Metal Gods
April 13, 2021 12:18 PM   Subscribe

September 1990. Judas Priest, the world's biggest heavy metal band, had released some patchy albums since their peak years of 1976-84, with a turn to pop metal and a follow-up anchored by a drum machine. The previous month, they'd been embroiled in a trial claiming that subliminal messages on an old album had driven two youths to suicide. A week after the judge threw out that case, the band released one of their finest albums, and in its title track, arguably their finest song: Painkiller. Now, thirty years later, it's the subject of a delightful YouTube reaction video by vocal coach and opera singer Elizabeth Zharoff, who says, "This will be my very first time hearing Judas Priest and Rob Halford, so I'm quite excited." If you haven't heard either yet, why not make it yours?

Alternatively, you could watch reactions from Mr. Rock N Roll, Hip-Hop Head, Geordie Dean, Kurtis B. Music, Rightfully Kyle, The Adventures of TNT, Rome Life Reactions, JayVee TV, or dozens of others on YouTube. Or you could watch all of them, as an excuse to listen to "Painkiller" again and again and again.

Singer Rob Halford left the band after the Painkiller tour, but triumphantly returned to the fold with 2005's Angel of Retribution, and is still rocking out in his late sixties: 2018's Firepower was hailed as their best album since his initial departure.

The depth of Priest's catalogue is shown by the lack of consensus over their best album: Ultimate Classic Rock, Metal Nation and Classic Rock History pick 1980's British Steel, Consequence and That Hashtag Show pick Painkiller, Kerrang and Loudwire pick 1984's Defenders of the Faith, and Louder picks 1982's Screaming for Vengeance. Stained Class (1978), Killing Machine/Hell Bent for Leather (1978/9) and Sad Wings of Destiny (1976) round out the critics' favourites, but even their lesser albums boast some killer tracks.

As with any band that's been around for fifty years, there's so much more to Priest lore. They've recorded a double album about Nostradamus, two albums with the lead singer of a Priest tribute band, and three unreleased songs with UK pop producers Stock, Aitken and Waterman. Rob Halford formed three new bands after Painkiller and has recorded not one but two heavy metal Christmas albums. Guitarist Glenn Tipton recorded two albums with the late John Entwistle of The Who and the late drummer Cozy Powell. Guitarist K. K. Downing, who left the band in 2011, has formed his own Priest with two other former members, with an album promised this year. Drummer Scott Travis, who joined the band for Painkiller and also backed Halford's band Fight, also deserves special mention, as does new guitarist Richie Faulkner, who was the arranger on an album by the oldest heavy metal performer in history.

It's time to raise the pitchfork cross and hail the metal gods of Judas Priest. Come forth, all defenders of the faith!
posted by rory (54 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
This post was prompted by randomly selecting Angel of Retribution on my iPhone last week and playing it to my young daughter, and realising that I had a fellow head-banger in the family. After diving into online writing about JP and discovering That Hashtag Show's Judas-Priest-a-thon from last year, sampling their old and new albums as I went, I reminded myself of that extraordinary opening track, which sounded as fresh as ever; from there, YouTube's algorithm revealed its standing as one of the best First Listen/Reaction video prompts of all.

After a lifetime of listening to other music, most of it not metal, it's been a blast to remind myself what Priest meant to me as a teenager in the early 1980s: listening to their 1978-1984 albums endlessly, thinking Defenders was the best metal abum ever, being disappointed by Turbo despite its great opener, liking Ram it Down more than most people seem to, and then being utterly floored by Painkiller as the new decade dawned. Those reaction videos brought me pure joy today, as thirty years of alternative rock, electronica, jazz, classical and pop rolled back to expose my beating metal heart.
posted by rory at 12:36 PM on April 13 [9 favorites]


Whoops, I forgot to give Scott Travis his link. That's his amazing drumming you hear opening and closing (and throughout) "Painkiller".
posted by rory at 12:41 PM on April 13 [3 favorites]


Searched the comments of the reaction video to see if anyone had suggested she do King Diamond next and was not disappointed.
posted by saladin at 12:43 PM on April 13 [3 favorites]


Were I less lazy, I'd have written (years ago) my essays on perfect (and near-perfect) rock albums, in roughly this descending order:
Hell Bent for Leather - Judas Priest
Powerage - AC/DC
Thunder and Lightning - Thin Lizzy
Keep Your Hands off My Power Supply - Slade

But, while I cannot agree that anything on Painkiller is anywhere near HBfL, I am really really grateful for this post, rory.

