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40 Years of Defenders of the Faith

40 Years of Defenders of the Faith

by Luxi Lahtinen

"Fast and furious, we ride the universe, to carve a road for us..."

And they have certainly done that, no doubt. The almighty Judas Priest's 10th studio album, Defenders of the Faith, celebrated its 40th birthday on January 4, 2024, and we here at The Metal Crypt, wearing our leather jackets, wrist bands, peaked caps, whips, and handcuffs (oops!) proudly as hell, thought it might be a good idea to talk about that album with some musicians around the globe.

We got a respectable amount of musicians to share their thoughts on that classic Priest album, both good and bad, and thank all the parties equally for contributing to this 40th anniversary of Defenders of the Faith piece.

All interviews conducted by Luxi Lahtinen

When did you hear Defenders of the Faith for the first time, and what was your initial reaction?

Tony "The Demolition Man" Dolan (VENOM INC): When it was released, I was blown away! It was amazing! The production, the songs, everything!!

Ricard (PROSCRITO): Ave, Luxi. That's a tricky one, since when I reached for Defenders... I already knew some of the classic songs due to Priest... Live, so, in all honesty, the impact wasn't the same apart from the characteristic studio production. Knowing the "Freewheel Burning" video clip by heart helped, so I cannot put my finger on it exactly. When I was still a kid, I didn't know jack shit about production values and didn't care much for cool-looking artworks, being piss poor and giving priority scoring to albums with more songs. I wasn't as familiar with them (now re-reading this looks like heresy to me), so I might have been a late bloomer to Defenders..., and it reshaped my passion for the Priest when I was confronted with the most rock-solid album of theirs, which is like some kind of compilation that actually works in terms of curation. I must admit that some songs are much more ingrained in my subconscious in their respective live settings due to nostalgic or sentimental factors.

Pekka Montin (DESERT SONG, ENSIFERUM): It was the early 2000s. Great album, Halford doing some of his best vocal performances on this album. Funny album cover. Judas Priest in their prime. The '80s.

Kimmo Perämäki (DESERT SONG, SPIRITUS MORTIS): It was my second Priest album.

I bought it on vinyl in 1993. It's in my Top 5 Priest records along with Screaming for Vengeance, Sin After Sin, Turbo and Painkiller.

Anssi Korkiakoski (WISHING WELL): I heard it in 1984 when my friend bought it. I'd heard Screaming for Vengeance earlier and it was great, but Defenders... sounded absolutely fabulous from the first listen and has sounded great ever since.

Jordan Rhyno (ANTIOCH): It was mid-2003. I was in Grade 9, and I was just getting into metal. I was already quite fond of Maiden and had heard a couple of songs from Painkiller, but had yet to see what they looked like. One late evening while watching the Power Hour on VH1, I hear this synthy gong sound, then saw a metallic creature ominously looming out towards the TV. A few seconds later, springing out from an entrance of flames like a maniacal demon was the metal god himself. I was hooked immediately. The video was "Love Bites" and shortly after I purchased the album.

There are certain albums you don't remember anything about besides where/when you bought them. This album I remember quite fondly. I had just purchased it and was eating a Crispy Crunch (Canadian chocolate bar) in the car at a gas station. I remember I didn't think much of "Freewheel Burning" at first. When it got to the second track, "Jawbreaker," we were now rolling. As the album continued, I was so enamored with the sound. It's the album that solidified my love for heavy metal.

Tyson McCauley (EMERALD RAGE): When I was around 19 or 20. My initial reaction was "Judas Priest rules!"

Jacob Wherley (EMERALD RAGE): Probably in high school. Definitive textbook heavy metal. Judas Priest perfected what bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin started. When the '80s rolled around, I think Judas Priest stepped up and really became the flag bearer of what heavy metal is. The piercing vocals, shredding guitars, the leather and biker look. The album itself is a flawless masterpiece and I find myself listening to it about 10 times a year still.

Hampus Klang (BULLET): It was on a Swedish TV program called "Metalljournalen" back in 1985. I was very young but understood that this was pure heavy metal. Impressed by the lasers and the Marshall walls in the video. I was hooked immediately!

Matt Ries (TRAVELER): I think I was in grade 11? Around the age of 15-16. Blew me away, for obvious reasons. Priest was always a band you could turn to for inspiration for anything from solos to lyrics to song structures. Always admired their creativity.

