Named after the Bob Dylan song The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest and led by Tim Brooke-Taylor look-alike and openly gay biker dress-alike Rob Halford, Judas Priest were never taken as seriously as other heavy metal bands, partly because Halford was a weedy (and later, balding) vocalist, and possibly because they were no Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin.
Sin After Sin from 1977 offered thinnish production and a vague sense of Stonehenge, as demonstrated on Sinner and Last Rose Of Summer.
The oddly weedy Stained Class (1978) wasn’t a patch on the same years Killing Machine, which saw the biker formula kick in (witness Hell Bent For Leather and Running Wild) along with better production, stronger riffs and louder vocals. The album became a touchstone for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
This was quickly followed by 1979s Unleashed In The East, the obligatory Japanese live album, which is loudest of all.
The group’s sixth studio set, British Steel (1980), was iconic. The razor blade cover found its way onto T-shirts, one of which was sported by Pantera‘s Dimebag Darrell on television in 1991. Impressed, Rob Halford jammed with Pantera on a cover of Metal Gods.
In August 1990, Judas Priest and CBS Records were unsuccessfully sued by the grieving family of Reno, Nevada, teenagers Ray Belknap (20) and James Vance (19) who shot themselves on 23 December 1985, claiming their sons had been driven to it after spending six months listening to the album Stained Class (1978).
Rob Halford suggested such exhortation from a band would, at the very least, be counterproductive. Which band would want its fans dead? A judge dismissed the suit.
2001’s Demolition could have been much worse, though times have certainly moved faster than a band led by 50-year olds could keep pace with.
While Tim “Ripper” Owens did a passable Rob Halford facsimile, their nods to grunge (One on One and Cyberface) sounded forced and much of their all-out metal would not have made it onto Screaming For Vengeance.
Still, Close To You was a terrific ballad, Metal Messiah lived up to its title, and Glenn Tipton and KK Downing’s twin guitar assault on the fiery Bloodsucker was as raucous as ever.
Drummer Dave Holland passed away on 16 January 2018.
KK (Kenneth) Downing
Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens