Battle Royal is back and more unfair than ever!
In the first installment, we cruelly pitted Metallica against Slayer based ONLY on their 80s output. The result was a dirty tie amongst the LR crew who voted, which is obviously unacceptable, so we left matters to our esteemed Twitter followers to settle the score. Once the dust finally settled, Metallica walked away the clear victor, leaving Slayer fanatics to weep in the dust with nothing but openly bleeding odes carved into their forearms and a hope to fight another day.
This time, we’re asking(/forcing) our periodically wise crew and kind readers to pick between two more ultimate fighters – Judas Priest and Iron Maiden – and we’re including the ENTIRE studio discography. Wait… What? Our beloved Priest against our sacred Maiden? Say it ain’t so! Oh yes, it most painfully is so. Very often fights are unfair – just ask poor Billy Kramer. Go with Meryl Streep, Billy! She’s won three Academy Awards! And if you don’t know who Billy Kramer is, just have a few more Schlitzes and concentrate on the task at hand.
An unquestionable fact: bout number two is meaner than our first battle, mostly because we’re asking you to consider the entire enchilada – highlights, lowlights, warts and pearls, of which there are many to consider. The truth of the matter is all the particulars could be picked apart ad nauseum, but we really wanted this round to stress a “you’ve got a gun to your head and two minutes to state your argument” sort of approach. Gut instincts are good. Gut instincts often lead to survival. AND GREAT PERIL.
In the end, we’re obviously very lucky to have both Priest and Maiden, and it’s equally fortunate that they’re still active as champs amidst a vast sea of contenders constantly scrapping to find a path to a similar pinnacle. Honestly, the only true losers in this battle are the people who don’t care. And for those with an active aversion for the pair, we won’t even toss the crumbs of crumbs to you bums in the dungeons.
Rocka Rolla  Sad Wings of Destiny  Sin After Sin  Stained Class  Killing Machine/Hellbent For Leather [1978/1979] British Steel  Point of Entry  Screaming for Vengeance  Defenders of the Faith  Turbo  Ram It Down  Painkiller  Jugulator  Demolition  Angel Of Retribution  Nostradamus  Redeemer Of Souls 
• Formed in 1970 in Birmingham, England
• 17 albums spanning 40 years
• Debatable high-point 4-streak: Sad Wings Of Destiny, Sin After Sin, Stained Class, Killing Machine/Hell Bent For Leather
• Debatable low points: Point Of Entry, Ram It Down, Demolition, Nostradamus
Iron Maiden  Killers  The Number Of The Beast  Piece Of Mind  Powerslave  Somewhere In Time  Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son  No Prayer For The Dying  Fear Of The Dark  The X Factor  Virtual XI  Brave New World  Dance Of Death  A Matter Of Life And Death  The Final Frontier  The Book Of Souls 
• Formed in 1975 in London, England
• 16 albums spanning 35 years
• Debatable high point 4-streak: The Number Of The Beast, Piece Of Mind, Powerslave, Somewhere In Time
• Debatable low points: No Prayer For The Dying, Fear Of The Dark, Virtual XI
As a male with a penchant for narcissism and over-confidence, my gut reaction is something I trust completely. So, when presented with Judas Priest vs. Iron Maiden and being asked to pick which band was/is “better” my gut instinctively screamed MAIDEN, YOU FOOL! But, my gut was also very hungry. And, since I am now a responsible adult, I decided to sit down and think about a few factors.
First, I thought about the frontmen. For the sake of brevity, let’s just call it Rob Halford vs. Bruce Dickinson (and not concern ourselves with the earliest of Maiden years, even though Killers is likely my #1, or the self-imposed hiatus of Halford from Priest in the mid 1990s). For my ear, it’s not much of a competition. Dickinson is as charismatic as they come but he just doesn’t have the pipes of Halford (and neither did Paul Di’Anno). So, vocally, as well as lyrically, Judas Priest gets the nod. Halford’s work on Sad Wings of Destiny and Sin After Sin alone are enough to catapult him to legend status.
Second, I thought about ballads. Again, a point for Judas Priest here. Tracks like “Last Rose of Summer” and “Dreamer Deceiver” show a maturity, and a touch for subtlety, even at a young age for the band. For my money, Iron Maiden never got to that level of balladry. Rather, Maiden’s ballad work was fantastical, silly and sometimes comical in its narrative.
