Defenders of the Faith (Legacy/Sony)
by Martin Popoff
Yes indeed, it’s reissue heaven these days, Sony/Legacy working its corner well with ELO, Molly Hatchet, Kansas and Blue Öyster Cult packs as of late. But these four are for the metalheads, taking us back for a snapshot in time, Judas Priest in their careerist phase, dumbing down their rhythms and cranking up the hooks, trading in their NASA rocketry for a stock American muscle car.
Turbo sold more pancakes than Point of Entry (and both were seen as travesties), but the other three at hand bracket the band’s golden period, British Steel being perhaps the consensus classic, Screaming For Vengeance the guilty fan favorite, Defenders of the Faith, well, a coagulated forced metal record that fans revere quietly from a distance.
Personally, I’m more of a Sin After Sin, Stained Class, Killing Machine (let’s go for the intended title) fan myself, those three being the biggest rocket up the butt to metal since Deep Purple’s In Rock or perhaps Sabbath’s Master of Reality. But I recall the instant plug-me-in magic of British Steel, and the inevitable ascendance of the band (sorta like watching Metallica blow up on the Masters of Puppets tour).
The NWOBHM was gathering stormclouds and needed a fatherly piper, and Mssr. Halford vanquished Maiden and Ronnie’s regal Sabbath for the pole position (ouch). Now the record has returned remastered, sounding workmanlike, obvious, clear of purpose, adding two bonus tracks, a godawful national anthem abomination called “Red, White & Blue” (I can see how this was originally argued out of existence in under five minutes), and a live blast through “Grinder,” a bit of a British Steel sleeper, but man, there’s catchy right there!
Priest followed up British Steel in ’81 with Point of Entry‘s ten mewling melodic flower arrangements (but God love it). As bonus tracks this time, we get a rare live rendition of “Desert Plains,” much more uptight than the original, positively angry, really, plus the best non-LP studio track of the set of four with “Thunder Road,” a bush-league pop metaller but at least, hey, it’s a serious Priest song.
1982’s Screaming For Vengeance, of course, broke the bank by visiting deliberately three areas: songs reminiscent of British Steel, songs reminiscent of Point of Entry, and songs heavier than anything on either. Continuing the bonus theme, there’s one live track, another nice, obscure pick: a stumbly “Devil’s Child” (work on those back-ups, guys), and one studio tune, a wimpfest of a power ballad called “Prisoner of Your Eyes,” also recut on Halford’s Live Insurrection.
Closing this batch (there are twelve remastered reissues in all) is Defenders of the Faith, which was heavier still than Screaming…, even if the production was more synthetic and drummer Dave Holland seemed even less necessary as a paid member of the band. It’s a great well to visit for some of the band’s most metal-committed guitar battles, although, once more, the studio bonus track sounds like The Scorpions equivalent of a chick flick. The pick for a live track is again, a bit obscure, “Heavy Duty/Defenders Of The Faith” unwittingly giving latent rise to My Dying Bride six years later. So there you have it.
If you ain’t got ’em, here they are, remastered, a few extra photos, full lyrics, a measured bit o’ fun in the bonus tracks, a crumpet of a comment from the band (oh, the things you will learn!), a case study in meddling and middling to the metal masses. Boys, start yer engines…