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Members include Les Binks (group member, 1978-79), drums; K. K. Downing, guitar; Rob Halford (group member, 1971-92, rejoined group, 2003), vocals; Ian Hill, bass; Dave Holland (group member, 1979-1989), drums; Alan Moore (group member, 1974-77), drums; Tim Owens (group member, 1996-2002), vocals; Simon Phillips (group member, 1977-78), drums; Glenn Tipton (joined group, 1974), guitar; Scott Travis (joined group, 1989), drums. Addresses: Record company--Chipster Public Relations, Chipster Entertainment Inc., 1976 E. High St., Ste. 203, Pottstown, PA 19464. Website--Judas Priest Official Website: http://www.judaspriest.com.
With a dozen albums and nearly three decades of live performance behind them, Judas Priest has proven to be one of heavy metal's most enduring and imitated bands. Their head-banging beat and frenzied guitar harmonies are a concert mainstay and their wardrobe of studded leather and chains has become the fashion uniform of metal heads the world over.
Guitarist K. K. Downing and bassist Ian Hill formed Judas Priest in Birmingham, England, in 1969. Hill recruited vocalist Rob Halford in 1971, eventually marrying Halford's sister. The band performed locally for several years, eventually adding guitarist Glenn Tipton and drummer Alan Moore, and in 1974 Judas Priest signed with Gull Records and released their first album, Rocka Rolla. Though sales were low for both it and the group's next album, Sad Wings of Destiny, the band had amassed a loyal following.
In 1977 they signed with Columbia and released Sin After Sin. The album, produced by ex-Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover, featured dual lead guitar riffs and differed from most heavy metal music of the time by being shorter, with more discernable melodies. Drummer Simon Phillips replaced Moore for Sin After Sin, but only remained with the band for that one album. Drummer Les Binks joined the band in 1978, but, like Phillips, remained for only one year. His replacement, Dave Holland, proved to be a longer-lasting addition to the band; he joined Judas Priest in 1979 and continued to play with the band for over a decade before Scott Travis took over.
Though album sales gradually increased, Judas Priest's music remained more popular in England than in the United States. Not until the group's seventh album, British Steel, did they make it to the top 40 in the United States. Screaming for Vengeance, in 1982, became the group's first gold album in the United States.
As their music received more American airplay, the band's live performances were becoming legendary among concertgoers. Roaring on stage astride a Harley Davidson, clad in studded leather and brandishing whips and chains, Halford was a commanding presence, strutting and screaming his way through songs that played off the band's thunderous wall of sound. Creem's Toby Goldstein described the group as "a rampaging quintet of metal marauders."
By the mid-1980s Judas Priest had achieved respectability among critics and peers and many of the new metal bands cited the group as one of their early influences. The members of Judas Priest were duly flattered but made it clear they had no intention of stepping aside to make room for newer blood. With the release of Defenders of the Faith in 1984 the band embarked on a gruelling promotional tour. Goldstein described the new album: "Crammed with enough fire and fury to satisfy even the most crazed metal head, the album typifies Judas Priest's concern with crisp, distinctive leads, thundering rhythms and even--never woulda thunk it--melody lines."
The band's success in heavy metal never tempted them to cross over to more mainstream rock in search of a top ten hit. Glenn Tipton told Creem that "You have to believe in what you're doing. If you stray from it for one second, it's a sign that you're not genuine. And we are genuine. We believe in heavy metal, we've played it for ten years, we've never strayed from it."
Lyrically, Judas Priest's music had long been a subject of controversy, with many objecting to the graphic violence and fascist overtones. Ironically, it was the music's undertones that sparked a series of bizarre accusations by religious groups and concerned parents. A Christian organization leveled a charge of Satan worship against the band, claiming that when Judas Priest records were played in reverse, menacing subliminal messages could be heard. As further evidence they cited the cover of the Defenders of the Faith album, which depicted a horned animal. Judas Priest denied all allegations.
