Written By Jason Voorhees
Black Sabbath is recognized as the forefathers of heavy metal music. While Sabbath may have invented the genre, Judas Priest is responsible for being its most significant pioneer and has most defined the style over the years. Judas Priest even once labeled themselves the Metal Gods, and rightfully so.
2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the band's existence, and they are still going strong despite some lineup changes along the way.
With that being said, their catalog remains one of the most extensive in metal, encompassing 18 studio albums. When reviewing most other band's top albums, the same ones usually appear at the top, give or take a few. However, there is widespread debate when it comes to Priest's catalog. Ranking this band's albums will undoubtedly be a challenge, but Philly Rock Radio is up to the task.
18. 'Demolition' (2001)
The 14th Studio Album by Priest was the second and also the last to feature Tim "Ripper" Owens on vocals. The follow up to 'Jugulator' was in fact not very good. Taking Rob Halford away from Judas Priest is like taking a bottle from a baby, its just not the same. This is in no way a shot at Tim Owens; who in deed did a very admirable job taking over the lead gig in Halford's stead. The album just lacked that Priest energy and upper echelon sound. Stylistically generic and over produced. Unfortunately this one missed the mark which leaves it at the very bottom of the barrel for Priest. Not a terrible album, just not the standard we have grown accustomed to with Judas Priest.
17. 'Jugulator' (1997)
Jugulator' was the first album not to feature Rob Halford on vocals. As expected, this did not sit well with the fans, and record sales suffered. The band adopted a more ferocious style in the realms of Pantera and Slayer. Judas Priest was trying to adapt to the times, and the new persona showed. Overall, much better than 'Demolition' and an album that gets better with time. It grows on you after you put away your preconceived stereotypes of what Judas Priest should sound like. While the album lacked melody, it was replaced with a more in your face approach, and the results were mixed. Nonetheless, it did have a few standout tracks, including "Blood Staind" and the epic finale "Cathedral Spires." All in all, this is a record that has gotten better over the years.
16. 'Rocka Rolla' (1974)
This record was ground zero for Priest. The debut album was edgy and raw. Although the album was not groundbreaking, it did provide a blueprint that would eventually help the band strike gold. A polished work of art, this was the record that would plant the seeds of future success. Tracks like "Never Satisfied" and "One for the Road" were hard rock in their infancy, and the sound was much more progressive. The album also provided a sneak peek into the dual guitar mastery that would later be the band's trademark. The songwriting was masterful as Priest was putting their stamp on the music world—a solid album overall but certainly not the same level as their heavyweights.
15. 'Ram it Down' (1988)
After they attempted going glam with 'Turbo,' Priest decided to return to their classic sound on this one. While the album still contained traces of electronics, it was more synthetic. With its long term producer Tom Allom jumping ship, the band seemed out of sync. Nonetheless, the record took on a much more solemn tone as they tried once again to embrace their roots. While the songwriting suffered, the album did produce a few bona fide hits with "Ram it Down" and the epic "Blood Red Skies." Unfortunately, there was more filler than sizzle as Priest was still trying to capture yesteryear's flavor. Let's call it all or nothing, as the band was always seeking elite status after this bumpy detour.
14. 'Sin After Sin' (1977)
This album would undoubtedly sit much higher if it didn't sit smack in the middle of two instant classics. The band's third album still shared that raw, edgy sound of classic Priest and represents the calm before the storm. A transitional record at heart, the band, had not quite hit puberty. However, tracks like "Starbreaker" and "Dissident Aggressor" hinted at that changeover to heavy metal glory. The highlight of the album was a cover of Joan Baez's "Diamonds and Rust," which showed the band's dynamic nature. Another record littered with filler but one that predicted the band's readiness to overtake metal's upper echelon.
13. 'Nostradamus' (2008)
Probably the most debated piece of work ever done by Priest. A conceptual album in its purest form, opinions were widespread and split across the board. While many experts rank the record much lower due to its marathon longevity, they seem to miss the elite songwriting and musicianship captured throughout. Concept albums tell a story, and Priest brings you on a joyride into one of the most controversial historical figures. If you listen to the album straight through, you can almost see the prophetic visions insight. Standout tracks include "Nostradamus," "Prophecy," and "Pestilence and Plague." A masterpiece of art and highly underrated among the Judas catalog.
