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Judas Priest

The Chosen Few

(Sony/Legacy; US: 11 Oct 2011; UK: 10 Oct 2011)

Judas Priest is one of heavy metal’s foundational pillars. Releasing its debut in 1974, the band has spent the subsequent years churning out albums packed with unadulterated, visceral metal. While the artistic merit of some of that material is hotly debated—nobody seems overly fond of Point of Entry or Turbo, and the years fronted by Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens aren’t so warmly remembered—you can’t fault the band for doggedly sticking to its metalized guns.


With the genre-defining falsetto pipes of Rob Halford and the intertwining guitar wizardry of Glenn Tipton and KK Downing (the latter controversially retiring before the band’s globe-trotting ‘farewell’ tour), Priest has built a fanatically loyal fan base, utilizing flamboyant shows and ample steely riffs. From the late ‘70s to mid ‘80s, Priest packed out arenas across the world, and countless metal bands, from the grimiest to the gaudiest, have drawn inspiration from their iconic theatrical swagger. The band has sold over 45 million albums; Judas Priest deserves its ‘Metal Gods’ status.


Although more original albums have been promised, and the band’s current tour is only its final long haul venture, the end draws near for Priest. A cynical fan might suggest that The Chosen Few, the newest and umpteenth compilation, has been crafted by nefarious marketing gurus to pluck the few remaining dollars from devotees’ pockets. The prospect of milking the band’s cachet for all it’s worth must be a tempting proposition at this stage of its career.


Sidestepping the usual greatest-hits formula—a slight relief for Priest fanatics—the new release finds artists from the metal fraternity selecting their favorite Priest tunes and providing a brief commentary on their choices. Priest have suggested that inviting friends to pick the songs makes this an “unusual release” that’ll be of “great interest to the fans.” Admirable sentiments, but the selection process is obviously a transparent, albeit reverential, gimmick.


The Chosen Few contains 17 chronologically sequenced tracks. Unsurprisingly, “Diamonds and Rust”, “Dissident Aggressor”, “Living After Midnight”, “Breaking the Law”, and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” all make an appearance, as well as less celebrated tracks such as “Turbo Lover”, “Beyond The Realms of Death”, and “Delivering the Goods”. There’s nothing here that hasn’t appeared on a Priest compilation before: You can find virtually all the same tracks, plus a whole lot more, on ‘06s The Essential Judas Priest.


Predictably, the songs are plucked from Priest’s prime years; British Steel is overrepresented, naturally. You get a sprinkling of tracks from most of Priest’s early albums, and as expected, nothing from the band’s post ‘90 work. Aside from the obvious fact that they all are sensational tunes, the only (marginally) interesting aspect of The Chosen Few are the observations contained in the CD booklet.


There’s certainly no lack of admiration from those selecting the songs. Ozzy Osbourne enthusiastically rants about “The Ripper”, Zakk Wylde about the formative importance of “Grinder”, and Def Leppard’s Joe Elliot earnestly reflects on Priest’s cover of Joan Baez’s “Diamonds and Rust”. Whitesnake’s David Coverdale and Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe both agree that “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)” is a storming track. Slipknot’s Corey Taylor and Klaus Meine from the Scorpions are equally thrilled about “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”, and there are even a couple of surprise choices, as guitar virtuosos Joe Satriani and Steve Vai pick the heavier numbers “Painkiller” and “Dissident Aggressor”, respectively.


Genuinely heartfelt anecdotes highlight how influential Priest has been for a number of artists. The sleazy grind of “Turbo Lover”, chosen by Jonathan Davis of Korn, is certainly apt, and choices from Metallica’s Hetfield and Ulrich, “Victim of Changes” and “Beyond the Realms of Death”, echo the thrashing dynamics of their band’s early years. Lemmy pays fitting tribute to “Breaking the Law”, and Slayer’s Kerry King rightly praises the riff-fest “Delivering the Goods”. Priest’s peers sound thrilled to be contributing, and Gene Simmons’ assertion that the band has always treated the stage as holy ground is particularly poignant.


Sound good? Well… while I’ve no wish to besmirch the band’s reputation (I freely admit to being a lifelong fan), unless you’re a Priest obsessive, there’s no reason to purchase The Chosen Few. You really don’t need Alice Cooper to tell you why “Living After Midnight” is a great song (or any of the other reminders, as it happens). Hopefully you’ve already figured out all by yourself that Judas Priest is an outstanding band. This is just another in an increasingly long line of compilations, and there are more comprehensive and interesting releases available; Metal Works ‘73–‘93 or Metalogy offer a greater overview of the band’s finest years.


Ultimately, The Chosen Few makes for a nice treat, but hardly an essential one. That said, and keep this in mind, every song on here is an absolute classic, so if you just can’t help yourself, buy it. You’ll always be a better person for listening to Judas Priest.

Rating:

Craig Hayes is based in Aotearoa New Zealand, and he is a contributing editor and columnist at PopMatters. Alongside his reviews and feature articles, Craig's monthly column, Ragnarök, traverses the metal spectrum. He is the co-author of PopMatters' regular metal round-up, Mixtarum Metallum, contributes to radio shows and numerous other sites, and he favours music that clangs, bangs, crashes, or drones. Craig can be found losing followers daily on twitter @sixnoises.


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