Judas Priest

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Judas Priest is an immensely influential heavy metal band formed in 1969 in Birmingham, England by Ken "KK" Downing and Ian Hill. The band's classic line-up consists of vocalist Rob Halford, guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton, and bassistIan Hill. They epitomize the classic heavy metal genre, particularly the NWOBHM ("New Wave of British Heavy Metal") movement, and have influenced hundreds of musicians and bands. Their popularity and influence earned them the nickname "The Metal Gods".

Musical style and influences

One of the progenitors of heavy metal, Judas Priest are best known for their twin-lead-guitar sound and the complex guitar duets of K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton; and for Rob Halford's high-pitched screams, and lead vocals. However, the band's biggest musical innovation is the dual 'rhythm guitar', i.e. the accompaniment, or riff, which plays an essential role in all hard rock genres and especially in heavy metal.

Although Wishbone Ash and the Scorpions have had two guitarists each and to some extent did play harmonies and dual leads prior to Judas Priest, none had played dual rhythm consistently as an integral part of their music.
Dual rhythm consists of two guitarists playing the same exact melody (riff) simultaneously, often on the same exact octave, which is slightly different from traditional harmonies. There may be minor differences in sound, tone, tenacity, and an occasional deviation from the melody for a very short period (like a short improvisation, or insert - just a few notes). Since Judas Priest introduced this new style of rhythm guitar with their first release "Rocka Rolla", it has become a standard feature of heavy metal. Another important aspect of their style is inserting very melodic solos, or "lead breaks" - between fast riffs (e.g. "The Sentinel", "Electric Eye", "Night Crawler", "Hellrider").

Many people, including influential musicians and members of prominent hard rock and heavy metal bands, believe that the foundation for what would define "pure" heavy metal were three early Judas Priest albums; Sad Wings of Destiny (1976), Sin After Sin (1977), and Stained Class (1978).

The band played faster and harder than most rock groups at the time and brought a more "metallic" sound to their guitars. The songs varied from extremely simple and straightforward tunes (eg. - "The Ripper", "One For The Road", "Starbreaker") to fairly structured, changing from fast and loud to slower tempo and softer tunes in one song (e.g. "Victim Of Changes", "Run Of The Mill", "Beyond The Realms Of Death"). Some songs, such as 1979's "Exciter", were truly groundbreaking for their sheer ferocity and speed; others, like "Dissident Aggressor", "Sinner" and "Tyrant" were incredibly heavy for their day, and even today are considered classic metal landmarks.

Their 1978 album Killing Machine (retitled Hell Bent for Leather and released in 1979 in the USA) saw a slight change of direction towards shorter, more "poppy" or "Americanized" songs, especially lyrically. The following release, British Steel, took an even sharper turn in the same direction, and was perhaps the first heavy metal album to record radio-friendly songs with pop hooks, in a concise format, pioneering an approach used by many others (Quiet Riot, Dokken, Twisted Sister, Accept, Def Leppard) to later commercial success. All of them used dual lead guitar. However, Priest are perhaps the only one of these bands to retain a definite heavy metal sound, despite the commercial twist to it. Songs like "Living After Midnight" and "Breaking the Law" are excellent examples of this style.

Their next effort, Point of Entry (1981), is harder to define - the sound was very "raw" (minimal sound manipulation) and the songs were somewhat moody, and paced at a slower than usual tempo. As guitarist Glen Tipton later admitted, Point of Entry had the tough task of living up to the standards set by its predecessor, and failed to do so. Subsequent albums Screaming for Vengeance (1982)--which contained the popular radio hit "You've Got Another Thing Coming", and Defenders of the Faith (1984) once again set high standards in intensity and production, and continued to influence the sonic shape of heavy metal. Turbo (1986) found the group introducing a "synth-guitar" sound to their metal template. Painkiller (1990) dropped all the synth, over-production and commercial tendencies. A straightforward, extermely fast and heavy album, became an all-time heavy metal classic. Their latest release, Angel of Retribution (2005) also contributed to the current revival of classic heavy metal, after the fade of grunge, alternative, thrash, indie and other temporary trends. It contains songs in their classic style like "Judas Rising" and "Hellrider", as well as mid-tempo songs with clear and prominent drums and less prominent guitars ("Worth Fighting For", "Wheels Of Fire"), a ballad, and an over 12 minute epic - something they haven't done since their concerts in the early 70's.

