Why Judas Priest’s ‘Defenders of the Faith’ Was an Underrated Triumph
Judas Priest's Defenders of the Faith was aptly titled, both then and now.
Released on Jan. 4, 1984, the album consolidated everything they had been working toward, rather than advancing what had come before. It wasn't as big a hit as 1982's Screaming for Vengeance, and it didn't outdo the mainstream splash of 1980's British Steel. It didn't boast a stand-out anthem like "Breaking the Law" or "You've Got Another Thing Coming," either.
Was a leveling off of ambition simply to be expected from a band which had issued seven albums in its first decade, and four since 1980? Singer Rob Halford continued to marvel over their productivity during this period.
"At that time, we were banging out a record a year, almost," Halford told UCR in 2014. "A record a year, and a tour? I don't know how we did it. But when things like that start happening for you in a band, you've got to grab it. It's like lightning in a bottle. You've just got to keep roaring through it."
And roar they did on Defenders of the Faith, which nevertheless stands as perhaps Judas Priest's most underrated album from their early-'80s commercial zenith. What it lacks in radio-ready firepower, it more than makes up for in song-to-song consistency.
They move with muscular ease between fleet rockers ("Freewheel Burning," "Jawbreaker") and darker mid-tempo numbers ("Some Heads Are Gonna Roll," "Night Comes Down," the anthem-sized title track), balancing their now-trademark metal complexity ("The Sentinel") with a still-smart accessibility ("Rock Hard Ride Free," "Heavy Duty"), even if the album found Judas Priest plateauing on the charts.
There were more obvious connections to earlier successes: Live versions of both "You've Got Another Thing Coming" and "Breaking the Law" backed the album's scorching first single "Freewheel Burning." Still, the song's poor commercial showing was soon forgotten amid a growing controversy.
The obviously humorous, S&M-themed "Eat Me Alive" somehow earned a No. 3 spot on the Parents Music Resource Center's infamous "Filthy Fifteen," a list of tracks that co-founder Tipper Gore and company found objectionable.
"Being British, we just thought it was a bit of a joke at first," Halford added. "Then we realized that it could get quite serious. The only good thing, if you can say that about it, was that none of us believe in censorship but I think it's fair that the intent was, like, you go to the movies and you want to know if it's R rated or PG or whatever. That was kind of a cool way of putting some focus on it. But, it was just ridiculous ... it was a little hiccup, a bump in the road."
"Eat Me Alive" was noticeably absent on the tour in support of Defenders of the Faith – probably a good idea, considering the climate. The track later appeared on set lists, however, as part of the tour in support of 2008's Nostradamus project.
By then, Judas Priest had weathered a number of changes, in the metal genre, in their music and in their lineup. After a period of late '80s experimentalism, they'd become the embodiment of this album's title – and, as late-career triumphs like 2014's Redeemers of Souls illustrated, they were just getting started.