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Some flaws in their allegedly perfect doctrine. - 82%

hells_unicorn, March 5th, 2012

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.