Besides Black Sabbath, there isn’t a band more important to the genre of heavy metal than Judas Priest. In fact, they may have had a greater impact. They took what Sabbath created and expanded and developed it further. Utilizing two guitar players with Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing was a turning point for the genre; countless bands have copied and tried to emulate the formula over the years.
Vocalist Rob Halford’s soaring vocals still stand as the greatest the genre has ever witnessed. He has a stunning range of four octaves and sings with an emotion that is unmatched. With a career that spans 45 years, Judas Priest are a rare band that has consistently released quality material over five decades. We are excited to examine their catalog and choose their best 15 songs. Also make sure to check out our Best Judas Priest Albums.
15. The Sentinel (1984)
With its revenge inspired lyrics and imagery, “The Sentinel” is a quintessential Judas Priest classic. It features a brilliant lead break that finds Tipton and Downing trading solos until they harmonize together to a crescendo. Halford’s chorus will needle its way into your brain and dig in deep. “The Sentinel” finds Priest looking forward; it has a futuristic feel to the production. They continue to stay ahead of the metal scene pushing it forward.
14. Blood Red Skies (1988)
The latter part of the 1980s is a contested one as it divided fans. They followed up the controversial Turbo album with the unfocused Ram It Down. Considering half the album was recorded for Turbo it has a lot in common with its predecessor. It did feature an absolute gem with the ambitious “Blood Red Skies.” A chilling acoustic intro finds Halford hitting notes in the upper stratosphere before it radically changes into a synthesized rhythm. The chorus is amazingly catchy as it is a modern day “Victim Of Changes” in style.
13. Breaking The Law (1980)
The opening of Judas Priest’s classic “Breaking The Law” is still one of the most iconic guitar riffs ever. By this time they had started to simplify their music and were looking for a more commercial sound and this song encompasses that completely. Its anthemic chorus is one of the band’s best. It has become one of their biggest hits. Priest were changing with the times and moving metal forward into the 1980s with one of the most popular songs the genre has ever seen.
12. Rapid Fire (1980)
With 1980’s British Steel, we find the band becoming more mainstream and commercial. The opening track “Rapid Fire” is as destructive as anything they have produced. Crushing riffs hammer along at breakneck pace as Halford spews a set of lyrics that is heavy metal personified. The lead break between Glenn and KK shows the guitar tandem at their best as they trade off blistering leads. It still stands as longtime drummer Dave Holland’s greatest achievement; he never showed the ability he displays here again in their career.
11. Jawbreaker (1984)
Following up Screaming For Vengeance was no easy task. When first released, 1984’s Defenders Of The Faith seemed to be a mere copy but it was so much more. “Jawbreaker” finds the band using dynamics brilliantly. It opens with just guitars and Halford’s brilliant mid range melody. When the full band kicks in it has the listener in a clenched fist and never lets go. An outstanding chorus needles its way in and is another brilliant anthem by Halford.
10. Freewheel Burning (1984)
Defenders Of The Faith has aged incredibly well as time has passed. The opening track is another high octane fueled speed metal classic. It is pne of the greatest leads Tipton has recorded as it is blistering and frenetic before Downing joins in for a jaw dropping guitar harmony. The rhythm section of Ian Hill and Dave Holland build an incredible backbone for the guitars to soar over. In the middle of the 1980s Priest were at the top of the mountain because of this titanic headbanging metal anthem.
9. Sinner (1977)
Judas Priest’s third album Sin After Sin is their most progressive release. The opening track “Sinner” is complex with many time changes and mood swings. The lead break in the middle is the epitome of a KK Downing lead. Blending melody with chaotic noise and the utilization of his whammy bar creates the perfect vessel of noise. The use of imagery is fantastic. It tells the tale of the sinner who rides with the devil by his side in an apocalyptic world. It is a great example of a metaphor and dealing with the true horrors of war.
8. Beyond The Realms Of Death (1978)
New drummer Les Binks was not only brilliant behind his drum kit he also wrote the music on this Priest classic which is a beautiful blend of a light ballad and heavy chorus. “Beyond The Realms Of Death” clearly influenced Metallica on tracks like “Fade To Black” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium).” It is one of Halford’s best lyrics as it deals with the horrors of a troubled man who goes into a catatonic state from depression and eventually commits suicide.
