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As it happens with other bands possessing large discographies, there're several distinct groups of Judas Priest fans defined by their preference towards a given style of the band. There are those who cherish their 70s output the most, the seminal metal they started to forge when Ozzy's Sabbath's fuel started to go low; classic rock-tinged heavy metal, and primeval proto-speed. Others prefer the more in-your-face hard rock punch of albums such as Killing Machine and British Steel. Another group favors the ultimate speed metal record, Painkiller, considered by some of them as the peak, not only of the Metal Gods' prolific career, but of heavy metal music itself. Personally, while I enjoy all of their styles and epochs, I undoubtedly stand among the latest group of Priest fans. So, after perfection itself, half man, half machine… what album comes in second place for us speed freaks? What album shares Painkiller's perfect combination of aggression, explosive catchiness and intelligent compositions that sears past trends and mere commercial intent?
For me, it's Defenders of the Faith. While it isn't pure blister up and singeing the whole 39 minutes, the mid-paced tracks compensate with emotive heavy metal that's just as memorable but a tiny notch more elaborate than most of the tracks found on their previous four releases. The opening punch though, it's as devastating as the “Hellion + Electric Eye” combo. “Freewheel Burning” takes no prisoners, leaving the faces of the listeners charred on the pavement. Dave Holland's finally unleashed here, even more so than in "Rapid Fire", and while he's no Scott Travis, the song's propulsive beats are more than legit for a mid-80s metal album. Legendary guitar duo Downing/Tipton are on fire here, the rhythmic riffs and the solos are pure joy, as The Metal God delivers with high-octane, impossible highs and spits words inhumanly fast during the bridge of the track.
The bruised survivors then prepare to face the “Jawbreaker”, a slower (though still pretty fast) number that has one of the greatest K.K. solos in Priest's discography. And the way Halford finishes the song, with an impossible high singing of the title, it's just mind-blowing. “Rock Hard, Ride Free” rocks fucking hard indeed, a change of pace and the longer tune of this compact album, which feels longer than it is, in a good way, as most songs have so much to savor in them. If you happen to have the Remasters version of Killing Machine with the bonus tracks, you'll see how this tune originated from the demo named “Fight for Your Life”, evolving from a so-so composition into utter ass-kickery. Then comes the much feared “The Sentinel”, which happens to be my second favorite Judas Priest tune of all times. My skin hairs rise every time I hear that into, such a powerful, ominous a monolithic guitar work. A tale of a post-apocalyptic villain, maybe an antihero, I imagine the guy as if Boba Fett was placed in the Mad Max universe. The guitar solos dueling in the mid section of the song is definitely out of this world. JUST. AWESOME. I've had the privilege of listening to this masterpiece live and now I can die happy… even if it's one of the Sentinel's throwing knives the one that gets the job done.
Then, starting side B of the LP, we have a double treat of sexual-charged anthems, “Love Bites” and “Eat Me Alive”. The first one is more in line aesthetically and in length with “The Sentinel”, also displaying a menacing intro, this time by the hand of Ian Hill, who's processed bass guitar sounds total 80s as fuck there, but remains cool to this very day. It's like a dark, electrifying rendezvous, with Halford's commanding vocals all over the place. The tune wouldn't be out of place in an erotic 80s flick or maybe a hentai anime. I'm thinking something classy, like Wicked City. The second one is a shorter, faster, speed metal blitz that features a wild display of guitar orgasm, as ‘the rod of steel injects’. Fancy some god ol' BDSM? Damn. Both tracks feature extremely suggestive lyrics that are quite open to interpretation in terms of the sex genres, number of participants and roles played, so all of you can get to imagine your kinkiest fantasies just as Rob intended, you cheeky bastards!
“Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” is a more straightforward tune, with a somewhat different lyrical approach to the rest of the songs, thanks to the contribution of Bob Halligan, Jr., who also wrote “(Take These) Chains” from Priest's previous album. A critique of the merciless social classes scheme, or perhaps only the business world or the politicians' evil in this world, it contrasts with the badass characters/sexual themes of the other tracks, perhaps as a negative, balancing view of the positive feelings displayed on “Rock Hard, Ride Free”. Consequently “Night Comes Down” feels like the tender/slave counterpart to “Love Bites” Eat Me Alive” savage/master themes. The album finishes poorly with “Heavy Duty/Defenders of the Faith”, which seem to be a couple of unused songs from Point of Entry. Those four minutes constitute my only real complain with this otherwise excellent, almost-masterpiece record, which has great production values, dated but still amazing, and yet another sophisticated cover artwork by Doug Johnson. I'll put my money on the Metallian over the Hellion anytime, though.
Defenders of the Faith was and still is Judas Priest epitome of 80s metal, in terms of musical quality and pure artistry. It's vastly superior to both British Steel and marginally better than Screaming for Vengeance despite not having the “hits”. And that's because… This album fucking HITS faster, harder and deeper! While it lacks crowd favorites like “Breaking the Law” or “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin”, 90% of the material here is pure heavy metal mastery, cherished by hardcore fans of the band. While the average rock enthusiast probably thinks in those two songs when the name Judas Priest is mentioned, for me it will always be “The Sentinel” or “Jawbreaker”. And just like with Painkiller I wish they had carried on with this direction, which is why the synth-happy Turbo will always be a much despised album by me. But the ultimate Defenders of the Faith, our Metal Gods, resonate strong with this outstanding 1984 release. Our heavy duty: to keep the faith. Forever.
Out of all the albums in the 80's, "Defenders of the Faith" is my definite favorite ever to be released by Judas Priest. It's got more power and aggression than "Screaming for Vengeance" and "British Steel" combined, and up until the release of "Painkiller" in 1990, was pretty much the hardest album the band ever released. Sure, we do get some traces of commercial sound that CBS pressured Priest to create, but those don't affect how awesome it is in any way, 'cos even they're worth something.
The sweet album cover art by Doug Johnson is only the beginning to the awesome power of "Defenders of the Faith". On every song, Judas Priest put more power into their signature sound, creating something any metaller could be proud of. From the fast and blazing "Freewheel Burning" to the haunting and somber "Night Comes Down", there's something on this album for everyone. One of my favorite tracks, however, is "The Sentinel", which begins with an aggressive, yet elusive-sounding intro by K.K. Downing that builds up to the fast and driving song itself. The guitar solos of Downing and Glen Tipton clash against each other, both playing some sick and tasty solos before combining to create a single harmonic solo to finish the break. They do the same thing in "Rock Hard, Ride Free". Despite being at commercial tempo, "Rock Hard, Ride Free" doesn't necessarily need speed in order to be an underrated classic. We got harmonic riffs played by Downing and Tipton great enough to rival those of Iron Maiden's Adrian Smith and Dave Murray.
Sure, this album isn't without its more commercial songs (the band was, after all, under the iron fist of CBS Records!). The song which I'm sure would get a lot of complaints would be the ballad, "Night Comes Down". I actually kinda like it better than other people would. It's got a more eerie and somber vibe to it rather than a pretentious and synth-infused one. The chorus, however, could've been better, but it had to be catchy in order for it to get noticed, right? Then there's "Love Bites", a song with much more power. It's at that same commercial pace as the classic hit "You've Got Another Thing Comin'", but it actually has a more mystifying tone than an abrasive and crunching one. There's also "Heavy Duty", which fades into the title track, which mainly consists of a crowd chanting "We are defenders of the faith". Both songs have that pounding, and somewhat anthem-like tempo to it, but it's hard rocking tone doesn't quite make it reach the more majestic, anthem-like level of "United" on the "British Steel" album.
