Historical Timeline by Sean Palmerston
Judas Priest is quintessential British heavy metal. One of the first groups to truly embrace the heavy metal tag, over the past 35 years the Birmingham, England-based quintet have remained one of the genre’s most important bands and have the bruises to show for it. Record company shenanigans, inner turmoil, commercial success, massive stadium touring, botched motion pictures, and personal lawsuits: the band has seen it all. From sleeping on floors early on to gigantic arena tours in the ’80s, Judas Priest has endured numerous line-up changes, survived several musical eras and fads and has strived to never make the same album twice. After reuniting with vocalist Rob Halford for 2005’s successful Angel Of Retribution, the band has returned with their most controversial album yet. Nostradamus is a 23-song rock opera, a double disc concept album that tells the story of 16-century French philosopher Michel de Nostredame. It is an eye-opening, artistic statement that will polarize many long-time fans and has the possibility of going down as the most Spinal Tap moment of their career. Here’s a look into what makes them metal gods.
Vocalist Al Atkins and bassist Brian “Bruno” Stapelhill assemble a heavy blues band in West Bromwich, England, located on the outer verges of industrial Birmingham. Influenced by Cream, Taste and Jimi Hendrix, the group is christened Judas Priest by Stapelhill, who lifts the moniker from the Bob Dylan song “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest.” One of the first auditions for the fledgling band is by guitarist Kenneth Downing Jr. He doesn’t make the cut. The original band record a two-song demo, attracting attention from UK labels like Vertigo, Harvest and Andrew “Loog” Oldham’s Immediate Records. Shortly after their first live show, which reportedly has members of Led Zeppelin in attendance, Immediate signs the band to a three-year deal in late 1969. The label folds for good less than two months later. The contract is nullified.
1970 to 1973
The original Judas Priest spends 1970 toiling on the road before falling apart. The group disbands; its members disperse outwards from Birmingham except Atkins. Later that year he stumbles on a band rehearsing in a converted Church of England school playing a faster, heavier style of rock influenced by early Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. Freight is a trio featuring bassist Ian Hill and guitarist Kenneth Downing Jr., who had auditioned for Judas Priest the previous year. Atkins, impressed with Downing’s progression, joins the band and convinces his new ensemble to adopt the Judas Priest name.
By early 1971 the new Priest starts playing regionally in and around Birmingham, supporting bands like Trapeze, Slade and Thin Lizzy over the next few years while working on original material. The quartet continues working for more than two years, until Atkins decides to leave the band in 1973. As the only family man, he decides it’s time for a real job to support his wife and daughter.
Now singer-less, bassist Ian Hill suggests the band try out his girlfriend’s brother. Downing agrees after hearing him singing along with the television — reportedly to Doris Day — and in no time Rob Halford is Judas Priest’s new vocalist. Halford brings along drummer John Hinch from his former band, Hiroshima, and shortly afterwards the band supports Welsh hard rock trio Budgie on a four-week UK tour.
Gull Records signs Priest in early 1974 after a showcase at London’s infamous Marquee Club. Apparently not persuaded musically, it is the feverous fan response that convinces Gull of their potential. Gull feels the band’s sound isn’t quite there, suggesting they add a fifth member. Not wanting to add keyboards or horns, Downing — now known as K.K. — asks Flying Hat Band guitarist Glenn Tipton upon a chance meeting in a music shop if he would be interested. Downing’s idea is to incorporate twin lead guitars into the band’s sound akin to what Wishbone Ash was doing. Within a few practices it is obvious this is an excellent decision.
The band records on the cheap with Black Sabbath producer Rodger Bain in June and July, sleeping in their van and recording overnight at reduced rates. Their debut Rocka Rolla is released in September; its cover resembles a Coca Cola bottle top, much to the band’s chagrin, and its final sound is a little bit too pop-like for the band’s liking. “No matter how we feel about it,” guitarist K.K. Downing says now, “it still has to be looked at as a landmark Priest album — if only because it was our first.”
