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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)