12. 'Turbo' (1986)
Judas Priest meets glam metal in this synthesizer induced coma. 'Turbo' was met with much criticism by die-hard fans and music critics alike. However, even though this was a far cry from what Priest is known for, the album was good. The title track was as right as any of their big-name classics and is still played during concert tours to this day. While the style was much different, the songwriting was magnificent. Underrated tracks galore on this one, including "Parental Guidance" and "Private Property." Critics will say that the synthesizers dumb down the music when they indeed emphasize the stellar guitar mastery. An instant classic, even if it wasn't classic Priest.
11. 'Redeemer of Souls' (2014)
Judas Priest's soul was redeemed by this record, one that wasn't even supposed to happen. KK. Downing had retired, thus ending the career of the band. Enter Richie Faulkner. The young prodigy guitarist had played for the band during the Epitaph tour and had done such a great job. This is a record that spans the entire career of Priest as far as style goes. "Sword of Damocles" takes you back to seventies Priest while the title track and "Halls of Valhalla" scream Painkiller era. The band does not miss a beat with Faulkner on the ax, and the record sizzles. "Down in Flames" has an old school 80's feel much like the Defenders era. Yes, Priest was going full-on back to their roots. Long live metal.
10. 'Angel of Retribution' (2004)
This was deja vu as Rob Halford was back in the band. They say lightning rarely strikes twice, but that is precisely what Judas Priest did with this album. It was clear what the fans had been waiting for, and the results were marvelous. A solid metal album from beginning to end, Priest, was back with a vengeance on this masterpiece. From the opening track, "Judas is Rising," Halford's voice was ferocious and epic. "Deal with the Devil" and "Revolution" continued the lyrical onslaught moving right into the semi-ballad "Worth Fighting For." And the classic dual guitar energy was present throughout the entire album. This release proves that you can take the band away from Halford, but certainly cant take Halford away from the band. Welcome back, Metal God.
9. 'Point of Entry' (1981)
Quite possibly the most underrated album of their catalog. This one had huge shoes to fill as the follow up to 'British Steel,' and the band did not disappoint. Although you don't see the same love or zeal for this particular record, there is no denying that it's a damn good album. The opening track, "Heading out to the Highway," makes you want to hop in a convertible to speed down the sunset strip. If you're looking for hidden gems, you don't have to look further than "Desert Plains." And if it's party anthems that feed your fancy, check out "Solar Angels" and "Hot Rockin." The sound was much more commercial, but the attitude was still blazing. I love me some classic Priest baby.
8. 'Firepower' (2018)
Rated by many as the best heavy metal album of the past decade, 'Firepower' took the world by surprise. Maybe the biggest surprise is that Rob sounds like he has not aged a day. Fantastic album from top to bottom, it displays the full Judas Priest mantra on a platter. Blistering guitar solos embody the epicenter while Scott Travis' drumming keeps the sound on point. The title track sounds like a reboot from the Painkiller album, while "Lightning Strike" literally strikes fear into its audience. This is as close as you will come to Priest in their prime. Not to mention, coming in at number 5 on the billboard top 200, it was the band's highest-charting album of all-time.
7. 'Killing Machine' (1978)
Released as "Hellbent for Leather" in the United States, this album was the first to embody that classic incarnate sound. It was the gamechanger we had all been waiting for, and Judas sealed the deal with a kiss. One of Priest's calling cards is their songwriting, and this one defined the essence of the elite. The record is littered with stalwart anthems including 'Delivering the Goods," "Hellbent for Leather," "Killing Machine," and "The Green Manalishi." They also recorded another top-line ballad with "Before the Dawn." The maturity of the band indeed rang out throughout this record as their diversity shined brightly. The album is pretty much the straw that stirs the drink in Priest's rise to the top.
6. 'Screaming For Vengeance' (1982)
A kick-ass heavy metal masterpiece. The opening one-two punch of 'The Hellion/Electric Eye" may be the greatest in heavy metal history. The dual lead guitar work is quintessential Priest at its absolute best. And the rest of the album maintains the signature style and sound that we all love. This album is always mentioned when discussing classic metal records that genuinely defines this genre. Some critics rank the album as Priest's best. The only reason it's not higher for me is a few useless duds. No doubt one of their seminal albums and top rank worthy. Other standout tracks include "Devils Child," "Bloodstone," "Screaming For Vengeance," and "You've Got Another Thing Coming."