1975 to 1976
After a short UK tour, Priest are already preparing for their sophomore release. After turning heads with a much-lauded set at the 1975 Reading Festival, the band, now featuring new drummer Alan Moore, is on the upswing and excited about the possibilities their next album holds. Unhappy with Bain’s production, they agree to work with pop producers Max West and Jeffrey Calvert. The duo has a hit pop single at the time on Gull, which enables the band more leeway with the record company. Recording at Wales’ infamous Rockfield Studios during summer 1975, the band re-record a number of songs initially envisioned for their debut, including “Tyrant” and “The Ripper,” that Bain had rejected. Along with newer songs including “Victim Of Changes” (two older tracks combined together) and “Dreamer Deceiver,” Sad Wings of Destiny is released March 1976 and puts the band on the map. The album is now considered a quintessential ’70s metal album by both fans and critics. Many say it as essential to the growth of the genre as Deep Purple’s In Rock, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid and Led Zeppelin II. Despite its elevated status, the album is never the financial success the band desperately needs and, as explained later, never earns them a penny. “Sad Wings was a very important record to the band,” says Downing. “The songs and the content on there gave us a definite direction to head in. Everything about it — the cover, the logo — really helped define us as Judas Priest.”
Unhappy at their current situation, with members working menial day jobs despite their ascending status, the group decide it is time for change. Shortly after acquiring new management, they opt out of their Gull contract — losing all rights and future revenues to their first two albums plus any outtakes and demos associated with them — and sign with CBS Records for a £60,000 advance. It is a sum nearly 15 times more than the recording budget for their first two albums combined. When drummer Alan Moore departs early in their recording sessions, which are self-produced with disappointing results, latter-day Who skinsman Simon Phillips is enlisted. Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover, originally suggested by CBS as producer, is begged to return to the studio during their last week of recording to shape things up.
The band’s CBS debut Sin After Sin is released in April 1977. Featuring a cover of Joan Baez’s “Diamonds And Rust,” it is their first album to crack the UK Top 25. It is also the first time the band receive royalties, and K.K. Downing finally buys himself his first car at age 26. They ask Phillips to join full-time; he declines as he was already in one band with Jack Bruce (Cream). On Glover’s suggestion Les Binks auditions and is hired immediately when Priest realizes he plays double kick like Phillips. Their first world tour follows shortly after. It includes their first-ever U.S. tour, culminating with two dates with Led Zeppelin at San Francisco’s Day At The Green festival.
With a solidified line-up, Priest releases their second CBS album, Stained Class, in early 1978. Still mistakenly referred to by many as “Stained Glass” to this day, the album starts out with the (by ’78 standards) “Exciter,” a song that can be clearly seen as an early precursor to the thrash metal explosion of the mid-‘80s, and also includes the classic “Beyond The Realms Of Death.” Upon CBS’s suggestion, the band records a cover of Spooky Tooth’s “Better By You, Better Than Me.” It is a decision that will come back and almost destroy the band nearly a decade later. Gull issues their first of many compilations of the band’s early material as Best Of Judas Priest to cash in on the band’s growing popularity. The album is not approved by the band or their management, but there is little they can do to oppose it except ask the general public to not purchase it.
Settling into an album-per-year cycle, their next release is a bit of an anomaly in the Priest catalogue, albeit one that heralds another major change for the band. Although released in Europe and Japan under the title Killing Machine in late 1978, when finally released in North America early the next year it is renamed Hell Bent For Leather and it contains yet another record company-demanded cover song for radio. This time they cover Fleetwood Mac’s “The Green Manalishi,” which remains a live favourite to this day along with the album’s U.S. title track. The other major change that occurs with the record is the group’s decision to adopt the new stage wear that singer Rob Halford has been suggesting — all black leather. While it is still nearly a decade before he would openly announce it, those close to the band know that the flamboyant singer is gay. Halford thinks the S&M-styled leather look would be perfect on stage, portraying strong masculinity to go along with their tough-as-nails brand of metal. Up until this point they don’t really have much in the way of stage clothes, simply playing in jeans and t-shirts (or, in the early years, satins and bell-bottoms), but the switch to leather helps reinforce the band’s image. They still dress in leathers on stage to this day, although after being called out on it by PETA in 2002 (and asked to change the name of this record) they claim it has always been “imitation” leather.
