The Judas Priest album title that became heavy metal's definitive statement of intent

Judas Priest group portrait
(Image credit: Paul Natkin via Getty Images)

In January 1984, Judas Priest unveiled their ninth album, Defenders Of The Faith; long since acknowledged as a heavy metal classic, but at the time, judged a relative failure. 

Two years earlier, its predecessor, Screaming For Vengeance, had transformed the Brummie quintet into superstars, especially across the Atlantic where US audiences couldn’t get enough of their marauding, twin guitar-embellished anthems, voiced by the banshee-like Rob Halford, and a leather, studs, whips and chains image that – just like their music – would be copied and copied. 

But where do you go once you’ve crafted one of the finest heavy metal albums of all time? 

Priest were seemingly on a creative roll, and with Tom Allom reclaiming the producer’s chair, Defenders Of The Faith adhered closely to the blueprint of Screaming For Vengeance

With hindsight, though, one thing was missing. While Screaming… had boasted You Got Another Thing Coming, a sizeable Stateside single and MTV hit, the best that Defenders Of The Faith could offer in the crossover stakes was Freewheel Burning; a blinder of a song, but in commercial terms, an almost thrash metal-style workout of a track in comparison. 

By 1984’s end, Defenders… had stalled at 800,000 copies – a Herculean amount by today’s standards but half a million less than Screaming For Vengeance which continued to fly out the door. 

“I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t disappointed with those figures,” admitted Rob in an interview at the time, conceding: “We simply didn’t have a strong enough single.” 

For Judas Priest – and indeed heavy metal as a genre – 1984 can be seen as a watershed year. Many a battle-torn hero cast an eye over their shoulders in the summer as Metallica unveiled a game-changing second album, Ride The Lightning, and the thrash metal movement that Priest themselves would embrace several years later with the Painkiller album began to take a firm hold. 

One era was coming to an end and another about to begin. And the album title? ‘Defenders Of The Faith’ has become a motto adopted by generations of metalheads – a definitive title awarded to those who are steeped within metal’s history, values and core ethics – its definitive statement of intent.

Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.