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A skullcrushing metal monster with gigantic balls - 94%

MetalSupremacy, December 29th, 2010

"Oh master, master..."

"Yes...who is this again?"

"Your faithful servant, o god of metal! I live to serve thee!"

"Good. Suck my dick."

"What?"

"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.

Epilogue:

"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...)