5. 'Sad Wings of Destiny' (1976)
The sophomore release for the metal gods may have very well cemented heavy metal at its core. Some historians consider this the very FIRST proper metal album. Wherever you stand on this argument, there is no doubting the album's importance to overall heavy metal lore. Lead vocalist Rob Halford showcased his screeching high pitched voice throughout the record and quickly became a fan favorite. "Victim of Changes" is an epic musical masterpiece that features multiple bridges, bends, twists, and many other metal mania facets. Simultaneously, "The Ripper" showcased the first example of KK/Tipton's golden dual ax action. This may have been infancy, but it was undoubtedly mastery—an instant classic.
4. 'British Steel' (1980)
Released as 'Hellbent for Leather' in the United States, this was the first in their catalog that embodied the classic incarnate sound. It was the gamechanger we had all been waiting for as Judas sealed the deal with a kiss. One of Priest's calling cards is their songwriting, and this song defined the essence of the elite. The record is littered with stalwart anthems, including "Delivering the Goods," "Hellbent for Leather," "Killing Machine," and "The Green Manalishi." They also recorded another front line ballad with "Before the Dawn." The maturity of the band indeed rings out on the album, and their diversity shines bright. The album is the straw that stirs the drink in The Priest's rise to the top.
3. 'Painkiller' (1990)
Judas Priest redefined traditional metal with one fell swoop when they released 'Painkiller.' Unfortunately, this would be the last record to feature Rob Halford for a very long time. This was the archetype metal album on display for the entire world to see, all guns blazing! The dictionary and thesaurus for all future metal bands to forge their craft. From beginning to end, this album flat out rips. The opening title track provides the narrative for the rest of the album—loud, heavy, intense, heart-pounding, and lightning-fast. A generous fistful of metal at your fingertips, and all you have to do is hit play. The album contains multiple hits, including "Painkiller," "Nightcrawler," and "A Touch of Evil," but it's the uncut gems that genuinely make this a standout among rulers. Now let 10,000 heavy metal maniacs scream!
2. 'Stained Class' (1978)
Speed metal was spoken into existence on this instant classic. "Exciter" was the prototype speed metal art de jour and spawned an absolute beast of an album. Finally, Judas Priest had arrived at the edge of their peak, and the result was a technically perfect blend of musical mastery. 'Stained Class' is the moment that The Priest announced they were kicking ass and taking names. Epic riffs, melodic symphonies, the Halford screech; this one has it all, folks. And dare I say, maybe the most superb heavy metal ballad was ever written..."Beyond the Realms of Death" takes the listener into another trance level. It's one of the most extraordinary pieces ever written by Priest and a flat-out mortal lock in the realms of heavy metal history.
1. 'Defenders of the Faith' (1984)
Eternal debate shines its light when ranking the favorite albums in The Priest catalog. However, there is no debating which album was made at the band's absolute peak, and that would be 'Defenders of the Faith.' The most polished effort they have ever recorded. The album once again is filled with masterful songwriting, and the musicianship is elite. The lyrical content is top-notch, and the composition is legendary. The entire album is enjoyable, mostly the first eight tracks, which rival most in their catalog—an innovating, inspiring performance by the whole band. "Freewheel Burning" brings the energy. "Jawbreaker" brings down the house. "Rock Hard Ride Free" has one of the most glorious intros you will ever hear. And "The Sentinel" may be their best song ever. The point is, I could write a novel about just how good this album is but will settle for a paragraph. The best of the best, hands down.
Judas Priest will always be near and dear to all of those that admire heavy metal.
It's no secret that they have produced one of the most excellent catalogs in metal history. Hopefully, you enjoyed our journey as we chronicled these albums and ranked the best. This has been an exciting new segment, and we hope to continue this trip down memory lane with the greatest metal bands of past and present. We certainly would love to hear feedback, and we challenge our fans to request their favorite bands.
Don't forget to check out Kevin Law and Johnny E every Thursday evening from 7 PM-9 PM as they countdown the most excellent metal from present to yesteryear! And as always, have a great week, and please stay safe in light of the recent coronavirus incident and mania. Please enjoy this Judas Priest classic as we leave you until next week...Rock Hard Ride Free!!!
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