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Music / Judas Priest

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Judas Priest's current lineup. From left to right: Scott Travis, Ian Hill, Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner

"There I was, completely wasting, out of work and down
All inside it's so frustrating as I drift from town to town
Feel as though nobody cares if I live or die
So I might as well begin to put some action in my life!"
"Breaking the Law"

Judas Priest is a Heavy Metal band that got its original lineup in Birmingham, England, in 1969. Taking their name from an ensemble also called Judas Priest which split up earlier that year, lead singer Al Atkins approached K.K. Downing, Ian Hill, and John Ellis to become their singer. Atkins and their subsequent drummer Alan Moore (not that one) left in 1974. Ian Hill's girlfriend suggested her brother, Rob Halford, could fill Atkins's departure.

Halford and his fellow Hiroshima member, drummer John Hinch, joined Downing and Hill, and Judas Priest as we know them was formed with their debut single "Rocka Rolla" in August. JP kicked out Hinch after the Rocka Rolla album and went through three more drummers until they picked up Scott Travis in 1989 (previously of Racer X).

In the 1980s, America's Moral Guardians accused JP of Subliminal Seduction in the 1985 suicide and suicide attempt (the latter eventually died of his attempt in 1988, three years later) of one teenager and one then newly ex-teenager. After Judas Priest was acquitted of this in 1990, Rob Halford responded by stating that the alleged message to "do it" didn't say what to do, and that subliminally provoking his audience to commit suicide would be counter-productive; the ideal subliminal message would have been "Buy more of our records."note  The case was predictably laughed out of court.

Halford left in 1992, and JP brought on Tim "Ripper" Owens in 1996 for Jugulator and Demolition. Halford returned in 2003; in the interim, he had publicly come out of the closet in 1998 after five years of rumors. The rest of the band had known the whole time.

Rob Halford also figures heavily in Brütal Legend. He voices two fairly major characters, one of whom closely resembles him, two other major characters share his surname, and there's a lot of Priest on the soundtrack.

Unfortunately, in 2010, they decided that it was time to retire and announced their farewell Epitaph World Tour. However, they have stated both in press conferences and online that they will release at least one more studio album afterwards. Also, they decided not to retire after all and will continue touring.

On the 20th of April 2011, the band announced K. K. Downing had left. The band went ahead with the tour and started working with new guitarist Ritchie Faulkner, who has previously worked with Lauren Harris, daughter of Steve Harris.

Priest released their 17th studio album, Redeemer Of Souls on July 8, 2014, to positive reception. On March 9, 2018, Priest released the album's follow-up Firepower which also received positive reception. In February 2018, Glenn Tipton was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, leading the band to hire Andy Sneap to take his place in live shows.

Current Members:

  • Ian Hill - bass, backing vocals (1970-present)
  • Glenn Tipton - guitars, keyboards, backing vocals (1974-present)
  • Scott Travis - drums (1989-present)
  • Rob Halford - lead vocals (1973-1992, 2003-present)
  • Richie Faulkner - guitars, backing vocals (2011-present)
  • Andy Sneap - guitars, backing vocals (2018-present; touring substitute)

Former Members:

  • Al Atkins - lead vocals (1969-1970; 1970-1973)
  • Les Binks - drums (1977-1979)
  • Chris Campbell - drums (1971-1973)
  • Ernie Chataway - guitars (1969-1970)
  • K.K. Downing - guitars (1969-2011)
  • John Ellis - drums (1970-1971)
  • John Hinch - drums (1973-1975)
  • Dave Holland - drums (1979-1989)
  • Alan Moore - drums (1971, 1975-1976)
  • Tim "Ripper" Owens - lead vocals (1996-2003)
  • John Partridge - drums (1969-1970)
  • John Perry - guitars (1969)
  • Brian "Bruno" Stapenhill - bass (1969-1970)
  • Fred Woolley - drums (1970)

Studio Discography:

  • 1974 - Rocka Rolla
  • 1976 - Sad Wings of Destiny
  • 1977 - Sin After Sin
  • 1978 - Stained Class
  • 1978 - Killing Machine
  • 1980 - British Steel
  • 1981 - Point of Entry
  • 1982 - Screaming for Vengeance
  • 1984 - Defenders of the Faith
  • 1986 - Turbo
  • 1988 - Ram It Down
  • 1990 - Painkiller
  • 1997 - Jugulator
  • 2001 - Demolition
  • 2005 - Angel of Retribution
  • 2008 - Nostradamus
  • 2014 - Redeemer of Souls
  • 2018 - Firepower

Live Discography:

  • 1979 - Unleashed in the East
  • 1987 - Priest... Live!
  • 1998 - '98 Live Meltdown
  • 2003 - Live in London
  • 2009 - A Touch of Evil: Live
  • 2010 - British Steel: 30th Anniversary Live
  • 2016 - Battle Cry

Breaking The Tropes:

  • And I Must Scream: "Brain Dead" is sung from the perspective of a man suffering from locked-in syndrome who wants badly to be taken off life support.
  • Appropriated Appellation: Priest were the first band to self-describe as Heavy Metal back in the late seventies, the term having previously only been used disparagingly by music journalists.
  • Audience Participation Song:
    • "Breaking the Law", "You've Got Another Thing Comin'", and "Turbo Lover" are songs in which Halford has the audience sing the chorus for him. Often, "Breaking the Law" is sung ENTIRELY by the public. Case in point, this video.
    • Several tracks, including "Take on the World", "United" and "Red White and Blue" were written with this purpose in mind. In the case of "Take on the World", the chorus even has overdubbed backing vocals to create the illusion that a crowd is singing along to it.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Rob's homosexuality even seeps into the lyrics of songs, but while they certainly have a lot of songs about sex, they don't generally specify gender.
  • Band of Relatives: A fairly unknown example. Bassist Ian Hill was formerly married to Rob Halford's sister Sue, and as such, Halford was both Hill's brother-in-law and is the uncle to Ian's son.
  • Bilingual Bonus: A couple of examples of this appear in Nostradamus. "Pestilence and Plague" has its chorus in Italian, and "Future of Mankind" features some ominous-sounding French chanting toward the end.
  • Boring, but Practical: Ian Hill's bass style can be considered this. Minimalist, to the point and not the least bit flashy, but important enough to have kept him consistently working for 50 years.
  • The Big Guy: Scott Travis, who stands at 6'4”. Notice how he's the only one not standing up in the page image? He's that much taller than the rest of the band that he wouldn't fit in the frame.
  • Call-Back:
    • "Sad wings that Heaven sent wipes out in rage!" (a reference to their second album, Sad Wings of Destiny)
    • "Forged in the black country, under blood-red skies... Took on all the world; it had no choice!" ("Monsters of Rock," "Blood Red Skies," and "Take on the World," respectively).
    • From "Parental Guidance": "One life, and I'm gonna live it up" - an obvious callback to "You've Got Another Thing Comin".
    • Angel of Retribution contains quite a few callbacks to past albums and songs. Namely:
      • "Demonizer" references both "The Hellion" from Screaming for Vengeance, as well as "Painkiller" from Painkiller.
      • "Hellrider" mentions the title track of Ram It Down, and "Tyrant" from Sad Wings of Destiny.
      • "Eulogy" references "Stained Class" and "The Sentinel" from the albums Stained Class and Defenders of the Faith, respectively.
      • "Worth Fighting For" acts as a companion piece to "Desert Plains" from Point of Entry.
      • "Deal With the Devil" mentions the song "Blood Red Skies" from Ram It Down, "Take on the World" from Killing Machine, as well as "Beyond the Realms of Death" from Stained Class.
      • "Angel" has the titular angel being said to have Sad Wings.
    • "Rock Forever" (from 1979's Killing Machine) has a middle section that almost sounds like a tribute to classic 1950's rock 'n' roll, particularly Danny & The Juniors' "At the Hop."
    • Their music video for "Headin' Out to the Highway" is obviously a tribute to the "drag race" scenes in classic 1950s "hot rod" flicks. (Rob, of course, plays the role of the girl who starts the race.)
  • Canon Discontinuity:
    • The band seem to try and sweep the Owens era under the rug, if their post-reunion setlists are any indication. That said, in his memoir, K.K. Downing is very complimentary of Owens' singing ability and quality as a bandmate. All but confirmed with a box set containing all of their albums (including their first two, which were never officially released on CD by the band) except for the ones with Owens.