Finally, because we’re going for brevity here, a brief discussion of the entire careers. Judas Priest, even with their clunkers (and their non Halford days) provide a more palatable career. Comeback albums like Painkiller and their post 2014 work Redeemer of Souls are downright good. Even Priest’s worse-than-clunkers, admittedly Nostradamus and Demolition, provide completely passable bar music. When Maiden begins to hit their clunker era (and this is shockingly NOT their most recent four releases) their songs tend to become exceedingly long. For example, multiple tracks on Virtual XI near the ten minute mark rendering them nearly unlistenable. Even prime era Maiden, ballads like “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” exceed thirteen minutes and present a challenging listen.
Thus, it is with a heavy heart that I deliver my vote to Judas Priest. I will now spend multiple hours in the bathroom cutting myself as punishment for saying anything negative about Iron Maiden.
When thinking on this ageless debate, my gut tells me Maiden no matter how much I adore both bands (which is a whole lot). However, I thought I’d step back and tackle it in a more quantifiable form much in the same way baseball writers look at full careers when determining hall of fame votes. So, a few big questions: Who was great first? How long was each band’s peak? How great was said peak? How badly did they injure themselves and for how long? And finally, how great were their recoveries?
Priest came first, obviously, and along with bands like Scorpions were helping to make the 70s a truly metal decade between Sabbath’s revolution and the true rise of the NWOBHM.
As for peaking… It’s pretty much solid public opinion that Iron Maiden’s peak lasted from their self-titled debut through Seventh Son, so seven albums over eight years. As for Priest, I’m going to argue that they were peaking (or close enough to peaking that it doesn’t matter) for eight of their first nine albums. So, Rocka Rolla through Defenders, with a slight docking of points for Point of Entry. Slight edge to Priest here.
But quality of this peak? Iron Maiden’s initial seven album run is the greatest streak in heavy metal history and one of the best in the history of rock, period, so they take this one pretty handily.
Then there are the injuries resulting from poor music and huge lineup changes (the temporary departures of Bruce and Halford). But within the lean years, each band had bright spots. As a full album, Turbo is often unfairly criticized, and is probably better than anything Maiden did from No Prayer through Virtual XI. However, those four lesser Maiden albums are better than Priest’s lowest moments, and nothing Priest did after Defenders is as good as “Fear of the Dark.” Further, when Bruce rejoined Maiden, he performed some of the Blaze-era material live, showing the full quality of tracks like “Sign of the Cross.” Halford wasn’t even willing to touch “Cathedral Spires” with his pipes. While neither injury eras are great, Maiden weathered their self-imposed storm a tad better.
But the recoveries? Priest had one major comeback with Painkiller, and a pretty inconsistent run after Halford’s return (Angel of Retribution was decent, Nostradamus was an unmitigated disaster, and Redeemer of Souls their best since Painkiller). However, since the re-addition of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith, Iron Maiden has released five good-to-spectacular albums and retaken their throne at the top of heavy metal’s Mount Olympus. Maiden gets this point, hands down.
So that’s a 3-2 win for Iron Maiden, which does not surprise me in the least. Now I’m going to go back to never allowing these bands to compete in my mind again, ever. Love them both to pieces.
It would be precisely impossible to try and quantify the amount of valuable hours I’ve spent with Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. My first exposure to the prior occurred after coming across “The Ripper” while listening to a Saturday morning hard rock show that I regularly recorded to cassette back in the early 80s. And it was Powerslave’s inescapable siren-song of an album cover that first drew me in for Maiden. The years that followed found me gobbling up as much as I could from both bands, but like most any metal fan, my meager allowance mostly went toward keeping up with the current and leaving the past for later. So at the time, it was Screaming for Vengeance, Defenders of the Faith and Turbo that went head-to-head with Piece of Mind, Powerslave and Somewhere in Time. Those are six fantastic albums, as far as I’m concerned, including the often maligned JP entry from ’86. But I became increasingly nerdy as I entered my teens, and Iron Maiden felt more in tune with the introverted dreamer in me who needed countless escapes from everyday life. Epic Maiden songs that focused on mythology, science fiction and fantasy (with an increasing disregard for brevity) spoke to me on a utopian level, and the fantastical imagery that came alongside the price of admission was, to put it mildly, second to none. Of course, Priest had the electric eyes and half-tiger/half-tanks, but they were clearly more grounded in reality, thanks to themes of love, heartache and quirks such as “parental guidance.” Plus, riding a motorcycle onto the stage was cool, but it warn’t no lunatic in a hawk mask running around a colossal mummy that was spraying fire out of its eyes. Spectacle, baby. Beautifully intense spectacle.