But there's also songs that are driving and powerful, all the way through. The opening track, "Freewheel Burning", is one of them. It's one of many songs on "Defenders of the Faith" that are grinding and full of energy, more songs than "Screaming for Vengeance" or "Britsh Steel". It's also the fastest track on the album, giving us the impression of leading at breakneck speed with high octane, as the lyrics describe, and the power of Rob Halford's vocals is part of the reason for it. With the previous album, "Screaming for Vengeance" we only get two or three songs where Rob is able to use his powerful voice to its fullest potential. With "Defenders of the Faith", "Freewheel Burning" is one of several songs which feature Halford's high pipes. They also carry these songs higher than the production quality could ever dare to. The production quality that makes the album heavier is good, but such an album with high-energy vocals is even better. They make even slower songs, like "Rock Hard, Ride Free" incredible tracks, 'cos the song gets more energy than it would without Halford. "Eat Me Alive", however is an exception; Halford barely screams in this one, and uses his more gruff and snide side. Even so, it still manages to be just as good as the songs that do feature Halford's metal screaming.
I honestly don't see how such a tremendous album could get so little fanfare, even from the band itself (its commemorative 30th anniversary edition didn't come out until almost a full year after its actual anniversary date). It's quite an underrated album. I get that we've got the classics, but why didn't any of the songs on here become classics themselves? How come "Defenders of the Faith" didn't get the recognition it deserved? And more importantly; why does "Turbo" get more respect? The answers to these questions might never come to light, but nevertheless, "Defenders of the Faith" is the "Painkiller" of the 80's, a true forgotten masterpiece.
The mid-80’s was a turbulent period for heavy metal with the explosion of glam, the absolute decline of the NWOBHM and the unstoppable electronic/disco fever in the mainstream music scene. However, as the calm that precedes the storm, by 1984 the most popular heavy bands were still delivering some of their best stuff: Iron Maiden’s Powerslave represented the culmination of the British wave, while Scorpions’ Love At First Sting proved metal could reach the charts without denying its genuine essence. What about Priest? Screaming For Vengeance was another huge success, so these guys felt tempted to repeat the formulas that worked so good, with no need to introduce any relevant changes. However, Halford & co. couldn’t avoid the influence of the trends of those times, all the ballady stuff, the electric/sequenced rhythms, the trademark 80’s snare beat sound and of course, the extravagant clothes.
“Freewheel Burning” was a spectacular opening for the album, certainly the most solid tune these guys played in years – including some intricate riff patterns, heterogeneous structures and advanced arrangements that bring back some of the 70’s material progression – definitely, one of the most energetic, slamming anthems of the band to this date that might make you think this will be a record with a heavier edge than its predecessor…Nah, following tracks like “Rock Hard, Ride Free” reveal a similar direction and determination for simplicity, melody and persistent choruses already revealed on the previous album. Well, riffs are still rockin’ hard, evolving into some consistent variations, designing well-constructed alternative sequences during the songs – at times arranged with difficulty and complexity, yet predominantly remaining accessible and accompanying Rob’s vocals without much ambition. Composition of the titles as I said is more diverse and complicated the previous recent attempt however, “The Sentinel” for instance (inspired on 1977’s Michael Winner movie, I suppose?) includes insistent verses, very repetitive and catchy – though also adding some extended instrumental parts Priest didn’t put much attention on ever since the late-70’s. Sophistication is omnipresent, melody takes considerable control on numbers like “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll”, which is a straight-forward, minimalist vocal-based piece with a rather uniform instrumental base, letting Halford’s words take all attention. And you saw it coming: ballads, romance and tenderness on “Night Comes Down”, an emotive performance lacking continuity and direction, soon getting repetitive and predictable, while “Love Bites” is an electronic 80’s music approach, with that drum machine-like tempo, featuring unoriginal dumb choruses. The finale consists on a couple of truly mediocre tunes, “Heavy Duty” and the title-track, which seem exclusively intended to be performed live and make the fans sing-along, instrumentally with nothing to offer.
Defenders Of The Faith contains some of the band’s best songs and some of the poorest. Judas Priest make a stunning display of power, aggression and velocity on the immense opening cut and “Eat Me Alive”, which possess that vigor, intensity and magic, that huge riffage only Glenn & K.K. could conceive and execute so immaculately but at the same time, so harsh and lethal – combined with Rob’s unique tone and rich vocal-range. Although it seems their intentions ain’t exclusively focused on offering heavy, raw music, as refinement, class, melody are the elements they take into bigger consideration this time. Sometimes concentrating on making soft, quiet tunes, pushing away all the roughness and energy to slow down, working harder on harmonies and more polite lines and lyrics. Let’s be honest, these guys have never been a ballad-band, with some exceptions it’s crude, fast, dynamic music what they always did the best – yet those were the 80’s and fashions were difficult to ignore. Scorpions’ “Still Loving You” came out that same year, the definitive heavy metal ballad most groups tried to copy, major record labels surely pushed them to offer something similar but “Love Bites” (on which they start experimenting with those alternative elements that would define the cheesy sound of Turbo) and “Night Comes Down” sound actually kinda forced and inconsistent. Other times, the excessive amount of catchy choruses and instrumental minimalism are affecting the solidity of the music, making it technically poor and repetitive. That overproduced atmosphere, the terrible texture of Holland’s drums, the increasing presence of futuristic synthesizers and silly sound effects ain’t doing no good to a record that, despite those massive handicaps, still provides memorable songs, truly brilliant riffs and occasionally astonishing moments (“Freewheel Burning”, enough said).The fragility of the previous album is gone, yet new handicaps are exposed.
This is one of the most competent of 80’s Priest, if not the most convincing – a decent, at times magnificent effort, an admirably well-performed and composed prelude work to the disastrous experiment on Turbo. That’s right, there are already here some pop-metal tracks we’d better ignore, but not that overproduced and commercially-focused yet. Certainly, stripped-down from that pompous production and the keyboards and sound effects, this could’ve been one of Judas Priest’s heaviest albums ever, though that wasn’t Halford & co.’s intention at all. Following, adapting deliberately or not to the new mainstream rock wave, sharing stage with glam acts and becoming super stars in America, it was obvious they would keep their sound commercial and melodic to prevail. It worked for them, unlike most of their disciplines of the NWOBHM that didn’t succeed.
To my mind this is Judas Priest's seventh best album. For most bands, that would make this garbage, but Priest were a strong band. For as much had decayed from their greatest years, this is still a good album. It suffers largely from annoying 80's cliches that renders almost half the album comletely uninteresting.
I'll start with the guitars, as they're possibly the best aspect of the album. The riffs to songs like Freewheel Burning and The Sentinel are really, really good. The leads are even better though. I can't put my finger on why, but this just seems their most synchronized display of soloing. Each and every solo is matched by another in perfect succession, and for the last time their leads are roughly equal. After this, Tipton began to really dominate the soloing, which I think is why people often associate Tipton as being the greater guitarist, which I don't disagree with so much as find the near-unanimity odd. I recall watching one of their live concerts on TV from this era, and Tipton definitely had more of an arrogance to him on stage than KK had. His ego pushing Downing out was my first thought. My second is that as Tipton absorbed the new techniques first, he decided to give himself more solos to show them off. I don't know which it is, but considering the way KK worded his departure, I tend to think the former may have at least been on his mind.
