I'm going to review the 12 Judas Priest CDs from 1974-1990 except the two live CDs. I am a huge Priest fan. I first got into Judas Priest 20 years ago and have stayed loyal to them ever since. This may limit my objectivity since these reviews will really be comparing the different CDs to one another not to other bands. There is no bad Judas Priest CD, only less consistent ones. Judas Priest is a band that have repeatedly experimented stylistically. Some of these experiments were more successful than others. There are CDs that are much heavier than others. I will try and bring all these factors into my reviews as well as attempting to summarize the general consensus among hardcore Priest fans about each individual release.
Judas Priest are possibly the most important act in metal history and they are certainly metal's most unwavering exponents. They helped invent heavy metal music, helped refine and perfect it, helped popularize it and have remained "defenders of the faith" during metal's darkest hours, while other "metal" acts ran for the hills. They are a legendary band whose role in popular music can not be overstated. If a metal band was not heavily influenced by Judas Priest directly, then they were heavily influenced by another band that was. Their reach is inescapable.
Judas Priest are led by Rob Halford, one of metal's most recognizable icons and possibly the greatest vocalist the genre has ever known. Halford's unearthly delivery and range are as responsible as anything else for Judas Priest's signature sound.
Judas Priest were not the first band to employ the services of two lead guitarists but they were certainly the first to fully implement them. Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing are both phenomenal lead soloists but it's their riffs and songwriting that have made Judas Priest one of the greatest guitar bands of all time. Both are criminally underrated in the guitar world but Downing is even underrated among Priest fans.
Bassist Ian Hill rounds out the band. A founding member along with Downing, Hill is responsible for keeping the rhythm section humming along through Priest's many drummer changes. Hill is not a flashy player but is certainly competent and on the rare occasions the band's songwriting allows him to shine, he never disappoints.
"Sad Wings Of Destiny" is an all-time metal masterpiece. Savage blasts of sonic fury are punctuated and amplified by contrast to the softer, more harmonic sections of this CD. Some fans of Priest consider this their finest hour. I consider it a close second to another CD I will review later. On Priest's debut "Rocka Rolla", a listener gets the sense that they were trying different things to establish their musical identity. On this release, they found it. This album is easily and inarguably one of the greatest metal albums of all time and has been cited by many artists as a huge influence.
Track listing -
"Victim of Changes" - This is no knock on "Deceiver" because it is a great song. However, the first three tracks on this CD might be the greatest 3 song block of all time. They're that good. "VoC" is widely recognized by aficionados as one of Priest's greatest songs. A metal masterpice, it's many riffs and frequent tempo changes give it an epic feel that is solidified by Halford's otherworldly wailing... and gentle and plaintive mourning. This song personifies the entire album in that the softer, more delicate sections make the harder parts seem absolutely bonecrushing. This song uses this to good effect not once but twice. What must people have thought of this in 1976?
"Ripper" - One of Judas Priest's all-time great songs is also one of their darkest lyrical visions. Compact and surgically precise, this song tells the tale of Jack the Ripper and evokes the fear that residents of London must have felt in 1888. This song would start a trend in Judas Priest's guitar playing where a solo in the song is very economical and efficient while a riff is very scale-driven and fast-paced, making the riff harder to play than the solo. I'm referring to the bridge riff right after the solo. Great layering of Halford's vocals harmonizing with himself and creepy usage of tremolo sound effects highlight a true metal masterwork.
"Dreamer Deceiver" - This wolf in sheep's clothing starts with an ethereal-sounding Halford coupled with a beautiful acoustic
guitar. The vocals and the solo are among the finest of any Priest song. This song never really gets heavy at all and at the very end, as Halford shatters your speakers with his vocal register, the final guitar riff repeats it's last, and there seems to be a smattering of piano buried under this aural assault, "Dreamer Deceiver" strips itself of it's pretense of delicacy and becomes ...
"Deceiver" - Great galloping guitar riff opens and is quickly joined by another guitar riff sitting atop the first perfectly. Lyrically similar enough to it's immediate predecessor to be considered the same song, musically it's anything but. Although I do like the final few seconds of acoustic guitar that fades away. Short and sweet.
"Prelude/Tyrant" - "Prelude" is really too short to be considered anything but the opening for "Tyrant", therefore I consider these two songs to be one and the same. "Prelude is a beautiful, classical, instrumental piece. Tympani drums, piano, and a wah wah guitar line. Once again, we have a softer sound used to make the harder song that will follow it all the more vicious. "Prelude" ends in a clever way, sounding like a record player that has lost power, drifting into "Tyrant". If you equate speed with heaviness (I don't), you may consider this Priest's heaviest song up to this point. Chock full of great solos and riffs, this is a great guitar song.
"Genocide" - Similar to "Tyrant", this song is filled with a lot of riffs and guitar experimentation. Great rocking song is slightly hampered by lyrical disjointedness. This is still a good song but for me, it's a bit of a letdown after all the songs that precede it.
"Epitaph" - I can't believe the hammering this song is taking by other Amazon.com reviewers. It is breathtakingly beautiful
and by far, their lyrically most poignant song ever. I would plead that listeners to this CD treat this song like the old man in the song and "Spare a thought as you pass him by." Vocals and piano and more vocals as Halford continues to harmonize with himself, perhaps correctly realizing that noone else could really accompany him anyway. For the final time on this CD, a soft passage segues into a crunching metal riff andf the next song.
"Island of Domination" - This is probably the weak spot here. The first half of the song is nothing really special by Judas Priest standards. The middle part grinds down to a crawl and the riff becomes something you would expect a burlesque stripper to undress to.
In my earlier review of Judas Priest's debut "Rocka Rolla", I recommended "Screaming For Vengeance" as Priest's most accessible CD. I stand by that but if you're ready to take your metal studies to a higher level, you can't go wrong with this masterpiece. Amazon reviewers have given 8 Judas Priest CDs a rating of 4 1/2 stars but rest assured this is one of their very best as well as being one of the truly great metal CDs of all time.