We love Judas Priest. This is blatantly obvious, of course, as we’re winding down Priest Week here at Last Rites. But it bears repeating ad nauseam: We. Love. Judas. Priest.
Guess who else loves Judas Priest: a whooooooooooole lotta humans. In the United States alone, Judas Priest has seven Gold-certified records and five Platinum-certified records, with one of the latter, Screaming for Vengeance, certified Double Platinum. That’s 9.5 million records before accounting for sales beyond certification and all the sales of albums that haven’t gone Gold, and sales in other countries, including, you know, their actual native land of England. To sell this gobsmackingly huge volume of records and keep your full standing in the eyes of your core fans is a pretty astounding achievement. The Priest endures.
A lot of those records sold led to folks picking up guitars to imitate their heroes, and eventually, write a ton of riffs and further innovate the heavy arts themselves. So, in honor of not just Priest’s music, but their immeasurable influence on over 40 years of heavy metal, we’re taking the keyboard out of our hands and giving it to metal musicians. We originally asked them to just give us their five favorite Judas Priest songs, but as you will see, several of them decided to go a little off-script. A legacy as rich as Priest’s will inspire such verbose joyfulness.
(GORGUTS, DYSRHYTHMIA, VAURA, SABBATH ASSEMBLY)
1. “Beyond the Realms of Death” (Stained Class, 1978)
One of Priest’s finest introspective moments, both musically and lyrically. A song that seemed to inspire and lay the foundation for other grandiose metal ballads to come the following decade (Metallica’s “Fade to Black,” Fates Warning’s “Guardian,” and Metal Church’s “Watch the Children Pray” might’ve taken some cues from this song).
2. “The Sentinel” (Defenders of the Faith, 1984)
This is basically THEE perfect metal song. The stark and foreboding intro, driving verses, soaring chorus, dueling trade-off solos, the simmering breakdown before it slams back into the final chorus. An eternal anthem. One of those songs you wish you wrote.
3. “Love Bites” (Defenders of the Faith, 1984)
I must like these foreboding intros (this one practically lifted from Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”) This is Judas Priest at their most hedonistic. The lyrics are pure sleaze, but you can’t deny Halford’s conviction when he sings them. The chorus is down right menacing, and it’s just damn catchy overall.
4. “Turbo Lover” (Turbo, 1986)
Guitar synths in metal!? Turbo was one of the first cassettes I ever bought in middle school. Despite it being one of the band’s most frowned upon records, I’ve always had a soft spot for it. The video for “Turbo Lover” was on MTV all the time when this came out. I was too young to have discovered Priest back in the 70s, so I didn’t know this was considered a “sell out” for them, I just loved the song. Musically it’s unique in that the song’s cold, futuristic, robotic sleekness makes it more new wave than metal. I enjoy the way this song builds, and it transports me to a simpler time in my life. Glenn Tipton’s solo is the icing on the cake, and that machine gun-like effect at the end of it had me baffled for years as a youngster.
5. “Painkiller” (Painkiller, 1990)
I’ll never forget the first time I heard this song. Strangely enough it was while riding in a car with my Dad’s friend, as it happened to come on the local rock station. I had no idea it was Priest at first. Halford’s voice sounded so aggressive and K.K. and Glenn had pushed their technique to the next level. The addition of Racer X drummer Scott Travis really gave these guys the kick in the ass they needed at this point. This record as a whole is my favorite in the Priest catalog.
Kevin Hufnagel slaughters and snuggles strings in many projects that range from the quiet to the loud to the really fucking loud. (A number of Last Riters are dying very patiently to hear a new Vaura record, by the way.) In the immortal words of D.R.I., GO BUY:
MARK “THE SHARK” SHELTON
(MANILLA ROAD, HELLWELL)
1. “Beyond the Realms of Death” (Stained Class, 1978)
Best metal power ballad ever. Great guitar solo.
2. “Sinner” (Sin After Sin, 1977)
Super cool approach to metal riffing that has a bit of epic feel to it. Great screaming vocals by Rob and a killer K.K. Downing delay solo.
3. “Victim of Changes” (Sad Wings of Destiny, 1976)
Metal epic that has some of the very best Halford vocals. Love the epic arrangement of this song.
4. “The Ripper” (Sad Wings of Destiny, 1976)
Classic metal song with great screaming high vocals that helped the set the standard for short pounding metal hits.
