I’m gonna head back in time this week and talk about one of heavy metal’s most excellent albums. The record just had its 38th anniversary a few days ago on January 4th. It still stands today as one of the band’s best works as well as one of heavy metal’s best efforts.
Judas Priest – Defenders Of The Faith
Released January 4, 1984 via Columbia Records
My Favorite Tracks – The Sentinel, Freewheel Burning, Love Bites
The album art lets everyone know that this is a mid 1980’s heavy metal release. The giant monster/machine referred to as the Metallian looks ready for business. The same could be said of the band, who entered their ninth studio album ready to keep on the track they’d set with Screaming For Vengeance a few years prior.
The album opens with an absolute metal masterpiece in Freewheel Burning. This song absolutely rips and sets a high bar for the rest of the proceedings. It’s become a staple of the Judas Priest live set, a bit of a task for a band now with 18 and counting studio albums.
The album continues to roll with cuts like Jawbreaker and Rock Hard Ride Free. While not matching the ferocity of Freewheel Burning, both fit in well as complementary pieces to this set. Both feature the dueling guitar attack of Glen Tipton and K.K. Downing along with suited-to-the-stage arrangements with simple, shoutable choruses (if Jawbreaker really even has a chorus).
Up next is The Sentinel. I have previously discussed the song in isolation, it was the second entry of my S-Tier Songs. This is my favorite Priest track, bar none. I’ve found that I’m not alone in that assessment, which surprises me a bit but there’s no denying the excellence of the song.
The album moves on into Love Bites, one of the album’s singles. While this track could be considered a bit goofy, its execution lifts it above being consigned to the silly song bin. It doesn’t get as flashy with guitar work as other songs on the record and it might be a preview of the direction Priest would move after this record.
The album moves on in a mini-exploration of silliness with Eat Me Alive. In fact this track might go beyond silly into disturbing territory, I’d imagine that certain specific acts referenced in the lyrics would be frowned upon today. In fact they were frowned upon then, as this song caught the attention of a group of US senators’ wives known as the Parent’s Music Resource Council. Eat Me Alive joined other naughty luminaries like Twisted Sister, WASP and Sheena Easton on the Filthy Fifteen. I won’t claim to have any issue with the song but yeah, that one line in it does stand out in a pretty dark way.
We move on to other matters with another of the album’s singles Some Heads Are Gonna Roll. The song was actually written by Bob Halligan, Jr., who has collaborated with Priest and others over the years. This tune slows things down just a hair but still retains the atmosphere found everywhere else on the record. While the single was not a hit in the conventional sense, it did bear influence over the years and has been one of Priest’s more recognizable songs. It’s been reported that George Lynch either “took inspiration” from or “ripped off” the song for Dokken’s 1984 track Into The Fire. (The specific interview Lynch gave about this hasn’t come up in my cursory searches.)
The final portion of Defenders… gets going with a slower number. Night Comes Down turns down the tempo but still offers a powerful ballad-like tune. It showcases Rob Halford’s considerable range as he is able to evoke power and emotion while a bit further down on the register than his famous screams. The song fits with the times very well and again shows that the band were considering waters a bit past the blistering heavy metal they had come into the decade with.
The album closes with a single song divided into two parts. Heavy Duty is a very brief stomper that closes out these metal proceedings well and is appended by Defenders Of The Faith, a brief title track that is honestly little more than an outro to Heavy Duty.
Heavy Duty would be very on the nose for Priest and for heavy metal as a whole. Just a few months after Defenders… saw release, the mocumentary This Is Spinal Tap would hit theaters and feature a tune by the same name. It’s almost eerie how similar the songs are in tone and attitude. Judas Priest were certainly one of many embodiments of the metal and rock culture that Spinal Tap were lampooning. Priest are also one of many bands to share Spinal Tap’s woes of a revolving door upon the drum set, though thankfully the drummer on this particular album has moved on.
A reissued version of Defenders… offers a bonus track called Turn On Your Light. The song is … certainly a song and is actually a leftover from the Turbo sessions so I don’t know what it’s really doing here. A more worthy bonus offers a live cut of Heavy Duty and Defenders.
Defenders Of The Faith is a triumphant album from Judas Priest that closes the door on their early ’80’s heavy metal prime. The band would go on to explore other sounds of the 1980’s on their next efforts, though still with success and their reputation now established. And while Defenders… sometimes flies under the radar compared to the celebrated records Screaming For Vengeance and British Steel, time has been kind to this 1984 effort and its retrospective has often been through rose-colored lenses.
And while Judas Priest have certainly embodied no small amount of the goofiness of heavy metal culture that saw parody around that time, both Priest and the parody lived on to be celebrated for what they were rather than dragged by the roasting. Defenders… certainly has its sillier moments, but they only help round out the work as a whole. And with the band still going strong despite major lineup changes almost 40 years later, it’s tough to dispute the impact Judas Priest have had on the heavy metal movement.