\m/
posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 12:43 PM on April 13 [3 favorites]


Rob Halford Cat Daddy \m/
posted by supermedusa at 12:46 PM on April 13 [5 favorites]


Thunder and Lightning - Thin Lizzy

Oh yes! Another album with a perfect opening track.
posted by rory at 12:46 PM on April 13


Delightful Painkiller video, you say? (slYouTube, small Malaysian woman shreds a cover)
posted by Mogur at 1:00 PM on April 13 [8 favorites]


I was happy to see a Screaming for Vengeance t-shirt in the new Gozilla/Kong movie. My mother, born in the late 50s, was always a huge Judas Priest fan, us kids were forced to endure endless Judas Priest cassette tapes whenever we drove to the grocery store, so much so that the song "Heavy Metal" became "Heavy Pencils" in our mind. Of course it rubbed off on us. Priest Live is a fantastic live album, and The Hellion / Electric Eye remains one of my favourite metal intros/songs of all time.
posted by furtive at 1:00 PM on April 13 [5 favorites]


Awesome post. And get out of my head -- I gave listen to Painkiller the other night for the first time in years!

Just gonna leave the Nardwuar interview -- where he gets Halford's reaction to a particular interviewee from Heavy Metal Parking Lot -- here: Nardwuar vs. Rob Halford (it's a very fun interview, IMO).
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:11 PM on April 13 [4 favorites]


I was lucky enough to see Judas Priest in concert over the holiday weekend at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore in 1986. I am not in the video, but I was there that weekend, got the t-shirt, and wore it to rags. :)
posted by which_chick at 1:23 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


If you had asked me this in the late 80s, I would have said Screaming for Vengeance or Defenders of the Faith were the best. But checking my PC, the Priest albums that are ripped are the ones leading up to British Steel. There's a hunger there. That said, "Hellion/Electric Eye" is the classic opener.
posted by Ber at 1:26 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


There may be some dispute about their best song, but their most epic song is unquestionably "Blood Red Skies", which is like the first two Terminator films in eight minutes.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:55 PM on April 13 [4 favorites]


Too many good songs to type. I saw them a couple years ago with Deep Purple. They were so damn good!
posted by Liquidwolf at 1:57 PM on April 13


For me it was Sad Wings of Destiny that created metal as we know it - before that, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Rush, for example, were "Heavy Metal"; anything "metal" that came afterward was defined by Sad Wings. Sad Wings also has a lot of great songs, including some very original arrangements (e.g. "The Ripper", so, for me: Sad Wings ftw.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 1:57 PM on April 13 [5 favorites]


Not_that_epiphanius beat me to it. Sad Wings of Destiny will always be my favorite, including the underrated song Dreamer.

Halford's singing is perhaps the key piece of evidence in the analogy of opera to heavy metal.
posted by wittgenstein at 2:21 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


The best way to listen to Sad Wings of Destiny is to arrange the tracks in the order the band wanted
posted by Ber at 2:29 PM on April 13 [2 favorites]


Halford is a god. Priest rules. \m/
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 2:29 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


Not a metal dude. But I have always found it interesting how gay Judas Priest's lyrics were, and how much no one seemed to notice. But, as metal, JP rocked out.

Sorry for the derail.
posted by Windopaene at 2:57 PM on April 13


I'm also sorry to derail this, but I eventually ended up on her video of Iron Maiden's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", which is delightful.
posted by wintermind at 3:18 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


Not a metal dude. But I have always found it interesting how gay Judas Priest's lyrics were...

