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Thirty-Five Years Later: Judas Priest – Defenders Of The Faith

I’m not even gonna attempt an intro that will do this justice. Folks, what we have before us is one of my favorite records by my favorite band, Judas Priest’s very own Defenders Of The Faith. More importantly, it is celebrating its thirty-fifth birthday today! At a time when Judas Priest were following some more employable formulas that yielded poppier tunes and radio hits, they went out and dropped their heaviest record of the decade. Some may argue that Ram It Down holds that title, but more on that later.

A neat tidbit about this is that it was the record that scored them a nice spot on the PMRC’s wretched Filthy Fifteen list, all thanks to “Eat Me Alive.” Our good friend Tipper Gore thought it was about forced oral sex (yeah…I know, ridiculous), which evidently brought them even more publicity than they were already receiving. It also compelled Judas Priest to write a solid track known as “Parental Guidance” for the follow-up record Turbo! (yeah…I hear your negative comments, I like that record, so pipe down!). Also noteworthy is the fact that this is only the second Judas Priest record to ever have every track performed live at one point or another as of 2008.

So, as I mentioned earlier, this is one of their heaviest album to hit the scene in the ‘80s. The reason I think it holds more weight than Ram It Down is because that one’s just very fast. Defenders, however, is extremely dense in terms of the riffs, and Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing put a lot more force behind the chords; not to mention, Rob Halford put far more breath into his vocal outbursts here. If that isn’t enough, Dave Holland pounds the drum kit harder than ever while following Ian Hill’s bass lines, and all of this together creates such a furious ball of sound that makes my heart rate go up.

Let’s look at a few songs: “Freewheel Burning,” “Jawbreaker,” and “The Sentinel” (my personal favorite). First of all, the first lyrics heard on the album, “Fast and furious, we ride the universe,” describe the entire album. Everything you need to know is included in this opening track. The piercing falsettos and the crushing dual guitars don’t waste any time making their presence felt. “Jawbreaker” has an angrier edge than anything else on here, and it also contains one of Halford’s longest vocal shrieks. And “The Sentinel” holds it all in its chorus. Fuck, that “condemned to Hell” is strong enough to break diamond. And you know what the best part about this is? All three songs are still flooded with hooks and manage to be catchy all the while being superior in musical composition.

That’s all over the record though; “Rock Hard, Ride Free,” “Eat Me Alive,” and “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” all have very memorable lyrics and vocal work, as well as red-hot riffs. “Rock Hard, Ride Free” might have the best intro on the disc; higher siren-esque notes followed by a fun lick, into a bangin’ rhythm. It’s amazing how simple power chords can do so much. The incorporation of speed metal is one of the most obvious features on Defenders Of The Faith, but how about the progressive metal tempos that leak into the note layout on said tracks as well? I’ve always found this to be something that was overlooked a bit, as the intensity almost shadows it out.

There are two songs on here that I would classify as “softer,” but that’s only in comparison to the rest of the album. “Love Bites” (another favorite) and “Night Comes Down” have a much more calmer rhythm, but there’s no denying that there’s an eerie underlying force beneath them. “Love Bites” is very reminiscent of something out of Dracula, and if nothing else the drums keep this one heavy. “Night Comes Down” may be the only track that isn’t so thunderous, but the way that it was produced still gives it a darker feel. Ultimately, the entire record stays one-hundred percent consistent, despite the different angles of writing. All of the song’s carry so much weight. Of course, we can’t forget the album-closing duo of “Heavy Duty” leading into the title track. In my eyes, the first song on the disc started by telling the listener what to expect. These songs tell you what you just witnessed, and are nothing but a garnish to top everything off. And while it isn’t on the studio record, on the remastered CD you get the bonus track “Turn On Your Light,” an acoustic ballad that doesn’t fit at all, but is beautifully crafted all the same. 

Once again, Vault Hunters, we’ve stumbled upon an album that was so influential and holds up so well today that it’s almost silly to even mention why. Maybe it didn’t reinvent the wheel, and maybe there’s nothing blatantly new about it, but it did take the catchiness of the glam movement and combine it with the fury of the groundbreaking speed metal bands, giving us one of the greatest heavy metal albums ever made. Today, young fans and old ones alike never cite this as anything but gold. It also just barely came under Judas Priest’s previous album Screaming For Vengeance on the charts. The band continues to play many of these tracks live, as it’s packed with fan favorites.

British heavy metal group Judas Priest perform onstage at the Rosemont Horizon, Rosemont, Illinois, June 14, 1984. Pictured are guitarists KK Downing (left) and Glenn Tipton. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Moreover, a lot of newer metal bands find themselves coming back to this record and drawing influence from its attitude. Sabaton, Machine Head, Katatonia, and others covered songs off of this record. I also like to believe that the large amount of energy here helped to boost the power metal movement that was beginning to take its form around this time period. So here, thirty-five years later, Defenders Of The Faith proves to be just as relevant as it was on its release day and is an absolutely essential listen for anyone into the genre.

Defenders Of The Faith was released on January 4th, 1984 through Columbia records, and has plenty of CD, cassette, and vinyl copies in circulation. Of course, it has also been remastered in CD form as part of a collection of early albums containing bonus tracks and was reissued on vinyl in many different colors. Five years ago, there was another reissue for the album’s thirtieth anniversary, with a whole other disc packed with Judas Priest gems. All can be purchased right here. Now tell me, would an album get this much attention today if it wasn’t something that made a large impact?

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