Other groups, such as the Parents' Music Resource Center (PMRC), found enough to criticize without resorting to accusations of subliminal messages. Jennifer Norwood, the PMRC executive director, told Rolling Stone, "There is no scientific proof that you pick up the lyrics that way." However, the PMRC was vocal in its criticism of Judas Priest's violent and sexually explicit lyrics, particularly those in the song "Eat Me Alive." Halford defended the oft-quoted line from that song, "I'm gonna force you to eat me at gunpoint," by claiming that it was meant to be tongue in cheek. Noting that they had censored the "really obscene" lyrics themselves, Halford told Creem, "You should've seen the original lyrics!"
While controversy continued to follow the group, heavy metal in general and Judas Priest in particular enjoyed a surge in popularity during the 1980s, with heavy metal making up a substantial portion of MTV's rotation and metal songs rising into the Top 40 charts. The resurgence of heavy metal was largely a reaction to punk rock. J. D. Considine described the differences between the two genres in Rolling Stone: "Punk's world view lunged towards a gleeful nihilism of boredom and no future, but metal somehow clung to its underdog optimism. Sure, life sucked, the music seemed to say, but that's not the whole story. Above all, metal reminded its listeners that, good times or bad, the bands and the fans were all in it together." According to Halford, people found they preferred the metal world view: "Suddenly, everybody looked at this music and said: 'Yeah, this is exactly what I want. It talks about what I want out of life.'"
Judas Priest changed their image somewhat for their 1986 world tour. Gone were the studs and chains and S & M gear. Halford told Sylvie Simmons of Creem, "What we've done is take the strong parts of our image--the leather and the tough, aggressive look--and we've tried to make it a bit more stylish, if that's the right word." The band made the change in part because of all the heavy metal bands that had imitated Judas Priest's look. The group also toned down their music for the 1986 release of Turbo, which featured some actual singing. Halford told Creem, "It's been my first real opportunity, given our type of songs, to sound a little bit less hysterical. Not just yelling at the top of my voice."
The conflict that had been simmering over Judas Priest's music came to a boil in 1986 when two Nevada families brought suit against CBS Records and Judas Priest, claiming that the lyrics on the band's 1978 Stained Class album had driven their sons to attempt suicide. On December 23, 1985, 18-year-old Ray Belknap and 20-year-old Jay Vance had been drinking and listening to Judas Priest albums when, reportedly, according to Vance, "all of a sudden we got a suicide message, and we got tired of life." The two went to a nearby park, and each shot himself in the head with a sawed-off shotgun. Belknap died instantly, but Vance, sustaining catastrophic injuries, survived until 1988.
When the families' lawyers learned that similar suits had been dismissed on constitutional grounds, they filed a new complaint, in 1988, claiming that engineers had found subliminal messages urging listeners to "do it." The suit averred that such a message was dangerous to unstable individuals like Vance and Belknap, both abused children and high-school dropouts with police records for various offenses. When the product-liability case came to trial in 1990, the charges against Judas Priest were dismissed. The decision was upheld by the Nevada Supreme Court on May 31, 1993.
Painkiller, Judas Priest's first album after the trial, did not back away from the band's usual frenzied style or violent lyrics. For example, "Hell Patrol" contains the following lines: "Gonna go for your throat as you choke/Then they'll vaporapeize you.... Gonna cut to the bone as you groan/And they'll paratamize you." Although not all reviewers were so harsh, Rolling Stone said of Painkiller, "Played forward or backward, this is hardly an album that will make you kill yourself; it will merely drive you to distraction."
In 1992, after 20 years as frontman for the band, Halford announced--via a letter to the band's lawyer--that he and drummer Travis were leaving to form Fight, a heavier, more thrash-oriented band. The remaining members of Judas Priest continued without them. "We're musicians," Downing told Guitar School magazine, "it's in our blood to play music. I won't give up just because we may have lost a lead singer."
In early 1993 Judas Priest completed work on a compilation of 31 songs--selections from all 12 of their albums. The collection, titled Metalworks '73-'93, was presented as a two-CD set, commemorating the group's 20-year anniversary. "This compilation," Tipton told Guitar School, "will not only sum up Judas Priest's true capabilities, it will also recall some pretty magical memories for the die-hard fans."
From 1992-1996, while Judas Priest as a band remained mostly dormant on the live and recording front, former vocalist Halford continued to work on solo endeavors. Over the year immediately following his departure through 2003, Halford put out several releases with a variety of newly formed outfits; Fight, Two, and a self-titled group, Halford, to nominal success. In 1996 however the remaining members of Judas Priest finally found a new singer with than unknown Ohio-based vocalist Tim Owens.
