A Devil’s Dozen – Judas Priest – Volume 2

As mentioned in our first installment, Judas Priest’s catalog is so large and so full of timeless metal that 13 tracks would barely scratch the surface, so we doubled down. Part Two features thirteen more classics, as voted by the Last Rites staff. If your favorite song did not make the cut this time around, I am afraid you’re S.O.L.  If I were you, I’d take my indignation straight to the comments and raise a royal shitstorm.



(Sin After Sin, 1977)

Halford is great on every early Priest track, but most of the heavy lifting on “Sinner” is done by the band behind him. The opener to Sin After Sin was an early warning of the sea change that would come with the game-changing Stained Class. The driving, propulsive rhythms that paved the way for the Priest’s evolution into a pure-blooded metal band are partnered by the deadly swagger of Tipton/Downing. Sealing the track’s brilliance are the shifts in the middle that give what is essentially a quite direct song a load of texture and presence. And then there’s those stellar spacy, effect-drenched whammy bar abusing guitar solos… A live favorite immortalized on the godly Unleashed in the East.  [Matthew Cooper]


[Painkiller, 1990]

Few bands had as much ground to recover circa 1990 as Judas Priest. True, the band had never been crushing like Black Sabbath nor consistently grandiose like Iron Maiden, but flirtations with poppiness left them in less metal territory — more of a hard rock place. Feeling the climate change and anticipating an aggressive shift, Priest unleashed the most vicious album of their career. However simplistic the lyrics, there is something particularly frantic about the guitars — the 33-second lead-in; the brooding build from bridge to chorus; the midsection solo war; the effects-drenched outro — that makes Halford’s solid performance stick so well. Rob enhances where necessary via rolled R’s and seething screams, but perhaps most importantly, the song gives our titular Painkiller character some devastating consequential actions in the “Metal Meltdown” itself.  [Matt Longo]


[Sad Wings Of Destiny, 1976]

Another gem from the nearly flawless Sad Wings of Destiny, or as I like to call it, “The Best Judas Priest Album.” From its piercing opening lick “The Ripper” stands in contrast to what is largely a dark and somber record. If you were to saw open British Steel and count the rings, at the very center would be the lively, muted and utterly headbang-able riffs from this beast. And of course the classic Jack the Ripper storyline makes this one of the most direct, accessible tracks in the band’s early catalog. Clearly Iron Maiden liked the concept…  [Matthew Cooper]


[Stained Class, 1978]

There are those who think that 1978’s Stained Class is the greatest heavy metal of all time, and there are others who think differently and are wrong. On an album filled with classics, this titular track is often overlooked, but it certainly shouldn’t be – it’s got all the hallmarks of Priest-ian glory, from the galloping riff to Halford’s soaring call-and-response verses to its vibrato-laden sing-along chorus. “Stained Class” is one of the greatest heavy songs of the 70s, one of the blocks in the foundation of metal, and it stands as an unsung high-water mark. In Priest’s legendary career, Stained Class is king.  [Andrew Edmunds]


[Screaming For Vengeance, 1982]

To these ears, “Screaming for Vengeance” personifies one of the greatest strengths of 80s Judas Priest: the ability to merge bluesy, road trip-ready, highway-hurtling licks with speed metal’s sharpness of attack. While some might grumble that one of the things that gave Judas Priest the edge over similarly talented peers is their ability to nail the ear-worm chorus, the groovy, rock-shuffling bridge that follows a suitably masterful solo section here is just another of those touches that demonstrates the band’s easy command of songwriting. Halford’s shrieks, of course, also embody the dive-bombing, flesh-ripping robo-raptor of the cover art as few vocalists could.  [Dan Obstkrieg]


[Stained Class, 1978]

Priest had a lot of different modes—tight pop, speedy metal walloping, and the occasional foray into lengthy epic works. But perhaps where they excelled the greatest was through pure, unadulterated rock swagger. Their take on Spooky Tooth’s “Better By You, Better Than Me” took a tune that must have sounded damn groovin’ in the late 60s and injected it with enough sexy movement to get all of the nuns in Vatican City to lift their habits (despite being sung by a gay man). The opening riff is simplicity at its most brilliant, and the boppin’ drums and verse vocals all announce exactly how fucking badass this band knew they were, and that they didn’t plan on hiding it.  [Zach Duvall]


[Killing Machine / Hell Bent For Leather, 1979]

