Judas Priest formed in 1969. Five years later, they released their debut album, Rocka Rolla. It had promise, but not enough to generate much interest. Over the next couple of albums, the band trimmed the fat, honed their sound, and in 1980, they dropped British Steel, an album that kickstarted the 80’s metal scene and could accurately be described as the one record that, more than any other, defines heavy metal. Over the next decade, they dominated the charts, bringing metal to the masses and becoming a major influence on the ever-growing number of metal bands. Their fortunes dipped in the mid-1990s, only to enjoy a resurgence in the 2010s. Here, we take a look back at the career of one of metal’s most innovative and pioneering bands as we rank all 18 Judas Priest albums.
As Louder Sound says, Demolition is no one’s favorite Priest album. The reason is simple: it doesn’t have any truly great songs. A worthy attempt to meld the band’s classic sound with a more contemporary approach it may be, but no matter how noble the cause, it doesn’t make it any more listenable. Released in July 2001, it peaked at a disappointing No. 165 on the Billboard 200.
17. Ram It Down
After dabbling with electronics on Turbo, Judas Priest returned to their roots for its follow-up. Unfortunately, the result sounds more like a box-ticking exercise in mediocrity than anything else. There’s a couple of great tracks (the title track and Blood Red Skies, in particular) but by and large, Ram It Down is the kind of album you forget you’ve heard even while it’s still playing. Released on 17 May 1988, it reached No. 24 in the UK album chart and No. 31 on the Billboard 200.
16. Rocka Rolla
As introductions go, Judas Priest’s 1974 debut Rocka Rolla wasn’t the best. The potential is there, but their classic sound is still very much in development and some of the songs are downright patchy. Enjoyable, but by no means essential listening.
You can’t fault Priest’s ambitions on Nostradamus. Not only does the album finds them dabbling with choirs, layers of keyboards, and other symphonic metal effects, it also lasts for a stupendous 102 minutes. Unfortunately, and as Stereo Gum points out, only around 45 of those 102 minutes are actually worth listening to. The title track, Pestilence And Plague, and Prophecy are all killer… it’s just a shame the rest of the album is filler. Released in June 2008, it peaked at No. 30 in the UK and No. 11 on the US Billboard 200.
The band’s 13th studio album marked the start of the Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens era. Fast, furious, and unapologetically vicious, Jugulator didn’t go down too well with fans of Priest’s classic sound, but you can’t fault them for their energy. The standout track is Cathedral Spires, a blistering piece of metal that stands shoulder to shoulder with the band’s greatest songs. Released on 28 October 1997, it reached No. 82 in the US but failed to chart at all in the UK.
13. Redeemer Of Souls
When Judas Priest dropped Redeemer Of Souls in 2014, it was hailed as a major return to form, with Drowned in Sound saying it “ticks just about every box in terms of an enjoyable heavy metal record” and “goes some way to capturing the genre’s eternal, endearing refusal to grow up.” Rolling Stone went so far as to call it proof that Priest can still call themselves “metal’s defenders of the faith.” It’s not quite as good as some of the critics would have you believe, but it’s still a remarkably decent album, with newcomer Richie Faulkner proving himself a very fine addition to the lineup. The song content is solid, with the incendiary Crossfire standing out as one of the best. Released on 15 July 2014, it reached No. 6 on the Billboard 200 and No. 12 on the UK Album Chart.
12. Point Of Entry
The problem with albums like British Steel is that they’re almost impossible to follow. What comes after is inevitably going to draw comparisons, and equally inevitably, most of those comparisons aren’t going to be kind. For all of that, 1981’s Point of Entry is a great album. It doesn’t match up to its predecessor, but that’s more of a reflection of Britsh Steel than of it. Key tracks to watch out for include Heading Out To The Highway and Desert Plains. Released on 26 February 1981, it peaked at No. 14 on the UK Album Chart and No. 39 on the US Billboard Hot 200.
As Kerrang notes, when Turbo first came out, it was reviled by fans thanks to Priest’s decision to embrace synths and add a glam-tinged pop-metal sheen to their usual sound. Even now, it’s still controversial, but regardless of which side of the debate you stand on, there’s no denying there are some great songs scattered in amongst the synths. It loses energy mid-way through, but the first four tracks are dynamite, with enough monstrous riffs and thunderous beats to prove that, synths or no synths, the band’s heart was still rooted firmly in classic metal.
10. Angel Of Retribution
Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens is an amazing singer, but for most fans, Judas Priest without Rob Halford was like coffee without the caffeine. So when he finally made his return for 2005’s Angel of Retribution, it was widely regarded as a reason to celebrate. Fortunately, the album lived up to expectations. The songs are solid, while the band sounds more vital and energized than they had in years.