The most striking thing one notices about the band’s first live album, Unleashed in The East, released later that same year, is the band’s new leather-upped image. Recorded live in Japan earlier that year, it is their first to be produced by Tom Allom, who plays a big part in the more commercial, successful albums to come. Unlike most standard live rock double albums of the time, the band put together a tight nine-song effort — except in Japan, where it was released as Priest In The East with a bonus three-song EP. Some listeners accuse them of studio doctoring because the Japanese crowd is so quiet.
The dawn of a new decade brings the band new levels of fame and popularity. This starts with the release of the British Steel album in April of 1980. It is their most streamlined, accessible record yet and also the one that helps move the band towards arena-sized audiences, especially in North America. With Allom handling studio duties, the simplification of riffs and choruses on songs such as “Breaking The Law” and “Living After Midnight” is arguably the first time the band create songs that have a commercial viability, not to mention an album that doesn’t need a cover song to gain radio airplay. Music videos are shot for two songs with noted director Julien Temple one year before the launch of MTV. However, both songs would be become better known later in an animation context: “Breaking The Law” becomes a teen anthem when cartoon burnouts Beavis And Butthead repeatedly reference it in the mid-‘90s, while Otto the bus driver sings the lyrics to “Living After Midnight” several times on The Simpsons. Both songs become metal anthems and are arguably some of Halford’s first straightforward homoerotic woes to his then-secret homosexual life, which would remain conjecture and rumour for another 18 years. British Steel is Priest’s first Top 40 album in the U.S., where it is certified gold in two years. The album is also later immortalized in the Classic Albums television series when an entire program was dedicated to it in 2001.
“We have made a point to never make the same album twice,” says guitarist Glenn Tipton. This statement is true for the most part, although with their 1981 album Point Of Entry the band comes as close as they ever have to following the same musical formula for consecutive efforts. If anything, they attempt to go even more commercial, with mediocre results. Packaged with one of the most ridiculous covers ever to grace a Priest record — essentially a trail of never-ending computer paper spread out across a desert plain on the North American version, while the European one has a vehicle wing hovering in evening twilight for no apparent reason — there are a few decent songs on the record, namely “Heading Out On The Highway” and “Hot Rockin’,” but the album is less successful than its predecessor and is considered a step in the wrong direction.
“We came under criticism for Point Of Entry,” says guitarist Glenn Tipton, “although when you look at it there are some classic Priest songs on it. There is always something on each of our albums that works if you are a Priest fan.” Later that year Gull Records releases their second unauthorized compilation of songs from the band’s first two albums. The two-LP Hero, Hero, which sees a Canadian release that year on Attic Records, contains a newly remixed version of their Rocka Rolla debut done by original producer Rodger Bain. It also has a number of tracks from the Sad Wings Of Destiny album and the band’s first attempt at recording Joan Baez’s “Diamonds And Rust.” This version is much more mellow than the one included on their 1977 effort Sin After Sin.
1982 to 1983
Eager to reverse the missteps taken with Point Of Entry and in debt to their record company for an outrageous amount, Priest make sure their next record will follow the footsteps of British Steel. The song that ends up making Screaming For Vengeance their most popular record to date was a last minute addition that is literally scraped together over one afternoon. CBS decides the band needs one more track on the album, something more commercial to really get behind at both radio and on MTV. The band writes most of “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” in an Orlando, Florida studio in less than two hours; the song originally thought a “throwaway” becomes the only Billboard Hot 100 single of their career, peaking at number 67. It helps the album chart as high as number 11 in the U.S. and sell more than one million copies in the U.S. in less than nine months. A decade later, Burger King uses “Coming” in a national campaign for Whoppers.
