No one would’ve blamed Judas Priest if by 1984, the pioneering heavy metal band decided to take a long break from recording and enjoy the success of their breakthrough, best-selling 1982 classic Screaming for Vengeance. It was the British band’s eighth album, and their American fan base, in large part due to big exposure on a then-new medium called MTV, finally rewarded them with sales in the millions – double platinum there, five million copies sold worldwide.
But resting was not in Rob Halford and company’s plans. Not even for a second. Even with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal carrying the torch that Priest, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and other British metal innovators first lit in the early-to-mid-’70s, with thrash metal being in its early years – a movement JP heavily influenced – and hair “metal” bands springing up all over the place, JP wasn’t about to let anyone forget about them anytime soon.
Defenders of the Faith was JP’s ninth full-length and fourth one in five years. Released early in 1984, it was a big hit but was seen in some corners of the Priest fandom as a bit of a letdown compared to SFV. Over time, however, it became seen for what it is, another classic Priest album. Over 30 years later, Sony Music is reissuing it as a three-CD package, with the original 10-track set (remastered by longtime producer Tom Allom) on one disc, and two bonus discs of an epic 21-song concert from Long Beach Arena in California from May 5 of that year.
As for the main portion of Defenders, if you just play the first seven tracks and listen to nothing more, the album would still rank amongst their very best – but of course, short of the groundbreaking 1978 Stained Class record, which will always be #1 in most Priest fans’ minds. But just the opening number alone is legendary. “Freewheel Burning,” with its speed metal firepower, has become the concert staple that Halford rides his motorcycle on stage to at every JP concert (alternating with “Hell Bent for Leather”).
Other singles and fan favorites include “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll,” “The Sentinel,” and “Jawbreaker.” There’s also the controversially sexual “Eat Me Alive” and (super bass-heavy) “Love Bites,” as well as the melancholic semi-ballad of loneliness, “Night Comes Down.” It may not be everyone’s favorite, but after all the headbanging and fist-pumping of those first seven songs, “Night” fits as a well-placed come-down moment as the eighth track. The last two, “Heavy Duty” and the title track, are linked together and like “Rock Hard, Ride Free,” stadium-ready, fan-friendly numbers. Unlike “Rock Hard,” however, they are pretty much forgettable after one or two listens. And therein lies my only small issue with DOTF, a weak ending – wishing it had one final blistering, high-octane track to close it out.
As for the live show on the bonus discs, almost one-third of the setlist is DOTF-based (nine tracks), while the rest of the discs contain many of the classic speed and anthemic metal cuts you’d expect (“Breaking the Law,” “Victim of Changes,” “Living After Midnight,” “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming,” etc.). A JP show is even more intense live than on record – that is one big reason they are such an iconic and influential group. And at Long Beach, the raw power of Halford’s insanely versatile vocals, mixed with the fiery dual guitar attack of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, really brings to life then-newbies like “The Sentinel” and “Jawbreaker” just as much as they do to oldies like “Victim.” Like you’d expect anything less.
Defenders of the Faith was, in essence, a love letter to Judas Priest’s legions of fans around the world. Over 30 years later, it remains one of their best albums. You can experience the whole new three-CD version of it now, as it hit stores earlier this week. A digital-only version is available as well. Hit up judaspriest.com for more info, current tour dates, and other band-related updates.