Much maligned (most unfairly in my opinion), this one is still one of Priest‘s biggest selling albums. The change in sound from the more Trad Heavy Metal sound of the previous few albums happened as a reaction to the mid-80’s trend towards incorporating synth pop influences, as pioneered by ZZ Top. Despite that, the title track is one of my personal favourite songs and has remained in Priest‘s live set.
This was the album that started the evolution towards Priest becoming the quintessential Heavy Metal band. Producer Dennis MacKay streamlined Priest‘s songwriting, filtering out most of the Prog to create a tighter, meaner, more direct sound. Stained Class also spawned Beyond The Realms Of Death and Exciter, as well as the controversial Spooky Tooth cover, Better By You, Better Than Me.
Even though Rob Halford had left the band somewhat acrimoniously, Priest made a solid attempt to carry on where Painkiller left off. This was an angry band with a new singer in Tim “Ripper” Owens who could snarl as well as scream. This may count as sacrilegious, but Ripper‘s version of Green Manlishi (with the Two-Pronged Crown), which can be found as a bonus track on Demolition, has a creeping menace to it that not even The Metal God himself could match.
This one is a grossly underrated album, that is worth re-evaluating purely on the strength of the last two songs: Bullet Train and the truly epic Cathedral Spires.
Priest’s second album, the follow-up to 1974’s Rocka Rolla could probably be called the band’s first Heavy Metal album. The centrepiece is the monumental Victim Of Changes, which set the stamp of what Judas Priest would be for the next six years, before everything changed for British Steel. The Progginess was still strongly evident, but so were the riffs, solos and stratospheric vocals that became their trademark later on. As well as Victim… this one is probably best known for The Ripper and Tyrant.
Defenders… was the last of the three absolute classic albums Priest recorded in the 80’s, that pretty much set the standard the rest of their albums are judged by. In terms of style, it didn’t really veer much from the path laid down by it’s predecessor, Screaming For Vengeance, which is why it’s not higher up in this countdown.
That said, it’s got another one of my favourite Priest songs on it, in the shape of The Sentinel. It also contains Freewheel Burning, and Eat Me Alive, which is a masterclass in the art of lyrical innuendo and the double entendre, and earned them the ire of a certain Tipper Gore.
After the bitty let-down that was Nostrodamus, Judas Priest needed to get their act back together, especially with the retirement of original member and mainstay, KK Downing. To be absolutely honest, they played it safe. Thing is, this is Judas Priest, one of the greatest Heavy Metal bands ever to walk the Earth, so their version of “playing it safe” puts them head and shoulders above most other bands. This is a bloody good Judas Priest album, with very few weak links. That’s why it’s sitting at Number 5.
Remember though, that this album was never supposed to happen. The original plan was that Priest would do one more tour (named “Epitaph”, for obvious reasons), then would hang it up. Substitute guitarist, Richie Faulkner (who had also worked with the late, great Sir Christopher Lee on his second Charlemagne album) changed all that. Infused by new energy, they went back into the studio and recorded the album that righted the ship.
Arguably Priest‘s most important album, for them at least. After the acrimonious split in the early 90’s, this was the album that brought Rob Halford back into the fold.
It was like he’d never been away. The lessons Halford had learned from Fight and his own solo material were folded back into Judas Priest and they were all the better for it.
The term “classic album” is bandied around far too much. Judas Priest, though, got into a little bit of a habit of producing “classic” albums. This is one of them.
The album kicks off with The Hellion, which leads into another all-time favourite of mine, and a mainstay of the band’s live set: Electric Eye. This album also features Bloodstone, You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ and Devil’s Child.
Then there’s the title track, Screaming For Vengeance, itself. In the old days of vinyl and cassette, that one kicked off side 2, and… well. That’s why it’s in the Top 3.
If any album deserved the accolade of being called “all killer, no filler”, it’s this one. If not for the next album on the list, this would have been unassailable at the top. There is not one single even slightly below par moment on this entire album. Even the recording of the album has passed into legend in a way that only an album by a British band can… most notably due to the story behind the sound effects on Metal Gods.
It’s also got Grinder, Livin’ After Midnight, Rapid Fire and the song that is to Judas Priest as Paranoid is to Black Sabbath, Breaking The Law.
The only thing that stops British Steel being Priest‘s greatest album (the genius of the Breaking The Law video isn’t allowed into it) is that it doesn’t have a certain song as it’s title track…
It was never going to be anything else, really, was it? As soon as British Steel came in second, this one was obviously the top.
None other than Sy Keeler, singer with Onslaught, agrees with me that this album sums up what Heavy Metal is all about. It was Rob Halford‘s original swansong with the band, and by the gods he went out on top. As with British Steel, this album has no weak links. A quick scan down the tracklisting shows up Hell Patrol, Night Crawler, Between The Hammer and The Anvil and Touch Of Evil. There’s also All Guns Blazing and One Shot At Glory.
Generally, that would be enough to bring it nose-to-nose with British Steel, but then you bring the title track onto the field, and the war is over. Kicking off with new boy (at the time) Scott Travis, formerly of Racer-X absolutely hammering his drumkit into the floor, Painkiller doesn’t let up for a second.
That’s why it’s Judas Priest‘s best album (so far), and possibly the greatest Heavy Metal album ever recorded.