The next great aspect about this album are Halford's vocals. He gives one of the best performances of his career on The Sentinel, and he's pretty good elsewhere. Supposedly, it was around this time that Halford kicked his addictions, but I don't hear any real improvement. Honestly, I like his vocals on the previous album better, and I think he just sounds his normal, high, quality here as opposed to some new heights. Compared to Screaming, these vocals are more heavily slanted to his gritter hard-rock style. He definitely has some great screeches, but they're not as common as they were on Vengeance.
My metal and really music interest in general began with 70's bands, including Priest, and most of those bands worth hearing had a strong rhythm section and some good progressive songwriting. This era of Priest has neither of those, and so it leans far more heavily for me on its track by track impact. I've mentioned the two classics, and one could toss the whole of the first five into the success pile. Eat Me Alive is a little different for two reasons. The first is that it's a good deal more aggressive than the rest of the album, so it seems almost out of place from the start. The second are the infamous lyrics; they're dreadful and pretty easy to make out. The two ballads afterwards don't do much for me, and the attempt at an anthemic stomper is boring. There's something about the cliches of the 80's that have aged far more poorly than that of the 70's. The latter is that of rock music stretching out into uncharted new territories, and the mistakes are still listenable to some degree. The 80's, goaded by god knows what, spurned these gains and went straight for the allure of singles, thus creating such pandering cretins as what squats at the end of this album.
One could argue that it's unfair to criticize an album on the basis of what was common in its time, but Priest predated this trend, and they could have chosen otherwise. They showed an entire generation of metal bands how to craft epics with Beyond the Realms of Death and Dreamer Deceiver still stands as one of the greatest metal ballads of all-time. They also knew what they were doing when they dumbed down the lyrics and kicked out Binks. Priest chose financial success over consistent quality, and this album's second half is part of what paid the price. Obviously this is still one of their better albums, but it's nowhere near a must for metal fans like a few others are. This is just recommended to fans of early metal and hard-rock, or at least the better songs are.
Look! Up in the sky! Is it a cat? Is it a tank? Is it a cat-tank? A battle-cat? A cattle-tank? In any case, we've gone from mecha-avian to mecha-feline with Doug Johnson's second cover for Judas Priest, but this predatory juggernaut mascot is strangely appropriate for what was one of the band's heaviest records of the 80s, one I might have dubbed Painkiller, Jr. if Ram It Down were not slightly more aggressive, enough to steal that retroactive title away. Certainly this is a more ballistic effort than its predecessor Screaming for Vengeance, and even though it lacks a true breakout hit at the level of "You've Got Another Thing Comin'", it's pound for pound competitive in terms of quality for much of its playtime, disintegrating only when you've gotten pretty far in the track list.
By 1983-84, the rest of the metal world was starting to catch up with Judas Priest. In England alone, you had Iron Maiden riding on the success of albums like Number of the Beast and Piece of Mind, while Def Leppard was exploding with Pyromania, and the lesser known Venom had by this point forced and soiled the boundaries of the traditional NWOBHM. Across the pond, American bands were reaching new extremes as the thrash and speed/thrash generation was just then emerging through Slayer and Metallica. By contrast, a group like Priest was, frankly, starting to feel old. Or rather, they would have, had they churned out another Point of Entry right in the middle of the mass evolution taking place. Fortunately, Halford and crew managed to stave off any notion of irrelevance with a pair of fine albums, first Screaming for Vengeance and then the Defenders of the Faith, the latter of which proved they had the muscle to go the distance, and that there was no known limit to which you could push Rob's lungs and the syncopated headbanging of the ax men.
The first seven tracks on this album completely destroy, with pure power metal pacers like "Jawbreaker" and "Eat Me Alive" highlighting just how rich and lethal Rob's vocal lines had become. The guitar tones fucking crush here, meaner and fatter than they had been on Screaming for Vengeance but just as resonant. Of special note on the album are the leads, which are in my opinion among the best of the band's career. In "The Sentinel", "Some Heads Are Gonna Roll" and "Jawbreaker", they really let themselves dash all over the fretboards, whammy bars and all, with the sort of excess you'd expect out of a guitar hero like E. Van Halen. The dual melodies pop along to the beats, the rhythm tone is impenetrable. Dave Holland had gelled into a pure cipher of thunder. The slight use of atmospheric synthesized effects here like the intro to "Love Bites" is tasteful rather than out of control (as is often the case with the following album Turbo). What's more, just about every riff on the album up to this point, while often reminiscent of others they'd written in the past, is perfectly placed into a verse/chorus structure and immediately memorable.
Then, about the time we arrive at "Night Comes Down", the storm starts to subside. Not because this is a slower, near power ballad, because it's still pretty atmospheric and has a nice build into the chorus with some heavy riffs, but just because those leading up to it had been so much damned fun. "Heavy Duty", with its Queen-like steady rock beat and generic riffing sequence fares far worse, and I could completely do without the afterthought/outro "Defenders of the Faith" in which they just repeat the album title ad infinitum. Had Judas Priest clipped these last 8 or so minutes and included one more bridge burner, I'd likely rank this above Screaming for Vengeance and possibly up there with Stained Class in quality, but alas I can't ignore how the album just goes limp.
Either way, Defenders is still a ripper of a record that begs a question: why, after such a pounding as this, would they suddenly decide to drift oft into the more mainstream/electrified overtures of Turbo before Ram It Down (considering they were supposed to be a double album at first)? Granted, I still enjoy that album to a degree, but couldn't they hear the spark of something so intense here? They'd already given us the hard rocker albums like British Steel and Point of Entry, so even in my youth I was hoping they'd take the material on Defenders and take even further. Heavier. After all I was starting to get into the faster and more aggressive metal around this time where I could sneak dubs of it off older kids whose parents wouldn't ground them for buying the tapes (I was like 10, forgive me). Ram It Down would have been a far more natural progression from this, though I admit the songs there aren't quite this amazing. Alas, it would take until 1990 to get exactly what I wanted of Judas Priest, but get it I would. At last.
The legend of Judas Priest’s 80s era is something that is rarely disputed amongst any self-respecting metal head, with the exceptions of “Point Of Entry” and “Turbo” which are both usually dismissed as mysterious stumbles amid a skyward path for the original bearers of the eagle’s emblem. But as with anything else, legends are based upon a reality and the reality is that Judas Priest’s material could be argued along the lines of their 70s contemporaries before the NWOBHM as rock music trailblazers who found themselves in the midst of a revolution and then decided to go along with it. When dealing with the so-called unquestionable slab of metallic perfection that is “Defenders Of The Faith”, there is a dissenting view that should be taken if one wants to throw any of the other 80s albums under the bus.
Whenever dealing with the non-speed metal elements of this album, I always find myself hearing a revamped version of “Screaming For Vengeance” that is a good bit catchier, but at the same also a bit more shallow. While I’m not one to knock a band for throwing out some tongue-in-cheek sexual lyrics to complement the science fiction and arena celebration material that normally goes with a Priest album, with a couple of exceptions this album is as much of a party album as “Point Of Entry” from the lyrical angle. This is further bolstered by a guitar tone that is a bit more rocking and smooth than the crunchy, fuzzy edge that dominated the previous album, and also by a safer riff set that doesn’t exploit the harmonic potential of their dual guitar set up the way classics like “Electric Eye” did and later came to push along the concept in the USPM realm.