It hasn't gone unnoticed.
posted by furtive at 3:20 PM on April 13 [4 favorites]


Windopaene - not a derail in my opinion! Queer influence in metal is undeniable, and Rob Halford's leather daddy aesthetic and gay-coded lyrics were a huge part of what made Judas Priest an important band. Lots of 80s hair bands were wearing makeup and feather boas and sporting perms, but metalhead queers like me were always Hell Bent For Leather!
posted by Cookiebastard at 3:21 PM on April 13 [5 favorites]


It was just that, despite the lyrics, back then it was never acknowledged. Which seems weird. Who knew Freddie Mercury and Elton John were gay back in the day? Not this boy growing up in Kansas City. Amazing how far we have come...

But JP lyrics were so gay, and know one mentioned that fact.
posted by Windopaene at 3:27 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


I still mentally sing Breaking the Law when I jaywalk.
posted by dobbs at 4:30 PM on April 13 [15 favorites]


My introduction to Judas Priest was during a late-night paste-up session for my high school newspaper: Ed goes, LISTEN TO THIS and plays Breaking the Law and...YEP
posted by Caxton1476 at 4:31 PM on April 13


Also, there's this one, a classic analysis of heavy metal singers - Vocal Styles: Classic Metal Singers, by Claudia Friedlander.
posted by Caxton1476 at 4:33 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


Best Priest Album is a hard one. I'll pick British Steel just on the number of replays, but I could easily be talked into Screaming for Vengeance or Hell Bent for Leather. Or maybe Unleashed in the East.

If you like Painkiller (as you should) the kids from the O'Keeffe Music Foundation do a pretty sweet job with it. Or there's this version with Halford and BABYMETAL, with Breaking the Law thrown in as well.

Also, I love Rob's Instagram page. He is clearly having a lot of fun being a Metal God (with lots of cats) and not taking anything at all seriously.
posted by chbrooks at 5:00 PM on April 13 [5 favorites]


Speaking of reaction videos, I often cruise youtube for videos of people playing guitar so I can copy them. One day I found a video of Sakura Yoshida playing Painkiller. That video I've linked is just her playing alone in her bedroom, the one I saw has since been taken down, presumably by the TV production company who was running the talent quest she was performing in. In it, Sakura thrashes out Painkiller flawlessly in front of a dozen judges. The judges, for the whole 6 minutes, are unmoved. They are as still as statues, expressionless and unflinching as Sakura is just melting this guitar feet away from them. Not one head nods, not one knee bounces. Like those guards at Buckingham palace with the big hats. The Japanese must be immune to rock or something because my hands involuntarily throw devil horns while she plays.

I felt so bad for her, like watching a comedian die on stage. Hey Sakura!

\m/ YOU ROCK \m/
posted by adept256 at 5:34 PM on April 13 [3 favorites]


Oh yeah it's worth mentioning that the evangelicals and conservatives that complain about 'cancel culture' tried to ban metal to the point of taking it to fucking congress. Like they tried to ban Elvis, comic books, dungeons and dragons, video games, bikinis etc. Basically they hate anything fun and want to ban it and have for decades.

You come near their precious fucking racism and misogyny though, and they squeal 'cancel culture'! Buncha hypocrites.
posted by adept256 at 5:39 PM on April 13 [8 favorites]


Another reaction video
posted by thelonius at 6:28 PM on April 13


My wife and I have beeen watching Elizabeth’s videos for probably three hours now. Great post. Thank you!
posted by FallibleHuman at 7:01 PM on April 13 [2 favorites]


Not a metal dude. But I have always found it interesting how gay Judas Priest's lyrics were...

It hasn't gone unnoticed.
Perhaps unexpectedly, given that he describes his own vocal style as "screaming your tits off for two hours a night", he is a huge fan of Michael Bublé. "I've said before that by the time I'm 70, you'll find me in a little joint just off the Vegas Strip and I'll be going– he bursts into crooner-style singing – "'breakin' the law, breakin' the law'."
Rob will be 70 in just over four months.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:08 PM on April 13 [7 favorites]


I had not heard any Judas Priest for many years, and I'm not sure I'd ever really listened to them, but I was pretty sure I didn't like their music. After watching Zharoff's video, I think maybe I do?

I didn't realize Priest had vocals that were this melodic. I had the impression one of the things separating this genre from hair metal was vocalists mostly screaming for an aggressive sound and leaving the music to the guitars. (Or maybe I had Priest pegged in the wrong genre?)