To this day, I prefer escapism to realism, and Iron Maiden circa 2016 is even more determined to write songs that tell a curling story. Hell, even ignoring Bruce’s voice and lyrics, the music itself often feels as if it’s crafting a robust adventure on its own. Judas Priest, on the other hand, is predominantly more straightforward and ready to party – a band that works best when shared with friends during summer and at pealing levels in a heavy metal parking lot. Metal gods out on the highway, as opposed to Egyptian gods lifting from some dusty tome. And when Priest attempted to fully embrace a more narrative slant – Nostradamus – the results were far less than stellar.
The final notch in Maiden’s favor is the fact that they actually manage frivolous really well, too, despite primarily representing storytellers in my mind. “Aces High,” “Only the Good Die Young,” “The Alchemist” and other similarly forthright barnburners are perfect for putting the blitz into a party – stormers tailormade for getting the crowd rolling.
So, with an understanding that both bands now represent part of my DNA, and acknowledging the truth that Priest is responsible for one of the two greatest moments in metal’s history with Sad Wings of Destiny, Maiden still wins the battle because they simply engage more of what’s always been at my core, and they continue to do so today. Up the Irons ’til I’m down in the ground.
In every music fan’s life, there’s at least one, usually more, band(s) or artist(s) that changes everything – for me, Iron Maiden was absolutely one, and their run of classic albums is absolutely astounding, and without them, I wouldn’t be writing this today. But right there with them, every step of the way, was Judas Priest, and when I was a kid, trying like hell to hit the high notes, those notes were always more likely to be Halford’s than Dickinson’s.
I came into metal in the late 1980s, right around 1990, so when Maiden let me down with the double dogs of No Prayer For The Dying, Priest was rebounding from the dreadful Ram It Down with the absolutely blistering thrash-ish blast of Painkiller. I went backwards, to the pure metallic perfection of Stained Class, to the stripped-down gut-punch of British Steel, to the progressive glories of Sad Wings. Priest could do it all, and they did it with riffs and the Metal God himself, wailing away across four octaves of vengeful screaming, always delivering the goods. I’ve long held Stained Class as the highest high of metal records, the perfect traditional metal album, not a song wasted and some of the greatest ever written – “Saints In Hell,” “Beyond The Realms Of Death,” “Exciter”… Add to that the greatest “live” album ever made in Unleashed In The East, and well, those are two giant feathers for Halford’s silly leather cap. Put with that two of the 80s greatest albums in Screaming For Vengeance and its almost-equal in Defenders Of The Faith, and then Painkiller’s glorious re-energizing speed…
Not every Priest record is brilliant, of course – not every Maiden record is, either – and the Ripper years, like the Bayley years, are best left as a sidebar. Nostradamus is a mess, the likes of which Maiden hasn’t yet inflicted upon us, and none of Priest’s post-reunion records equal their classic run. Still, the only way for me to answer this question of Maiden v. Priest is this: Which one do I reach for more? When I want to rock, which is always, which one dominates my ears? Which one do I still crank up in the car and try like hell to hit those high notes?
Maiden, my friends, I love you, but for today, at least, I’m going with Priest.
The question at hand – Iron Maiden or Judas Priest? – is an artificially cruel one, because the only sensible answer is “Maiden AND Priest AND…” in an unbroken chain of our stupid, scrappy, and sprawling genre’s Hall of Heroes. For the sake of this mercilessly shit-stirring exercise, though, the answer is clear: Iron Maiden wins, now and always and forever. What’s not so straightforward, though, is exactly why Iron Maiden wins.