Influence on the genre

Judas Priest have influenced countless musicians in three musical generations, both in sound, technique and image. Many bands including Iron Maiden, Metallica, Megadeth, Manowar, Mercyful Fate, Venom, Slayer, Dokken, Helloween, Stratovarius, Iced Earth, Poison, Napalm Death, Dream Theater and Pantera cite Judas Priest as an influence.


File:Judas Priest Sin After Sin Photo.jpg
Judas Priest, c. 1977. (l to r) Hill, Downing, Halford & Tipton

K.K. (Kenneth) Downing and Ian Hill knew each other almost since birth, as they lived nearby, attended the same nursery and school. Their friendship drew closer in their early teens as they shared similar musical interests (Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Yardbirds) and both started to learn playing an instrument.

In 1970 a fairly well known local ensemble named Judas Priest (after Bob Dylan's song "The Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest") broke up and the band's singer, Alan Atkins, approached Downing and Hill who accepted him as their singer and adopted his former band's name.

With Downing in control, the band moved swiftly from their original bluesy tunes towards what later would be defined as heavy metal. This trio, with various drummers, continued extensive touring of Birmingham and the surrounding areas, sometimes supporting Budgie, Thin Lizzy and Trapeze, until 1974. Financical difficulties and problems with their management, Tony Iommi's company, IMA, lead to Alan Atkins' and drummer Alan Moore's departures.

At the time, Ian Hill was dating a girl who suggested her brother, Robert Halford as singer. Halford was admitted in the band, and brought with him drummer John Hinch from his previous band Hiroshima. This line-up toured heavily in the UK, often supporting Budgie, and even headlining some shows in Norway and Germany.

Before the band entered the studio to record their first album, the record company suggested another musician should join them. Reluctant to add an organ or trumpet player, Downing settled on another guitarist - Flying Hat Band's Glenn Tipton. According to the band, there were some technical problems during recording, but the record company refused to address them, and their debut album "Rocka Rolla" suffered of "horrible" sound quality. Management problems also prevailed; according to the band, producer Rodger Bain, (who was an established professional, having produced numerous albums for famous groups such as Black Sabbath) had too big a say in the production of the album: he left out stage classics "Tyrant", "Genocide", "The Ripper" and "Caviar And Meths" - the latter being cut from an 8 minute song to a 2 minute instrumental.

With their next album the band had gained some more experience and confidence, fully participating in the production, as well as choosing the producers. The result was "Sad Wings Of Destiny" (1976), considered a cornerstone of heavy metal. This album featured mostly old material, including the aforementioned stage favorites and an epic "Victim Of Changes" - a song combining "Whiskey Woman", a stage classic since the era of the first Judas Priest (Al Atkins' band) and "Red Light Lady" brought by Halford from his previous group Hiroshima. All these songs are now considered to epitomize the very essence of heavy metal.

Three subsequent albums, "Sin After Sin" (1977), "Stained Class" and "Killing Machine" (aka "Hell Bent For Leather") (both 1978) further explored the possibilities of heavy metal genre, employing such talented drummers as session player extraordinaire Simon Phillips and Les (James Leslie) Binks. "Killing Machine" marked a new turn in the creative direction Judas Priest were taking: the songs were shorter and had commercial appeal, yet were performed with a lot of metal punch. This emphasis on simple, albeit relentless and powerful beats that needed to be performed live with equal power led to Les Binks, a jazzy type of drummer, leaving, and Dave Holland (ex-Trapeze) becoming their new drummer.

"British Steel" was a breakthrough album, with its revolutionary dark, heavy yet hook-laden approach. It showcased the newcomer's excellent timekeeping and power.

With this line-up, Judas Priest recorded twelve studio and two concert albums to different degrees of critical and financial success. Overall, the band has sold in excess of 35 million albums globally.

Hard times

After the end of their highly acclaimed and successful "Painkiller" tour in 1991, Halford left Judas Priest due to several years of internal tensions in the band. Rumors started to circulate as early as September of 1991, although Halford collaborated with the band in the release of a compilation album entitled "Metal Works: '73-'93" to commemorate their 20th anniversary. He also appeared in a video by the same title, documenting their history. His departure from the band was officially announced later that year.