5. “Exciter” (Stained Class, 1978)
Fast, heavy and driving. Great drums by Les Binks. Song that set the go to equation for album opener tracks for J.P. for many albums to come. Furious metal with great high vox that no other band could match.
Now I must say that my list could go on and on because there is a huge amount of fantastic metal songs that the Priest has contributed throughout their illustrious career. They most likely are my all time favorite metal band.
Mark Shelton has helmed the indomitable Manilla Road for forty years (and counting), deals serious melange for several other projects, and he represents one of metal’s most respected emissaries. You can and absolutely should find his work here:
(IMMORTAL BIRD, THRAWSUNBLAT)
1. “Painkiller” (Painkiller, 1990)
Come on. Most drummers with a double bass pedal and a dream will play that intro at some point, usually while their vocalist is talking. Everyone slays this track. Evil sky-scraping screams from Halford, lightning-fast and locked-in drumming from Travis, and blistering solos from Tipton and Downing. This song has it all, and faster than you thought you could handle. And every person with a soul has screamed along to the chorus. THIIIIIIS….IIIIIS!!!! THE PAINKILLAHHH!!!!
2. “The Rage” (British Steel, 1980)
This song follows the classic “Living After Midnight” on British Steel, so I feel like it sometimes gets overlooked. HOW?! That slick n’ groovy solo bass intro, almost a reggae feel with the drums, then pure sludgy rock when the guitars kick in. The tune gets such a unique start and ends up being a sick example of Priest’s signature sound. Halford’s vocals are commanding and have the perfect amount of declarative grit. Also, that molasses-draggin’ guitar solo is really nice.
3. “The Ripper” (Sad Wings of Destiny, 1976)
A Glenn Tipton gem penned in the voice of Jack the Ripper. This is one of the first Priest songs I ever heard, and I immediately loved Halford’s presence. It’s such a well fleshed out tune, it’s hard to believe it clocks in under three minutes. Slow and deliberate, but never plodding, this is a JAM. And the Mercyful Fate cover is a must-hear.
4. “Screaming for Vengeance” (Screaming for Vengeance, 1982)
From this album, I feel like “The Hellion/Electric Eye” would’ve been an obvious (and super solid) choice, but I figure (hopefully correctly?) that it’ll be included by someone else. Everyone knows that iconic one-two punch. But the title track is a rager in its own right. Priest is no stranger to anthemic choruses, but I love this one extra.
5. “Leather Rebel” (Painkiller, 1990) – That fast as fuck intro. Those blazing double kicks! This tune is aggressive, short, and packs a ton of energy into three and a half minutes. Leather Rebel is just more crushing proof that Painkiller is one of Priest’s finest albums, an evolution of their sound, and a total metal masterpiece.
Rae Amitay screams like a wonderfully unhinged maniac for Immortal Bird, flails on the drums like a freshly landed barracuda for Thrawsunblat, and she absolutely 100% wants to meet your dog or cat while on tour for both bands. You can and absolutely will find her work here:
BRIAN “BUTCH” BALICH
(ARGUS, ARDUINI/BALICH, MOLASSES BARGE)
“The Hellion/Electric Eye” (Screaming for Vengeance, 1982)
I think the first Priest song I ever remember hearing was “Hot Rockin’,” but THIS was the first one (sorry intro and song are inseparable) that really sunk in and mangled my then very formative metal mind. Back when MTV aired concerts the power of this as the opener was a true kick in the face. The majesty of “Hellion” and the might and power of “Electric Eye.” And it still gives me chills.
“Desert Plains” (Point of Entry, 1981)
We can have the debate all day about whether or not Point of Entry is an underrated classic (my opinion) or a bump in the road for the band… What isn’t up for debate is how great “Desert Plains” is. This one has such a moody, wide-open, almost nighttime vibe to it. The verse vocal melody is damn brilliant – one of Halford’s most understated, yet effective.
“The Green Manalishi (With the Two Pronged Crown)”
(Hell Bent for Leather, 1979; Unleashed in the East, 1979)
Maybe the best cover song ever recorded. The band totally making it their own, forever putting their imprint on the song, rendering Fleetwood Mac’s great original the runner-up in the contest of who did it better. The insistent head-bobbing thump of the song as it chugs along, the dueling guitar solos full of melody and fire and the coup de grace itself – Rob Halford doing what he does and creating one of the singularly great sections of metal song history with his oooohs and screams at the end. Reaching highs that no mere mortal could ever conceive of matching but inspiring impressionable singers to be everywhere nonetheless. The version on Unleashed in the East is the definitive version….Halford’s end piece is buried on the studio track…damn near criminal that.