Hypothesis #1: You can learn more about heavy metal and its development by listening to Judas Priest. If you love this kind of music, then you should want to be a historian of this kind of music, and from that perspective, Priest is supreme: the changes in their sound and style over four decades mirror, predict, and clarify some of the widest branches of the genre tree. In the relatively inauspicious Rocka Rolla you can hear a bluesy pub band stretching out into heavy metal while staying mostly rooted in the hard rock of the early 70s; with Sad Wings and Sin After Sin, they bring in the ornateness of prog but also an almost baroque classicism; Stained Class and Screaming for Vengeance can credibly claim partial parentage of both power metal and thrash; British Steel and Defenders of the Faith still define arena metal; the Ripper Owens albums are a reminder of heavy metal’s wilderness years and dalliance with nu-tuffness; and so on. Dip your toes into nearly any point in Priest’s catalog, and it serves as a bellwether for metal writ large.
Hypothesis #2: All of this having been said, Iron Maiden still wins because while Judas Priest teaches you heavy metal, Iron Maiden simply are heavy metal. Sure, the combination of Di’Anno’s vocals on the first two albums and Clive Burr’s drumming on the first three conspired to give Maiden’s early career more than a touch of the snotty street punk, but none of that much counts for deep progression when Steve Harris was writing “Phantom of the Opera” and “Transylvania” basically from day one. Iron Maiden wanted you for dead, and they didn’t waste any time mucking about how to get it done.
If you want to be a dick (I do), you can do point by point comparisons: Maiden’s debut easily outstrips Priest’s (although Priest nailed their finest album ever on #2, while it took Maiden until lucky #7 – fight me), the worst of Maiden’s pre-split albums outstrips the worst of Priest’s (even though neither is a great album, a single album of No Prayer/Fear of the Dark is better than a single album of Turbo/Point of Entry), Maiden’s Blaze albums are better than Priest’s Ripper albums (major caveat/call to arms: The X Factor is better than Piece of Mind, while Virtual XI is utter dogshit), and, perhaps most crucially, it’s not even close which of the two has had a better post-reunion run. Redeemer of Souls is a very good album, but four of Maiden’s five re-Bruce albums stomp the bejeezus out of it (sorry, Matter of Life and Death: you dullllllll).
And yes, oh most eternal of eternal debates, Live After Death is better than Unleashed in the East, if only because it is as much a document of the unifying ethos of heavy metal: an empowering sisterhood and brotherhood of dorks and dummies and rocket scientists screaming for Bruce, screaming for Iron Maiden, screaming for life.
The thought of comparing the full discography of two of the most legendary bands in metal had me completely paralyzed with fear. How would I ever come to anything close to an objective conclusion? I’m not sure about my colleagues, but I personally think any kind of objective decision for this Battle Royale is a pipe dream. I tried to think it through rationally. Do you sort out groups of records (ie. early, middle, and late career)? I would argue no, because Judas Priest’s debut came out in 1974, and the releases are not directly comparable. They were a much more 70s style rock and roll blues band than Iron Maiden, separated by the earth-shattering revolution of punk that intervened between the two bands. Do you compare album sales, certifications, or chart positions? No, because those have become less accurate representations of success or at least level of audience enjoyment in the digital age of downloads. This is about as close to an apples-apples comparison as it would be to compare Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, simply because they were both British rock bands that started putting sounds to tape in the 1960s.
So I’m going to do the only thing that makes intuitive sense to me. Who was more consistent? Who caused me to tune out for longer periods, discarding larger chunks of their discography because it just “Didn’t rule hard enough?”
There can only be one answer here: Iron Maiden. Powerslave is still one of my favorite records of all time, and I still spin it regularly to get the blood pumping when nothing else will do. “Aces High” still goes down in my books as one of the highest energy openers in rock. Maiden’s seven album stretch from 1980 to 1988 is just so consistent. Even the Maiden lows are pretty decent, if you ask me. Maiden hasn’t really done much for me in recent years with some of their overly bloated proggy records, which were excluded from this decision, but the high water mark of their recording career is too high to ignore. I love early Judas Priest material, but I tuned out after Screaming For Vengeance and picked up with the savagely influential Painkiller (another all time top 20 record). Recent Judas Priest is, again, nothing I would choose to write home about, so I’ve also excluded those records from this comparison.
Also, the Trooper ale is decent. Maiden forever.