By no means is anything found on this album bad nor lacking in energy, but there is a general sense of safeness within the rock box that is rarely abandoned for some really kickass metal. For all the blustering fury that this album begins to unleash with the undeniably astounding slab of speed that is “Freewheel Burning”, arguably one of the most intense songs the band put out before “Painkiller”, this album essentially blows its load too quickly (no pun intended) and a little more than halfway through just sort of falls asleep and goes into autopilot. This becomes apparent soon after “Eat Me Alive”, which functions as a decent up tempo afterthought after the album’s first break from annihilating the ears in the slower “Love Bites”. When “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” comes into the picture, the beginnings of what became “Turbo” come into focus with a slow, stripped down rock groove that sounds closer to a glam radio hit out of Dokken or Motley Crue.
The only point where I actually find myself outright considering skipping a song is the subdued ballad “Night Comes Down”, which sounds dangerously close to sappy power ballad territory of the 9th degree. Granted this approach to writing a radio hit was not as horridly widespread as it would become later, but the overly predictable formula wears thin even for the pioneering versions of this format. The closing duo “Heavy Duty” and “Defenders Of The Faith” are essentially one song, and a rather plodding one at that. It functions as sort of a regression into AC/DC territory at a time when most bands with an eye looking forward, and it lacks the grit and attitude to give it the charm that Motorhead regularly brings to this sort of song.
To be fair, the majority of what is on this album is really solid, with a couple of songs such as the aforementioned “Freewheel Burning” and the near equally intricate and animated “The Sentinel” being certified classics that all should hear and approve of. But while some may refer to this album as the leaner, meaner follow up to “Screaming”, I can’t help but see it as the smaller and slightly weaker of two twin brothers who were separated at birth and developed slightly different personalities. This one is a bit faster and can run a good sprint, but its predecessor has staying power and can run a marathon with the best of them. This is an album that any fan of old school heavy metal should have, but a lot of the excessive praise that it tends to get is solely focused on the handful of songs where things are at the top of their game, and ultimately to the detriment of a clearer picture on the mixed nature of the whole. They did better than this before, and would do better still later on.
From out of the ashes and looming shadow of "Screaming For Vengeance" comes "Defenders of the Faith", the evil twin brother of Judas Priest's most popular 80's accomplishment. Underrated and sometimes even totally overlooked, this sucker can more than hold its own against its fellow brethren. However, as with its counterpart, "Defenders" suffers from inconsistency, which makes this all the harder due to a number of songs being some the band's most AWESOME of the decade, if not ever.
The band takes their talented (well, mostly) musicianship from the previous album, and add a darker, more evil slant on things, all seen over again by a big Tom Allom production. Dave Holland still just trudges along with his boring, meandering drumming, but at least he has more of his fast, hard fills to show off now and again. Ian Hill has slightly more notable bass here, but sounds a bit too laid back in the final mix. Still he pounds it when possible, adding serious power to a few numbers. Glenn Tipton and KK Downing still whoop ass here with their solos and riffing, but come up with even better stuff here with the decision for added aggression. Of course, Rob Halford lets it loose here, sounding really mean on some tracks with near growls and his rough 'n' tumble mid-range vocals. The man throws in a number of classic screams as well, though not as operatic as those on "Screaming For Vengeance".
The album starts off like any good Priest album should: AWESOME. But this isn't just any song. Oh no, this is "Freewheel Burning!!!!" *Da-na-NAA-da-na-na-na-na* "Freewheel Burning!!!" *DA-NA-NA-NAA* Too fucking awesome, this one of Priest's finest openers. It has a sense of evil, aggression, lots of cool riffs, a vicious and memorable solo with slight but chilling tempo changes, and vicious Halford vocals, including his legendary spitfire shouting during the song's middle portion. A fucking killer start! A pretty killer followup is "Jawbreaker". While still dark and menacing, it lacks the speed and overall aggression of "Freewheel". Still, its stomping midpace and abundance of catchy riffage, as well as some neat melodic vox, make it one killer keeper. In third is the great, woefully underrated "Rock Hard, Ride Free". With a more hard-rock tinged sound, as the title suggests, this big and beautiful semi-ballad comes complete with a gorgeous, epic-sounding chorus and an aboslutley rockin' solo that runs over two minutes long with time changes and Downing-Tipton dueling a plenty. DO. NOT. SKIP! Up next is probably the main reason why I gave this album the high rating it has: THE FUCKING SENTINEL! Take the "big" feel of "Rock Hard" and give it the evil of "Freewheel", and here you have this masterpiece. Beware of Ian Hill's bass attack in the intro, Halford's wild shrieking, the nifty time changes, and that chorus, which at the end builds and builds until we get a glorious heavy metal explosion, ending in a slow fadeout. After that, "Defenders" sort of trips and falls on its face, but manages to get back up with relatively minor injuries. We get a triple shot of "Love Bites", "Eat Me Alive" and "Some Heads Are Gonna Roll". The 1st has more immense bass to it and a good atmosphere, but it lacks the glorious punch of the last 4 songs. The 2nd thumps along with some of that more "Freewheel"-sounding speed and aggression, but its repetitive nature and goofy lyrics (less subtle than those In "Jawbreaker" by far) hold it back from being really good. The 3rd stands out as the strongest; while still kinda repetitive, it comes with a thundering mid-pace mixed with more melodic riffage, giving it a sound that somehow makes it stand out. Unfortunately, the album falls to its face a second time, but now never recovers. "Night Comes Down" is an unholy boring ballad that stops the flow dead, followed by the lame and forgettable "Heavy Duty" which fades into the pointlessly short title track. What the fuck could have went wrong?
Overall, this album, like its predecessor, is a mixed bag, only at greater points across the scale. It starts out absolutely awesome, and then gets progressively weaker after the first four songs. I highly recommend the first four, while the next three are just okay, but beware the lousy finale. Buy at your own risk, I guess. It could've been a good EP.
"Oh master, master..."
"Yes...who is this again?"
"Your faithful servant, o god of metal! I live to serve thee!"
"Good. Suck my dick."
"DO IT! OBEY YOUR MASTER!"
"Y...yes, god of metal..."
Undoubtedly an exaggeration, but yes, there was a time when I literally worshiped Priest and Rob Halford as the metal gods (and god) and would have done anything they demanded. Including sucking off the metal god himself, although I'm not gay. Oops...did I just say that outloud? *nervous laughter*
Homosexual references aside, Priest truly are the metal gods, for so many reasons that it's hard to count. Defenders Of The Faith, while not the band's very finest hour, comes close to that peak that would be reached on Painkiller.
Why? First off, let's go over the worshiping side once more. As those who have been fortunate enough to read my other reviews, often of Iron Maiden albums, are most likely aware, I have often referred to this album as a masterpiece, a heavy metal album by which to judge other heavy metal albums, a standard which is rarely ever met. I have railed against those who dismiss it as commercial while fellating Maiden's cock without shame (no offence to Maiden fans, and I do love the band too, just not as much as I love Priest...usually). I have called it a masterwork of real heavy fucking metal.
Is this accurate? Yes and no. When I'm in fanboy mode, then yes, I do worship albums such as this and Painkiller. When I'm not, and I step back and look at it seriously, this album isn't perfect. So close, oh so close, but not quite.
For a start, like almost all metal from this same period with the exception of any and all thrash, doom, or early death/black metal acts, Defenders of the Faith is filled with gray areas that are somewhere between hard rock and heavy metal. The two terms are often interchangeable, and there's nothing wrong with good hard rock; Purple, Zeppelin, AC-DC, Kiss, etc, are all fantastic bands, whether metal or just plain ol' rock 'n' roll. However, Priest are usually regarded as "pure" heavy metal.
The problem is, just what is "pure heavy metal"? Does it even exist? And if it does, what is it? The NWOBHM? Thrash? Doom?
I would say the latter. Like it or not, heavy metal started out low and slow. The first metal band I ever heard was not Priest, nor Maiden, nor Metallica, but Candlemass, and they blew me away. Everything else, with the exception of thrash and death metal acts, seemed very light in comparison. There's something about downtuned guitars playing monstrous power chords in a slow, oppressive fashion that is just so motherfucking heavy. Priest never really sounded like this - they were fun, fast, upbeat, and yes, aggressive and heavy, but were they always 100% metal? Of course not, because they started in an era when heavy metal hadn't even been properly defined yet. That was the 70's, baby. Filled with experimentation of all kinds. Are Rainbow metal? Or just plain ol' hard rock? Who can say? That's the whole point...and it doesn't really matter.
The 80's were a different manner. By then, the use of the term heavy metal had become widespread, and the genre was increasing in popularity hugely. Ironically, this was mostly due to the glam metal acts from the same period, which had a lot more in common with hard rock than "pure" heavy metal. Nevertheless, some of these bands (Early Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, etc) were at one point or another definitely heavy enough to be called heavy metal.
And Priest? They'd been metal for years. Not the same kind as Sabbath, though; they were always a different beast. They showed that metal didn't have to just be slow and oppressive - it could also be fun, upbeat, aggressive and very exciting while also being really heavy. No downtuned guitars of course.
Since I seem to have gone off on a tangent here, let me bring this back to my original point (and yes, it does fit in): Defenders Of The Faith, like many glam metal acts of the time, is not 100% pure heavy metal. This is not a criticism by any means, I am simply pointing out something about genres (but yes, that does have something to do with the way I am rating the album, to a point) If the NWOBHM ever was pure heavy metal, then the only songs that really fit that mold were the aggressive ones, because let's face it, no matter how much distortion you give your guitar, if you aren't downtuning, and are simply playing standard rock riffs, then you aren't heavy metal. If you play fast and aggressive, on the other hand, that's a different matter entirely. When Priest go for the jugular on this album, then yes, that's definitely heavy metal, of the same kind that would lead to thrash - and by this point in history already had (1984, the same year Ride The Fucking Lightening was released, fucking hell). That's speed metal, one could argue, and yes, heavy metal that undoubtedly is.
On the other hand, when they slow down and play with more of a groove, it's no more pure heavy metal than AC-DC. Back in Black was pretty damn heavy, as you surely all know, but it was just heavy rock, not heavy metal. It's still heavier of course, as Priest did have a heavier guitar tone, but when they weren't playing chugging riffs, they could easily have been hard rock. Perhaps that's the whole point; Hard Rock and Heavy Metal aren't all that different, but at the same time they are - it all depends on the band.
The main point here, however, is that "pure" heavy metal, as a genre, doesn't really exist outside of the Sabbath mold, and that's doom metal. The idea of "pure" 80's metal is often a fallacy. Speed and thrash? Fuck yeah. Doom? Definitely. Black and death? Absolutely. NWOBHM? Questionable. Everything else generally comes under the glam label, which is rarely ever pure metal. Sure it all depends on how fast and aggressively you play, which is why Maiden are often considered to be more pure heavy metal than Priest. Perhaps they would have been - I have no idea, as their guitar tones were often unbearably shitty. That's one mistake Priest didn't make here: Defenders has an incredible tone, really thick, heavy, and all around powerful.
When this album slows down, though, it is generally weaker, and closer to straightforward 80's hard rock. There's nothing wrong with this, in and out of itself; I love 80's hard rock, and I love a lot of glam too. But it doesn't really fit with what Priest were trying to do with this record, which was, I believe, to get further away from the more commercial side of Screaming for Vengeance and more in line with the original speed metal they had helped to create back in the 70's. Freewheel Burning is a perfect example of the latter: with its pounding speed, aggressive feel, over the top vocal delivery, and very fast riffing, this is without a doubt heavy metal, of the speed/power variety that Priest pretty much invented. It's quite an odd choice for a single, being very heavy and not really typically commercial at all (aside from the polished production), and an even odder choice for a first single. (the second would make more sense, but not in a good or metal way. More on that later) Nevertheless it's brilliant, Halford giving as great a performance here as ever, the guitars crushing and heavy, some really interesting moments (Halford's near rapping during the bridge), and brilliant leadwork. The solo here is fantastic, very powerful, metal, and all around good. It's about as perfect an opener as one could ask for, and ends in a very classic heavy metal way, all the instruments pounding away before ending with a power chord.
Jawbreaker continues in this same style. It's slower, but definitely metal, with a chugging main riff and a somewhat desperate tone (quite amusingly, considering the song is apparently about fellatio with the giant beast on the cover) that sets it well apart from standard 80's arena rock. Of course, parts of the album are like that, and despite what I said earlier, they do add to its charm somewhat. Arena metal could easily be used to describe an album like this - it's got a big, expansive, and not at all suffocating sound - very wide and open, and epic.
Now we come to a more hard-rockish song, in "Rock Hard, Ride Free". The very title includes the word rock, so why not? This is a classic song in every way, perhaps less metal in terms of the riffs overall, but with enough chugging riffs and super-melodic solos to place it apart from standard 80's rock, like its predecessor (although Jawbreaker was more obviously metallic). It's a rock anthem, a metal anthem, and a biker anthem all in one. The middle section is the most interesting, and there are some fantastic solos to be heard here. Again, the song has an epic, expansive feel that places it squarely in the best part of the 80's.
Most Priest albums also include a true epic, some really memorable (and usually, very metal) song that really stands out. Defenders is no exception. The Sentinel is one of Priest's finest songs, with a brilliant, epic opening, epic riffs, epic vocals and...well, epic everything. Seriously, this is just one of those songs that you have to hear in order to understand. This is crushing, without a doubt real heavy metal (with its speed metal riffing and over the top vocals), possessed of some fiery power and edgy nature that is best exemplified by Rob's performance, which is nothing short of mesmerising. That it's cheesy and OTT is irrelevant; it just plain works. The best version of this song can be found on an 80's live video from Texas, where Rob really gives it his all. I urge you to find this video, for it is truly amazing.
About here is where the album temporarily trails off, first into something rather boring, less metal, and a little stale, then wildly into totally insane territory for a brutal speed metal crusher that unfortunately has some of the worst lyrics Priest ever wrote. The former is "Love Bites", Defenders Of The Faith's second single, and a rather obvious choice too - it's not very heavy due to it's slow, rockish verses, and very predictable chorus. The best part is, again, Halford's singing. He goes a long way towards making the song more unique. Sadly, that's all there is to "Love Bites", which, if not for its dark lyrics and cool vocal delivery would just be a generic 80's hard rock song.
The latter is "Eat Me Alive", which is not about being devoured by some monster, so much as about a deranged, super-macho homosexual forcing some hapless (male) victim to eat HIM alive at gunpoint, and keep on doing it until he has a huge orgasm made clear both by his own exclamations and the "explosion" of guitars and drums, which slowly fades out as he relaxes after...I'm sorry. I think I got carried away there.
