastic follow-up to the blitz that is “Freewheel Burning”. Complete with some of the best screams that Rob Halford has ever put on tape. The song is about emotions boiling over in someone or some situation and the pressure finally causing an explosion of energy. Some might see this song as sexual innuendo for oral sex, but you can do that with a majority of Judas Priest songs.
As for the legacy of this song, it fits in with some of the most heavy material they released in the 80’s. The only thing about it that’s a bit meh, is the solo. It sounds sort of thrown together until it builds up and actually becomes something great.
3. Rock Hard Ride Free
Originally written as “Fight For Your Life” during the Screaming For Vengeance recording sessions, “Rock Hard Ride Free” sounds like an updated version of that album’s sound. You can listen to the original song on the bonus tracks for Hell Bent For Leather. “Rock Hard Ride Free” tells about living life to the fullest and not taking any shit for doing so. Rock Hard Ride Free is a mantra to live life by, so while it might not be the best Judas Priest song in their catalog, it’s a good way of thinking through things.
Heavy metal and Rock and Roll are all about having a good time, enjoying yourself, and most importantly enjoying the music. This song perfectly captures that notion.
4. The Sentinel
For those of you missing some of that progressive Judas Priest science fiction type lyrics, “The Sentinel” is for you. With lyrics that evoke the Apocalypse, societal collapse, and a feared showdown. One hero rises above to handle the evils that await humanity. It’s a welcomed return to some of the themes from their first couple albums. After lots of “party hardy, rock and rolling” lyrics, the sci-fi themed stuff is a fine addition to the overall formula of Judas Priest.
5. Love Bites
Another of the lead singles off Defenders Of The Faith, “Love Bites” keeps up some blending of lyrical content. As best I can discern, it’s about vampires. Obviously, these lyrics are dripping with sexual content as well. But the main overall theme I’m getting evokes Dracula and the sexual nature that involves vampires across media. It’s a strange topic for Judas Priest, but one that I can wholeheartedly love. Anytime you can take heavy metal, and combine it with horror elements, I’m in.
6. Eat Me Alive
Now I know for a lot of these songs that Judas Priest has written, I like to find lyrical meanings outside of the lazy “hurrrr, Rob Halford is gay, it’s about gay sex or S&M”. In the case of “Eat Me Alive”, I’m going to say, hurrrr, it’s about sex and oral sex. It 100% is. There’s no other meaning I can discern from the lyrics. This song caused a bit of controversy upon release in 1985. The PMRC (Parent’s Music Resource Center) labeled it as apart of their “Filthy Fifteen”.
Fifteen songs that were labeled as being about various subjects that weren’t fit for listening. The PMRC was an organization that was set to police the lyrical content of music before on onset of the ‘Parental Advisory” sticker. KK Downing had this to say about the song.
In a uniquely British way, Rob’s S&M lyrics were intended to be tongue in cheek—and certainly not “corrupting”, as Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) took them to be. They certainly didn’t warrant being included on the PMRC’s “Filthy 15” list a few months after the album was released. For us, the song was a bit of fun—but I won’t deny that we included it with full knowledge that it would get media attention. Little did we know at that time that its inclusion on the “Filthy 15” would be the precursor to a far more disturbing predicament for us.From the book: Heavy Duty: Days and Nights in Judas Priest
At the end of the day, the song’s lyrics sound pretty silly, but the song kicks ass, so just take it with a big grain of salt.
7. Some Heads Are Gonna Roll
One of the two songs written by Bob Halligan Jr. for Judas Priest, the other being “(Take These) Chains” from Screaming For Vengeance, it’s a song about revolution similar to what happened in France. When the person in power can’t keep things under control, some heads are gonna roll. It’s an incredibly topical song, especially with the events of the past couple weeks going on. People need to learn about their rights as citizens to get rid of people in power that do not serve them. Another fantastic song on this record filled with great ones. This was the third and final single released from the album.
8. Night Comes Down
The only “ballad” type song on the album. “Night Comes Down” adds to the catalog of emotional, dark, brooding, songs for Judas Priest. A perfect song for when it seems like the walls around you are collapsing and it seems like you can’t do anything right. It does all this while remaining heavy and not preachy about the subject matter. You can feel the pain and anguish in the voice of Rob Halford on this one. Probably the most underrated track on the album.
9. Heavy Duty
Now for the weakest ending to any Judas Priest album up to this point. After blitzing you with heavy metal fury for nearly 35 minutes, you get these last two songs. “Heavy Duty” shouldn’t have made it out of the studio. It sounds like a demo for what the album could sound like but it’s not a finished product. It’s a generic song about gathering together and rocking out. Not my favorite and I consider the end of the album to be “Night Comes Down”.
10. Defenders Of The Faith
These two tracks run together seamlessly, with “Defenders Of The Faith” proclaiming what Judas Priest are. They are defenders of the heavy metal faith. While this title track could have been a rah-rah blitzing song about defending the heavy metal faith against the tyranny of outside forces. It works a bit as the closer to this album. I don’t feel like it needed “Heavy Duty” to be attached to it. At the end of it all, this album ends without a real bang, but that doesn’t really detract from the album as a whole for me. It’s nearly forty minutes of heavy metal thunder.
Conclusion, Score, And Impact Of Defenders Of The Faith
Like I said before, critics made comments about how Defenders Of The Faith is basically Screaming For Vengeance II. That point is a crock of shit.
Defenders Of The Faith builds upon the already established Judas Priest sound and the sound of heavy metal in general at the time. It adds to it in an innovative and interesting way. You hear the rumblings of the sort of metallic, synth-heavy sound that’s coming for the genre. Without sacrificing any of the heavy-metal essence, it encapsulates the time period perfectly.
It’s among the best albums that Judas Priest have ever recorded. The title Defenders of the Faith evokes so much about what Judas Priest mean to people and the genre in general. Yes, there might have been some hiccups along the way, but for 50 years Judas Priest has been keeping the heavy metal faith.
As a beacon for the rest of the bands in the vast ocean of heavy metal, Judas Priest always rises to the occasion to meet any foes. For this reason and many others, Defenders Of The Faith gets top marks across the board. No matter the small blemish of “Heavy Duty”, if the worst song on your album is a throwaway 2 minute rocker, you’re gonna get a 10/10.
Defenders Of The Faith Continued
The album set the stage for the rest of the world, and if you didn’t know who Judas Priest were, you knew them after this album. While it doesn’t have any of the runaway hits like some previous albums, die-hard, and even moderate fans of the band know these songs. Collectively they’re better than the sum of their parts. Songs like “The Sentinel” and “Love Bites” blend that 70’s Judas Priest lyrical content with the suped up 80’s sound. In my mind, it’s a masterstroke by the band.
You can’t go wrong with nearly any of the songs on this album. It sets up one of my favorite phrases to live by. Rock hard, ride free, and defend the heavy metal faith.
I’ll leave you with the quote from the liner notes of the album about the Metallian:
Rising from darkness where Hell hath no mercy and the screams for vengeance echo on forever. Only those who keep the faith shall escape the wrath of the Metallian … Master of all metal.Defenders Of The Faith
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