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Rock - Released October 6, 1992 | Sony Music CG

Predating Metallica's self-titled blockbuster by 11 years, Judas Priest's British Steel was a similarly pitched landmark boasting many of the same accomplishments. It streamlined and simplified the progressive intricacies of a band fresh off of revolutionizing the entire heavy metal genre; it brought an aggressive, underground metal subgenre crashing into the mainstream (in Priest's case, the NWOBHM; in Metallica's, thrash); and it greatly expanded the possibilities for heavy metal's commercial viability as a whole. Of course, British Steel was nowhere near the sales juggernaut that Metallica was, but in catapulting Judas Priest to the status of stadium headliners, it was the first salvo fired in heavy metal's ultimate takeover of the hard rock landscape during the 1980s. Packed with strong melodic hooks, British Steel is a deliberate commercial move, forsaking the complexity of the band's early work in favor of a robust, AC/DC-flavored groove. It's a convincing transformation, as Priest prove equally adept at opening up their arrangements to let the rhythms breathe (something Iron Maiden, for all their virtues, never did master). The album is built around the classic singles "Breaking the Law" and "Living After Midnight," both big hits in the U.K., which openly posit Priest as a party band for the first time. But British Steel is hardly a complete break from the band's past. There are still uptempo slices of metallic mayhem bookending the album in "Rapid Fire" and "Steeler," plus effective moodier pieces in "Metal Gods" (ostensibly about gods literally made of metal, though you know full well the band wanted a nickname) and the crawling menace of "The Rage," which features arguably the best Rob Halford vocal on the album. Not everything on British Steel quite holds up today -- the British hit "United" is a simplistic (not just simplified) football-chant anthem in the unfortunate tradition of "Take on the World," while "You Don't Have to Be OId to Be Wise" wallows in the sort of "eff your parents, man!" sentiments that are currently used to market kids' breakfast cereals. These bits of blatant pandering can leave more than a whiff of unease about the band's commercial calculations, and foreshadow the temporary creative slip on the follow-up, Point of Entry. Still, on the whole, British Steel is too important an album to have its historical stature diluted by minor inconsistencies. Rather, it sealed Judas Priest's status as genre icons, and kick-started heavy metal's glory days of the 1980s. It went Top Five in the U.K. and became their first Top 40 album in the U.S., going platinum in the process and paving the way for countless imitators and innovators alike. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Metal - Released March 9, 2018 | Columbia

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Metal - Released September 26, 1990 | Columbia

At the dawn of the '90s, Judas Priest were in sad shape: out of touch, seemingly creatively bankrupt, coming off the two worst albums of their career, and left for dead by many observers. Trying to right the ship, Priest jettisoned longtime producer Tom Allom and his tinny '80s sound, as well as the serviceable groove drumming of Dave Holland, and brought in veteran metal producer Chris Tsangarides and onetime Racer X skinsman Scott Travis. Most importantly, though, Priest stopped trying to be a stadium act in the midst of hair metal's heyday. All those changes come into sharp focus as soon as the title cut of Painkiller starts -- Travis' thunderous (and crisp-sounding) percussive maelstrom lights an immediate fire under the bandmembers' asses; Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing tear through a crushing, diabolical riff; and Rob Halford starts shrieking like a wicked witch, giving perhaps the most malevolent-sounding performance of his career. It's a startling statement of musical purpose that arrived seemingly out of nowhere, heralding a comeback that rivals George Foreman's. Once the leanest, meanest, darkest metal band on the planet, Priest were clearly giving up on the mainstream and instead embracing the thrash and speed metal underground they'd helped spawn. Not only do they come to terms with it here, they teach those whippersnappers a thing or two, marrying furious instrumental pyrotechnics to an unerring sense of songcraft. Spurred on by Travis' jazz-trained double bass assault, Painkiller never once lets up, slowing down only for the elegant menace of the prog-tinged "A Touch of Evil," and without an unmemorable tune in the bunch. That constant, balls-out intensity is a big reason why metal's younger generation has come to consider Painkiller perhaps the ultimate speed metal album. Older Priest fans will likely complain that the lyrics are silly, and they won't be wrong -- for all its fury, the title track is about the winged knight riding the monster motorcycle depicted on the front cover. However, there's a convincing argument to be made that this brand of comic book fantasy holds up better over time (and is more fun) than most would care to admit (and it can't be any sillier than, for example, members of Morbid Angel worshipping H.P. Lovecraft's fictional Ancient Ones as actual demonic entities). Thus, Painkiller's influence reaches further than many longtime fans might expect: traditionalist power metal bands wanting a harder edge adopted a good chunk of Painkiller's approach, yet its blend of chops and aggression also caught the ears of the emerging extreme metal movement, even inspiring a cover version of the title track on Death's final album, The Sound of Perseverance. In the end, Painkiller secured Judas Priest's legacy with the next generation of metal fans; it's the point where their contributions make the most sense to modern ears more attuned to metal extremes (and more affectionate towards lyrical clichés). It isn't the most important of the Priest classics, but it is the fastest, the meanest, and, well, the most f***ing metal album they ever released. Simultaneously a stunning revitalization and the last great album they would ever make, thanks to Halford's imminent departure. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Hard Rock - Released July 5, 1982 | Sony Music UK