In all seriousness, this song would be fantastic if not for the ridiculous lyrics. It's got everything: pounding drums, crushing speed, aggressive riffing, and a vicious tone that almost places it in the same ballpark as thrash. Unfortunately, it's about a subject so absurd that it couldn't possibly be menacing. Well, truthfully it probably could be. How would most straight guys feel about being forced by a huge, powerful gay man to either suck his cock or have their brains blown out? Probably rather scared. I know I would be...even if it was the metal god.
Even if you look at it like this however, you've then got the bit towards the end where said metal god has a huge orgasm, and the guitars and drums seem to be following it. Which is plainly laughable. Genuinely funny, yes, but was that the band's intention? Who can say...all I know is that this song does have a legacy, and that is being No. 3 on Tipper Gore's "Filthy Fifteen" list of "offensive" songs. From that point of view, it rocks.
Thankfully, the album now heads back into more familiar territory, with a pounding rocker. Some Heads Are Gonna Roll was the third single from the album, and it's not hard to see why - it's catchy, quite heavy but not too much so, and a far cry from speed metal. However, its chugging riffs and desperate vocal performance set it apart from standard hard rock. Like most of the rest of the songs on the album, and unlike Love Bites or (to a degree) Rock Hard Ride Free, this is a heavy metal song. It's also one of the album's stronger cuts, being a welcome return to the more serious after Love Bites and Eat Me Alive, and also just works better than those songs. It's very simple and straightforward, but that doesn't matter. Like The Sentinel, it just works.
Every Priest album must have a ballad, it seems. All their classic 70's albums included, so I can't fault them there. "Night Comes Down" is one of their greatest ballads. It's slow (duh), but also heavy, somewhat depressing, and very dark. It's certainly not a standard love song. The lyrics are about being alone after a relationship, yes, but there's also a reference to nightmares and the hints that the song is about genuine depression. Does it have a layer of 80's cheese to it, though? Yes. But how many emotional metal and/or rock songs of the 80's didn't? Metallica's ballads (and Megadeth's 'In My Darkest Hour') were the exceptions, not the rule. In this case, the cheesy side doesn't hurt the song at all, and Halford again gives a brilliant performance. He almost always gives everything his best, and he fails to disappoint on this very emotional song. It sounds almost as if he's really feeling what the lyrics are about.
Of course, this is a Priest album, and we can't end on a downer, now can we? The band clearly didn't think so, as the last song here is not the aforementioned Night Comes Down, but a pounding anthem known as Heavy Duty, which trails into what passes for this album's title track. The former is quite heavy, but rather silly, with lyrics that demonstrate Halford's true affection for his audience, if you know what I mean, wink wink nudge nudge. Seriously, I'm not remotely homophobic; it would bother me just as much if a female singer was constantly talking about fucking or being fucked by her predominantly male, or even female audience. It's simply that Halford does this too much. From Killing Machine onward, there hasn't been a single Priest album without at least one sex song. Heavy Duty is hardly the worst of these, it's just kinda grotesque; which, in and out of itself isn't really a bad thing. Rock isn't always meant to be pretty, and we've all seen what happens when it gets too pretty (certain glam metal artists). Still, a little more subtlety would have gone a long way towards making these songs easier to respect, along with their writer. Not that I don't have a huge amount of respect for Rob - on the contrary. (You've all read my tirade at the beginning of this review, and probably gotten excited, you dirty bastards) I simply think that he could have toned it down a little.
Nevertheless, Heavy Duty is a passable song. What follows is simply a massive chant of "Defenders of the Faith" repeated over and over, which continues for a while before slowly fading out. Again, not bad at all, and very anthemic, but this is how the album closes? It could have been a lot better.
When analysing Priest's material, it's very important to look at the differences and the relationship between rock 'n' roll and heavy metal. Defenders, for all its power, is not a total heavy metal maelstrom like its third successor Painkiller. Like many other albums of the era, it is content to rest somewhere between plain ol' rock 'n' roll and the most extreme excesses of heavy metal. It is not an album filled entirely with metal cliches; for every Freewheel Burning, Jawbreaker, or Sentinel, there is a Rock Hard Ride Free, a Love Bites, and a Night Comes Down. The former are almost extreme, overstated metal cliches (Jawbreaker, regardless of the fact that it is most likely a song about cocksucking, is still very much metal in its delivery, lyrics, and sound), while the latter are blatant rock and roll cliches. Rocking, sex (even with vampires), and lost love. Bon Jovi, Kiss, AC-DC, Aerosmith, and pretty much every other classic rock band out there has written songs like these. The difference is that Priest gives them more of a metal coating, in keeping with the spirit of the rest of the album. Nevertheless, it is for this reason that the lines between heavy metal and hard rock are often blurred. It would take Priest another six years, during which they would flirt with the cheesiest excesses of glam metal to a huge degree, attempt a return to their old sound with some extra speed and heaviness, and suffer through a horrible trial, before finally reinventing themselves into something so purely heavy metal that it abandoned all rock 'n' roll pretenses and gave in to the most absurd, ridiculous, and extreme metal cliches possible for a band.
For what it is, Defenders of the Faith is a fantastic album. Drawing a line somewhere between the speed metal they invented, hints of thrash (if only slightly), and good old fashioned heavy rock, they crafted a fine album, one to be savoured much like a vintage wine. But also, one to be played loud, without shame, and at parties. Yes, parties. It might not fit as easily with the majority of guests as Slippery When Wet, or even Appetite for Destruction, or hell, even Back in Black. It dares to rock harder than any of them, and in doing so possibly alienating those who fear rock 'n' roll's most extreme breed, Heavy Fucking Metal. But come now, would anyone who truly loves Priest or heavy metal ever even have friends like that? (I should know...I do, but they are more tolerant and like some metal, so I forgive them)
So basically, treat this as a party record, but one to really rock out to. In the (not entirely accurate) words of Manowar - Play it loud, be proud, and fuck anyone who doesn't like what you love. Its small flaws aside, Defenders is a great record that any metalhead should be proud to own. True Heavy Metal (for the most part) at its finest, by Britain's own metal gods, from the industrial wastes of Birmingham. Essential.
"Ah, that was very good, indeed. Well done, servant of metal."
*gasping for air* "Thankyou, o god of metal..."
(For the record, I never sucked off Rob, and anyone who says otherwise is a liar and a faggot. I mean a fool. Or a poser. Whatever...)
Chances are, if you like metal, you've at least heard Judas Priest. You've probably liked them too, at some point, but I'm not sure if everyone can vouch for that. Judas Priest was one of the first metal bands that I have heard. When they're on their game they can create great things, as seen songs like Electric Eye and Metal Gods which had me hooked after mere listens. Throughout their almost 40 years of existence (That's right. 40 next year!), they've had many ups and downs, extreme highs and extreme lows. Over the course of their highly successful career, the Priest has recorded three albums of which I shall affectionately call "The Big Three." These albums, of which include 1984's Defenders of the Faith, Stained Class, and Painkiller, are some of my favourite metal offerings, and include some of the genre's top songs.
Similarly to both Painkiller and Stained Class, Defenders of the Faith is driven by constant aggression and power. You know, the kind of supremacy that can only be matched by classic metal stalwarts Iron Maiden. Yet at the same time, the album still contains that laidback feel found on the ever popular Screaming for Vengeance or Angel of Retribution. Tracks which effectively balance this combination of song writing include the ever impressive Freewheel Burning and anthem Rock Hard, Ride Free. Both songs capture the raw emotion and strength of your standout Priest track, and satisfy both the hardcore metal head and the casual hard rock/metal fan. But on the album you also have songs like The Sentinel. Containing what is arguably Judas Priest's most memorable chorus of all time, the track runs on the pure power, speed, and well, everything that makes classic metal such a treat to listen to. The duelling guitars, aggressive riffs, and catchy vocal lines are among the album's finest. Definitely one of the tracks that Judas Priest will (or should) be remembered for. Judas Priest's 9th release features interplay from the Tipton/Downing duo countless times throughout its 40-or so minute runtime, and really, anyone who calls themselves a fan of metal should find something which they enjoy.
