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Rank and File

Rank And File: Judas Priest

Judas Priest has been in my top five bands since I was in high school. It all started with me picking up a copy of Screaming For Vengeance when I was sixteen, because of hearing “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” on the radio. I don’t need to go on about how influential they’ve been for almost fifty years now. What I do need to do, is drop my general breakdown of entire discographies that hold so much value, and that’s what I’m here to do today for them. The unique thing about their discography is that no two albums sound completely identical, with there being some sense of change in every one. So come with me, and take a closer look at all of these differences between records as I rank them!

18) Demolition (2001) “Cause down here in Hell everybody loves me”

Beyond having the identity of “the one that drops F-bombs,” Demolition is quite literally the epitome of something merely existing. There’s nothing offensively bad. I can dig nu-metal tropes, but the only song that comes remotely close to standing out is “Hell Is Home.” But to be honest, I think I like the poetic beef that the lyrics contain more than the actual song. This is painfully uninspiring heavy metal that goes nowhere, and seventy fucking minutes of it.

Final Grade: D-

17) Jugulator (1997) “Part demonic, part machine, hungry and it’s time to feed”

Every year I try to get into Jugulator, and it still has yet to leave a real impression. I appreciate Tim “Ripper” Owens’ pipes, and Judas Priest’s desire to move forward using a totally different style. I don’t even have anything against the dropped guitars or meaner tones. But the songwriting just isn’t there, to me. The title track opens us on a hefty note, and I enjoy that one. “Death Row” also has a super-strong chorus. But this record gets old after that. Maybe if it were like, twenty-five minutes shorter, I’d like it better. Something Judas Priest clearly didn’t learn for the next one.

Final Grade: D+

16) Nostradamus (2008) “Your future lies within my eyes! What I predict will terrify!”

If I told you that Nostradamus was as bad as everyone pretends it is, I’d be lying to you. Ian Hill’s bass presence is back, the orchestra adds loads of life, and there are some truly incredible songs. The issue? It’s too damn long! (Noticing a pattern here?). This is a double-disc concept record about the French astrologer with the same name (circa 1503), famous for supposedly predicting the future. There are a lot of redundant interludes, overly long ballads or epics, and general fluff that hurts the final outcome. Much of this also feels like it could be in a video game or movie trailer. But, there are some true gems worth spinning. “Prophecy” starts things off on extreme levels of muscular riffing and powerful vocals. “Pestilence And Plague” is dense with power in its chorus and rhythmic gallop, as is “Persecution.” Even “Lost Love” is a calming piano ballad that I can dig. Really, it’s a big scavenger hunt, here’s your guide.

Final Grade: C-

15) Ram It Down (1988) “Thousands of cars and a million guitars; screaming with power in the air!”

Ram It Down was never really looked at as an essential, but I find that others tend to like it more than I do. It isn’t bad, and I love the title track with all of my heart. “Hard As Iron” is also strikingly powerful. But the rest of this disc feels way too obvious of a transition between Turbo and Painkiller, leading to overly spotty writing. A lot of the songs have the potential, but don’t do anything that stands out. “Heavy Metal” and “Blood Red Skies” are good examples of that. Others are just flat out repetitive and bottomless, such as “Come And Get It.” I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for that ridiculous “Johnny B. Goode” cover, but I’m not going to call it great or anything.

Final Grade: C

14) Point Of Entry (1981) “Don’t go! Please don’t deceive me; don’t take it away!”

I very much view Point Of Entry as a mood record, since it followed up the style of British Steel, but lacked the number of hits. It’s slightly less watered down, but it has more tracks that have little direction. Case in point, “Hot Rockin’.” When in the mood, it’s loads of fun, but otherwise feels empty. It also dips in quality in the second half due to the last couple of songs holding few memorable moments. There are some absolute diamonds, though. “Desert Plains” is a fantastic number with its lead progressions, and “Don’t Go” is an overlooked one with an energetic chorus. “Turning Circles” is also lots of fun, and the classic “Heading Out To The Highway” was a wonderful track to open the disc.

Final Grade: B- 

13) Redeemer Of Souls (2014) “Valhalla, this is where I belong; I belong!”

Redeemer Of Souls seems to be one where the opinions are all over the place. I’ve enjoyed this album since the day it came out. There’s a significant drop in quality after the first half, but nothing is bad, and I actually like how raw the production is. “Crossfire” is one of the later songs that’s really boosted by that, adding to its doomy make-up. The first couple songs definitely hold the hottest flame, though. “Dragonaut,” the title track, and “Halls Of Valhalla” grasp a steady balance between classic Priest melodies and new levels of heaviness. The last of the three’s chorus is magnificent! The softee closer “Beginning Of The End” was a good way to go out, leaving us with a bit of sorrow. Overall, some of this could stand to be trimmed, but the majority of the songs are well written. The production and attitude also remain consistent.