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Metal - Released March 26, 1991 | Columbia

The last quality album from Judas Priest's commercial period, Defenders of the Faith doesn't quite reach the heights of British Steel or Screaming for Vengeance, in part because it lacks a standout single on the level of those two records' best material. That said, even if there's a low percentage of signature songs here, there's a remarkably high percentage of hidden gems waiting to be unearthed, making Defenders possibly the most underrated record in Priest's catalog. Musically, it follows the basic blueprint of Screaming for Vengeance, alternating intricate speed rockers with fist-pumping midtempo grooves and balancing moderate musical sophistication with commercial accessibility. It's a craftsmanlike record from a band that had been in the game for a full decade already, but was still vital and exciting, and decidedly not on autopilot (yet). The record opens high-energy with the terrific "Freewheel Burning" and "Jawbreaker" before moving into lost anthem "Rock Hard Ride Free," the more complex "The Sentinel," the cold, oddly mechanized single "Love Bites," and the slightly darker "Some Heads Are Gonna Roll." Coincidentally (both were released the same year), there's a bit of Spinal Tap creeping into the band's approach on side two -- not just in calling a song "Heavy Duty," but also in the ridiculous rough-sex ode "Eat Me Alive," which comes off like an S&M-themed "Sex Farm" (albeit without the tasteful subtlety). It wound up getting the band in trouble with Tipper Gore's PMRC, though one wonders if it would have helped or hindered their cause that the song's sexual aggression was, in hindsight, not directed at women. At any rate, Defenders of the Faith charted only one spot lower than its predecessor, and was certified platinum. Hereafter, Priest would have significant difficulties adapting to the fast-changing landscape of heavy metal in the latter half of the '80s. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Rock - Released February 3, 2017 | Sony Music UK

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Metal - Released October 27, 1978 | Columbia

Easily one of the most important heavy metal albums ever released, Stained Class marks the peak of Judas Priest's influence, setting the sonic template for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal more than any other single recording. This is the point where Priest put it all together, embracing their identity as the heaviest band on the planet and taking the genre to new heights of power, speed, musicality, and malevolence. Not until Painkiller would the band again be this single-minded in its focus on pure heavy metal. Their blues-rock roots have been virtually obliterated; largely gone, too, are the softer textures and gothic ballads of albums past. The lone exception is the morbid masterpiece "Beyond the Realms of Death," on which the band finally finds a way to integrate the depressive balladry of songs like "Epitaph" and "Last Rose of Summer" into their metal side. Starting out with quiet, mournful verses, the song's chorus is ripped open by a blazing guitar riff as Rob Halford shrieks about leaving the world behind, a dramatic climax that sounds like a definite blueprint for Metallica's "Fade to Black." Yet it wasn't this song that inspired the ridiculous 1989-1990 court case involving the suicide pact of two Nevada teenagers; that honor goes to the Spooky Tooth cover "Better by You, Better Than Me" (penned by none other than the "Dream Weaver" himself, Gary Wright), on which the band allegedly embedded the subliminal backwards-recorded message "Do it." Astounding implausibility aside (as the band pointed out, why encourage the suicides of fans who spend money?), it isn't hard to see why Stained Class might invite such hysterical projections. On balance, it's the darkest lyrical work of the band's career, thematically obsessed with death, violence, and conquest. That's not to say it's always approving. Sure, there are battle cries like "White Heat, Red Hot," horrific nightmares like "Saints in Hell," and elements of the fantastic in the alien monsters of "Invader" and stone classic opener "Exciter." But the band stays philosophical just as often as not. The twisting, turning title track adopts the biblical view of man as a hopeless, fallen creature preyed upon by his baser instincts; "Savage" foreshadows Iron Maiden's "Run to the Hills" in depicting violent colonizers as the real savages; and closer "Heroes End" laments the many legends born from untimely deaths. So in the end, what really cements the celebrated morbidity of Stained Class is the sinister atmosphere created by the music itself. Never before had heavy metal sounded so viciously aggressive, and never before had that been combined with such impeccable chops. Seemingly at will, Tipton and Downing spit out brilliant riffs that cut with knife-like precision, usually several per song. This means that there's a lot to take in on Stained Class, but if there's nothing here as immediate as the band's later hits, there's also a tremendous amount that reveals itself only with repeated listens. While the album's overall complexity is unrivalled in the band's catalog, the songs still pack an enormous visceral impact; the tempos have often been jacked up to punk-level speed, and unlike albums past, there's no respite from the all-out adrenaline rush. Heavy metal had always dealt in extremes -- both sonically and emotionally -- but here was a fresh, vital new way to go about it. It's impossible to overstate the impact that Stained Class had on virtually all of the heavy metal that followed it, from the NWOBHM through thrash and speed metal onward, and it remains Judas Priest's greatest achievement. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Metal - Released March 25, 2016 | Columbia