    • Likewise with the period with Al Atkins (and other early members). Not many know that they recorded several demo tapes with him, including tracks that didn't make it to albums. These have never leaked and only tracklists are known. It should be noted, however, that in both cases the splits were without the usual theatrics and upset, and the revision of the band's catalogue was likely a marketing decision rather than grudge-bearing.
  • Careful with That Axe: Rob Halford does this a lot, to the point of divisive territory. Case in point: Dissident Aggressor.
  • Cool People Rebel Against Authority: "Parental Guidance," with a dash of Calling the Old Man Out thrown in for good measure, with the narrator pointing out that "you went through the same thing too."
    Don't you remember what it's like to lose control
    Put on my jacket before you get too old
    Let's rock and roll!
  • Cool Shades: Rob is almost always seen wearing aviator sunglasses and looks damn cool with them.
  • Cover Version: They have covered "Diamonds and Rust" by Joan Baez, "Race With the Devil" by Gun, "Better by You, Better Than Me" by Spooky Tooth, "The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)" by Fleetwood Mac and "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry.
  • Darker and Edgier: Painkiller, Jugulator and Demolition.
    • The version of "Tyrant" the band performs live is much faster, heavier, and more aggressive than on the album, updating the 1976 song to sound more like something from their heavier 1990s era.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: "The Sentinel."
  • Determinator: The narrator of "Blood Red Skies."
    As the end is drawing near
    Standing proud, I won't give in to fear
    As I die a legend will be born
    I will stand, I will fight
    You'll never take me alive
  • Distinct Double Album: Subverted. Turbo and Ram It Down were originally going to be a single double album - Twin Turbos, but the producer was against it and split the album in two.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: "Heavy Duty" starts out like this, then segues into Heavy Metal. Living After Midnight as well. To quote Rob "'My body's coming', what could possibly that be meaning? [sic]"
    • Yet another classic example can be found in "Eat Me Alive", which for one stanza sounds very specifically about sex between two men.
      Bound to deliver
      As you give and I collect
      Squealing impassioned
      As the rod of steel injects
  • Downer Ending: The music video for "Freewheel Burning" ends with a little boy dying after playing a particularly intense video game with a Judas Priest soundtrack. ("Heavy metal can be hazardous to your health.")
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • Their first album Rocka Rolla was standard 1970s blues rock with only faint nods to heavy metal, not to mention the band itself, wearing floral pattern shirts and bell-bottoms instead of the metal fashion they became famous for. Sad Wings of Destiny and Sin After Sin, while sporting a heavier sound than their debut, are still not quite as hard as the sound they would become known for.
    • Not weird enough? Try listening to demos with original singer Al Atkins. A good singer, but far more of a gravelly blues rock singer than a screamer like Rob Halford. By Atkins' own admission, the band would have probably gone in a more DC-type direction had he stuck around.
  • Epic Rocking: Over the 7-minute mark:
    • "Run of the Mill", (8:32) from Rocka Rolla.
    • "Victim of Changes", (7:44) and Dreamer Deceiver / Deceiver (8:40) from Sad Wings of Destiny.
    • "All the Way", (7:25) from Point of Entry.
    • "Prisoner of Your Eyes", (7:12) from the Screaming for Vengeance remaster.
    • "Blood Red Skies", (7:50) from Ram It Down.
    • "Cathedral Spires", (9:17) from Jugulator.
    • "Lochness", (13:29) from Angel of Retribution.
    • "Revelations", (7:05) "Death", (7:33) "Alone", (7:50), and "Future of Mankind" (8:29) from Nostradamus.
  • Free Handed Performer: Rob Halford can play several instruments and is apparently a very good rhythm guitarist, but won't play any onstage due to a fear of messing up.
  • Gender-Inclusive Writing: Their Intercourse with You songs use "me" and "you" as their preferred pronouns and don't make any references to gender-specific anatomy. The closest they've come to a mention of gender-specific anatomy is a reference to a "rod of steel" in "Eat Me Alive".