Anyway, I'm much more of a King's X fan, but now I want to check Priest out some more. Thanks, rory!
posted by straight at 9:08 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


Delightful Painkiller video, you say? (slYouTube, small Malaysian woman shreds a cover)

What, no Glenn Tipton solo?
posted by atoxyl at 12:12 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


I didn't realize Priest had vocals that were this melodic. I had the impression one of the things separating this genre from hair metal was vocalists mostly screaming for an aggressive sound and leaving the music to the guitars. (Or maybe I had Priest pegged in the wrong genre?)

They are pretty solidly mainline “heavy metal” but that’s a genre that generally has melodic (and often virtuosic) vocals - see Dio, Iron Maiden et al.

Also this is an aggressive album by their standards. Certainly when it came out it was their most aggressive to date, anyway. They started out as heavy-by-70s-standards rock, got metal-ier, got pop-metal-ier into the 80s, quite cheesy by the end of the 80s and then this was their comeback with everything up to 11.
posted by atoxyl at 12:22 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Guitarist K. K. Downing, who left the band in 2011

They’re missing both original guitarists now, aren’t they? Sadly, Glenn Tipton has Parkinson’s.
posted by atoxyl at 12:29 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


Halford is a god.

Getting vocals like that recorded is one thing, and it is amazing, but imagine doing a tour singing like that. I suppose he must pace himself to some degree, easing off some as needed, but, still.
posted by thelonius at 12:43 AM on April 14


This Elisabeth person is a vocal coach/opera singer? With such an expressive face she hardly needs to make a peep.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:49 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


That Elizabeth Zharoff video is basically watching the birth of a metalhead. :)
posted by Hutch at 6:11 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


My proudest moment was years ago when some friends and I were goofing around playing Rock Band on the PlayStation and we picked "Painkiller." I NAILED the vocal track with a perfect score. I can't sing worth a damn at all but at that moment the spirit of The Metal God came upon me.
posted by KingEdRa at 6:15 AM on April 14 [3 favorites]


I'm much more of a King's X fan

Now, there's a name I've not heard in a long time... a long time.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:21 AM on April 14


'Point of Entry' is a criminally underrated album in Priest's 'commercial' era. It may not have breakaway hits, but all songs on it are consistently strong.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 6:36 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


But JP lyrics were so gay, and know one mentioned that fact.

Oh? You mean like...
Wrapped tight around me
Like a second flesh hot skin
Cling to my body
As the ecstasy begins

Your wild vibrations
Got me shooting from the hip
Crazed and insatiable let 'er rip

Eat me alive

Sounds like an animal
Panting to the beat
Groan in the pleasure zone
Gasping from the heat

Gut-wrenching frenzy
That deranges every joint
I'm gonna force you at gun point

To eat me alive

Eat Me Alive, Judas Priest
posted by furtive at 8:37 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


I suppose he must pace himself to some degree, easing off some as needed, but, still.

I don’t think he quite hits the high notes in this one now but he’s almost 70.
posted by atoxyl at 9:31 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


"My wife and I have beeen watching Elizabeth’s videos for probably three hours now. Great post. Thank you!"
posted by FallibleHuman

Haha I watched over an hour of her videos, too... starting googling songs to see if she had done them. Particularly enjoyed the Diva Dance one and Sounds of Silence by Disturbed.

My browser is currently open to her personalized training sessions... I love karaoke, and enjoy singing terribly in public at a karaoke bar, and would LOVE to improve my singing. But a 10 person singing class?? Terrifying.
posted by Grither at 9:46 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Halford has lost some of his incredible range, as has Robert Plant, Ian Gillan, Roger Daltrey, Ann Wilson... I did see Iron Maiden in 2017 and Dickinson did not back off from the upper register at all, including starting the night with piercing high note that would challenge a tenor twenty years younger. Talk about making a deal with the devil.
posted by Ber at 1:05 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


starting googling songs to see if she had done them

Probably easier to browse through her Reaction Videos playlist.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 2:10 PM on April 14


Sadly, Glenn Tipton has Parkinson’s.