Final Grade: B

12) Killing Machine / Hell Bent For Leather (1979) “Seek him here, seek him on the highway, never knowing when he’ll appear!”

Killing Machine or Hell Bent For Leather (depending on your location) was possibly the biggest jump classic era Judas Priest ever made in sound. Though they’d changed on every previous album, this was where they aimed for the pop target, starting a more commercial run. Some of them are incredible; “Hell Bent For Leather” is a strong blast of heavy and fun, and “Evening Star” is an earworm, as cheesy as it is. Others feel like they serve little purpose and haven’t much of a backbone. “Evil Fantasies” is like a doom song gone wrong, and “Rock Forever” is pretty dry. The Fleetwood Mac classic “The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown)” was done exceptionally, and I have a soft spot for the acoustic-based ballad “Before The Dawn.” The rest ranges from decent to good — a fair starter album for newcomers, but not what I’d call great.

Final Grade: B

11) British Steel (1980) “Let’s get one thing straight, I’ll choose my fate; and it’s got nothing to do with you”

I don’t think putting this so low is much of a hot take anymore, considering most fans view it as one of their most watered-down albums. I am easy on British Steel since it was one of the first ones I got. The songs are hooky, as overplayed as they are, but I very much view this in the same vein of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. “Breakin’ The Law” and “Living After Midnight” aren’t bad songs, I never go out of my way for them. “Metal Gods,” however, is an all-time favorite, the steady riff being the main attraction, topped with a simple and howling chorus. “Rapid Fire” is a speed metal banger that hits hard, redeeming old qualities. “You Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise,” and “United” are both super tame pop numbers that are still fantastic listens, and the rest is decent enough. This is one of the best starter albums for newcomers, just know that things get far better.

Final Grade: B+

10) Angel Of Retribution (2005) “When I close my eyes, I hear your velvet wings and cry”

It may not have been on the same level of Brave New World, but Angel Of Retribution is certainly what I view as a great comeback. There are some spotty parts, and “Lochness” had no business being thirteen minutes long (I mean come on, “Eulogy” would have been the perfect ending). But the vibes that I always loved are back, and the first two tracks “Judas Rising” and “Deal With The Devil” are unstoppable. On the softer side, it also has “Angel,” the greatest acoustic ballad they ever wrote. Halford’s vocal delivery is heartbreaking, and the Tipton/Downing blast at the end finishes it flawlessly. “Worth Fighting For” has a steady but firm feel, and “Hellrider” is loads of Painkiller-esque fun. This is where I suggest starting for those seeking something from the newer era. Interchangeable rank-wise with British Steel, mood pending.

Final Grade: B+

9) Firepower (2018) “By grace of God within our hearts eternal, for our salvation is for everyone”

Yeah, alright. Maybe I was part of the gang that overhyped the hell out of Firepower when it came out. But you know what? It’s still really fucking incredible! Picture Redeemer Of Souls with a cleaner production and stronger songwriting. Moreover, there’s more to gather from it. “Evil Never Dies” and “Never The Hero” are quicker songs that are hard and in your face the whole time. “No Surrender” is similar, but has a chantier build, feeling like an anthem. “Rising From Ruins” and its intro “Guardians” give off epic balladry with pianos adding some fresh air, which is beautiful. “Sea Of Red” closes things off in the same way, allowing us to go out on a cooler note. And of course, there are the instant classics “Lightning Strikes” and the title track to introduce the refined songwriting. So yeah, maybe this isn’t top-5 of 2018 worthy (like I thought it was), but there’s not a bad track to be had, and when in the right mood, it’s an incredible and powerful listen.

Final Grade: A-

8) Rocka Rolla (1974) “I still get this awful feeling, when the snow falls to the ground”

The debut Judas Priest record is not one that people will cling to quickly, but over the years, I’ve come to really appreciate it. Rocka Rolla, best described as “Rush’s debut with winter depression” by my fellow writer Chris, is basically a compilation of gloomy but bluesy jams with a dreary undertone. Nothing is scary like Black Sabbath’s debut, but “Cheater” very much has an aggressive energy. This follows the whole “Winter” sequence, which deals in harsh feelings of the winter season in three parts (“Winter,” “Deep Freeze,” and “Winter Retreat”). The latter half of the record draws out lots of unsettling waves with longer tunes and psychedelic licks. The title track and “One For The Road” open on notes that are easier to tap to. So this is somewhat all over the place. The layering and the atmosphere are ultimately what gets me, especially when I myself am fighting off the winter blues as I type this. Very unconventional, but man, if it isn’t powerful!