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Metal - Released June 16, 1997 | Columbia

Judas Priest rebounded from the shaky Point of Entry with Screaming for Vengeance, arguably the strongest album of their early-'80s commercial period. Having moved a bit too far into simplistic hard rock, Vengeance found the band refocusing on heavy metal, and achieving a greater balance between commercialism and creativity. The results were catchy and accessible, yet harder-hitting, and without the awkwardly apparent calculation that informed the weakest moments of the album's two predecessors. Ultimately, Screaming for Vengeance hangs together better than even the undeniable landmark British Steel, both thematically and musically. There's less of a party-down feel here -- the remaining traces of boogie have been ironed out, and the lyrics return to the darkness and menace that gave the band its mystique. Sure, if you stop to read the lyrics, all the references to demons and devils and monsters can look a little gratuitous, but the music here is so strong that there simply aren't any seams showing. Even the occasional filler is more metallic this time around -- in place of trite teenage rebellion, listeners get the S&M-themed "Pain and Pleasure." In fact, "Pain and Pleasure" and "Fever" are the only two songs here that have never shown up on a band retrospective, which ought to tell you that Priest's songwriting here is perhaps the best it's ever been. The midtempo grooves that enlivened British Steel are here in full force on the band's signature tune, "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" (their only American chart single), as well as "Bloodstone," "Devil's Child," and unfairly forgotten single "(Take These) Chains," all uniformly great. But there's a nearly equal emphasis on uptempo headbanging, thanks to the classic "The Hellion/Electric Eye," the terrific album track "Riding on the Wind," and the stupendously high-velocity title cut, which is the closest they ever came to thrash metal (at least in the '80s). Despite a one-album misstep in between, Screaming for Vengeance managed to capitalize on the commercial breakthrough of British Steel, becoming the first Priest album to be certified double platinum, and reaching the Top 20 in America and the U.K. alike. Along with British Steel, it ranks as one of the best and most important mainstream metal albums of the '80s. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Metal - Released March 26, 1991 | Columbia

Having reinvented themselves as an arena metal act with the hugely successful British Steel, Judas Priest naturally opted to stay the course with Point of Entry, keeping things simple while adding a bluesy boogie in places, a sound they hadn't really attempted in quite some time. However, where British Steel's simplicity was an effective reworking of the band's sound, Point of Entry's songs aren't always up to par, making its less well-crafted tracks sound like lunkheaded, low-effort filler. When Point of Entry works, it works well -- "Heading Out to the Highway," "Solar Angels," and "Desert Plains," for example, are great, driving hard rock songs, but British rock anthem hits "Don't Go" and "Hot Rockin'" seem oddly generic given Priest's reputation for inventiveness. Even if Point of Entry is somewhat disappointing overall, though, it's partly because of the album's genre-transforming predecessors; it does have enough good moments to make it worthwhile to diehards and fans of the group's more commercial '80s output. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Rock - Released July 8, 2014 | Columbia

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Rock - Released March 27, 2015 | Columbia

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Metal - Released June 16, 2008 | Columbia