Jeff Becerra (POSSESSED): I believe it was on an interview from MTV. But Priest was a major band by this album which I believe was their 10th release, so it was on every rock 'n' roll radio station in my area and easily accessible. Of course, as a metalhead, I awaited every Priest release with bated breath, it was a big deal when Priest put out new music. Defenders of the Faith exceeded my wildest expectations. Priest are one of those bands that you love every one of their songs so much it almost seems impossible for them to outdo themselves, but with each release they consistently did and that's what makes them the greatest heavy metal band that ever toured the face of planet earth.

Finn Solemdal (RELENTLESS AGGRESSION): 1984 was a massive Judas Priest year for me. I checked my notes (yes, I write down every album I ever bought, was given as a gift, traded, etc.), and found that my collection of JP albums was extended by the following titles that year: Killing Machine, Stained Class, Hero Hero (compilation LP), Unleashed in the East, Defenders of the Faith, Screaming for Vengeance, Sin After Sin and Point of Entry. I played the Defenders... album a lot. I liked the fact that the album was heavier than their previous albums, with better production and I also thought that the cover looked cool.

Timo Ahlström (FREEDOMINATION): I honestly can't remember when I heard it the first time. I do remember hearing some Priest as a teenager, but it didn't grab my attention right away. I bought the first Halford solo album before getting a Priest one after reading some positive review of that album. Resurrection was great and I got hooked by Halford's vocals and then I started searching through the Priest discography and fell in love with their music.

Andy Mück (STORMWITCH): I was 19 when Defenders of the Faith was released and hearing it has influenced my taste in music forever.

Back then I drove an old Volkswagen Polo that didn't even have a radio or sound system built in, so I attached a boombox on the back seat by strapping it in with the seat belts. This way I was able to blast the Defenders... tape all day long!

Lots of water has flowed under the bridge of River Rea since then, so how well has Defenders... stood the test of time, in your opinion?

Tony "The Demolition Man" Dolan (VENOM INC): Completely!! Hearing any of the material even today gives a shiver and sounds classic!

Ricard (PROSCRITO): As with any timeless classic, I wouldn't change a comma. Truth be told, I would pretty much prefer it to end with "Night Comes Down" instead of the two-trick-pony "Heavy Duty" and "Defenders of the Faith," but they hold their charm anyway and I've grown used to it so it's part of the listening experience as a whole. As one older friend of mine stated, "that's because you haven't heard them played louder than hell inside your car going full speed ahead!" Dave Holland might have been the less talented and more limited drummer they ever had within their ranks, but his at times orthopedic patterns are a vital part of what constitutes Defenders..., so nothing against them. We're talking about an album that still sounds like heavy metal pub brawls and hard liquor and substances running amok, foggy tobacco mists, dissolution, perdition, no safe spaces, and whatnot, just how I dreamed about real metal lifestyle as a child, the earliest nightmares, sweet nightmares, are made of. A man can only dream...

Pekka Montin (DESERT SONG, ENSIFERUM): Good music lives forever. It's about the songs, as always. Most of the metal musicians today cannot write good songs. Now it's all about the production side, not so much about the actual songs, which is kind of sad.

Kimmo Perämäki (DESERT SONG, SPIRITUS MORTIS): Timeless record. I see often people mocking old heavy records because of their sound and saying, "how these could be so much better with modern sound," etc. It's not true. The sound doesn't really matter. Back then the sound was part of the record's personality. Nowadays, hard rock and metal records sound overall very similar.

Anssi Korkiakoski (WISHING WELL): The songs have certainly stood the test of time because of Rob and all that guitar playing. The thing that hasn't stood the test of time is the drum sound with that splashing '80s snare but I guess that's just part of the deal.

Jordan Rhyno (ANTIOCH): It absolutely has stood the test of time. Very few bands have been able to capture the sound Priest obtained on that record. Yeah, some albums are heavier, darker, etc., but nothing quite sounds like Defenders.... It's polished but also has a raw conviction to it. There is no doubt you listen to it and automatically think, "this is what heavy metal is."

Tyson McCauley (EMERALD RAGE): Everything Judas Priest has done has stood the test of time except the production on Turbo.

Jacob Wherley (EMERALD RAGE): Basically, what Tyson said, considering we're still hailing the album 40 years later is something to be said.

