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:
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:
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.