7. Screaming For Vengeance (1982)
The title track from 1982’s Screaming For Vengeance is one of the most vicious songs in Judas Priest’s catalog. Featuring one of their fastest tempos, the song is unrelenting and pounds forward like a freight train. Some of the finest riffs that Tipton and Downing have penned are backed with one of Halford’s grittiest and dirtiest performances. A huge chorus will have you screaming along at full throttle as drummer Dave Holland never lets up with a great backbeat.
6. Exciter (1977)
After session drummer Simon Phillips passed on the opportunity to join the band full time, Judas Priest brought in Les Binks. The drum intro on the opening track of their fourth album Stained Class,<?em> “Exciter” shows his blazing double bass playing and dexterous skills from the onset. Considered a precursor to thrash metal, the track finds Tipton and Downing playing the rhythms lightning fast behind Halford’s legendary shriek. One of Judas Priest’s most influential songs, ”Exciter” pushes the boundaries of metal even further in its infancy.
5. Painkiller (1990)
With one of the most iconic drum intros in metal history, Priest entered the ’90s with the most ferocious song of their career. Incorporating speed metal into their sound, it is rare to find a band that writes their most aggressive song 16 years into their recording career. Halford’s vocals are piercing and intense, as Tipton starts incorporating sweep picking into his leads for the first time. “Painkiller” is incredibly influential as bands like Primal Fear made a whole career of utilizing its sound.
4. The Hellion/Electric Eye (1982)
The melodic dual guitar intro that opens “The Hellion” is one of the greatest openings to any metal album ever. It seamlessly merges into the driving “Electric Eye.” Halford utilizes his mid range to dramatic effect and has an Ozzy like quality to his melody. Halford has such an incredible range to draw from that his lower range is as dynamic as the great wails he is known for. Drawing inspiration from Orwell’s “1984” the song deals with a modern totalitarian state and is prophetic in its lyrics.
3. Dissident Aggressor (1977)
The most overlooked song of Judas Priest’s career is the groundbreaking “Dissident Aggressor.” The first proto thrash song ever, it was incredibly influential on bands like Slayer, whom also covered it. A driving fast down picked riff is backed by intense double bass drumming that was way ahead of its time. Session drummer Simon Phillips’ performance is without a doubt one of the best in metal history. Halford’s vocals are sky high and aggressive as Priest was continually pushing the envelope on what metal could become. It’s mind blowing this was released way back in 1977.
2. Hell Bent For Leather (1978)
The opening of 1978’s “Hell Bent For Leather” sounds like one is on a motorcycle traveling at the speed of sound as drummer Les Binks beats his kit into submission. It is the best driving song ever written with its slick guitar riffs and a chorus that is to die for. A middle eight finds Halford once again perfecting his mid range vocals, as Tipton shows off his tapping skills in the futuristic solo. Metal would never be the same as the genre adopted the image spawned by this landmark metal track.
1. Victim Of Changes (1976)
A turning point in metal history is 1976’s “Victim Of Changes.” An outright epic that blends two earlier songs “Whiskey Woman” and “Red Light Lady,” the song is brilliantly structured as it effortlessly blends between multiple passages. Combining the doom and heaviness of Black Sabbath with the melody and grandiose melodies of Queen has never been executed better. Halford’s banshee like screams in the outro have to be heard to be believed. The growth between their debut and their sophomore release Sad Wings Of Destiny is incredibly evident on this standout track, our pick as their best.
Picking the best Priest song is no easy task! I noticed most of the newer material didn’t get mentioned, and that meant ignoring “Hammer And The Anvil”, “Judas Is Rising” and “Firepower”. But “Rapid Fire” is on there, and to me is the quintessential definition of a great Judas Priest song. It and “Exciter” to me are the thrash pioneering tunes. Not that there weren’t fast tunes from other bands previously, but this is tag guitar heavy teamwork here, sharp as a buzzsaw and played with surgical precision.