Although the band have been headlining shows in the U.S. since 1980, the Screaming tour makes them an arena band. Demand for tickets is so high the band stay on the road in North America for much of the next year, spending much less time in Europe than on previous albums. Tour highlights include their first-ever sold-out Madison Square Gardens show and a slot on the 1983 US Festival’s Heavy Metal Day, playing before 300,000 fans along with Van Halen, Scorpions and Ozzy Osbourne. Their Memphis, TN appearance is filmed for a home video. It airs originally on MTV before being released on VHS later in 1983 as Judas Priest Live. (This concert is later included as a DVD in the Metalogy box set and released individually as Live Vengeance ’82 in 2004).
“If I had to pick my favourite Priest album, I would say Defenders of The Faith, because it’s the album that defines Judas Priest,” bassist Ian Hill will say in a 2003 interview. “I don’t want to slander the others, but this one combines all the elements of the band. It’s got a variety of songs: brutal, melodic, slow, fast.” With the success of Vengeance, the band definitely have their work cut out for them to try and top that album’s many accomplishments. Kicking off with the very up-tempo “Freewheel Burning,” which contains one of Rob Halford’s most intense vocals ever, the album nearly matches the commercial success of its predecessor by landing in the Billboard Top 20 album chart, but lacks the commercial radio track to keep it there. Regarded by fans as one of the band’s most revered albums, the album also found the band at odds with the U.S. government. “Eat Me Alive” was named the third most offensive rock song of all time by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) on their 1985 “Filthy Fifty” list. It is not the first and would not be the last time the band find themselves getting negative publicity from mainstream America. Of course, it also helps the band remain a steady live draw in arenas across North America. Nothing sells teenage angst better than being singled out as bad boys — especially if you dress from head to toe in leather.
1986 to 1987
No one album in the Judas Priest catalogue polarizes opinion in the way that 1986’s Turbo does. The album is the absolute commercial pinnacle of the band’s career, their most controversial release ever and one that a lot of diehard fans want nothing to do with. “If you want to talk about an album that is a definite defining moment in the band’s career, you absolutely have to have to include Turbo, no matter what your feelings are on the record,” says Glenn Tipton. “It is absolutely that kind of record.” Recorded at Compass Studios in the Bahamas, the band’s tenth album Turbo is the first all-digitally recorded heavy metal record. The band went into the recording wanting to make something more accessible than Defenders, which sold very well but received little airplay. In order to do this, the band decide to record only the most concise, direct hitting of their new songs and take a huge gamble with their sound. Guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton use synth guitars on a number of album tracks, including the lead-off “Turbo Lover” and turn in an album unlike anything else they have done to date.
“We came into criticism for Turbo,” says Tipton a bit defensively, “but people came back in the end telling us they loved the synth guitars and that it was quite innovative.” It is their third album in a row to go platinum, spending more than eight months in the Billboard Top 40 albums chart. The ensuing tour is also very popular, but the band have to suffer through some tough times first. Singer Rob Halford admits himself into rehab for drug and alcohol abuse in early 1986 after his then-boyfriend commits suicide in front of him at their Phoenix home. The couple are prone to full-out fistfights after excessive cocaine use and when Halford tries to escape in a cab in the middle of a fight, his boyfriend rushes out to tell him he loves him before shooting himself in the head with a handgun.
Two would-be filmmakers, John Heyn and Jeff Krulik, decide to make a documentary about the crowd at Judas Priest’s May 31, 1986 concert at Maryland’s Capital Centre. Instead of interviewing or filming the band, the two spend three or four hours before the concert traversing the parking lot outside and the result, the 15-minute Heavy Metal Parking Lot, is one of the most hilarious, ironic real-life music documentaries ever made. The humour isn’t lost on the band either. “I love it, it’s a great time capsule of what it was like outside of one of our shows back then,” says Tipton with a chuckle. Another live film is sadly almost hilarious — although not intenionally. The Priest… Live! home video appears on store shelves in 1987, accompanied by a double live album of the same name, and shows the band at the height of their hair metal phase: gone are the all-black leathers and studs, replaced by more outlandish, futuristic leather-based wardrobes and some of the worst perms you’ve ever seen. The video is released on DVD later as part of the Electric Eye compilation and the live album pales in comparison to 1979’s Unleashed In The East.
