Friday, June 23, 2017

Defenders of the Faith

If Defenders of the Faith (1984) maintained the momentum of its first three songs, it would be my favorite Judas Priest album, hands down.

"Freewheel Burning" is one of the great opening tracks, by Priest or anyone, and it contains one of my favorite guitar solos. When someone describes music as face-melting, this is what they're referring to. It's just so good, so cool, I want to crazy when I hear it.

"Jawbreaker" is a textbook display of how to build intensity and a sense of danger in a song, and "Rock Hard Ride Free" is epic. It soars. When I'm wearing headphones and this song comes on, I swear it feels like the speakers are about to explode. My reaction to these songs is purely visceral and emotional; I can't break it down intellectually or explain it. I just feel them and react.

"No denyin'. We're going against the grain.
So defiant, they'll never put us down.
Rock Hard! Ride Free!
All day, all night.
Rock Hard! Ride Free!
All your life."

After those three songs, Defenders of the Faith hovers around the level of pretty good, but hey, "pretty good" by Judas Priest is still better than the best of most other bands. Priest's brand of speed metal displays the technical chops, blazing speed, and heavy, palm-muted crunch we expect from the guitar tandem of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing with bassist Ian Hill. Singer Rob Halford remains at the top of his game, shrieking and howling like no one else. I don't know how he can sing as fast as he does.

"Look before you leap has never been the way we keep. Our road is free.
Charging to the top and never give in never stop the way to be.
Hold on to the lead with all your will and concede
You'll find there's life with victory on high"

Those first three songs, plus "The Sentinel," are ridiculously fast-paced for a mainstream metal release. The other songs are somewhat slower, more mid-temp anthems with staccato-based rhythms such as "Eat Me Alive" and "Some Heads Are Gonna Roll." Even the "slow" ballad-like "Night Comes Down" is not a sappy love song, even though it's kind of about a lost love. Priest makes it sound tough.

It all leads to the marching two-part beat of "Heavy Duty" and "Defenders of the Faith" that, like "Rock N Roll Ain't Noise Pollution" on AC/DC's Back in Black, feels like a climactic statement of purpose and a summation of who the band is. The band's religion is heavy metal, and they are the clergy who will keep the faith and summon all metalheads and headbangers together.

"We'll rise inside ya till the power splits your head.
We're gonna rock ya till your metal hunger's fed.
Let's all join forces.
Rule with an iron hand
And prove to all the world
Metal rules the land."

Standout Songs
"Freewheel Burning" - Just an excellent, racing opener.
"Jawbreaker" - A crushing, building track.
"Rock Hard Ride Free" - I dare you to not sing along to the chorus.

Favorite Moment
That solo on "Freewheel Burning." Hearing it, I feel like I'm in the front seat of a blazing car, kicking it into high gear and accelerating beyond all control.

Album Cover
A transformer-like, colorful, mechanized beast on treads. If this a weapon we get to use to defend heavy metal, then sign me up.

Track Order
1) Freewheel Burning
2) Jawbreaker
3) Rock Hard Ride Free
4) The Sentinel
5) Love Bites
6) Eat Me Alive
7) Some Heads Are Gonna Roll
8) Night Comes Down
9) Heavy Duty
10) Defenders of the Faith

Personnel
Rob Halford - Vocals
Glenn Tipton - Guitar
K.K. Downing - Guitar
Ian Hill - Bass
Dave Holland - Drums 

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