Tim "The Ripper" Owens, who had previously sung in a Judas Priest tribute band British Steel, was hired as Judas Priest's singer. Owens' story of turning from fan to frontman was the inspiration for the film Rock Star, although Owens did not actually participate in the production of the movie. Because the film's content bore only a tangential resemblance to Owens's actual history with the band, Judas Priest later moved to disassociate themselves with the film; perhaps not entirely coincidentally, the film (starring Mark Wahlberg) was a critical and commercial flop.

This line up released two albums, "Jugulator" and " Demolition". Critics and fans alike accused Judas Priest of "selling out" - following the current trends of thrash metal and grunge. The band vehemently denied following any trends, claiming that they were simply sounding "up to date" and "keeping up with the joneses". However, very little material from these albums was played live, and in concert it sounded much more like their traditional rock style.


After almost twelve years apart, Judas Priest and original lead vocalist Rob Halford announced their reunion in July 2003. They immediately embarked on a live concert tour in 2004, and co-headlined the 2004 Ozzfest, being named as the "premier act" by almost all U.S. media coverage of the event. Both tours were extremely successful. A new studio album, Angel of Retribution, was released on 1 March, 2005 (U.S.) on Sony Music/Epic Records to critical and commercial success. A global tour in support of the album is currently underway. Judas Priest and 'Ripper' Owens parted amicably, and Owens is now the singer of Iced Earth.

Subliminal message trial

In 1990, the band was involved in a civil action that alleged they were responsible for the suicide attempts in 1985 of two Nevada boys, James Vance and Ray Belknap. (Belknap died instantly by shooting himself in the face with a sawed off shotgun; Vance also shot at himself, only severely disfiguring his face in the attempt, and died three years after the incident.) The plaintiffs alleged a subliminal message of "do it" had been included in the song "Better by You Better Than Me" (from the Stained Class album) which triggered the suicide attempt. The suit was eventually dismissed on its merits, as the band had pointed out that if you were to play any song backwards and tell someone there was a message, it'll sound as though there actually is. In a television interview, Judas Priest members commented that if they wanted to insert subliminal commands in their music, killing their fans would be counterproductive, and they would prefer to insert the command "Buy more of our records."


In 1998, Halford revealed his homosexuality in an interview on MTV. His sexuality was known to the rest of the band and came as little surprise to fans. The response from the heavy metal community has been widely accepting.

On August 15 2002 PETA sent the band's management a request to stop wearing leather onstage, as the production of leatherwear involves cruelty to animals. Judas Priest responded that they wear artificial leather, but PETA still protested that this could encourage listeners to wear real leather.



Current band members

Former band members


Collaborations with other musicians

  • Ken Downing and Ian Hill did not record or perform outside Judas Priest.
  • Glenn Tipton:
  • Rob Halford:
    • Recorded backing vocals on Krokus' "Russian Winter" from the 1983 album "Headhunter".
    • Appeared at a concert with Skid Row and performed Judas Priest's "Delivering The Goods" in 1991.
    • Recorded backing vocals on Ugly Kid Joe's "Goddamn' Devil" on their 1991 album "America's Least Wanted".
    • Took over as singer for Black Sabbath on November 14 and 15, 1992 after Ronnie James Dio left and reformed Dio. Also sang for Black Sabbath on August 26 2004, after Ozzy Osbourne fell ill due to bronchitis.
    • Formed the group "Fight" , released two albums, "War Of Words" (22 March 1993) and "Small Deadly Space" (22 March 1995). An EP was released based upon the War of Words disc, entitled "Mutations" (22 March 1994).
    • Formed the group "Two", released a single album with this project.
    • Formed "Halford" in 1999 and released two studio albums "Resurrection" and "Crucible", and a live album "Live Insurrection".
    • Performed with Sum 41 and Tommy Lee at MTV's 20th birthday party.
  • In 1989 Judas Priest experimented with famous pop producers Stock Aitken and Waterman, and recorded three tracks. Some fans were furious, as they believed Judas Priest wanted to release pop albums. The tracks were never released, and are believed to be in Judas Priest's possession.

See also

External links

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