For more than 40 years, Judas Priest has embodied all that is exhilarating, innovative, ridiculous, and wonderful in heavy metal. From their beginnings as a blues-influenced hard rock ensemble in Birmingham, England, through a string of genre-defining albums, surviving both the '80s and what can only be known as the "Ripper" Owens-era, Judas Priest is back with their 15th studio album, Redeemer of Souls, and a full-scale tour that finds them in Phoenix on Saturday. Here's a look back at some of the band's most influential, groundbreaking, and just plain greatest albums.
Stained Class (1978)
This is Priest's undeniable high point; Stained Class is where the band fully blossomed into a hideous beast of previously unheard brutality. The savage dual guitar attack of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing is honed to perfection; Rob Halford's alleged suicide-provoking lyrics delivered with an intensity he never topped -- Stained Class is speed metal's year zero.
Sad Wings of Destiny (1976)
One of Judas Priest's most progressive-rock oriented efforts, Sad Wings proved to be just as influential as Stained Class, but to an audience geared towards technical virtuosity and long-form and complex songwriting. This album is also stunning in its widescreen scope of chilling lyrical nihilism that set a new standard for metal. Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" reaches its logical endpoint in "Genocide," and it would take almost a decade until the emergence of '80s acts like Slayer to match the utter bleakness of Sad Wings of Destiny.
Hellbent For Leather (1979)
In many ways, Hellbent For Leather was the flip side of Stained Class, trading bloodlust for mostly just plain lust. This album was an early American commercial breakthrough, though no signs of compromise were exhibited by Priest. The throttling title track is a stone cold classic, refining all the elements present in the group's earlier work into a more accessible, but no less edgy, sound. Like all the albums on this list, Hellbent For Leather was enormously influential on hard rock and metal, largely defining the black leather and motorcycles image that countless bands would later ape, while musically proving that aggression and hooks were not mutually exclusive.
Screaming For Vengeance (1982)
Another peak for Judas Priest both artistically and commercially, Screaming For Vengeance builds upon the breakthroughs of Hellbent For Leather and British Steel into a striking balance of tough melodicism and indelible guitar riffs. The inescapable hit single "You Got Another Thing Coming" was most certainly a highlight, but it was lesser known tracks like "Electric Eye" that render Vengeance one of Priest's greatest accomplishments.
Sin After Sin (1977)
This pivotal record was the bridge between Priest's early blues and prog sensibilities and the more extreme metal realized on Stained Class. But to call this a transitional piece in the band's catalog would be a gross error in judgement. "Call For the Priest" shows some of the first signposts of thrash ever recorded while a string of gothic set pieces uncover what the lads that later formed Iron Maiden were listening to after school.
Judas Priest is scheduled to play the Jobing.com Arena in Glendale on Wednesday, November 12.
Editor's Note: This post originally had an incorrect date for the Judas Priest show.
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