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ICONS of the Faith - 95%

Xyrth, July 31st, 2015

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.