The certified metal gods, Judas Priest have had a long and storied five decade-plus career. Across 18 full length albums and well over 2000 live shows, the mighty Priest are perhaps second only to fellow Birmingham legends Black Sabbat as the most important pillar of metal.
Never a band to rest on their laurels, the Priest have always been open to change and musical growth – for better or worse. For every classic record in their arsenal, there’s an equally subpar release lurking elsewhere. But to their credit, they’ve never let the sins of the past weigh them down, and have always rebounded back strongly.
Much like our list on Megadeth, Judas Priest has such an enormous back catalog that a second deep cuts article could easily be created. From LPs essential being disowned (the Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens era), not on streaming services in certain regions (Rocka Rolla & Sad Wings of Destiny) and with a mountain of material never been played live, there is plenty of fodder for our list.
So with that all said, let’s begin our excavation of Judas Priest‘s 10 finest songs…
The sheer amount of material that Judas Priest wrote during the mid-80s is staggering. Not only was their enough for two full lengths (Turbo and Ram It Down), but there’s basically another album worth of material that was never officially released. Some of it isn’t great – mostly due to it’s overly polished glam-metal sound – but “All Fired Up” is classic foot to the floor Priest track. It’s certainly a pre-production take – the lifeless drum machine gives it away – but it’s energy and driving pace surely should have earned it a place of Ram It Down.
It was inevitable that the ‘Ripper‘ period was going to get visited on our list at least once. While this period of Judas Priest divides fans – and has been brushed under the carpet completely by the group – there is definitely some gold amongst these two albums. Jugulator’s epic closer is arguably the best thing they did with Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens. It’s heavy, moody, modern-sounding without being forced (at least for the late-90s) and packs a killer chorus. A really great song, and if the current ‘classic’ incarnation of the band was ever going to pull a tune from this forgotten period of Judas Priest to play live – this should be it.
Judas Priest began to introduce outside, then-contemporary influences with their first release with Ripper, Jugulator– by 2001’s Demolition they had jumped into the modern metal/hard rock sound with both feet. “Cyberface” has a strong industrial edge to it – combined with the stomping pace and simply, heavy riffs, you could throw in some baritone German vocals and basically have a Rammstein song. It works though, and it’s certainly a hell of a lot stronger than a basically everything else off of Demolition. It’s never been played live, and with the Ripper-era of Judas Priest long gone, I’d be willing to bet it never will.
Judas Priest‘s double CD Nostradamus was a bit of mixed affair. It was the most overly epic thing the band had released, with countless classical interludes and strings/choirs/synths on every track. It was a bloated album and wasn’t exactly lauded as their best work, but it does have some great numbers tucked away – especially the massive “Death”. It’s a crushing song; the slow pace adds to the heaviness and the bell hits give it an almost doom-metal vibe, before the pace quickens for the last minute and half. It’s a cool underrated number, and tellingly only one of the two tunes the band has played live from the maligned concept record.
Lifted from the 2005 Rob Halford comeback LP Angel of Retribution“Demonizer” is absolutely classic Judas Priest. Heavy riffs, Scott Travis‘ fast double kicks, great guitar solo and Halford‘s powerful soaring and screaming vocals – what more could you want from the Brummie legends? It’s got the perfect headbanging tempo, and would make a great track for the live arena – however it’s never had the chance. When you’ve got such a deep back cat, there’s always going to be material that will never see the lights of the stage – and “Demonizer” is one of them.
Since the two tracks lead perfectly into one another, we’ve decided to go with the two finale songs off Judas Priest‘s sophomore release Sad Wings of Destiny. “Epitaph” is a piano led ballad, not too far away from the early works of Queen, before it seamlessly transitions into the much more rocking “Island of Domination”. It’s uptempo, classic proto-metal stuff until the almost-doomy Black Sabbat-style bridge unexpededly drops the pace. For an album from back in 1976, it’s still sounds fresh and it’s no surprise many fans of the band consider Sad Wings of Destiny to be the ultimate Priest LP.
Bouncing back from the hair-metal obsessed Turbo, Judas Priest slowly began to right the ship on it’s follow up, 1988’s Ram It Down. The fist pumping “Hard As Iron” is classic adrenaline fuelled Priest – fast drums and guitars, it’s a very metal sounding song, and with a heavier chorus it probably wouldn’t sound out of place on the following album Painkiller. But regardless of that, “Hard As Iron” is a strong late 80s Judas Priestyet to this day hasn’t been performed by the band – a travesty since their abhorrent cover of “Johnny B. Goode” (also off of Ram It Down) has sullied their setlist 15 times.
Maybe the most well known song on this list, “Night Comes Down,” off of the excellent Defenders of the Faithis still a totally underrated Priest masterpiece in our opinion. The mid-space track definitely has a moody ballad feel to it, but still with that classic Judas Priest anthem vibe for the huge chorus. It was played a bunch of times on the original tour back in 1984, but it lay dormant for over three decades before being resurrected again on stage in 2018/19. Easily up there with “A Touch of Evil” and “Beyond The Realms of Death” as one of their best dark epics.
“Race With The Devil” is not a Priest original, rather a cover of a track by obscure UK band The Gun, Originally released 1968. It was recorded during the Stained Class sessions presumably in 1977/78 (however it was only reissued on the Sin After Sin CD in 2001). The song has been covered by a host of other artists from the same period – most notably Girlschool and Black Oak Arkansas – but Judas Priest‘s take is the best, natch. The band have never shied away from tackling a cover tune, and it’s surprising that the rollicking, uptempo “Race With The Devil” never made it to an album proper.
Taken from Sin After Sin, the awesome “Raw Deal” was only played on the band’s headlining tour in 1978 before being promptly forgotten about. It’s a grooving riff driven track, but still with that classic late 70s metal edge – double kicks in the chorus behind wailing and screaming vocals and guitars. Simon Phillips‘ Drumming is a big highlight – the intro’s half-time feel on the china cymbals sounds lightyears ahead of it’s time, as are the pro-gay rights lyrics. With Judas Priest Occasionally digging up some lesser known tracks to play live in recent years, “Raw Deal” deserves another chance on stage.
With over 50 years of history and 200 studio recordings to their name, we’ve undoubtedly missed more than a couple of under appreciated Judas Priest classics. So what were they? Sound off below!
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