Judas Priest are a British heavy metal band formed in Birmingham, England, in 1969. The band has sold over 45 million albums to date. They were ranked by MTV as the second “Greatest Metal Band” of all time (after Black Sabbath), and VH1 named them the 78th greatest artist of all time in 2010. Despite an innovative and pioneering body of work in the latter half of the 1970s, the band struggled with indifferently-produced records, repeated changes of drummer and a lack of major commercial success or attention until 1980, when they adopted a more simplified sound on the album British Steel, which helped shoot them to rock superstar status. In 1989, they were named as defendants in an unsuccessful lawsuit alleging that subliminal messages on the song “Better By You, Better Than Me” had caused the suicide attempts of two young men.
The band’s membership has seen much turnover, including a revolving cast of drummers in the 1970s, and the temporary departure of singer Rob Halford in the early 1990s. The current line-up consists of Halford, guitarists Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner, bassist Ian Hill and drummer Scott Travis. The band’s best-selling album is 1982’s Screaming for Vengeance with their most commercially successful line-up, featuring Rob Halford, Glen Tipton, Ian Hill, guitarist K. K. Downing and drummer Dave Holland.
Their influence, while mainly Halford’s operatic vocal style and the twin guitar sound of Downing and Tipton, has been adopted by many bands. Their image of leather, spikes, and other taboo articles of clothing were widely influential during the glam metal era of the 1980s. The Guardian referred to British Steel as the record that defines heavy metal. Despite a decline in exposure during the mid 1990s, the band has once again seen resurgence, including worldwide tours, being inaugural inductees into the VH1 Rock Honors in 2005, receiving a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 2010, and their songs featured in video games such as Guitar Hero and the Rock Band series.
Halford leaves (1991–1992)
After the Painkiller tour in 1991, Halford left Judas Priest. In September 1991, there were indications of internal tensions within the band. Halford went on to form a street-style thrash metal group named Fight, with Scott Travis on drums for the recording sessions. He formed this band to explore new musical territory, but due to contractual obligations, he remained with Judas Priest until May 1992.
Halford collaborated with Judas Priest in the release of a compilation album entitled Metal Works ’73-’93 to commemorate their 20th anniversary. He also appeared in a video by the same title, documenting their history, in which his departure from the band was officially announced later that year.
In an interview in 1998 on MTV, Rob Halford publicly revealed his homosexuality.
Ripper Owens (1996–2003)
Tim “Ripper” Owens, who had previously sung in a Judas Priest tribute band called British Steel, was hired in 1996 as Judas Priest’s new singer. This line-up released two albums, Jugulator (1997) and Demolition (2001), as well as two live double-albums – ’98 Live Meltdown and Live in London (2003), the latter of which had a live DVD counterpart. Although Jugulator sold relatively well, it was given mixed reviews, though it contains the epic “Cathedral Spires”, which became one of Ripper’s most popular songs.
Reunion with Halford (2003–present)
After eleven years apart, faced with an ever-growing demand for a reunion, Judas Priest and Rob Halford announced they would reunite in July 2003, to coincide with the release of the Metalogy box set (despite Halford’s earlier insistence that he “would never do it”). They did a concert tour in Europe in 2004, and co-headlined the 2004 Ozzfest, being named as the “premier act” by almost all US media coverage of the event. Judas Priest and “Ripper” Owens parted amicably; with Owens joining American heavy metal band Iced Earth.
VH1 Rock honors
Along with Queen, Kiss and Def Leppard, Judas Priest was an inaugural inductee into the “VH1 Rock Honors”. The ceremony took place 25 May 2006 in Las Vegas, Nevada, and first aired on 31 May. Their presentation was preceded by Godsmack performing a medley of “Electric Eye”/”Victim of Changes”/”Hell Bent for Leather.” Judas Priest then played “Breaking the Law”, “The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown)” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”, before which Halford rode a Harley onstage.
Influence on Fashion
In addition to the sound, Judas Priest is also known for being revolutionary in heavy metal fashion. Rob Halford thus began incorporating a macho image of what today is known as hardcore metal/biker/S&M style into his look as early as 1978 (to coincide with the release of their album Killing Machine), and the rest of the band followed. It became a mainstay in heavy metal; soon, several other bands, particularly of the NWOBHM and early Black Metal movements, began incorporating Halford’s fashion into their look as well.
This sparked a revival in metal in the early ’80s, and catapulted them to fame, in both the mainstream and underground. Even in the present, it is not uncommon to find metal artists sporting such a look at concerts. Their popularity and status as one of the exemplary and influential heavy metal bands has earned them the nickname “Metal Gods” from their song of the same name.
Year Nominated Work Award Result
1991 “Pain Killer” Best Metal Performance Nominated
1999 “Bullet Train” Best Metal Performance Nominated
2009 “Nostradamus” Best Metal Performance Nominated
2010 “Dissident Aggressor” (live) Best Metal Performance Won