On 2005's (almost) divine comeback album Angel of Retribution, Judas Priest fans got a modern day update of the band's genre-bending 1976 classic, Sad Wings of Destiny. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal legends return to the mines for 2008's Nostradamus, though this time it's another band's treasure they're looting, specifically Iron Maiden's 1988 concept album, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Heavy metal's obsession with seers, sorcery, and anything else that falls under the nebulous blanket of the "dark arts" is legendary, and Maiden's loosely knit tale of a visionary "chosen one" provided listeners with one of the last great albums of the pre-grunge, epic metal era, due in part to some truly memorable songs that remain fan favorites even to this day. Nostradamus, on the other hand, manages to live up to nearly every Spinal Tap cliché (non-deliberate, laugh-inducing cover art; melodramatic spoken word interludes; rhyming "fire" with desire). At nearly two hours long, one expects a certain amount of filler, but the dated keyboard strings, soft piano, and bluesy, minor-key guitar licks that populate every nook and cranny in between (and often throughout) each track sound like discarded incidental music from The X-Files or an RPG video game "cut scene." The songs themselves are hit or miss, with the emphasis falling on the latter, due mostly to an over-reliance on three-chord, midtempo filler, but as is the case with nearly every Priest offering, when they're on they're dead on. Disc one closer "Persecution," after a lengthy organ/guitar intro, unleashes Nostradamus' finest six minutes, boasting one of the best choruses the band has produced since 1988's "Hard as Iron" (few things sound as natural and satisfying as Rob Halford's metallic voice running through a phaser, and his signature scream, when it arises, still has no equal). The predictable but effectively apocalyptic "War" (taking a cue from Holst's Mars, Bringer of War) spawns one of the few great orchestral breakdowns on the record, while both "Death" and the nearly seven-minute title track feature stunning guitar work from Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing. None of this, however, can save Nostradamus from the fact that even if it were reduced to a single album (it should have been), its flaws would far outweigh its triumphs. Excess and metal go together like blood and guts, but even gore loses its ability to draw a reaction after the umpteenth beheading. © James Christopher Monger /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 7, 2013 | Repertoire Records

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Metal - Released May 3, 1988 | Columbia

After the failed experiment of Turbo, Judas Priest toned down the synths and returned to the basics, delivering a straight-ahead, much more typical Priest album with Ram It Down. The band's fan base was still devoted enough to consistently push each new album past the platinum sales mark, and perhaps that's part of the reason Ram It Down generally sounds like it's on autopilot. While there are some well-constructed songs, they tend toward the generic, and the songwriting is pretty lackluster overall, with the up-tempo title track easily standing out as the best tune here. And even though Ram It Down backed away from the territory explored on Turbo, much of the album still has a too-polished, mechanical-sounding production, especially the drums. Lyrically, Ram It Down is firmly entrenched in adolescent theatrics that lack the personality or toughness of Priest's best anthems, which -- coupled with the lack of much truly memorable music -- makes the record sound cynical and insincere, the lowest point in the Rob Halford era. Further debits are given for the cover of "Johnny B. Goode." © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Rock - Released March 6, 2015 | Sony Music UK

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Metal - Released May 6, 1979 | Columbia

Judas Priest's first official live recording has always been met with equal amounts of acclaim and controversy: acclaim from those who consider it an excellent summation of the metal legend's 1970s output, and controversy from the critics and industry insiders who criticized what they believed to be a heavily overdubbed and studio-enhanced performance, mockingly naming it Unleashed in the Studio at times. Before delving deeper into this issue, let it be said that except for a few unfortunate omissions ("Hell Bent for Leather," "Better by You, Better Than Me") the track listing here is quite impressive. Along with powerful versions of such storming anthems as "Exciter" and "Running Wild," the band delivers the definitive version of the prog metallic "Sinner," and competent versions of their popular covers tunes, "Diamonds and Rust" and "The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)." Interestingly, most of the tracks from the classic Sad Wings of Destiny fall short of their mark, however, perhaps because they forfeit heaviness at the expense of speed. As for the "live" dilemma, in the late '90s estranged singer Rob Halford would claim in interviews that, while the band's playing was indeed recorded entirely live, his vocals had been ruined in the original mix, forcing him to re-record them in one take in a concert-like setting. If this was the case, it would hardly be the first or most severe case of studio interference on a live recording, and fans seeking a concise, nearly flawless collection of Priest's 1970s hits will not be disappointed. © Eduardo Rivadavia /TiVo
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Metal - Released October 1, 1978 | Columbia