This battle ultimately comes down to what you value more: consistency or versatility. Iron Maiden has clearly been the more consistent band; Iron Maiden’s core sound has evolved precious little in 36 years. Hell, half the band’s catalog is based on the same Em-C-D chord progression, and more than half features some variation of the same galloping rhythmic pattern. Even Maiden’s “progressive” post-reunion material is mostly just longer, slower, and – let’s be honest – duller versions of the same stuff the band has been cranking out for decades. For better or worse, and, admittedly, it’s mostly for better, Iron Maiden usually sounds like Iron Maiden. Judas Priest, on the other hand, has been fearlessly adventurous throughout its career. From the blues-rock/metal epic of “Victim of Changes”, the ethereal ballad/space metal of “Dreamer/Deceiver”, and the roaring defiance of “Beyond the Realms of Death”, to the anthemic simplicity of “Breaking the Law”, the confident swagger of “Heading out to the Highway”, and the thunderous intensity of “Screaming for Vengeance”, Judas Priest has followed its muse to frontiers of which Maiden wouldn’t dare to dream. Has priest stumbled along the way? Surely. And sometimes spectacularly. But who dares, wins.
Iron Maiden had pulled out all its best tricks by 1984’s Powerslave. Somewhere in Time and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son are good albums, but I award no points for adding synthesizers to an established sound. Judas Priest probably emptied its creative magazine at roughly the same time with Defenders of the Faith, and there’s no getting around the fact that the band went off a fucking cliff with Turbo. But that still leaves Priest an extra half decade and five more albums of creative fertility that Maiden did not enjoy. Priest, incidentally, used that extra half decade to essentially invent what we now call traditional heavy metal. And, by the by, there was a little old album called Painkiller released in 1990 that was a triumphant, phoenix-like creative resurrection the likes of which No Prayer for the Dying and Fear of the Dark certainly were not.
As for the lost years, when each band made a pair of albums with a replacement singer, let’s call it a push. Jugulator is probably better than either Maiden album, but Demolition is probably worse. Finally, if we concede that Iron Maiden has enjoyed the more consistent, stable and fruitful third act, we must also concede that the band has been boring and/or aggravating the shit out of a significant portion of its fan-base, which is what happens when you decide to get a little squirrelly after locking yourself into a very successful, but very narrow sonic template for years-on-end. Priest, post-reunion, coughed up one over-long and under-good album in Nostradamus, and then got back to the business of making more concise and better heavy metal with the appropriately titled Redeemer of Souls. Priest shits the bed on occasion, but has the decency not to rub your face in it.
There’s something about the way Steve Harris has always written songs that makes Iron Maiden seem more like a conduit of nature than a heavy metal band. Rewind, for a minute, to the 1980’s and imagine being Murray or Smith, hurrying into the room to record their founding member play unwritten bass notes as he WHISTLED the guitar melodies that just happened to come into his head. How many songs were never recorded due to inspiration coming and going before they could be written down? Perhaps the same is true for many bands, but the sheer amount of Iron Maiden’s compositions that have seen the light of day is still difficult to fathom.
Fast forward to the present day. The band still contains its core members who have never had to compromise any of their songwriting or lifestyle for anyone. Not only do they live an artist’s dream in the musical sense; these guys travel the world in their own personal jet piloted by their very own vocalist, Bruce Dickinson. Is there anything more metal than writing the songs you want and playing them wherever you want as fans of every nationality and culture hum the guitar melodies just as Harris did before they were ever recorded? No. No, there is nothing more metal than that.
Iron Maiden, from its belived mascot Eddie to the hundreds of melodies it has written, is not just a way for fans of heavy metal to identify one another. It is is THE heavy metal identity. And although the band has always lived and preached the type of unity that the world needs, the music has truly brought people from across the planet together in harmonious celebration of the riff, and if you are thinking of other bands that are more deserving of the crown, then you haven’t ever been to an Iron Maiden concert. It really is that simple.
There you have it. According to the LR crew, Iron Maiden edges out Judas Priest in a battle for ultimate supremacy. Yes, that feels raw and damn-near immoral to say, but really, so would the alternative. All that’s left now is to find out what YOU think. We’ll be opening up a Twitter poll this morning that will be displayed here shortly, or you can chime in with a comment below. It’s fun, right? Torture is fun. Maybe the next Battle Royal will be easier to handle. Nope, probably not.