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Ranking Every Judas Priest Album from Worst to Best

The Metal Gods show no sign of slowing down 18 albums into a legendary career

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Judas Priest
Judas Priest, via Sony Legacy

    Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. This time, we follow legendary metal band Judas Priest’s career, from their 1974 debut, Rocka Rolla, to their triumphant 2018 LP, Firepower.

    In 1980, when Judas Priest released “Metal Gods,” the second song from their hit album British Steel, they appointed themselves the patron saints of music’s heaviest genre.

    On the one hand, Priest were impetuous in doing so. Initially formed out of Birmingham, England, by guitarist K.K. Downing and bassist Ian Hill, later expanding to include second guitarist Glenn Tipton and powerhouse vocalist Rob Halford, not to mention a rotating cast of drummers, Judas Priest did not invent heavy metal. That honor goes almost unanimously to Black Sabbath, who formed a year earlier and released their debut record four years before Priest did.

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    On the other hand, short of inventing metal itself, maybe no band has done so much to advance the genre as Priest did. By the time the punk movement of the late ‘70s threatened to capsize hard rock’s bombastic legacy, most of Priest’s peers were running out of ideas. But Tipton and Downing sharpened their guitar sound into something more aggressive and more streamlined at once, laying the groundwork for metal’s second wave. At the same time, Rob Halford’s adoption S&M fashion codified metal’s visual language — black leather jackets and studded belts remain the international metalhead uniform.

    Judas Priest’s legacy would be secure if that were all they’d done, but Halford and company refused to stop innovating Pop culture chameleons, they skillfully metamorphosed with the times through the ’80s.

    Priest knew when to change — their adoption of extreme metal drumming resulted in their outstanding 1990 record Painkiller. They also know when to stick to their guns: 2018’s Firepower, their 18th and most recent album, returned to the band’s classic sound and was hailed as a triumph by longtime fans. The resulting world tour, now in its second year, has seen Priest perform to sold-out arenas fifty years into their career. Metal Gods indeed, and now is the perfect time to reassess their long legacy as the standard-bearers of heavy, as we rank the band’s albums from worst to best. — Joseph Schafer


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