Given the less violent moniker Hell Bent for Leather for U.S. release (as if that makes any sense), Killing Machine is a transitional album between the progressive-minded complexity of Stained Class and the more commercialized stadium rock of British Steel. In terms of image, however, Judas Priest comes into their own here, creating modern heavy metal fashion by donning studded leather outfits that recalled biker subculture (a connection Rob Halford supported by riding a Harley-Davidson on-stage) but -- in one of metal's supreme ironies -- actually came from gay S&M clubs. Now looking as fierce as their music sounded, Priest set about scaling back the ambition of Stained Class, making the songs more concise and immediate, with simpler structures and fewer underlying subtleties. However, the band largely maintains its then-trademark aggression; the simpler songs actually allow them to hike the tempo on the proto-speed metal numbers even more, and there are hints of blues-rock creeping back into the overall sound, complementing the newfound tough-guy swagger in the band's attitude. At the same time, the relative simplicity also provides the first glimpse of the band's more commercial instincts. If these competing impulses don't make for their most cohesive album, it's also true that most of what's here was still pretty peerless for its time. If Stained Class was the death album, Killing Machine is the sex album -- "Delivering the Goods," the title track, "Burnin' Up," and "Evil Fantasies" are all loaded with S&M imagery, while "Running Wild" is a nightlife party anthem, and "Before the Dawn" a morose heartbreak ballad that nonetheless works in context as the downside of all this carnality. "Delivering the Goods" in particular ranks with their best straightforward rockers, while "Hell Bent for Leather" pushes ever farther towards speed metal proper, crystallizing Halford's leather-and-motorcycle obsessions into one of the band's signature statements. The other title track, "Killing Machine," is a midtempo stomper about a contract hitman, and there's yet another brilliantly reinvented cover song, as the band transforms the Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac chestnut "The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)" into a heavy, sinister groover. Of the more commercial material, the anthemic chorus of "Evening Star" leaves the best impression, while "Rock Forever" is their first explicit ode to heavy metal itself (and there would be many, many more to come). The uneasiest implications for the future come from "Take on the World," a lunkheaded stadium shout-along that gave the band its first British hit single, and is clearly patterned after Queen's "We Will Rock You." Occasional missteps and all, Killing Machine closes the book on Judas Priest's early period, which constitutes some of the most influential heavy metal ever recorded. The flood of NWOBHM talent they'd inspired was about to be unleashed on the record-buying public, and henceforth, Priest was intent on reaping the rewards. They would remain a vital force in their second, more commercial phase (more so than some fans of their late-'70s classics might care to admit), but their work of redefining the genre had largely been completed. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Pop/Rock - Released February 28, 2005 | Epic

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Metal - Released November 15, 1977 | Columbia

Judas Priest's major-label debut Sin After Sin marks their only recording with then-teenage session drummer Simon Phillips, whose technical prowess helps push the band's burgeoning aggression into overdrive. For their part, K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton employ a great deal more of the driving, palm-muted power-chord picking that would provide the basic rhythmic foundation of all but the most extreme heavy metal from here on out. Sin After Sin finds Priest still experimenting with their range, and thus ends up as perhaps their most varied outing. Yet despite the undeniably tremendous peaks here, the overall package doesn't cohere quite as well as on Sad Wings of Destiny, simply because the heavy moments are so recognizable as the metal we know today that the detours stick out as greater interruptions of the album's flow. The proggy ballad "Last Rose of Summer" is the biggest departure here, with florid lyrics and "red blood/white snow" imagery that would be fully at home on any goth rock band's most depressing bedsit dirges. "Here Come the Tears" is musically dissimilar, with heavy guitars and Halford's downcast wailing, but it's just as lyrically mopey. These two sit rather uneasily against the viciousness of the more metallic offerings. Classic opener "Sinner" is packed with driving riffs, sophisticated guitar interplay (including a whammy-bar freakout during a slower middle section), a melody that winds snakily upward, and nifty little production tricks doubtless inspired by Queen. A galloping, fully metallic reimagining of the Joan Baez folk tune "Diamonds and Rust" is a smashing success, one of the most effective left-field cover choices in metal history. "Starbreaker" is the first of many "alien monsters from the sky!" tunes in the band's catalog. Proggy, churchy guitar intro "Let Us Prey" quickly leads into the speed-burner "Call for the Priest," which may just be the earliest building block in the construction of speed metal, and features some of Tipton and Downing's most impressive twin-guitar harmonies yet. "Raw Deal" is a less immediate metal offering that faintly recalls the band's blues-rock roots, though it may be most interesting for the blatant lyrical references to S&M bars and gay haven Fire Island, not to mention an unmistakable endorsement of gay rights. Things close on a high note with the utterly stunning "Dissident Aggressor," one of the heaviest songs in the band's catalog, so much so that it was covered (and not outdone) by Slayer. Once the bludgeoning main riff abruptly kicks in, Halford screams at what must be the very top of his range; a completely manic Phillips offers some of the earliest double-bass drumming in metal; and the crazed guitar solos prove that Tipton and Downing had more than just pure technique at their disposal. It's not a stretch to say that at the time of its release, "Dissident Aggressor" was probably the heaviest metal song of all time. It's the biggest sign here that as good as Judas Priest already was, they were on the verge of something even greater. In what must seem like a much bigger oddity now, the inaugural American tour that ensued found them opening for REO Speedwagon and Foreigner. © Steve Huey /TiVo