Final Grade: A-

7) Turbo (1986) “Where are you now? The fears are comin’ back to me once again”

Although they had tampered with the style many times before this point, Turbo was where Judas Priest completed a glam metal effort. This is one of the tougher ones for me to rank, because of how incredible it is; until track seven. The first six songs are more than flawless. The sexual drive behind “Rock You All Around The World,” “Locked In,” and the title track matches the melodies and synth-drenching perfectly. However, the peak point is “Out In The Cold,” starting with an eerie Carpenter-esque synth lead. It breaks into a booming guitar track, with worry injected so deep into the attitude that I can feel the cold Rob speaks of. “Private Property” is tons of fun with its anthemic chorus, and “Parental Guidance” takes rebellious backlash to such happy heights. The rest? They’re good, but a significant level of perfection is lost after “Out In The Cold.” Maybe don’t start here, but give this a chance. It’s gotten more acceptance in recent years.

Final Grade: A-

6) Painkiller (1990) “A dark angel of sin, preying deep from within, come take me in”

A confession; I was damn close to putting Turbo above this. I enjoy my favorite songs from it more than a lot of this. But if I’m being honest with myself, Painkiller is ultimately a more solid album from cover to cover, which is my tie-breaking factor. The title track is an obvious anthem, being the song that broke Judas Priest away from the confusion of Ram It Down, pushing them deeper into speed metal than they’ve ever gone. My personal favorite is actually “A Touch Of Evil” because of the bridge at the end, the synth rhythms, and the powerful execution. “Hell Patrol” and “Leather Rebel” are essential power metal tunes that gain so much muscle, and “Night Crawler” is big, heavy, fun. Scott Travis also makes his debut behind the kit, and boy did he ever do a solid job at filling Holland’s shoes. The production here does the same thing it did to Defenders, that being upping the intensity. I’ll admit that “Metal Meltdown” doesn’t do it for me the way that it does for many others, but there isn’t a bad song to be found here.

Final Grade: A

5) Screaming For Vengeance (1982), “If you think I’ll sit around while you chip away my brain, listen I ain’t foolin’ and you better think again!”

I like to look at Screaming For Vengeance as the better executed British Steel follow up that Judas Priest aimed for on poor, overlooked Point Of Entry. It makes sense that it was also one of the first ones I ever heard, considering how pop laced it is. The difference is that Vengeance doesn’t feel watered down at all. The hooks and accessibility are still there, but so is the substance and the overall life. “The Hellion / Electric Eye” is one of the greatest heavy metal anthems ever written, being the perfect guide to open with. The title track takes this and stuffs it with kicking falsettos, and one of my personal favorites, “Riding On The Wind,” does that with even tighter execution. There’s room for tunes that dial back the momentum, found primarily in the middle with “(Take These) Chains,” and “Pain And Pleasure,” or the semi-somber “Fever.” The drum fills in the first of those are out of this world! In my opinion, this was the first record where Dave Holland truly shined bright, which he would carry on through all following discs. The progression and placement of the songs on this left no room for monotony, and sticking the pop-metal anthem “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” near the end beautifully captured everything this album was able to achieve. This is where I’d start if you’re new to Judas Priest.
Bonus: If you have the re-master, Give the epic/ballad “Prisoner Of Your Eyes” a chance. There’s so much emotion and musical build-up, and the lyrics are top-notch.

Final Grade: A

4) Sin After Sin (1977) “Stab! Brawl! Punch! Crawl! The hooks to my brain are well in!”

Out of the first three records, Sin After Sin is easily the least dreary and lets the most sunshine in. Even as abrasive and punchy as “Sinner” is, it has such an upbeat feeling to it. Roger Glover’s production may have had something to do with all of this. “Let Us Prey / Call For The Priest” creates such a soothing soundscape of melody, and Halford’s vocal outburst at the end gives me chills. The sadder vibes do let on a bit in the ballad “Last Rose Of Summer,” but it’s still less dreary than before. “Here Come The Tears” is the same way, but that’s mostly meant to be a segue to “Dissident Aggressor,” a total change in attitude to close. That tune is a fuming blast of anger, and likely one of the heaviest songs from this decade. And of course, I can’t not mention “Diamonds & Rust,” an obvious classic that amps up what Joan Baez has set before us. Really a flawless record, and probably the best one to start with if you’re new to early Judas Priest.