  • In the Style of: Their hard rock cover of Joan Baez' Diamonds and Rust. Averted live sometimes: They've played it in a more folky, acoustic fashion in concert before. Similarly, their version of "The Green Manalishi" transforms it so completely from a moody blues piece to metal that, much to the annoyance of Fleetwood Mac fans, many Priest fans wrongly assume it to be a Priest original.
  • The Lad-ette: The subject of "Rocka Rolla":
    Barroom fighter
    Ten pint a nighter
    Definite ninety-nine
    Diamond cluster
    Knuckle duster
    Feline on the borderline
  • Lighter and Softer:
    • Turbo, complete with synthesizers. Many fans did not appreciate the change.
    • The band did this after they moved from the gloomy themes and complex compositions of their earlier albums to straight-ahead proto-groove-metal and simple lyrics, mostly about "Us vs. Them". Note that fans aren't really upset, since this change did result in "You Got Another Thing Comin'" and others.
    • Nostradamus ended up being lighter than Angel of Retribution or Redeemer of Souls thanks to more vocally-driven songwriting and symphonic elements.
  • Longest Song Goes Last:
    • Painkiller closes with "One Shot At Glory" (6:49).
    • Jugulator closes with "Cathedral Spires" (9:17).
    • Angel of Retribution closes with "Lochness" (13:30).
    • Nostradamus closes with "Future of Mankind" (8:29).
    • Firepower closes with "Sea of Red" (5:51).
  • Long-Runner Line-up: Three:
    • From 1979-1989, the band's lineup consisted of Rob Halford, K.K. Downing, Glenn Tipton, Ian Hill, and Dave Holland.
    • After Holland was replaced by current drummer Scott Travis in 1989, Rob Halford left the band in 1992 when they went on hiatus, and then rejoined 11 years later to replace Tim "Ripper" Owens, amassing 10 years in total.
    • The band's lineup consisting of Halford, Tipton, Hill, Travis, and guitarist Richie Faulkner has been together since 2011. The only new member added was touring replacement Andy Sneap.
  • Lyrical Cold Open:
    • "All Guns Blazing" opens with Rob singing the first two lines a capella before the instruments kick in.
    • "Ram It Down" opens similarly, except instead of lyrics it's just "AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"
  • Made of Iron: During a 1991 Judas Priest concert, Rob Halford collided with a drum riser while riding his motorcycle onstage, falling off the bike and breaking his nose. After regaining consciousness he performed the remainder of the concert despite the fact that he would have been in excruciating pain at the time. He did not go to the hospital until after the band had completed its setlist.
  • Market-Based Title: Killing Machine was issued in The United States under the title Hell Bent for Leather — the U.S. branch of their label thought the original title sounded too violent, so a different song became the Title Track.
  • Motor Mouth: Not as extreme as later speed-metal bands, but still impressive. The best example is probably 1979's "Delivering the Goods": "Well, we don't pull no punches. We aim where the crunches are bound to do the most damage to your brain. If you're looking for it mellow, you're nothing more than yellow. Gonna do it again and again." That's 37 words spewed out in a mere 12 seconds, or over 3 words per second!
  • The Mourning After: "Close to You" is about a man having difficulty getting over the loss of his significant other:
    People tell me what to do
    Tell me how I should get through
    But they haven't got a clue
    No one else comes close to you
  • New Sound Album: Stained Class significantly cranked up the speed and aggression compared to their previous albums. Turbo was far closer to Glam Rock or Hair Metal than the several albums preceding it, with a lot of synthesizers and commercially friendly hooks. Ram It Down, the following album, was a return to straightforward metal and actually introduced a number of elements to the band's sound which would crystallize in Painkiller, which borders on being a Thrash album. Interestingly, Turbo and Ram It Down were supposedly written, if not recorded, simultaneously to be released as a double album.
  • Nobody Loves the Bassist: Despite the trope listed above, Ian Hill isn't very well known, inside or outside metal circles, mostly stemming from the fact that he appears content to stay in the background, and that he hasn't had any stand-out moments in their catalogue.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and James Dean in "Heroes' End."