Hampus Klang (BULLET): Well, it's a timeless masterpiece, so it definitely has stood the test of time. The sound is great and you can hear the Marshalls screaming. I really like the artwork too. Priest had the best album covers in the '70s and '80s.

Matt Ries (TRAVELER): I actually don't listen to it as often as I used to, but it absolutely stands the test of time. It's timeless! But I tend to skip "Love Bites" and the title track.

Jeff Becerra (POSSESSED): Judas Priest is more than a time machine or reminiscing over days of old, Judas Priest IS time. When I listen to Priest, I make time for that and I'm living in that moment and it's like the bedrock of heavy metal. It's a staple and foundational along with all their albums and music.

Finn Solemdal (RELENTLESS AGGRESSION): Yes, the album still sounds good today. In 1984 and onward, my musical taste turned to heavier and faster stuff, but I still play that album once in a while.

Timo Ahlström (FREEDOMINATION): The sound and style are very '80s but that's how it's supposed to be! It doesn't matter because this kind of heavy metal is timeless even if you hear the decade in the sound. The songs speak for themselves.

Andy Mück (STORMWITCH): I am quite sure this album has helped many bands to establish their style.

The album has many standout tracks, but what would be your personal two (yes, just two!) favorites and why?

Tony "The Demolition Man" Dolan (VENOM INC): "Freewheel Burning" and "The Sentinel."

"Freewheel Burning" is just an exciting and ripping full metal assault of a track, from the opening riff to the very end.

"The Sentinel" is just a huge track! Classic Priest and a metal monster.

Ricard (PROSCRITO): That's the hardest question of them all, Luxi. I guess now I must act tough and avoid mentioning "Night Comes Down," right? Well, this one might have a pass because it is about loss and longing, still it's a bit awkward to think one of my favorite ballads of all time might have been raving about a man instead of a woman, hah. The epitome of melancholy, been there done that: neon nights, drunk as a skunk, roaming alone in the city at midnight and burning for that last skirt that ruined your life before a different one entered the picture. The story tends to repeat itself although melancholy sours to cynicism, but the song never lost its power and remains carved in stone as a memento of sweeter times, a reminder of purity and times long gone before everything smelled like shit and piss. Anyway, "The Sentinel" is the only valid answer here due to a plethora of reasons — the orgasm of heavy metal, simply put. When you thought it was already said and done with the K.K./Tipton solo madness, Rob states that "blood runs everywhere" and you must fall to your knees due to intensity (I wouldn't exactly love having him as judge and jury, though), and that's prior to the main riff obliterating you. Anyway, let me cheat a bit and mention "Jawbreaker" for its chorus that will echo for all eternity and the legendary solo frenzy. Fukk, having a real hard time with this one, my friend. "Eat Me Alive" and "Some Heads Are Gonna Roll" need to be here as well due to viciousness and gratuitous violence, and "Rock Hard, Ride Free" has also carved a special place among my fondest memories. Damn ye, merry gentleman, wishing you good luck making a 7" EP out of this...

Pekka Montin (DESERT SONG, ENSIFERUM): "Freewheel Burning" and "Some Heads Are Gonna Roll." These songs are all about the energy and the endless rebellion of true heavy metal. From 2010 to 2013, I sang in a Judas Priest cover band, and we performed about 30-40 Judas Priest songs in that era. I remember "Some Heads Are Gonna Roll" being one of the most fun Judas Priest songs to sing and play live. Good memories, indeed.

Kimmo Perämäki (DESERT SONG, SPIRITUS MORTIS): "Jawbreaker" and "The Sentinel."

Anssi Korkiakoski (WISHING WELL): "Rock Hard Ride Free" made an incredible impact on me and that's still one of my all-time favorite tracks along with "Heaven and Hell," "Hallowed Be Thy Name," "Child in Time" and so on. It's an anthem that you never get tired of listening to. The whole side A on vinyl is totally killer so I don't want to pick another song!

Jordan Rhyno (ANTIOCH): "Rock Hard Ride Free" - The beginning guitar melodies are just absolutely fantastic. I can't tell you the number of times I've started the track over just to hear the intro again and again. I never get sick of it.