Final Grade: A

3) Defenders Of The Faith (1984) “Sworn to avenge, condemn to hell! Tempt not the blade, all fear the sentinel!”

There couldn’t have been a better follow up to Vengeance than Defenders Of The Faith. Now the momentum is even greater while keeping its grasp on the radio appeal. The production gives the vocals and the riffs a larger push, with Halford’s wails and the Tipton/Downing duo casting an echo. Even Holland’s drum blasts capture the same energy, boosting the heaviness to high levels. Ian Hill is the only one that seems to have gotten robbed. “The Sentinel” and “Freewheel Burning” are easily two of the greatest songs Judas Priest ever wrote, bringing the focus on fury to a peak. “Jawbreaker” also brings these aspects into overdrive, although I do find that one to be inferior to the other two. The infamous “Eat Me Alive” drops the leads down some, casting an eerier aura. But “Love Bites” gives you the same chills, only through steadier beats and cooled off kicks. “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” and “Rock Hard, Ride Free” are where the pop vibes re-surface, clearly aimed at getting some radio airplay. “Night Comes Down,” on the other hand, is the only sadder song, bordering ballad territory without stepping away from the formula. Closers “Heavy Duty” and the title track contain the least amount of value but are a solid enough way of exiting the stage. Not a flaw to be found, and essential for newcomers.

Bonus: Another ballad that made the bonus tracks in the re-masters was “Turn On Your Light,” an acoustic ditty with a hard ending. I highly recommend this song.

Final Grade: A

2) Stained Class (1978) “Keep the world with all its sin, it’s not fit for livin’ in”

Depending on my mood, Stained Class is my first choice just due to how consistent it is. But there is one record that tops this one overall simply because “Savage” lacks the extreme level of flawlessness that the rest of these songs do. But from end to end this is still perfection at its finest. Les Binks lays the ground with drumming like no other here, introducing “Exciter,” what I call the most essential speed metal song. The double solos by Tipton and Downing are untouchable. Rob’s voice hits new heights regarding power in songs like “Saints In Hell” and “White Heat Red Hot.” The explosive riffing on the latter is loaded with adrenaline. The title track will give you a new idea of what vocal harmony can do. But the best performance as the whole band comes together is “Beyond The Realms Of Death.” It’s an unsettling song built on clean licks and haunting lyrics about death. Ian Hill adds thicker presence, helping out the stomping chorus. Ending on “Heroes End” was a great call, as it slices the melodies and dark energy up into one solid final outing. And of course, Judas Priest improved upon yet another song, Spooky Tooth’s “Better By You, Better Than Me.” That opening lick is such an earworm! Perfect from front to back.

Final Grade: A

1) Sad Wings Of Destiny (1976) “Mourn for us oppressed in fear, chained and shackled we are bound!” 

For years, I had a hard time saying that Sad Wings Of Destiny was my favorite Judas Priest record. As amazing as it has always been, some moments didn’t jive with me as much. “Epitaph” took me forever to recognize how beautiful that piano section topped by hopelessly sad vocals and lyrics was. But damn, if it doesn’t cut deep! And its descent into “Island Of Domination” is an added bonus, as that song rehashes earlier feelings and throws in one of the greatest doom riffs ever written near the end. Alan Moore’s ability to drop hard clashes at the right times are everything. “Deceiver” has always been one of my favorites, and again, it was only recently that I felt its leader “Dreamer Deceiver” was necessary. But the two work together as unstoppable halves of an emotional whole, ending with fuming force.

The obvious classics like “Victim Of Changes” and “The Ripper” never get old in the slightest. The former glazes doom tinges over epic vocal outbursts and beautiful riffing. Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing achieved what I thought “War Pigs” wanted to be. The latter is more straightforward, focusing its writing on a darker story, combining Rob Halford’s haunting delivery with dark layering. “Tyrant” might be my favorite, as it crams all of their strongest abilities into such a short metal song. And the gang vocals are stupendous. Its prelude track simply titled “Prelude” just adds more flavor. That leaves “Genocide,” a fun one displaying falsettos and deep bass licks from Ian Hill. This album has everything, and I think it’s less accessible than the couple that follow it. But it has more feelings than any other Judas Priest album, and I’d have it no other way. Absolutely essential, when you feel you’re ready.

Final Grade: A+

 

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