Owens was the frontman for a local Judas Priest cover band called British Steel when drummer Scott Travis was passed a tape through a mutual friend. Completely amazed at what they heard, the group flew Owens over to England to audition. After running through a few songs, the band was taken aback by the singer's considerable vocal abilities and Owens was immediately asked to join the group. In 1996, Owens (dubbed "Ripper" after his shining talents on the Priest track of the same name) was officially announced as the new singer of Judas Priest. The band proceeded to release Jugulator in 1997 and in 1998 embarked on their first world tour in nearly seven years.
In an odd turn of events, on the evening of the new line-up's sold-out performance at New York's Roseland Ballroom, former vocalist Halford publicly announced for first time that that he was gay. Although initially shocking to many who thought of Priest as ultra-masculine rock provocateurs especially considering their lyrical content and heavy-image, very few dismissed Halford's importance in the metal arena.
In 1998, Judas Priest released an audio momento of their first tour in many years with new vocalist Owens, titled '98 Live Meltdown. Two years later, the band released their second effort with Owens, Demolition on Atlantic Records. Unfortunately, despite some European success, Demolition didn't do very well in the states. The band proceeded to tour on and off throughout 2002, releasing the live CD and DVD Live in London in 2003.
In July of that year much to the delight of the group's long-standing fans it was announced that Rob Halford would finally reunite with Judas Priest. At the same time Owens amicably left the group. In 2004, the band released the high profile box-set Metalogy, and embarked on a much anticipated world tour with singer Halford.
by Susan Windisch Brown and Nicole Elyse
Judas Priest's Career
Group formed in Birmingham, England, 1969; signed first recording contract and released debut album Rocka Rolla, 1974; signed by Columbia Records, 1977; released Columbia debut Sin After Sin, 1977; released first gold album in the United States, Screaming for Vengeance, 1982; released Defenders of the Faith, 1984; frontman Rob Halford left group, 1992; new vocalist Tim Owens officially joined group, 1996; released Jugulator, 1997; Halford returned, 2003; released box set Metalogy, 2004.
- Selected discography
- Rocka Rolla Gull, 1974.
- Sad Wings of Destiny Repertoire, 1976.
- Sin After Sin Columbia, 1977.
- Killing Machine Columbia, 1978.
- Stained Class Columbia, 1978.
- Best of Judas Priest RCA, 1978.
- Hell Bent for Leather Columbia, 1979.
- Unleashed in the East Columbia, 1979, reissued, 1985.
- British Steel Columbia, 1980.
- Point of Entry Columbia, 1981.
- Screaming for Vengeance Columbia, 1982.
- Defenders of the Faith Columbia, 1984.
- Hero, Hero RCA, 1985.
- Turbo Columbia, 1986.
- Priest ... Live Columbia, 1987.
- Ram It Down Columbia, 1988.
- Painkiller Columbia, 1990.
- Rocka Rolla and Other Hits RCA, 1990.
- Metalworks '73-'93 Columbia, 1993.
- Jugulator CMC International, 1997.
- '98 Live Meltdown CMC International, 1998 .
- Live in London SPV, 2003.
- Living After Midnight Columbia, 2003.
- Metalogy Columbia, 2004.
March 1, 2005: Judas Priest's album, Angel of Retribution, was released. The album is the group's first in 15 years. Source: All Music Guide, www.allmusic.com, April 25, 2005.
- Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, ABC/CLIO, 1991.
- The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, edited by Jon Pareles and Patricia Romanowski, Rolling Stone Press/Summit, 1983.
- Billboard, September 8, 1990; May 23, 1992; June 12, 1993.
- Creem, July 1984; September 1986.
- Guitar School, May 1993.
- Musician, November 1990.
- Rolling Stone, July 12, 1990; November 15, 1990; December 13, 1990; October 29, 1992.
- Stereo Review, July 1986.
- Wilson Library Bulletin, December 1990.
- Judas Priest Offical Website, http://www.judaspriest.com (February 6, 2004).
- Additional information was obtained from press materials provided by Chipster Entertainment, 2004.
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