“Beyond the Realms of Death” (Stained Class, 1978)
The very definition of epic. The somberness of the verses that are swallowed by crashing waves of utter heaviness each time the chorus comes in. It’s a push-pull of light and heavy that is often missing in metal these days. The dynamics of the soft making the heavier that much heavier. Tipton and Downing each turning in brilliant solos and Halford showing his full range capping it all of with one of his most iconic screams in the entire catalog… not to mention all of metal history. I get lost in and consumed by this song every time I listen to it. Emotional, crushingly heavy, perfect. The best song from the best Priest album.
“Here Come the Tears” (Sin After Sin, 1977)
This is a song that kind of passed me by in my early days when I was often more interested in the heavy stuff, the faster stuff. It’s one of the most sophisticated songs in all of Priest’s catalog, merging acoustic guitar and piano balladry with proto-doom. A great showcase for Halford’s lower register and some of the highest of his highs as the song plays out. “Here Come the Tears” builds and builds gaining in intensity and heaviness before the final, literal, explosion at the end. It’s a remarkable song and perhaps the single most underrated song they ever recorded. As far as I’m concerned, it deserves to be held out as an all-time heavy metal classic and it’s the best song off the first three albums.
“Tyrant” (Sad Wings of Destiny, 1976; Unleashed in the East, 1979)
Yeah this is six not five but I can’t go without mentioning this one. If you want to see the template for what metal was soon to become, the template for those who followed, this song is it. Relentless, powering forward like an out of control 18-wheeler loaded with a cargo of punches to the gut… A rare, and brilliant, harmony guitar solo from Tipton and Downing (something I wish they’d done more of), Halford spitting out the wordy verses with jaw dropping command, again putting the exclamation on the proceedings with a high scream only he could do so majestically and convincingly.
Butch Balich has been making microphones fall in love with him since the 90s (my Lord, that voice), enjoys the living hell out of D.C.’s Angel, and spends more time than most on the lyrical element (perhaps while washing his luxurious hair in the shower.) You will absolutely buy all of his excellent work here:
I must admit that I was a sort of late to the party when it came to Judas Priest. I had already been a fan of metal for about three years before I even heard them. This had to be around 1990. I had heard stories about Judas Priest, and how someone allegedly committed suicide as a result of listening to their music, as well as other forms of smear campaigning ignorance that made Judas Priest seem like monsters. Needless to say, I was not impressed when I first heard their music. It was the album Turbo, and I was about 14 years old. I was like “this is not evil!” Shortly after that I saw the video for “Painkiller” on Headbanger’s Ball. This was, for those too young to remember, a show on that station who once played music videos, and has since become a cesspool for “reality” TV. Anyway, I was totally blown away by “Painkiller.” OK, the video may have been a bit cheesy (who can forget that girl in the back seat of the car having her leg used as a guitar by rocker dudes), but the song was one of the best I ever heard. I subsequently bought the album, and absolutely loved it! This of course led me to check out their other albums. I absolutely loved what I heard. Judas Priest, in my opinion, was like the bridge between Sabbath and Maiden. I must admit that I was not totally impressed by all of their albums, but I did revisit Turbo a few years later, and realized that it was a great album. 1986 was after all a big year for synths; I mean Iron Maiden’s Somewhere In Time is one of my favorite albums ever. I am definitely glad to have come across Judas Priest in my lifetime. As a guitarist, I find Tipton and Downing to be among my influences, especially on the songs “Screaming For Vengeance,” “Freewheel Burning,” “The Ripper,” and “Exciter.” In closing, I would like to thank Manny for the opportunity to say a few words about a great metal band!
Chris Molinari helps deliver pretty leads and incredibly…… slow…… and…… heavy…… riffs…… for…… Evoken, and it would be very humorous to discover that he offsets his grim, funereal musical presence by speeding around town in a bright red convertible with personal plates that read LYFISGRT. His work can be found here:
(HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE, VASTUM)
Here are the top 5 from my favorite metal band of all time:
“Tyrant” (Sad Wings of Destiny, 1976)
That incredible chorus with those opposite motion vocal harmonies.
“Dreamer Deceiver / Deceiver” (Sad Wings of Destiny, 1976)
Because I love me some JP ballads.
“Saints In Hell” (Stained Class)
One of the catchiest songs of all time while also being dark as hell.
“Hellion / Electric Eye” (Screaming for Vengeance, 1982)
Lyrical themes about government espionage are always cool in my book.