"Night Comes Down" - Before this song, I never really enjoyed slower songs. I'd always skip them, but this one was different. Priest has a way of channeling directly into your soul and this one specifically has always held a special place for me. This is one of the few songs from the album I haven't heard live, and I know if they did, I'd bawl my eyes out. And how do I know this? Because I legit got teary-eyed when they played "Running Wild" in 2018. The complete opposite of this song.

Tyson McCauley (EMERALD RAGE): "Freewheel Burning" and "The Sentinel." They both give their own unique feeling of wanting to ride into battle and destroy all in your path.

Jacob Wherley (EMERALD RAGE): "Freewheel Burning" and I might have to go with "Love Bites." "Freewheel..." is such a powerful anthem that never gets stale. "Love Bites" I think is a unique song lyrically and musically for Priest.

Hampus Klang (BULLET): The opening track "Freewheel Burning" is a perfect opener. A total metal attack! Legendary twin leads, iconic vocals by Halford, and Great lyrics. A song that makes you want to ride your bike and drink 100,000 beers! "Rock Hard, Ride Free" is a song that makes you want to rock hard and ride free all night long! More of a mystique feeling to this song. And "The Sentinel..." OK, sorry, you asked to mention only two songs.

Matt Ries (TRAVELER): I think "The Sentinel" is one of the greatest heavy metal anthems of all time. So, I'll take that one and the ballad "Night Comes Down." Can't resist tuggin' on those heart strings!

Jeff Becerra (POSSESSED): "The Sentinel" in my opinion is the magnum opus of this album. The guitar riffing and solos by K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton are, of course, legendary. Rob Halford's vocals to me are so good that he's in a class unto himself. Of course, there were other great singers like Bruce and Dio (R.I.P.) but to me Bruce sounded more like his parents paid for vocal lessons. But Halford was totally original and unique.

And of course, Ian Hill and Dave Holland holding the rhythm section down like masters.

"Freewheel Burning" is definitely in my top picks. The words [*LOL*]!! Amazing lyrical phrasing and the timing is great. The music invokes emotion every single time I listen to this song.

Finn Solemdal (RELENTLESS AGGRESSION): "Freewheel Burning" because it's a fast song with a catchy chorus. "Love Bites," because of the unusual way the song starts, the heavy riffs and the cool vocals.

Timo Ahlström (FREEDOMINATION): These two must be "Freewheel Burning" and "The Sentinel." They are some of the best heavy metal songs ever written in my book. Riffs can't get much better (nor soloing) and Halford is Halford. The storytelling in "The Sentinel" is just incredible.

Andy Mück (STORMWITCH): "Freewheel Burning" - The best up-tempo song ever!!!

"Some Heads Are Gonna Roll" - A blueprint for all midtempo bangers!!

Lastly, probably the hardest question: Is Defenders... your all-time favorite Priest album and, in case it is not (sorry for making you choose between your beloved babies), which Priest album beats it?

Tony "The Demolition Man" Dolan (VENOM INC): For sure one of my favorites but as I am old now [*LOL*] looking back to what made me a real Priest fan and what was influential to me: Stained Class ("Exciter"!!) and British Steel are the beautiful templates that forged the way for the Defenders... album to arrive later.

Ricard (PROSCRITO): No. My favorite Priest belongs to the '70s, with Stained Class as my unbeatable baby by miles, their darkest and most dangerous one. You can even smell the sulphur and hell-bent perversion oozing with songs like "Saints in Hell" (my favorite Judas song hands down), "Heroes End" or the title track, not to speak of "Beyond the Realms of Death," the only one able to compete with "The Sentinel" in terms of best-song-ever objectivity. Then it's Sin After Sin (such a special, one-of-a-kind milestone trapped between repressed sadness and mindless aggression, and some of the bleakest atmosphere ever captured, one of those albums I tend to feel a single long convulsive song and then, maybe because of nostalgic reasons, Screaming for Vengeance, the first Judas album I got after Painkiller (which, of course, deserves a mention). I love everything up to the aforementioned 1990 game changer, though, including Rocka Rolla, but you cannot go wrong with classic Judas Priest (if you can stomach or pass by some stinkers like "Take on the World," "United" and so on). All in all, as with so many classic bands, it's a fun exercise discussing deep cuts and unsung classics among friends and getting mad as hell when your local pub of choice plays "Bloodstone," "Pain and Pleasure," "Tyrant" or "The Rage." Always a pleasure, sir.

