Judas Priest Biography
Judas Priest are an English heavy metal band formed in Birmingham, England, in 1969. The band have sold close to 50 million albums to date. They are frequently ranked as one of the greatest metal bands of all time. Despite an innovative and pioneering body of work in the latter half of the 1970s, the band struggled with indifferent record production, repeated changes of drummer and lack of major commercial success or attention until 1980, when they adopted a more simplified sound on the album British Steel, which helped shoot them to rock superstar status. In 1989, they were named as defendants in an unsuccessful lawsuit alleging that subliminal messages on the song “Better By You, Better Than Me” had caused the suicide attempts of two young men.
The band’s membership has seen much turnover, including a revolving cast of drummers in the 1970s, and the temporary departure of singer Rob Halford in the early 1990s. The current line-up consists of Halford, guitarists Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner, bassist Ian Hill, and drummer Scott Travis. The band’s best-selling album is 1982’s Screaming for Vengeance with their most commercially successful line-up, featuring Halford, Tipton, Hill, guitarist K. K. Downing, and drummer Dave Holland. Tipton and Hill are the only two members of the band to appear on every album.
Their influence, while mainly Halford’s operatic vocal style and the twin guitar sound of Downing and Tipton, has been adopted by many bands. Their image of leather, spikes, and other taboo articles of clothing were widely influential during the glam metal era of the 1980s. The Guardian referred to British Steel as the record that defines heavy metal. Despite a decline in exposure during the mid 1990s, the band has once again seen a resurgence, including worldwide tours, being inaugural inductees into the VH1 Rock Honors in 2006, receiving a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 2010, and their songs featured in video games such as Guitar Hero and the Rock Band series.
Judas Priest’s style has always been rooted in heavy metal, and many of their albums reflect diverse aspects of the genre. For example, their first album, Rocka Rolla (1974), is primarily rooted in heavy blues rock. From Sad Wings of Destiny (1976) through Stained Class (1978), their style was somewhat progressive, with complex guitar passages and poetic lyrics. Songs would often shift in dynamics and tempo, and the music was some of the heaviest of its day. This would later have a major influence on progressive metal bands. 1977’s Sin After Sin introduced the combination of the double bass drum and rapid 16th bass rhythms combined with rapid 16th guitar rhythms that came to define the genre. While the double-bass rhythms of Judas Priest are generally measured and technical, the song “Dissident Aggressor” (1977) pushed an increase in “tempo and aggression” which was later adopted by other bands with a much harder-edged approach.
Starting with their fifth album, Killing Machine (1978), the band began to incorporate a more commercial, radio-friendly style to their music. British Steel has been referred to as the “record that, more than any other, codified what we mean by heavy metal”. The lyrics and music were simplified, and this style prevailed up to their seventh album, Point of Entry (1981). With their eighth album, Screaming for Vengeance (1982), the band incorporated a balance of these two styles. This continued on Defenders of the Faith (1984). With the follow-up album, Turbo (1986), the band incorporated guitar synthesizers into its signature heavy metal sound. On 1988’s Ram It Down the band retained some of the more commercial qualities of Turbo but also returned to some of the fast tempo heavy metal found on their earlier works. This fast-tempo style continued with 1990’s Painkiller. Jugulator (1997) tried to incorporate some of the 1990s contemporary groove metal styles. Demolition (2001) has a more traditional heavy metal sound with nu metal elements. Following the return of Halford for Angel of Retribution and Nostradamus, the band returned to the style of its early albums.
Judas Priest have influenced a great deal of metal music since the late-mid 70s. They were ranked by MTV as the second “Greatest Metal Band” of all time (after Black Sabbath), and VH1 named them the 78th greatest artist of all time in 2010. The band has sold over 45 million albums to date.
In addition to the sound, Judas Priest is also known for being revolutionary in heavy metal fashion. Rob Halford thus began incorporating a macho image of what today is known as hardcore metal/biker/S&M style into his look as early as 1978 (to coincide with the release of their album Killing Machine), and the rest of the band followed. It became a mainstay in heavy metal; soon, several other bands, particularly of the NWOBHM and early black metal movements, began incorporating Halford’s fashion into their look as well. This sparked a revival in metal in the early ’80s, and catapulted them to fame, in both the mainstream and underground. Even in the present, it is not uncommon to find metal artists sporting such a look at concerts.
Their popularity and status as one of the exemplary and influential heavy metal bands has earned them the nickname “Metal Gods” from their song of the same name.
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