The synthesized guitars used on Turbo crop up again on their next album, 1988’s Ram It Down, with even more embarrassingly final results. The band’s remake of “Johnny B. Goode,” done at the insistence of their manager for a movie soundtrack, is horrific, and most of the album isn’t much better. A lot of the problems stem from the band’s decision to take modern technology too far. A number of the album tracks do not feature then-drummer Dave Holland (who will leave the band after the album’s touring cycle); the drums on a number of the tracks are programmed by other band members on drum machines. It is also heavily rumoured that a number of the songs were leftovers from the Turbo sessions — tracks left off that album when Columbia vetoes their wish to make Turbo a double album. Many now consider Ram It Down to be the band’s worst record ever. During the tour supporting the album the band is served with a subpoena before a show in Reno, Nevada. The families of two deceased teenage boys who had a suicide pact sue the band for $6.5 million dollars, much to the band’s surprise. Fifteen years after the release of the original Rocka Rolla album, Gull Records unleashes another compilation of tracks from their first two albums, The Collection. It is their third completely unauthorized compilation of the band’s earliest released material.
1990 to 1991
Phoenix native Scott Travis becomes the first American member of Judas Priest. Travis spent a good chunk of the ’80s playing in the band Racer X and already knows Halford, who has been a Phoenix resident for more than five years. Before Travis’s Priest debut is released, the band spend their summer in a Nevada courtroom fighting the civil action lawsuit bought against them by the families of James Vance and Ray Belknap. In late 1985, the two teenagers made a suicide pact while listening to Priest’s Stained Class album, which prosecutors claim has subliminal backwards messages which tell the two to “do it.” The messages are supposedly in the song “Better By You, Better Than Me,” which incidentally is a cover. The lawsuit is eventually dismissed, but it has a lasting effect on the band. “It was one of the most trying things we’ve ever had to live through,” says Glenn Tipton. “It put a very big strain on us.” With the lawsuit behind them, the band releases their first album with new drummer Travis. Painkiller is the first album in a decade not produced by Tom Allom. The band chooses Chris Tsangerides (incidentally a tape operators on their second album, Sad Wings of Destiny) to produce. It is the band’s most aggressive album in years; Travis’s skill as a double kick drummer propels the band to a new level of virtuosity and is exactly what long-time fans have been hoping for.
While Priest is doing well again musically, the interpersonal relationships within the band are strained, partially because of the lawsuit. When the band heads out on tour in support of the album, Halford is usually separate from the rest of the band except when on stage. The band takes part in a multi-band touring package in the summer of 1991 along with Motörhead and Alice Cooper entitled Operation Rock & Roll. When the tour plays Toronto’s CNE Grandstand, an accident occurs when Halford is knocked off his motorcycle while entering the stage. He is knocked unconscious for three minutes while the band continues on with the song “Hell Bent For Leather” amidst a stage full of dry ice smoke. They think Halford is just having mic problems, until Glenn Tipton steps on a large, strange item on stage, which he discovers to be Halford. After being awoken, the singer finishes the show, goes to the hospital to get fixed up afterwards and then immediately flies to England without saying goodbye. He officially quits the band by fax a few days later; the band decide not to continue.
