By common consensus, Black Sabbath kick-started this entire thing called heavy metal. As such, not only did they set the goalposts for what heavy metal would sound like, but also many of its thematic and aesthetic elements. For this and a myriad other reasons, they deserve our eternal thanks and respect. One area in which I am gratified to say they did NOT set the overwhelming agenda for heavy metal across its near five decades, however, is fashion.
Think about it: as heavy metal radiated out from England, what were the most likely candidates for sartorial emulation? Sabbath, a bunch of lank-ass hippies in bell bottoms; Motorhead, whose early denim and leather look was more in line with the burnout trajectory of garage rock and punk; Iron Maiden who, God love ’em, spent most of the ’80s trying to single-handedly goose the market for spandex and Lycra; and our current heroes, Judas Priest.
Although Priest’s beginnings in the early ’70s saw similarly patchouli-scented dalliances, well before the decade was out they had truly set THE visual shape of heavy metal to come. Black on black. Leather on leather. Studs and spikes and gauntlets and cuffs and whips and chains and clenched fists and motorcycles and a bunch of otherwise nebbish Englishmen looking for all the world like the personification of the almighty heavy metal fuck-thunder.
Of course, it doesn’t mean one must dress like Priest to live and breathe heavy metal. The beautiful souls chronicled in Heavy Metal Parking Lot weren’t dressed in head to toe fetish gear and riding crops, after all. But Judas Priest is the Platonic ideal of what a heavy metal band looks like, goddamnit, and I will simply hear no argument to the contrary.
As we celebrate all things Priest throughout this priestly week, join us as we tip our caps to the good, the bad, the ugly, and the miraculous of Judas Priest’s ever-evolving image, and think to yourself, “There but for the grace of Rob go I (in Bill Ward’s red pants from the cover of Sabotage…)”
SAD WINGS OF MOUSSETINY
Coming off what was largely a flop of a debut album, Judas Priest doubled down for 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny, recorded in 12-hour sessions while the band struggled to eat. To me, this picture from ‘76 encompasses so much of what the band was going through. KK looks like Owen Wilson in his darker days, a bit hollow and drained. Alan Moore had recently returned to the band at this point, but he looks like he’s questioning why he returned in the first place. Glenn is smiling, but even that mustache fails to hide the tired look in his eyes; while Ian Hill gives off the impression of someone flirting with the brink of total madness. In the center of it all is Halford, who, despite the look of exhaustion around his eyes (and the obvious torment of deciding whether or not he should cut his hair), still manages to shine through, looking towards the future and with an aura of youthful confidence. While they all look tired, there is no hint of defeat; this picture is of a young, hungry band with faith in themselves and in their music. [RYAN TYSINGER]
BUT DOES IT HAVE ANTLERS?
This is a great picture for a number of reasons. First, it sees the band (from sometime in the very late ‘70s, most likely) visually representing their transitional state. The leather has started to creep into view, but as yet no studs, spikes, or whips. Les Binks on the far left and particularly Ian Hill’s Jake Gyllenhall-looking ass on the far right aren’t so much screaming for vengeance as they are screaming for patchouli. (And Ian, are you… holding a joint, or do you just have no idea what to do with your pinky finger?) Glenn’s kind of creeping up in the frame as though embarrassed because it sure as shit looks like he’s wearing a Priest shirt, while Rob looks like he tried to put his left hand in his pocket, missed the opening, and then just tried to play it off anyway. Meanwhile, KK’s feathered bangs and curiously unzipped jacket are but a momentary decoy for the eye to play across until it settles upon that most majestic of moose-knuckles. Heavy metal, my friends, is obviously a Very Serious Business. [DANHAMMER OBSTKRIEG]
WE HAVE ACHIEVED PEAK TIPTON
As with Dan’s choice image above, this sees Priest in their transitional phase as far as fashion goes. The leather is there but is barely the majority material, the band had yet to be overcome by studded accessories, KK looks like he just got out of bed and just wants to get this over with, Ian was still allowing himself to express the tiniest bit of personality, and they almost look… restrained compared to what would emerge as the norm just a few years later. Yes, this was Judas Priest: Almost Everyday People.