“Painkiller” (Painkiller, 1990)
Probably the best arpeggiated guitar solo breakdown of all time.
(I also have to give a special mention to my 3 favorite JP covers, being: “Diamonds and Rust,” “The Green Manalishi,” and “Better By You, Better Than Me”).
JP has gotten me through some very rough times in my life, not to mention a few solitary cross country road trips I’ve taken and many band tours in the van for almost 20 years. When you’re at the wheel at 3 AM and coffee just isn’t keeping you awake, nothing will jolt your veins and get you through hours of highway better than blasting Painkiller, Stained Class, Screaming for Vengeance or (insert your favorite JP album here). I also can’t think of any other metal band that has survived so many decades and different phases yet retained throughout all of it a consistent ability to write such incredibly memorable songs, while also giving top notch live performances. Halford’s sexuality is also a huge part of the experience for me: not only was coming out to the world at a time when it was much less LGBT friendly incredibly brave, but the homoerotic energy permeating the songs makes them like no other metal band, as far as mainstream metal goes at least.
My heart also goes out to Tipton with his (recently announced though not recent) diagnosis; having family members who also have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I can only imagine how difficult this is for him.
Thank you, Glenn, for giving us 40+ years of your incredible guitar playing!
Leila Abdul-Rauf has lended her extensive talents to eleven Bay Area bands over the years, which basically means she’s an 11th level sorceress. When she’s not too busy destroying enemies with squalls of magic missiles, she’s creating music that is either heavy, deathy, doomy, melodic, dreamy or all of the above. You should buy as much as you can here:
Hammers Of Misfortune
JACKIE PEREZ GRATZ
(GRAYCEON, GIANT SQUID)
1. “One for the Road” (Rocka Rolla, 1974)
Best song for a personal pep talk about why we’re in the music industry from the Metal Gods themselves. And since it was released in my birth year, it is my spirit animal.
2. “Victim of Changes” (Sad Wings of Destiny, 1976)
Best song to play very loudly in the tour van while driving. Or driving any vehicle, really. Preferably a 1979 Camaro. Quintessential classic Judas Priest. A whole lot of belting and head banging and invisible oranges and finger waving to be had in this song.
3. “Tyrant” (Sad Wings of Destiny, 1976)
Best song to air guitar to with your best fried starting just before the 3 min mark. I highly recommend.
4. “Diamonds and Rust” (Sin After Sin, 1977)
I know, I know, it’s not a JP song. But! It introduced me to the original folk version by singer/songwriter, Joan Baez. Her rendition is so beautiful and heartbreaking, and Priest’s version is so powerful and raw. So, this is the best song to be reminded that there are many paths to the same heaviness.
5. “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” (Screaming for Vengeance, 1982)
Best song to dance to with your daughters at your wedding. Whew, that was a blast! I really could have listed so many different songs here as my top Judas Priest songs. Their music has built up memories and inspired my own music in ways that are immeasurable. Listening to Judas Priest has made me a better person and I’m so glad they found me. And the riffs!!
Jackie Perez Gratz is probably best known for two things in the metal sphere: 1) Bringing cello into extreme music (Tribes of Neurot, The Fucking Champs, OM, Neurosis, Lycus, Ludicra, Embers Of Euphoria, Cormorant, Cattle Decapitation, Agalloch, Asunder, Amber Asylum, Giant Squid and Grayceon), and 2) Cranking Dio and Judas Priest louder than anyone else from a bad-ass 1978 Z/28. The car is (sadly) gone, but the cello will always live on:
Grayceon (New song alert! New song alert!)
(EXHUMED, GRUESOME, DEKAPITATOR, EXPULSION, POUNDER)
If you’re not into Judas Priest, you’re not into metal. Period.
Priest helped invent and define the genre more than any other band (yes, more so than Black Sabbath) – leather, studs, chains, mirrored sunglasses, motorcycles, dueling guitar solos, soaring harmonies, and impossible vocal gymnastics that range from the screech of a bird of prey to glass-shattering high notes to guttural come-ons – all of those begin with Birmingham’s finest – Priest. Age may have sidelined Glen Tiptonn and KK Downing may have already gracefully bowed out, but they, along with Rob Halford and Ian Hill, have been immortal for quite some time already. We all scream for their vengeance. In fact and indeed, we are sworn to avenge, by our allegiance to metal, a genre that owes its very existence to Priest.