1992 to 1997
Halford’s decision to leave effectively ends Judas Priest for the next five years. The only recorded material to see release during that time are two compilations: one authorized (Metal Works ’73-’93, a nice two-CD compilation) and one not (Genocide, yet another compilation of the first two albums by Gull). Less than a year after his departure Halford returns to the music business with a brand new band. Fight is a five-piece band formed and based in Phoenix, Arizona. The band, which also features Priest’s Scott Travis on drums, is simpler and more American sounding, quite similar in style to one of Halford’s favourite new bands, Pantera. Over the next three years Fight release two studio albums, 1993’s War of Words and 1996’s A Small Deadly Place and do a substantial amount of touring before disbanding. Judas Priest stay in virtual hibernation for most of the next five years, with only the odd rumour appearing that the band will announce a new lead singer. By 1996 the band do have a shortlist of successors, but those are discarded after a fan sends drummer Scott Travis a video of an Ohio-based vocalist that knocks his socks off. Tim Owens sings in an original band called Winters Bane, but spends most of his time fronting a Judas Priest cover band. Travis is so impressed, he gets the tape to Tipton and Downing, who can’t believe what they are hearing. By week’s end, Owens flies to the UK to try out and becomes the third singer in the history of Judas Priest. Tipton dubs him Ripper after hearing him sing “The Ripper”; he is known as Ripper Owens to this day. The band start work on a new record, but delays its release until after Glenn Tipton releases his first solo record. Baptizm Of Fire is mildly received; fans are awaiting a new Priest album instead. In 1997, the band finally release Jugulator, Owens’ recorded debut with the band, to mostly positive response. It features a more modern feel than most Priest albums, more influenced by late ’80sthrash than anything the band have done previously.
1998 to 1999
Priest releases a live album with Owen in 1998, ’98 Live Meltdown, which features a few Jugulator tracks intertwined with Priest classics. The album does okay, but lives in the shadow of an infamous album the band’s former vocalist releases first. Rob Halford moves away from his traditional metal roots and records in New Orleans under the moniker 2wo, produced by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor. The album, a collaboration with Marilyn Manson guitarist John 5 called Voyeurs, is more industrial-based than metal. Many long-time fans of the vocalist are surprised by the move, but not as shocked as the revelation he makes to MTV shortly after its release. In an interview with the American music video channel, Halford outs himself in public as a gay man. While it has been rumoured for years, Halford has never discussed his sexuality in public previously before mentioning it quickly in an interview. “It was a pretty spur of the moment decision,” says Halford in a 1998 interview with Exclaim! “I was being interviewed on MTV and a question was poised to me in regards to sexuality. Before I knew it I found myself answering the question, ‘Well, as a gay man…’ and it was over that quickly.” A planned tour behind the album falls apart quickly and within two years Halford is back playing metal again.
2000 to 2001
With his 2wo project behind him, Rob Halford returns to metal with a new quintet, Halford. Formed around the twin guitars of Pat Lachman (whose brother was on the shortlist of replacements for Halford in Priest) and Mike Chlasciak, the band’s debut album Resurrection is released in summer 2000 to unanimous critical acclaim. The album is revered worldwide and the band soon sets out on tour with Iron Maiden, including a support slot at Rock In Rio in front of 250,000 people. The band releases a live album, Live Insurrection, the following year. Rock Star is a 2001 Hollywood motion picture inspired by Ripper Owens joining Judas Priest. Originally named Metal God, the band is asked to create original music for the movie, but they walk away from the project after seeing some early clips. “It’s total rubbish, a Hollywood makeover of what was a good story,” says Tipton. Rock Star is a commercial disaster despite having A-list talent in Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston. It only makes a fraction of its nearly $40 million dollar budget back during its theatrical release. Judas Priest release their second (and final) studio album with Ripper Owens, Demolition, just prior to the film’s release. The album is a mishmash of musical styles, more in line with the band’s late ’80s releases but also featuring some strange nu-metal moments that don’t click. The album sells about half what Jugulator does and interest in the Owens-fronted band starts to dwindle.
2002 to 2006
Rumours start circulating in 2001 about a reunion between Halford and Priest. The next summer, 12 years after departing, Rob Halford announces he will front Judas Priest for the next summer’s Ozzfest tour. After a headlining tour of Europe in the spring of 2004, the band does indeed tour the US as part of the festival package and are the main attraction. To coincide with the tour, Sony releases a band-endorsed, career-spanning five-disc boxed set, Metalogy. Shortly after the completion of Ozzfest, the band starts recording their first album with Halford since 1990’s Painkiller. Angel Of Retribution, is released in March 2005 to positive reviews. The album debuts at number 13 on the Billboard charts in the U.S., their highest-ever debut; its debut at number one on the Greek album charts marks the band’s first number one album of its career.