So where else does the band excel? I'd say Rob Halford's performance behind the mic is quite good. Superb, if you will. In fact, this would have to be one of the "Metal God's" best efforts of his career, and definitely his strongest since Stained Class. Just look to again, the likes of The Sentinel and Freewheel Burning, as well as the slower track Night Comes Down and Jawbreaker for tracks that back up this claim. Rob Halford mixes his trademark high pitched, falsetto with the gritty menacing style he'd been employing for years at that point. Aside from perhaps The Sentinel, Rob doesn't quite hit the same high notes as in Painkiller, The Ripper, or Stained Class, it remains very impressive, especially when compared to some of his contemporaries.
Looking to buy a Judas Priest album? Though most would undoubtedly point to the likes of British Steel, I would instead recommend this (or Screaming for Vengeance, I guess). For while Defenders of the Faith isn't the pinnacle of the Birmingham band's career, it is certainly one of their better albums and exemplifies the attitudes of traditional metal quite well. Fast yet precise; Gritty yet classy; Aggressive yet accessible; heavy yet melodic; the band's ninth release may not have been as commercially successful as the likes of British Steel, Hell Bent For Leather/Killing Machine, or Screaming for Vengeance, it certainly bests them in musical quality. Defenders of the Faith contains some classic Priest tracks, and those looking to delve deeper in the world of classic metal should not hesitate to check it out.
(Originally written for Sputnikmusic)
The large, vibrantly colored metallic beast on this album's cover should serve as warning enough of the contents within. For every fast, dark, magnificently written classic on this album, there's a generic, uninspired, too shitty for mainstream success rocker to ruin the energy. Defenders of the Faith could have been unbelievable, but instead ends up being far too inconsistent to be considered a great album.
Darker and heavier than the last few albums, when DotF does right, it really fucking does right. The listener is immediately overwhelmed by the heavy metal fury of the album's masterpiece, "Freewheel Burning," and the old Priest nostalgia kicks in. Halford is amazing, the guitars are fast and heavy, the leadwork is phenomenal and the lyrics are cool as hell. And the album keeps up the pace for the next few songs. "Jawbreaker" has crushing dark overtones and magnificent Halford vocal melodies. "Rock Hard Ride Free" has some of the best overall guitarwork since Stained Class. "The Sentinel" is another absolute Priest classic, with all the elements of their best works. The only thing holding these songs back is the drumming, which does little more than keep the tempo for much of the album.
Then we get to "Love Bites," and the album never recovers. The mediocre drumming becomes so unbearably predictable that every song starts to suffer because of it. The lyrics start at bad and go to worse (the lame two-song outro) and even Halford can't make them work for the songs. The Tipton/Downing lead guitar combo becomes the only thing to look forward to, and the solos should never be the only redeemable parts of a song. "Love Bites" is the worst of the worst here, with "Heavy Duty" and the title track being just as boring.
And yet, the album is still worth getting, if only for the first four tracks. The inconsistency kind of ruins it as a whole, but those four tracks are untouchable. Priest's greatest this is not by a long shot.
Looking back in time, 1984 was a great year for releases in the fledgling metal genre. There were a number of strong releases by veteran and newer bands alike such as Iron Maiden, Metallica, Mercyful Fate, Celtic Frost, Dio, Manowar and Queensryche. Judas Priest’s Defenders of the Faith is better than all of the above and ranks as one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time. The funny thing is this album is sometimes forgotten by metal fans as more attention is given to Priest albums ‘Screaming for Vengeance’ and ‘British Steel’. Where as ‘Screaming…’ contains too many filler songs and ‘British Steel’ too many dumbed down songs (Breaking the Law and Living After Midnight) Defenders of the Faith crushes all with the metallic fury within.
The first five songs of this landmark release are five of the greatest written and recorded metal songs of all time. The last four tracks plus outro are all very good songs, especially Night Comes Down and Eat Me Alive, and would rank as most bands best work. The possible exception would be Heavy Duty which is a somewhat bland song compared to all that preceded it. However the track listing of Freewheel Burning, Jawbreaker, Rock Hard Ride Free, The Sentinel and Love Bites overshadow these songs. I won’t spend time talking about Rob’s vocals and Glenn and K.K. playing ability. That is a known quantity. Production, performance, song writing and track ordering are all top notch on this album.
Freewheel Burning starts the album on a fast up tempo pace that never relents. When Rob Halford sings “Look before you leap…” in concert with the palm muted guitars in the middle section of the song, the single greatest metal event has been created. This is again repeated after a solo section with Rob’s screaming vocals. The unison solos of Glenn and K.K. are also another highlight of this perfect song. I am not aware of a metal album starting with a more fitting song. If anyone asks why I love metal, I play this song.
Jawbreaker is awesome in the intro riffing and darkness of the verses as sung by Rob. This is probably one of the darkest and desperate sounding Priest songs since the middle 70’s. The solos of Glenn and K.K. highlighted in these first two songs surely influenced the likes of In Flames and At The Gates. Rock Hard Ride Free lightens the mood a bit with a more rock approach. The song is still great and filled with cool riffs and a very catchy verse and chorus.
The Sentinel is another perfect epic metal track. The intro riffs are some of the most sinister and identifiable in the metal pantheon. What is more metal than the chorus of “Sworn to Avenge, condemned to Hell, Tempt not the blade, all fear the Sentinel”? Nothing is! The middle section is also pure genius. It gives me the feel of looking out over a battle strewn field as two contestants face off to the death. Up Next, Love Bites contains what should be the most recognizable and coolest guitar riff/vocal combo ever. Unlike say a song like Iron Man, the vocals following the guitar of “In the dead of night…” is brilliant and not just a poor attempt at mimicking the guitar. This simple but heavy song is again a classic and should be known by all.
This is easily Priest’s best work since Hellbent for Leather, and is easily one of the top 10 albums of all time.
Now, I'm doing the Priest albums in a very strange order, basically as the spirit moves me in fact. I've reviewed a few of their 80's/90's records previously, and I've made it clear that this period is far from my favourite era of the band. That would be the 70's, Sad Wings through Unleashed in the East. However, Priest released one album afterwards that I love nearly as much as those classic five records, and it ain't Painkiller. Simply put, Defenders of the Faith is virtually perfect from front to back, and it stands head and shoulders above the three preceding albums and the eight afterwards (counting live efforts).
Really, this is a Priest back where they belong, virtually stripped of the overt commercial aspects of British Steel, Screaming for Vengeance, Turbo, and God forbid, Point of Entry, brawny and filled with muscle, yet still writing in that rarified Judas Priest zone that nobody, not even Maiden, was allowed to operate in. It's almost baffling that Priest would follow the mechanized KISS-of-death hit "You Got Another Thing Coming" and the majority of Screaming (the more commercially palatable tracks) with an album darker, heavier, and possessing few songs that could even chart, let alone become massive hits on par with say, "Living After Midnight". It's even more baffling that they'd pick quite possibly the least commercial track (over more conservative choices like "Some Heads Are Gonna Roll" and "Love Bites") as the lead-off single, "Freewheel Burning" getting virtually zero airplay and probably shedding many of the casual fans Priest had acquired over the past sunny, perfectly yellow tour by submerging them in a blackened speed metal maelstrom.
