Defenders of the Faith – 30th Anniversary Edition
By the early ‘80s, the mighty Judas Priest had hit a bit of a crossroads. After the success of British Steel — the band’s best album to this day—the pressure was on to take things the next level. Such would take place two albums later with the release of the breakthrough Screaming For Vengeance in 1982. A blazing set of polished, commercial metal gems, its production was bold as was its chart performance, with pop-oriented songs like “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” and “(Take These) Chains” leading the charge. And while the album did well to bolster Priest and heavy metal in general within the mainstream, its successor Defenders of the Faith was the far superior offering.
Standing as the last strong offering in the band’s commercial cauldron, Defenders may lack the obligatory hit single of its three predecessors, but instead features a consistent collection with little to no filler. While similar in feel to Screaming — both albums were produced by Tom Allom — Defenders of the Faith is heavier through and through, as exemplified in the hard-driving “Freewheel Burning.” A masterpiece in quasi–speed metal, the song has it all — driving double-bass drums, massive riffs and a larynx-shredding performance by Rob Halford. The scorching guitar-solo section from Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing is also a standout, infusing some neoclassical bits into the mix, which was all the rage at the time.
Things don’t let up from there. “Jawbreaker” cranks it up a notch with a charging riff and Halford’s staccato bits soaring over the top. The melodic “Rock Hard, Ride Free” cools things down with a solitary tale of freedom on the open road (kind of a cliché in heavy metal circles, but Priest does it better than most). The song’s dual leads and somber chorus give it a faint Thin Lizzy feel. The vampire-themed “Love Bites” is one of the album’s quirkier numbers. Loaded with thinly veiled double entendres, the song is colored by Halford’s phantasmagoric musings and pop hooks. “Eat Me Alive” has a similarly racy feel, and actually caused quite a stir with Tipper Gore’s PMRC back in the day for its lyrical content. “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” is a stoic, mid-tempo rocker about power and corruption that furthers its cause through eerie harmonies and an anthemic chorus. The pounding 2-fer combo of “Heavy Duty/Defenders of the Faith” ends things on a rousing note, giving the album a fitting close.
This plush 3-disc reissue features a crisp remastered version of the original album, plus a pair of bonus discs containing a full concert from 1984. Ultimately, the band’s fortunes would begin to decline after Defenders, which further reinforces its standout status in the Priest canon. (Jim Kaz)