39 years ago: Judas Priest released ‘Defenders of the Faith’

When Judas Priest en route to Ibiza, Spain in September 1983, the band rode the crest of a high and powerful wave. They had just finished touring for Scream for revengewhich went Platinum in April earlier that year and sought to repeat the formula of the album’s success by returning to Ibiza Sound Studios with producer Tom Allom just 16 months after they finished tracking Cry.

To a large extent, the plan worked and when Defenders of the Faith came out Jan. 4, 1984, Judas Priest were regarded as masters of metal, true defenders of the genre they helped construct and unapologetically supported. Like its predecessor, Defenders of the Faith was metal through and through, starting with the wild twin guitar riff, thunderous drumbeat and falsetto-tinged vocals of “Freewheel Burning” and continuing right through to the pounding, melodic album closer, “Heavy Duty / Defenders of the Faith.”

Judas Priest, “Freewheel Burning”

In many ways, Cry and Defenders are like bookends, two parallel releases that feed the same energy and draw from the same sources of outsider empowerment. “Freewheel Burning” is similar to “Electric Eye”, “Some Heads are Gonna Roll” is similar to “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” and “The Sentinel” has the attitude and persistence of “Screaming for Vengeance”.

“We were really riding the same train, if you will,” Rob Halford told me in 2011. “It was part of that block of time in the ’80s where we were making a record a year and then doing a world tour at the same time, and when you’re doing that, you’re really relying on instinct. But when you roaring on all cylinders creating, you’re able to do that. So I agree that the two records are cut from a similar cloth, but they stand out individually, which is the great thing.”

Judas Priest, “Some Heads Will Roll”

That Judas Priest was able to create 10 new stormers, anthems and sing-alongs in a matter of months is nothing short of remarkable. And it was at a time when the band’s days in Ibiza were full of distractions. There was a beautiful beach, entertainment of all types and indulgence around every corner.

“We were very hedonistic and having a great time. It was the ’80s. It was the great era of metal decadence and we certainly had our share of that. But at the end of the day we knew we were there to make a record, so somewhere in the back of our minds we made sure we were stable enough and sober enough to get the job done.”

It’s unclear if it had anything to do with the drugs they took or the alcohol they drank, but in conjunction with the songwriting, Judas Priest wrote “Eat Me Alive,” which put them squarely in the crosshairs of the political watchdog organization. Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), which strove to put warning labels on albums they deemed offensive. And “Eat Me Alive” qualified as one of the group’s “filthy fifteen”.

The lines PMRC objected to were: “Gut-wrenching frenzy that disturbs every joint/
I will force you at gunpoint… to eat me alive.” Susan Baker, wife of former Treasury Secretary James Baker called the song “the one about forced oral sex at gunpoint.”

Today, Halford laughs at the kerfuffle the song caused, but back then it had the potential to explode into a PR nightmare. “We were all f–king out of our minds in Ibiza and I wrote whatever came into my head,” Halford told me. “We fell over in the studio because we all thought it was really funny. Of course it turned into this serious forum that made us, the musicians, look like the bad guys. That’s why we were so furious. We thought : “Whoa, this is a First Amendment issue.” And they had a very negative effect on some very important, talented musicians.”

Of course, the controversy probably played out in Judas Priest’s favor, largely due to the wave of support they had at the time. By the time the band left the studio in November 1983, it was clear that Judas Priest had assembled a rock-solid slab of metal that would stand the test of time and ultimately produce some of the band’s most enduring songs, including “Freewheel Burning,” Love Bites, “Eat Me Alive”, “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” and “The Sentinel”.

Judas Priest, “Love Bites”

The first single to Defenders of the Faith was “Freewheel Burning”, which came out in December 1983, about a month before the album’s release. “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” and “Love Bites” followed, but from the time of release, fans watched Defenders of the Faith as an album to listen to front to back, not as a collection of singles with a few filler tracks in between. Although there wasn’t exactly a theme to the record, there were messages of self-empowerment, revenge and freedom, as well as iconic images of monsters and mayhem that matched the mechanical beast on the album cover.

“It was all part of putting our metal boot out into the world,” Halford said. “And it’s a great record. It’s powerful, it’s remarkable, even today. And part of that is because we’ve always had these mission statements. We were hell-bent on leather, we were screaming for revenge, and now we defended the faith. Not that we needed to say these things, but it kind of gave what we were doing a point.”

Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the author of Raising Hell: Backstage Tales From the Lives of Metal Legendsco-author of Louder Than Hell: Metal’s Definitive Oral Historyas well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthraxand Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, The Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.

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