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Or, ominous French chanting as the case may be, at the end of "Future of Mankind," the final track of Nostradamus.
  • Patriotic Fervor: "Red, White And Blue," a song they recorded but never released except on a remastered version of British Steel. (Ingeniously, although the song refers to Britain's Union Jack, it could also represent the flag of the United States of America, France, Cuba, or various other countries.) Slightly subverted in that the band's comments in the liner notes pointed out that it was slightly tongue-in-cheek.
  • Power Ballad: "Prisoner of Your Eyes" from Screaming for Vengeance, "Out in the Cold" from Turbo, "Living Bad Dreams" from Painkiller, "Lost Love" from Nostradamus, etc.
  • Power Metal: Painkiller, Redeemer of Souls and Firepower both at least border on this, if not actually qualifying, and along with Iron Maiden, Accept, and the various works of Ronnie James Dio, they were one of the single biggest influences on the whole genre.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!:
And so on, ad infinitum.
  • Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: Like many bands that were popular in the 1980s, Judas Priest had a reputation for drug and alcohol-fueled debauchery that went on backstage at their shows. Rob Halford called it quits in 1986 after an addiction-fueled suicide attempt, and has remained sober since then.
  • Sigil Spam: Judas Priest are among the few bands to actually have a sigil of sorts — i.e. a simple, recognisable logo that is not a stylized version of their name. The "Judas Priest cross" or "Devil's Tuning Fork" dates back to their second album, 1976's Sad Wings of Destiny, and has appeared on cover art, merchandise, outfits, and stage decorations ever since. The band attempted to redesign the sigil during the Tim 'Ripper' Owens era. It was changed to more resemble a stylized plus sign with asymmetrical prongs jutting out of the middle. Ultimately, it failed to catch on and was replaced with the original symbol when Rob Halford rejoined the band.
  • Surprisingly Gentle Song: "Before the Dawn" is a haunting acoustic ballad uncharacteristic of the Heavy Metal innovators that wrote it.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute:
    • Owens was thought to be using a backing track of Rob's voice by members of the band when they heard his demo tape.
    • Richie has been considered by some to be this for K.K Downing, including by Downing himself, mostly due to the fact that he's blond, plays Downing's parts and uses the exact same type of guitars (Flying V's).
  • Take That!: "Parental Guidance" was written as an insult to Tipper Gore and the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center) who had put the song "Eat Me Alive" on the list of offensive songs for being allegedly obscene.
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: Shows up in "Cheater". In fact, it's the only time one of their songs uses the word.
    I reached the dressing table and kicked away the door
    I gripped the cold black metal, a loaded .44
    By this time they're awake and they don't know what to do
    I screamed, you cheatin' BITCH, here's what I think of you!
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Referenced in "Beyond the Realms of Death":
    Withdrawn he'd sit there
    Stare blank into space
    No sign of life
    Would flicker on his face
  • Title-Only Chorus: Present in quite a few Priest songs, such as "Freewheel Burning", "Hell Bent for Leather", "Breaking the Law", "Eat Me Alive", "Bloodstone", etc.
  • Trope Codifier: The band is largely responsible for the modern style of heavy metal. Depending on your definition of "heavy metal", they may also count as the Trope Makers or even the Ur-Example. They, along with Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Motörhead, Saxon, Accept and a few others, are one of the most popular and influential bands to play the original style of metal.
  • War Is Hell: "Dying to Meet You / Hero, Hero" from Rocka Rolla:
    Take your medal
    Wear it now with pride
    Consolation for the pain
    And sin you feel inside
  • Whip of Dominance: "Love You to Death", from Ram It Down is a song about BDSM that kicks off with a whipcrack. The outro has Halford screaming in ecstasy as he's supposedly being whipped.