There is no denying the impact that Judas Priest have had upon heavy metal music. Priest — like their European contemporaries, Iron Maiden and the Scorpions — gave metal an identity, having been largely responsible for launching the potent twin-guitar attack that would influence many fledgling metal bands to come, while bringing the genre from its seedy underground, skinhead roots to mainstream rock radio on both sides of the Atlantic.
Thirty years after their inception, Judas Priest are looked upon as the quintessential heavy metal band. Just as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath were the pioneers of early-’70s heavy rock, Judas Priest became the standard-bearers of ’80s new wave metal. Their stellar lineup featured the solid rhythm section of Ian Hill (bass) and Dave Holland (drums), coupled with the searing guitar tandem of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing and the blood-curdling, ear-splitting vocals of Rob Halford. Although their first three Columbia releases — Sin After Sin (1977), Stained Class (1978) and Hell Bent for Leather (1979) — and the live album, Unleashed in the East (1979), would garner the band a large and loyal following, these albums would only serve to set the stage for the mega-success that waited just around the corner.
British Steel (1980) was Judas Priest’s breakout album. This razor-edged offering gave the band the airtime and platinum success that they had longed for. Songs like “Breakin’ the Law” and “Living After Midnight” were, and still are, rock radio staples. But it was the overall strength and consistency of the album that gave Judas Priest a worldwide platform and arena-headlining status. Just as British Steel was the band’s breakthrough record, Screaming for Vengeance (1982) is considered their tour-de-force. This was an album chock-full of strong, ear-splitting metallica, from “The Hellion” and “Electric Eye” to “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”, “Bloodstone” and “Riding on the Wind”. Not only did Screaming for Vengeance go multi-platinum, it also made Judas Priest one of the most popular live acts at the time, taking a backseat only to the ever-popular Police and Van Halen touring machines.
So what about Point of Entry (1981) and Defenders of the Faith (1984)? Both of these albums were forgettable follow-ups to the aforementioned monumental releases. Unlike British Steel and Screaming for Vengeance, Point of Entry and Defenders of the Faith are lackluster Priest efforts that just do not measure up.
Point of Entry, the follow-up to British Steel did give Judas Priest a charting single in “Heading Out to the Highway”, and its supporting video also enjoyed regular rotation on MTV. But the experimental nature of the record and its melodic bent rendered Point of Entry a fairly disappointing record, and one that barely cracked gold status. Songs like “You Say Yes”, “All the Way” and “Solar Angels” are not only too slick and subdued but the vibe itself is a precursor to the bland, unmemorable ’80s hairband sound that would be made famous later by the likes Poison, Warrant and Firehouse. The remastered version features “Thunder Road”, a previously unreleased studio track and a live version of one of the album’s more impressive cuts, “Desert Plains”.
Defenders of the Faith followed the massively successful, critically heralded Screaming for Vengeance. Because of the success of its predecessor, Defenders of the Faith became one of Judas Priest’s bestselling albums. Though the album lacks the intense bursts of compositional fire that typified Screaming for Vengeance, it still boasted several great tracks like “Freewheel Burning”, “Some Heads Are Going to Roll”, “The Sentinel” and “Love Bites”. Defenders of the Faith features the previously unreleased and un-Priest-like acoustic number, “Turn on Your Light”, as well as a live rendition of “Heavy Duty/Defenders of the Faith”.
British Steel, Point of Entry, Screaming for Vengeance and Defenders of the Faith represent the first four albums in Columbia Records’ effort to remaster and reissue their entire Judas Priest catalog. Each remastered album features a previously unreleased song from the original sessions, as well as live a bonus track taken from the corresponding concert tour.
While most bands are lucky if they have one classic record, Judas Priest have two in British Steel and Screaming for Vengeance that deserve to be a part of any metal collection. As for Point of Entry and Defenders of the Faith, they are, for the most part, contrived, stale and uninspired, and would be best left on the shelves.