The tale of a motorcycle-riding badass could be considered the band’s earliest anthem and the first of many metal songs to celebrate the wardrobe of choice of its fans – “Denim & Leather,” “Chains & Leather,” “Lipstick & Leather” may never have existed without it. It quickly became a live staple, accompanying Rob Halford’s motorcycle entrance. Despite its status, one can’t help but wonder if those chanting the chorus have any idea what the heck “hell bent for leather” even means. Suffice to say, the title is apt for a tune that embodies it.  [Dave Pirtle]


[British Steel, 1980]

One of the most well-known cuts from one of the most well-known heavy metal/hard rock albums might not be the most original of choices, but – being the title song of Judas Priest’s career – this was also a no-brainer. A signature Priest composition from the turn of the 1980s, “Metal Gods” brings together larger-than-life, mid-paced riffage, a trademark Tipton solo and an instantly memorable, almost boneheaded chorus, making it both an ultimate stadium sing-along and the ideal soundtrack for your air guitar windmilling showdowns. Bow down to the gods among men.  [Juho Mikkonen]


[Defenders Of The Faith, 1984]

Another one of Judas Priest’s barn-burning album openers, “Freewheel Burning” gets 1984’s Defenders of the Faith off to a roaring start. Tipton and Downing set a punishing pace with relentless riffs that switch from quick jabs in the verses to hard body blows in the chorus, and a mad flurry in the bridge. Halford weighs in with an equally punishing, acrobatic, rapid-fire vocal performance. K. K.’s noisy solo adds to the track’s aggression level, leaving Tipton to offer the only glimpse of mercy with his melodic lead. Painkiller blew people away with its speed and heaviness, but tracks like “Freewheel Burning” show that Priest had that power all along.  [Jeremy Morse]



[Killing Machine / Hell Bent For Leather, 1979]

Looks like I’m gonna mention my favorite Judas Priest song in all of these blurbs… one reason I love “Painkiller” so much is because it later became arguably the best Metal cover ever when it passed through the realms of Death. The formula for success is always the same: Stay true to the original while adding your own twists and reimagine as needed. The Priest made “The Green Manalishi” less spooky by omitting Peter Green’s acid-addled yowls, and gave it more teeth with a louder, heavier guitar crunch, faster tempo, blazing trade-off Tipton-Downing leads, and zero jamming. Rhythm shifts slightly: Where Ian Hill goes punch for punch with John McVie’s original pulse, Les Binks chooses acceleration over Mick Fleetwood’s deliberation. Whether wise or lucky, it is rather ironic that Judas Priest — on the cusp of imminent commercial success with Killing Machine / Hell Bent for Leather — included an original recipe Fleetwood Mac song.  [Matt Longo]


[British Steel, 1980]

On an album full of hits and anthems, the scorching “Rapid Fire” is the oddity, going against the – let’s face it – arena metal grain of the other tracks with an unrelenting riff-fest that challenges even the densest of necks. The Tipton/Downing combo is in perfect lockstep, and Rob Halford plays it straight with a vocal performance that required neither falsettos nor layered effects. But diehard Priest fans already know this, and shouldn’t be surprised that it made the cut on our list over some of the more popular choices.  [Dave Pirtle]


[Sin After Sin, 1977]

Produced by Deep Purple’s Roger Glover, Sin After Sin bridges the gap between the prog-tinged hard rock of the first two Priest records and the heavier albums to come. With its simple but killer descending riff and catchy chorus, “Starbreaker” presages the later, more direct and less progressive approach of Hell Bent For Leather and beyond. And like those tunes to come, it rocks. Hard. Beneath Halford’s tale of some near-mythical being capable of elevating mere mortals to the stars (a thinly veiled reference to entertainment tastemakers), Priest kicks through five minutes of hard rock aimed straight at the heavens. [Andrew Edmunds]



[Painkiller, 1990]

Coming off the dreadful Ram It Down, Priest tossed the cheesy hair metal leanings, upped the aggression, and opened the 1990s with this thrashing kick in the ass. New drummer Scott Travis’ rolling drum intro sets the scene, but it’s really the combo of that driving riff and Halford’s patent shriek that showed that Priest was back with a vengeance, and quite literally screaming. The title track from the band’s last classic record, this one’s one of their heaviest, fastest moments. When Priest seemed down for the count, this savior came from out the skies in answer to our pleas.  [Andrew Edmunds]


Posted by Last Rites


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