In early 2008, the 1983 album Screaming For Vengeance becomes the first album available for download in its entirety for the Rock Band videogame. It follows the inclusion of Priest songs in games such as Guitar Hero, Grand Turismo and Grand Theft Auto over the past five years. “What’s better to have on a videogame than music?” says Tipton about the Rock Band game. “We thought it was a great idea to get kids involved with music. We welcome the idea and there’s definitely a lot of younger fans also coming out to our shows too.” Originally planned for release in late 2006, then bumped back into 2007, the band finally release Nostradamus, their most challenging album ever. Their first concept album, the idea of doing a song cycle regarding the life and times of the legendary French philosopher is suggested to the band by their manager. Thinking it was exactly the kind of story that could be expanded into more than just an album, the band dives headfirst into research and ends up creating a 23-song, 102-minute long tour de force that explores a more symphonic, experimental side of the band’s musicianship.
The album arrives to mixed reactions but sells well right out of the gate. Many are not sure what to make of the album, which is a drastic departure from anything the band has ever done before. “We have always strived for every album to have its own character,” says Tipton. “We expected there to be an adverse reaction to Nostradamus. It’s not a one- or two-track album; you really have to step into the album.” “The idea of doing a concept album — and a possible musical of it later on — enabled us to go to places we had never been before,” says K.K. Downing. “It seemed like a great challenge. We just couldn’t resist seeing if we could pull it off.” “People like consistency, especially in their music,” adds Downing. “It’s a recipe for success and the reason that bands like AC/DC and Def Leppard have remained popular. I feel that as a band we have a lot more to offer and, after being around for so many decades, you change. It has got to affect the way you feel emotionally too. We can’t go back and make a record like it’s 1973 again. It would be impossible really.” “Believe you me, we knew it was a risk,” adds Tipton about making Nostradamus. “I’ve said it many times that we were either very brave or very stupid in what we wanted to do. It’s not that far off the mark of other Priest albums but there are a few points where we have stepped off into something a little different.”
Essential Judas Priest
Stained Class (CBS, 1978)
Kicking off with the frantic “Exciter,” this is considered the final chapter in the “classic” period of the band. It is also the only Priest album to have songwriting contributions by all five members. Known as their sci-fi album due to its album cover and lyrical content — a number of the songs apparently are influenced by the previous year’s Star Wars and convey messages of good versus evil — it also becomes their most controversial thanks to the 1990 civil lawsuit launched after the attempted suicides of two Nevada teenagers. Ironically, the lawsuit is fuelled by supposed backwards masking on the album’s sole cover of Spooky Tooth’s “Better By You, Better Than Me.”
Defenders Of The Faith (CBS, 1984)
Although not as commercially successful as the albums that came directly before and after it, this 1984 effort is the band’s most consistent from beginning to end. It contains two important ingredients that a classic Priest album needs: a speedy send off and good variety. Opener “Freewheel Burning” finds Rob Halford giving one of his best vocal performances ever, while tracks like “Love Bites,” “Some Heads Are Going To Roll” and the album’s title track are bonafide Priest classics that prove they are indeed defenders of the heavy metal faith.
Painkiller (Columbia, 1990)
Following a trio of duds, Priest roar back with this juggernaut. The first to feature drummer Scott Travis, arguably their finest timekeeper ever, it sees them heading in a heavier, quicker direction than anything they had done in years. Kicking off with the menacing title track, this album absolutely cooks, deftly displaying this was not a band afraid of challenging themselves. Instead, it is a career-defining moment that has been hailed by both fans and critics as a true return to form. Highlights include the title track, the anthemic “A Taste of Fear” and the creepy “Night Crawler.”
Originally published at exclaim.ca