In tribute to him, please also listen attentively to the guitar solo a couple minutes into this song. I don’t know how attuned non-metalheads are to the subtleties of shredding, but this is one of those iconic ones people learn if they want to show off that they are *really good*, like Marty Friedman’s on “Tornado of Souls.” And Tipton was 20 years into his career here - I mean, everybody in this band just got better over time and really committed to pulling out the most over-the-top performance (in a good way) possible for this song/album.
posted by atoxyl at 2:52 PM on April 14 [3 favorites]


In tribute to [Tipton], please also listen attentively to the guitar solo a couple minutes into this song.

TIL what "sweep picking" is, and how it looks deceptively simple but requires a level of coordination I simply will never have.
posted by stannate at 4:28 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


I’m just confused by the massive amount of reaction videos on YouTube. I mean, we all want to share what we love with new people but the bagillions of these videos has to say something about this weird quirk in human nature. Has anyone written about this?
posted by misterpatrick at 4:32 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


She is so charming and open minded, and it's interesting to hear her say that his voice is a sustainable tone that doesn't shred his vocal chords (which holds up, since he's pulled it off for decades).
posted by hilberseimer at 7:53 PM on April 14


This Elisabeth person is a vocal coach/opera singer? With such an expressive face she hardly needs to make a peep.

She's great, isn't she. I love what she can do with her eyebrows - it's like kabuki.

I’m just confused by the massive amount of reaction videos on YouTube. I mean, we all want to share what we love with new people but the bagillions of these videos has to say something about this weird quirk in human nature. Has anyone written about this?

Good point. I suspect it's a combination of the place of YouTube in young people's aspirations nowadays - every kid wants to be an influencer, the way so many in the 1970s wanted to start a band - and the fact that it's such easy content to create (if you do just a straight reaction, that is, without much critical insight - Zharoff's video is more informed and fascinating, which was why I highlighted it). Plus, because it counts as criticism, the inclusion of the original songs would be fair use in the US, and the constant stopping and starting of the music might be avoiding automated infringement-detection algorithms, so the videos aren't getting immediately pulled after DMCA takedown requests (I'm guessing).
posted by rory at 2:43 AM on April 15


Thanks everyone for fleshing out the thread with extra angles on the band and their music. I decided against highlighting Halford's late-90s coming out and Tipton's Parkinson's diagnosis in the main post, or other talking points like K.K.'s falling out with the band or the early history of JP pre- and circa-Rocka Rolla, because there was already so much to consider, but was hoping that others would come to the party with some of it. Judging from some of the links that have surfaced here, they're great interview subjects, especially Halford. I'm tempted to track down K.K. Downing's and Halford's recent autobiographies now.
posted by rory at 2:52 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]


Or there's this version with Halford and BABYMETAL

In the live versions I've seen from recent years, Halford seems to be going for a Davros effect in his vocals. Just needs a Dalek to trundle onstage (with, in the Babymetal performance, a Transformer alongside it).
posted by rory at 3:05 AM on April 15


Priest rules, and Rob Halford is especially fucking rad. He totally earned the Metal God moniker, and Judas Priest has played such a pivotal role in heavy metal's development that it can't be understated.

I liked Halford's work with Fight when I was a kid, and his solo albums were in a lot of ways what we wanted from Priest albums but weren't getting with Ripper Owens (sorry, dude). I got to see Halford open for Iron Maiden in 2000, and Judas Priest in 2004 when he got back together with them.

Random facts: Rob did voice work as General Lionwhyte in the game Brütal Legend, which was kinda uneven as a game but total hesher paradise. Punk rock weirdo Atom and His Package wrote a song about Halford coming out.

Painkiller is probably my overall favorite Priest record, but there aren't really any bad ones. Turbo ain't great, but it's bearable, and did lead to the excellent graphic design that is the cover of Priest... Live!. As was mentioned above, Point of Entry is really underrated, and one of my favorites. I gotta say that "Freewheel Burning" may beat out "Painkiller," and even "The Hellion/Electric Eye," as my favorite album opener, though.
posted by heteronym at 11:17 AM on April 15


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