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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.