Pekka Montin (DESERT SONG, ENSIFERUM): My favorite Judas Priest album is probably Screaming for Vengeance or Painkiller. Depends on the day. I place Defenders of the Faith somewhere in the Top 5 of my personal favorite Judas Priest albums. It's a killer album for sure and it's all about having fun with good heavy metal.

Kimmo Perämäki (DESERT SONG, SPIRITUS MORTIS): My favorite Priest album is definitely Screaming for Vengeance. It was my first Priest album, too.

Anssi Korkiakoski (WISHING WELL): Well, if you insist then I can say that it is my all-time fave Priest album with the rest of them. I even love Rocka Rolla though not everybody seems to like it, including the band!

Jordan Rhyno (ANTIOCH): What a time to be asked this question because as any self-respecting metal nerd does, I just ranked my favorite albums of all time in a spreadsheet.

This is not only my favorite Priest record, but possibly my favorite album of all time.

Depending on the moment, I might have said Screaming for Vengeance or Painkiller or even Turbo. But nowadays and especially playing guitar myself, I'm always in awe over Defenders of the Faith. Whenever Priest plays a song from the album live, I'm always the loudest, most abrasive, audience member rocking out at that given moment.

Tyson McCauley (EMERALD RAGE): My favorite is Screaming for Vengeance. As much as I wish it wasn't, when listening on CD or my phone, I'm guilty of skipping tracks I might not be in the mood for at the time. But Screaming for Vengeance was the first Priest album I got on vinyl, so I've just listened to it front-to-back the most.

Jacob Wherley (EMERALD RAGE): Certainly, it is my favorite '80s Priest album, but as a '70s nerd, my favorite has to be Sad Wings of Destiny. With that being said, Defenders... is probably my second favorite all-time Priest album.

Hampus Klang (BULLET): It's not my all-time favorite Priest album. They have done so many great ones. I prefer Killing Machine, Stained Class, Screaming for Vengeance, British Steel and Painkiller over this one. But it is a total killer album anyway. I really hope Priest will return to a more real natural sound like they used to have. There are great songs on the Firepower album but it's a bit too modern sounding for me, especially the guitars. Anyway, they are the best and Halford still delivers. So happy that they are still around!!!

Matt Ries (TRAVELER): No, not for me. I love it. But most of their '70s stuff stood out a lot more to me. Sin After Sin and Sad Wings... beat it by a lot. And if there were the classic battle between Defenders... and Screaming..., I would choose Screaming (sorry, Defenders)!

Jeff Becerra (POSSESSED): Oh wow, Luxi, I hate you for this question [*LOL*] - just kidding!

As much as I love Defenders of the Faith, I would have to say that it is in fact not my favorite Priest album. I started my first band in 1979. We played "Green Manalishi," and later "Hot Rockin'." But even more than all that my favorite Judas Priest album has long been seated as one of my all-time top three albums. And that album is Sin After Sin.

Of course, I don't say this to take anything away from Defenders of the Faith. It's just my weird, personal taste and I love all Judas Priest so...

Finn Solemdal (RELENTLESS AGGRESSION): It's in my top three JP albums. It's difficult not to mention Painkiller. I had given up on Judas Priest at this time. I remember how disappointed I felt when I first heard Turbo. It was almost as if I felt betrayed by the band. The title song on Painkiller is a classic, and the album is filled with good, heavy songs. But the album I have listened to the most is Unleashed in the East. It has most of my favorite songs on it, "Victim of Changes" being number one! The album does NOT contain the awful "Living After Midnight" (which I rate together with other songs I never want to hear again; "Smoke on the Water" and "Enter Sandman"). The band played with a lot of energy, and the sound quality is so much better and "harder" than the recordings on the original albums. The oldest JP albums sound way to "soft" for my liking, especially the lack of distortion on the guitars. I just read Rob Halford's autobiography, and I was saddened by the fact he re-recorded the vocals in the studio, but it's still a great album.

Timo Ahlström (FREEDOMINATION): This one is really difficult, and my favorite Priest album has changed a couple of times over the years. I love Judas Priest and I think they have many great albums but yes, if I had to pick one favorite, I guess it has to be Defenders of the Faith.

Andy Mück (STORMWITCH): I have always loved Judas Priest, but I like Screaming for Vengeance even better and I even think their latest album Firepower is at least on the same level of greatness.

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