This album is simply incredible. Priest continues to tool about on their speed metal machine, perhaps taking the manic sound of "Screaming for Vengeance" and locking it in through the tighter framework of an "Exciter" or an "Electric Eye", raw and scrappy guitar sent forth with a laser focus, locked and loaded. Halford, track one, screaming enough for a dozen dying NWOBHM's, both hyper-verbose and shrieking maniac within the chorus alone, sinister and steely leads along with pounding rhythm (albeit with some really poor fast drumming from talentless hack Dave Holland) making this race-car fantasy (with appropriate, if you think about it, race track engine-revving riff) into something forceful and somehow darker. It's not thrash really, perhaps less down that path than "Hell Bent for Leather" five or six years back, but comprising a lot of the feel and tonality of that genre. It's kind of appropriate that, with the genre almost totally established in the year this was released, Priest would let this aspect of their sound drift away for a number of years, before desperately trying (and honestly, usually failing) to get it back through parts of Ram it Down and most of Painkiller.
"Jawbreaker" is a bit more tame, a strange guitar sound that is tough to describe, somehow clacky and dry, Halford often left high and dry to carry the song with his thespian snarls (truly one of the better character singers of all time), with he succeeds in doing in spades. This song doesn't really have enough high vocals (Check out the live version from the Sin After Sin remaster), but other than that it carries the load as a catchy, riffy, slightly speedy track that grows on the listener as one becomes acclimated to the sometimes strange production tones found on this record.
The following track, "Rock Hard, Ride Free", illustrates a rather fundamental point that Priest lost after this record (alright, some of it still existed on Turbo), and that was a certain blue-blooded nobility they alone possessed. The beginning of this song is all class, the band proving that their own harmony-lead work was equal to the more prevalent Maiden flavour, and also that despite this classy style they were also more down and dirty participators, Maiden constantly aiming high, Priest relinquishing that torch (lets say around Stained Class) and just having some fun now and then. The song is amazing mid-tempo Priest, this sharp track getting the 'awesome people on bikes' motif in a way that "Desert Plains" failed to do, and with a catchy but woefully un-radio style that endeared them to their pundits without having 'sell-out!' screamed at them as the masses aimed for the Jugulator.
Now, "The Sentinel" just ambles up and borrows the aforementioned torch from Maiden, a thoroughly modern epic that nonetheless harkens back to a younger, smarter Priest with an oddly religious chorus that inspires one to scream along anyway, even if Rob is going at such a high register that it's hopeless for anyone to try to keep up. The middle of the song is lead duel magic in the vein of "Tyrant" or "Painkiller", truly hot licks being traded back and forth between masters of the form, leading into a synth-laden spoken section that rumbles and shakes and builds up to the inevitable, stupendous chorus.
It's true that the album fades a wee bit from here on out, as "Love Bites" widdles on a little too long and takes a long time to grow on one, but eventually I got into it, really digging Halford's inflections, appreciating the production tricks and nice echo effects, even nodding along with a smile at the strange and sparse melodic lead break/solo/thing. "Eat Me Alive" is passable musically, sorta less awesome speed metal, but stuck with some of the worst lyrics of the Priest catalogue, the kind that are so pathetically vicious (see: Jugulator) that Priest nearly loses ones respect.
Thankfully "Some Heads Are Gonna Roll" rocks simple and brilliant, like "Better By You, Better Than Me" and "The Green Manalishi", strange because I'm not sure if this is a cover because (like "(Take These) Chains") it's credied to someone I've never heard of and a song that I've never found under any other artist. In any case, the melodies are sublime, a sly smile and slight bow at the waist, a pumping headbang to truly Priestian perfection. I love the song, every sound seems crafted, none of the hollow production that somewhat marrs the rest of the album.
And hell, "Night Comes Down" is hardly a ballad to be honest. It rocks harder than any of the somewhat cheap power ballads that tend to be appended to most of these remasters, and also moves with a sorrowful doom like "Here Come the Tears" or even "The Rage". It's pretty comforting to think that, while other bands were selling their souls with overt power ballads, Priest didn't (their's were auctioned in other ways). They still wrote them, true, but they didn't release them. Instead, they didn't break the dark and heavy mood of this record and they give us another flash of the old sound that creeps out on occasion.
The end of the album comes off as a slight disappointment, a simple but crowd-pleasing riff where Rob gives us some more cheap lechery. It's a little odd when band's write songs that are directed towards their fans (the last chorus) that are also about, apparently, having sex with them (the rest). For Rob this isn't so much a problem, although I imagine he has better taste in partners than the average pimply-faced rocker who attends one of is concerts (although Holland might not), but Glenn, Ian, and K.K probably feel a little bit defensive, "Heavy Duty/Defenders of the Faith" is obviously written to be played live ("Take on the World", "United") and as such doesn't work nearly so well in the studio with no masses to sing along.
Although it has flaws, Defenders of the Faith is a darkhorse favourite of the catalogue, stomping all over more obvious, and more brightly coloured, champs like Screaming as the kingpin of latterday Priest. The cover sucks, the production is off, and Dave Holland sucks, but there is no denying these songs and the performances of the rest of the band. This is a cornerstone of the Priest catalogue, and a shining monument to the power of metal.
Stand-Outs: "The Sentinel", "Freewheel Burning", "Night Comes Down"
Priest returns once again, this time providing a follow-up to the roaring Screaming for Vengeance. Were they able to top it with Defenders? No, but that doesn't make the latter a bad album by any means. The first word that comes to mind is different, very different. I would say that Defenders has more of a melodic feel while still maintaining the raw heaviness that Screaming brought.
The production is tight, and Halford sounds better than ever, using his higher voice for much of the album. Guitar work is stellar as usual and the rhythm section stays in the background to hold the rest of the insanity together. The album opens with "Freewheel Burning". Oh man, this song has to be at least 30% of this entire rating. Just listen to the parts at 1:55 and 2:45. This has got to be the heaviest song they had written at the time (equal to or even surpassing Screaming for Vengeance).
What else is notable about this album? Love Bites is a tight, old school heavy metal song with a sort of sing-along beat that may not appeal to all, but the guitar work, although simple, holds the song together well, even leaving room for the bass to sneak in some haunting lines. The Sentinal really runs along the lines of an Iron Maiden song, honestly, if I didn't know any better I would say it was an outake from Number of the Beast. An absolute ripper of a song, more speed metal to be found here. Halford's voice is aggressive as hell during the verses. Just listen at 1:34...badass.
Eat me alive...some scary lyrics here, starts with a happier sounding riff, then into a very simple, 4/4 beat with said lyrics over it. Nothing terribly special, the riff behind the chorus is decent, but overused in the annals of metal. Some heads are gonna roll is another pretty good, fast paced song with a few memorable riffs and the such, but nothing special from Priest. Night comes down...horrid. The only real shitty song on the album, but I suppose it is mandatory to include the ballad.
Heavy duty is next, again, another basic heavy metal song. Nothing really special, but still very good. The final track, Defenders of the Faith....how catchy is this? I can imagine this being a great sing-along for the crowd (as is shown in the live bonus track). Even the guitar riff behind is pretty cool.
A definite keeper of an album, not Priest's best, but still an excellent metal album.