9. Sin After Sin
After the success of Sad Wings of Destiny, the pressure was on for Sin after Sin. Although it doesn’t quite reach the same heights of glory as its predecessor, it’s still a fabulous album. The production is a little off, but the songs are most definitely on, particularly the haunting cover of Joan Baez’s Diamonds & Rust and the savagely furious Dissident Aggressor. Released on 8 April 1977, it was eventually certified Gold in the US after selling over 500,000 copies.
In 2018, Judas Priest proved they could still give bands half their age a run for their money with their 18th studio album. After their ill-advised experiments with prog-doom metal on Nostradamus, Firepower finds them getting back to classic metal. The result is a dramatic return to form and their best album in years. The songs are uniformly excellent, vibrating with passion and exuberance and powered by a jaw-droppingly powerful performance from Rob Halford. It was a major hit on both sides of the pond, peaking at No. 5 in both the US and the UK.
7. Killing Machine
Killing Machine is the album where Judas Priest became the Judas Priest we know today. This was where they first showcased the punchy, anthemic sound that would become their signature, and where they adopted the studs and leathers that would become as key to their identity as their music. It’s also where they gave us Hell Bent For Leather, the song that would become legendary when Halford decided it’d be a good idea to introduce it by riding a Harley Davidson onto the stage. Confident, crackling with energy, and crammed with first-rate songs (Running Wild, Rock Forever, Delivering The Goods, and The Green Manalishi, to name just a few), it’s a stunning album.
6. Sad Wings Of Destiny
After stumbling at the starting block with Rocka Rolla, Judas Priest came back with a bang with their second album, Sad Wings of Destiny. An adventurous, multi-layered album rich in ambition and bristling with power, it was a grand, defiant statement from a band that had most definitely found their metal feet. The grandiose eight-minute opener Victim of Changes is unquestionably one of the best songs they’ve ever written, but the face-melting riffage on The Tyrant and Ripper demand equal respect.
5. Screaming For Vengeance
In the early 80s, metal went mainstream. Screaming For Vengeance was the album that got it there. Lean, menacing, and without even the faintest hint of podgy excess, it’s a no-nonsense piece of pure heavy metal that’s as exhilarating today as it was back then. Although they’d already achieved critical acclaim with 1980’s British Steel, they hadn’t yet made significant inroads in the US. Screaming For Vengeance changed that. It reached No. 11 on the UK Albums Chart, No. 17 on the US Billboard 200, and by 2001, had been certified 2x Platinum by the RIAA.
4. Defenders Of The Faith
After Screaming For Vengeance turned Judas Priest from a cult favorite into megastars, they returned in 1984 with their ninth studio album Defenders Of The Faith. It might not have had the same number of obvious hits as its predecessor, but there’s no faulting the content, especially on cuts like Freewheel Buring, The Sentinel, and the controversy-loving Eat Me Alive. On Screaming For Vengeance, Priest set the template; here, they perfect it. Released on 4th January 1984, it hit No. 19 on the UK Album Chart and No. 18 on the US Billboard 200.
3. Stained Class
By the end of the 1970s, Priest had honed their sound and were preparing for world domination. Stained Class, their fourth studio album and their first to feature drummer Les Binks, wouldn’t be the album to get them there, but there’s no faulting the content. The band have rarely sounded better, ripping through songs like Beyond The Realms Of Death, Exciter (one of the best examples of early thrash metal out there), and Invader with a ferocious energy that will leave you exhausted but exhilarated. Released on 10 February 1978, it stalled at No. 173 on the Billboard 200 but was eventually certified Gold.
Painkiller, the last album to feature Rob Halford until the 2005 reunion album Angel of Retribution, slayed. There’s not a single misfire on the entire album – a big deal for most bands, but especially for one 12 albums into their career. Priest may be veterans of the industry, but here, they decimate bands half their age. The songs are consistently excellent, but the title track is something else – a pure piece of metal heaven with the some of the biggest riffs and most ferocious rhythms ever committed to tape. Heavymusichq.com have said it “changed metal in the early ’90s and helped expand the power metal genre greatly.” They aren’t wrong. A major success on both sides of the Atlantic, it hit the No. 26 spot on both UK and US album charts.
1. British Steel
By 1980, Judas Priest had five albums under their belt and could hardly be described as newcomers anymore. But they still had plenty of tricks to play. Their sixth studio album, British Steel, was a revelation, effectively kickstarting metal’s reign during the 1980s and setting the standard for every thrash metal album that followed. As Wall of Sound puts it, “if it wasn’t for British Steel, (Metallica) wouldn’t be here.” The songs are all killer, no filler, ranging from the blistering proto-thrash of Rapid Fire to the upbeat party-starter Living After Midnight. A modern masterpiece, and one fully deserving of every bit of praise it’s received in the 40 years since its release.
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