Picking my top-five Priest songs is a nigh-impossible task. I could easily pick a top 100 and leave out some favorites, but here goes:
1. “The Ripper” (Sad Wings of Destiny, 1976)
This is the only song that actually makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
2. “Exciter” (Stained Class, 1978)
Though Motörhead are rightly credited as progenitors of what would become Thrash / Speed Metal, this song anticipates far more than just velocity with it’s precision drumming, exceptional guitar-work, epic song-structure, and Halford’s impassioned vocal performance.
3. “Rock Hard, Ride Free” (Defenders of the Faith, 1984)
If ever there were words to live by… This strikes a brilliant mid-point between the rough-hewn, yet-still-accessible Screaming era and the slick polish of the (also excellent) Turbo incarnation of the band. This song is as infectiously anthemic as it gets.
4. “Raw Deal” & “Call for the Priest” (Sin After Sin, 1977)
This is fudging the rules (breaking the what?), but who cares? A master-class in bludgeoning riffing, stratospheric vocals and powerhouse drumming as only Priest can deliver – in a double-shot of screaming heavy metal.
5. “Take on the World” (Killing Machine, 1978)
I love this song, but I specifically included it because it’s often maligned as Tipton and company’s attempt to mimic “We Will Rock You.” More importantly, it’s the template for every “metal unity song that gets 60,000 Wacken-attendees singing along” that has followed in its wake. That’s a lot of songs that have come and gone in the 40 years since the aptly-titled Killing Machine was unleashed upon the world. Most importantly of all, it sums up what Priest has always done and continues to do – what they inspire myself and all their acolytes to do as well: Take on the fucking world, one raised-fist, one snarling guitar-riff, one ear-piercing scream at a time.
Honorable mentions for a top 10: “The Sentinel,” “Running Wild,” “Tyant,” “I’m a Rocker,” “Leather Rebel.”
Matt Harvey has been roaring a chainsaw through metal listeners and kicking decapitated heads around the stage for longer than some of our readers have been alive. When he’s not busy dangling human guts from the rafters like delicately hung string lights, he might be sipping a nice Old Vine Zinfandel with a smear of Winnimere on a cracker. You will absolutely power through his works like a hungry cannibal here:
In honor of our friend Glenn Tipton, please consider making a donation to help find a cure for Parkinson’s disease.
Thanks to everyone who read, shared and commented! And a very special thanks goes out to the talented guests who contributed to this piece today.
Posted by Last Rites
GENERALLY IMPRESSED WITH RIFFS
What a great way to cap off an excellent series of articles this week! I will admit to only being a very casual fan of Judas Priest only up until very recently (I was always more of a Maiden fan), but this album cycle has provided a great opportunity to rediscover a ton of classics.
My top 5 (no particular order):
-The Hellion -> Electric Eye
-Screaming for Vengeance
-A Touch of Evil
-Victim of Changes
Really nice to see all the love for the gods of heavy metal <3.
Just a typo (I think) : « 3. “Rock Hard, Ride Free” (Sad Wings of Destiny, 1984) », I was sure that this song was actully in Defenders of the Faith.
Oop! Wrong copy/paste. Good eye! And thanks for reading!
Please blame that on me. I’m a constant failure.
Who Edits the Editors?
Wow, really nice way to conclude Priest Week. When reading through the articles and comments, I realized that I had never listened to Point of Entry. Which, as I found out, is actually a pretty cool rock album.
The version of Priest I fell in love with though is the dramatic, hard-hitting late 80s/early 90s one. So this is what I’d go for:
– Ram it Down (One of my alltime favourite guitar solos. Totally lost it when I first heard it.)
– Blood Red Skies
– Hellion/Electric Eye
– Between the Hammer and the Anvil
Priest week has been great. My personal top 5 would probably be
– “Painkiller” (Painkiller)
– “Bloodstone” (Screaming for Vengeance)
– “The Sentinel” (Defenders of the Faith)
– “Leather Rebel” (Painkiller)
– “Savage” (Stained Class)
but you could probably get me to name a different five next week.
This was a really cool column. Great idea, to have these very diverse musicians talk about their favorite Priest songs. So interesting. It put a huge smile on my face to read Chris from Evoken talk about Judas Priest! This one was really unexpected–Evoken seems so serious, so crushingly heavy and morose (and awesome). Makes me appreciate Evoken even more. And of course the whole thing renewed my interest in Judas Priest. I must’ve played Stained Class 100s of times growing up. And tried to sing along, unsuccessfully hitting the highs.