Well, Firepower, Judas Priest’s latest album, has been released, and what a beast of an album it is… the advent of this ripsnorter of an album got us to thinking about Priest albums past – not that a magazine named for one of the band’s greatest songs doesn’t do that every day, obviously – so we put together our international panel of metal brains -the same ne’erdowells who help put together our end of year top one hundred, as it goes – and asked them to help us put together this list of the best that Priest has had to offer down the years… these, then are Judas Priest’s albums for the ages…
10. Unleashed in the East (1979)
Unkind scribes may well have contemporaneously – and very mischievously – dubbed the album ‘Unleashed in the Studio’ due to the pristine nature of the live recordings that comprise Unleashed in the East; However, the appeal of this album endures, and the versions included on this album of Genocide and The Ripper especially remain pretty much definitive. The savage heaviness of the playing acted as a neat bridge between the ‘old’ satin-clad Priest and the coming, leather n’studs-encrusted storm. The original and still the best of the Judas Priest live albums.
9. Turbo (1986)
Stop laughing at the back! There are some truly fine songs included on what at the time quickly became Priest’s most maligned album; It’s of it’s time for sure, but time has been kind to Turbo, and slowly but surely public opinion has warmed to a record that, if it lacks sorely in dual-lead strike power is still rammed to the gunwhales with the kind of singalongarob pop metal that the band have always had a knack for.
8. Ram it Down (1988)
Turbo and Ram it Down were originally conceived as two halves of a double album slated to be entitled Twin Turbos, the one side (Turbo) highlighting the lighter side of Priest, with what became Ram it Down focusing on the more traditional heaviness that the band had become known for. Basic economics mitigated against this, with the band deciding Turbo was the better bet of the two halves commercially and opting to put that out first. Consequently, there’s often a whiff of afterthought about Ram it Down, but the undeniable might of songs such as Blood Red Skies and the title track, not to mention a song entitled simply Heavy Metal means that it’s become acknowledged quietly as something of a minor classic.
7. Sad Wings of Destiny (1976)
After the false start that was 1974’s Rocka Rolla, it could be said that 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny is where the truly recognisable Judas Priest begins. Modern ears might find the album bogged down by a po-faced progginess in places, but the metallic intent of track like The Ripper, Genocide, Tyrant and, of course, Victim of Changes pointed to what the future had in store for the band. The legend truly begins here.
6. Stained Class (1978)
The first of two classic albums released by the band in 1978 – an almost unthinkable feat now – Stained Class sees the band hitting their metallic straps consistently for the first time; The appearance of drummer Les Binks behind the kit gave the band the confidence to press forward with double-bass proto speed metal anthems like Exciter, whilst the majestic ballad Beyond the Realms of Death showed that the band were already near-peerless in the mixing of fragility and muscle. The Spooky Tooth cover Better By Me, Better Than You was to cause trouble for the band a little further down the track, but at the time Stained Class was the album saw Priest emerge unmolested at the head of metal’s top table.
5. Killing Machine (1978)
The second of 1978’s double-barrelled blast of Priestly goodness, Killing Machine saw the band take the first of many left turns, dialling down the metal of Stained Class in favour of a raunchy, bluesier take on the genre that spawned greasy filth such as the title track and Evil Fantasies; the metal was still in evidence, of course, with tracks like Running Wild and the perennial Hell Bent For Leather, whilst the band even had the cheek to throw in a couple of UK hit singles in the shape of the gargantuan Take on the World and the chiming melodic heft of Evening Star. An all-round triumph of an album.
From the opening drum fusillades of the title track, heralding the arrival of new drummer Scott Travis, Priest fans knew that another new chapter for the band was beginning. Eschewing the polished prissiness of the second half of the eighties, Priest were welcoming the final decade of the twentieth century with all guns blazing… and Painkiller was the coruscating proof of that. That said, there’s still plenty of melody evident on tracks like the excellent One Shot at Glory and Hell Patrol, but overall this was a meaner, leaner and above all heavier Priest. And the fans loved it.
3. Defenders of the Faith (1984)
Priest had reached their commercial height with Screaming For Vengeance, leaving them with the unenviable task of following such a momentously successful record. That they came back with a towering colossus of a record speaks volumes for the nerve of the band, not to say their superior songwriting smarts… the heat was on, and the band produced, with tracks like Freewheel Burning, Jawbreaker, Rock Hard Ride Free and (of course) The Sentinel superbly augmenting and, in places, topping what had gone before. Defenders of the Faith remains one of the great statement albums of eighties metal. Titanic.
2. British Steel (1980)
Carrying on from the success of Killing Machine, Priest entered the eighties with a new found confidence. British Steel reflected this; the heavier songs were much heavier (Rapid Fire is a proto thrash exercise in heads down riffage that still holds its own today), whilst the poppier songs were, indeed, poppier. No self-respecting metal bands would have had the bollocks to put out Living After Midnight in 1980, whilst in Breaking the Law the band unleashed one of the great disaffected youth anthems of all time. Take that punk! Near perfect.
1. Screaming For Vengeance (1982)
There could really be only one winner in this Priest Poll, and Screaming For Vengeance is it… The band’s biggest selling album in America, Screaming For Vengeance is, without exaggeration, the apogee of eighties metal. Brutally heavy at times (Screaming for Vengeance enabled some terrifying screams from Rob Halford), upliftingly anthemic at others (Electric Eye is still the apotheosis of true metal), but always cheekily melodic – nobody writes a solo you can whistle like Glenn Tipton and KK Downing – there is not one second of filler on this album. And in You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ the band cemented their presence on rock radio for eternity. If British Steel was near-perfect, Screaming for Vengeance absolutely is.
Read Scott Adams’ review of Firepower HERE
Read KK Downing’s thoughts on Screaming for Vengeance HERE