Our Top 10 Favorite Bands list brings us all the way to Number 3. If you’ve missed any of the previous entries be sure to check out the links to the posts at the bottom of the page. Today’s band didn’t invent heavy metal, but by all accounts they are the first true heavy metal band…
3. Judas Priest
Experts on the genre often argue about who invented heavy metal. Some say Led Zeppelin, with their brash guitar riffs, thundering drums, and swaggering high pitched front man developed the blue print for glam heavy metal bands like Van Halen to follow for years to come. Others agree it was Black Sabbath, who appealed to the darker, more sinister side of the musical spectrum that inspired the likes of Metallica and Megadeth. While there is some discussion about who started heavy metal, there is almost no argument that Judas Priest perfected it.
Everything about Priest is metal to the core. From the sound to the look to the attitude; it was as if you took everything metal about both Sabbath and Zeppelin and cranked it up ten fold. If you think I’m joking, try this: go to YouTube and look up the opening track off of their 1982 masterpiece, Screaming For Vengeance. The song is called “Electric Eye” and has an intro track titled “The Hellion.” The way that those first notes hit you passes what I like to call the “alien test.” If an alien were to drop down on this planet and ask what heavy metal sounds like, I’d play them those two tracks.
Anyway, where was I? Right! Judas Priest personified the sound AND look of heavy metal that many bands copied for decades to come. The affinity for leather and studs (which ironically stems from singer Rob Halford’s then-closeted homosexuality) inspired entire generations to adopt the look. In the hyper masculine culture that is heavy metal, no one batted an eyelash when Halford strutted on stage in what amounted to the aftermath of a shopping spree at an S&M shop. This, coupled with the fact that many metal purists became outraged at the “Hair Metal” movement of the 1980’s, i.e. dudes dressing up like chicks, while Priest routinely dressed in San Fran Pride Parade attire is actually mildly hysterical. Believe me, as a huge metal fan, the humorous irony has not been lost on me.
Priest’s sound can be attributed to two distinct factors. For one, the twin lead guitar stylings of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing were, at the time, insanely innovative. Whatever the two guitarists were doing in the mid to late 70’s, no one sounded quite as metallic as they did. The second factor stems from Rob Halford’s shrieking vocals. As far as heavy metal front men, Rob Halford was and still is peerless. Only a handful of vocalists could do what he did and still continues to do on a nightly basis. Tipton, Downing, and Halford were partly responsible for so many heavy metal bands and fans (myself included) becoming enamored with the genre, that a 1,000 word essay on a free-to-run website only scratches the surface of my gratitude towards them.
Best Album(s) – Defenders of The Faith/Turbo (1984/1986)
By 1984, Judas Priest had 8 albums and a live LP to their name, so they could have just stopped there and would probably still have been rock and roll legends. Luckily for my purposes, they didn’t. Defenders of The Faith is a straightforward metal affair that houses some of Priest’s fastest material; almost like a proto-thrash record. Songs like “Jawbreaker” and “Freewheel Burning” represent the speed and aggression seen on earlier records like Stained Class, but with an even heavier metallic finish. The record is considered a fan favorite and is seen as the band’s finest hour.
By contrast, Priest released Turbo just two years later to (and this is putting it mildly) mixed reviews. The use of synthesizers and a more melodic sound alienated Priest purists, as they saw the record as a sign of JP “selling out.” I, however, could not be happier with the album. Turbo sees Judas Priest at its most fun stage of the 80’s. The musical landscape in 1986 was dominated by pop-metal, so Turbo was just Priest altering its sound accordingly. Tracks like “Locked In,” “Turbo Lover,” and “Reckless” were anthemic and musically dynamic while still keeping with the aggressive undertones Priest had developed over the years. Music is supposed to be, at the end of the day, enjoyable, and Turbo represented an ultimately lighter side of the band I couldn’t help but fall in love with.
Both of these albums are phenomenal and posses most of my favorite Judas Priest songs. They are the ultimate Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde in terms of contrasting styles within a band, but I find myself jiving equally with both. All in all, it doesn’t get much better than mid 80’s Judas Priest.
Worst Album – Jugulator (1997)
Woof! After Judas Priest released the critically acclaimed Painkiller in 1990, it seemed as though the boys were going to transition into the 90’s better than most of their metal brethren. Then came the shocking news that metal legend Rob Halford was leaving and the band went on hiatus. After finding a replacement for Halford in Tim “Ripper” Owens, Priest released Jugulator in 1997. The album feels like Korn and Limp Bizkit snuck into the Judas Priest recording studio late one night and ever so slightly screwed with the master recordings of the songs for the upcoming record. It’s equal parts nu-metal and groove metal and it just isn’t very good. Oh, and that album cover really is that pixilated. That isn’t an upload error, it actually looks like that. I like to think some thirteen year old came up with the album title and then made the accompanying cover art on “MS Album Cover Creator 95,” but I digress.
Strongest Member- Rob Halford (Lead Vocals)
We will start with the obvious: the voice. Rob Halford’s signature screech is quite possibly the most recognizable voice in all of heavy metal. His range is fantastic and powerful and every word of every song leaves his mouth with purpose, swagger, and conviction. In addition to being the voice of Judas Priest, he is also 1/3 of the writing trio on almost every single Priest song from the beginning of the band’s inception. That alone should be enough to net him top honors on this list, but I would be remiss if I didn’t address the fact that Halford is also the creator of the metal uniform. Leather is so synonymous with hard rock and heavy metal of the 70’s and 80’s, and all of those bands have one man to thank. Rob Halford IS Judas Priest, and he should be celebrated accordingly.
Weakest Member – Pretty Much Any Drummer
Halford, Tipton, and Downing wrote pretty much every song you or anyone else has ever heard by Judas Priest, and Ian Hill is a jazz-trained bass player and competent backing vocalist who is also responsible for Rob Halford joining the band. That leaves the revolving door of drummers, Spinal Tap style, in the wake. With the drumming on Painkiller aside, Judas Priest was never known as a band for their outstanding drumming. It was always a solid backbone that never got in the way of the virtuoso stylings of Downing and Tipton or overshadowed Halford’s soaring vocals. No, it was the journeyman type effort of all parties involved that lead to whomever the fifth member of Judas Priest was at the time plugging away at the sticks. If I had to split hairs and pick a single member it would be Dave Holland (above), as he is the most well known and appears on all my favorite Priest albums being nothing more than a glorified studio musician. Also, he was arrested in 2004 for attempted rape of an underaged high school boy with a learning disability. Although he maintained his innocence up until his death less than a month ago, those kinds of things never truly go away.