…But this image isn’t about the whole band, this image is about Glenn Raymond Tipton: Fashion Demigod. The jewelry: stated but not obvious. The hair: perfectly feathered in that cropped-Farrah, still-kinda-ragged-dude way. The stare: subdued Blue Steel. The shirt: opened up top with a delightfully popped collar. The coat: holy shit that goddamn coat. This is the single most glorious bit of clothing that any member of Priest has ever thought to don, all fuzzy-lapeled and flawlessly fit. Never again did Mr. Tipton so deftly Macgyver his way to such a perfect look. May we all have such a moment. [ZACH DUVALL]
FULLY FORMED METAL GODS
So much in this life of ours depends on looks. It’s the focal point of your first impression. You gotta have the look, man. And Judas Priest certainly had a look. And that look involved a whole bunch of leather. Enough leather to don the nickname “leather daddy.” Now, early in their career it was likely that Priest was hanging out together, munching on doritos or whatever the British equivalent is, and hand-studding all that leather. Later, they likely used their record advance moneys to purchase pre-studded leather. It was those early, late night studding sessions that led to the chemistry that made Priest who they are: one of the most important heavy metal bands to ever grace the planet. Glenn Tipton and K. K. Downing spending hours working on each other’s leather vests led to the intricate give and take that made them two of heavy metal’s most influential guitarists. It clearly wasn’t for everyone though. Others in the band probably spent more time helping their fellow rockers out of overly tight and non-lined leather pants. Stalwart Ian Hill, rocking fingerless gloves, likely headed up the racquetball outings to make up for his clear lack of dedication to the stud game. Perhaps it was his lack of dedication that led to a rotating drummer in the rhythm section. Bands that stud together, stay together. [MANNY-O-WAR]
THE 80s WERE A WEIRD DECADE…
This picture looks like Judas Priest lost a bet. The sort of bet that landed them starring roles in a straight-to-VHS 1986 skin flick called The Choad Warrior that—based on the excessive candelabra and cinched drapery—will be filmed entirely in Paul Stanley’s bedroom. Ian Hill is not at all happy about the prospect of removing his socks. And awesomely enough, Glenn looks completely natural and up to the task, so maybe they offered him an IROC Z on the down-low. There is also a prevailing sense of “what the fuck did you just say to me” going on, so maybe the photographer just informed everyone that their real clothes were misplaced by an angry intern who hates synthesizers. Anything’s possible in a realm where K.K. Downing looks like he’s trying to win the Pantene “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful” role away from Kelly LeBrock.
Clearly, I have no way of knowing precisely what went on during this shoot because, despite being alive and well during its making, I was too busy telling my friends that Priest had finally sold out while secretly cranking the bejesus out of Turbo behind closed doors. [CAPTAIN]
BUT NOT NEARLY AS WEIRD AS THE 90s…
Man, the Judas Priest camp sure was strange in the 1990s. First of all, just what kind of amateur were they hiring for their photoshoots? What was this, the pre-selfie selfie of heavy metal band pics? And they just look… ill-prepared. KK doesn’t appear even aware that he’s having his picture taken, Glenn looks far less Richard Dean Anderson than he does Michael Palin, and Scott Travis… well, Scott Travis looks like Scott Travis. But hey, Ian is almost smiling!
The biggest question, however, is just what the hell is going on with Rob’s hair? And his face? And well, his youth? I know old rockers love their plastic surgery, but whatever phase he went through during the Clinton era was truly bizarre. Good thing for him and the band that he wiped that head clean and went with the Old Metal God look. Seemed to fix whatever was up with his voice at the same time.
Seriously though, Ripper, if you’re still reading, you’re a good sport and we hope you’re doing well. [ZACH DUVALL]
IF YOU WERE GROENING AT THAT JOKE…
When it first aired in early 2014, this rare glimpse of Judas Priest in live performance was a surprise to all of us. It turns out that Ian Hill didn’t need an amp, which kind of makes sense, and that Scott Travis only has a three-piece kit. And more surprising than that, the metal gods were yellow and had only four fingers each. And also, they’re death metal. Who knew?
Wait, what? It’s a cartoon?
Pictured: too much information, too much dairy, too excited to wear that hat. I suppose there’s something to be said about the fact that both the Hulk and the Hulkster make appearances. “STAY IN SCHOOL, JUDASMANIACS. I’M COMIN’ FOR YOU, JIMMY HART AND EARTHQUAKE. BROTHER, I’VE GOT MY BROTHERS BY MY SIDE, BROTHER!! WHATCHA GONNA DO WHEN PRIESTAMANIA RUNS WILD ON YOUUUUUUUUU…” [CAPTAIN]