I want to preface this by saying I absolutely love Black Sabbath. They are the inventors of heavy metal without any question. I’m sure I’ll draw the wrath of a few purists out there, but my point is to demonstrate why Judas Priest is the band that should be held up to define heavy metal above all others, even over the great Sabbath. Because Black Sabbath (we’re speaking mainly of the Ozzy and Dio years,) is so iconic, and the only rival for my claim, I’ll be focusing a lot on comparison between the two bands.
- They Defined the “Look” of Heavy Metal
It would be hard to deny that when Priest showed up for the “Stained Class” tour in leather and diamond studs, they realigned not only the notion of how heavy metal musicians dressed, but also how rock stars in general would appear from then on, assuming they wanted any appearance of edginess. Iron Maiden, and much of the rest of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands, cloned their image from Judas Priest, despite the fact that everyone was too stupid to notice how much they looked like a certain member of the Village People. (Rob Halford has said repeatedly that the VP and gay club-culture were the sole inspirations for his stage outfits.) Even the mid-80’s version of Black Sabbath had adaptations of the Priest look going on. When you think of how a metal band should look, you think of Priest.
- Judas Priest Has the Best 4-Album Run of Any Band in Rock and Roll
The Beatles aside, Judas Priest may well have the best four consecutive albums in rock: “Sad Wings of Destiny” – “Sin after Sin” – “Stained Class” – “Killing Machine (Hell Bent for Leather)”. While there’s no doubt that those first six Sabbath albums are fantastic, with the exception of “Paranoid” and perhaps “Sabotage”, we tend to listen to them through rose-colored earplugs. Remember that on “Vol. 4”, between great metal tracks “Tomorrow’s Dream” and “Supernaut”, lie the almost unbearable “Changes” and “FX”. The early Sabbath albums are full of flower-power nonsense. Even if you get defensive and feel that those are great tracks, the fact that they’re so un-metal proves my original point, simply because Judas Priest has so much less of it. Those four Priest albums contain the beginnings of speed metal, power metal, progressive metal, the operatic metal singing style, dual guitar leads, and a heaviness that was unmatched by anyone making music during the late 1970’s.
“Stained Class” is arguably a flawless album. Every song is great. Some are blisteringly furious for the time. The only “silly” song on the album, “Invader” is actually outstanding. Every solo on every song is terrific. All four of the aforementioned albums contain hidden gems alongside their more famous counterparts. Songs such as “Savage”, “Raw Deal”, “Starbreaker”, “Island of Domination” and the incomparable “Delivering the Goods” are amazing, but the well-known tracks ain’t too shabby, either. Have you listened to the opening of the studio version of “The Ripper” lately? Case closed on this point.
Although, as stated before, Black Sabbath made six great albums with Ozzy and two equally great albums with Dio, they made plenty of terrible music. Dio haters like to forget that Ozzy’s last two 70’s-era Sabbath albums pretty much suck and the most radical Dio fanatics have to whitewash the truth about his lackluster reunion with the band for ‘92’s “Dehumanizer”. Meh. None of this is even to say anything of the varied decent-to-awful Sabbath (a.k.a. Tony Iommi and a bunch of other dudes) albums of the mid-80’s.
Judas Priest only had an interruption of two studio albums and one live album without the great Rob Halford and the rest of their catalog has only found greater critical favor over the decades. “Point of Entry” was once thought a disappointing diversion between the very metal “British Steel” and “Screaming for Vengeance”, but thirty-plus years later, it’s held up very well when listened to on its own. Without it, we’d lose serious metal staples such as “Desert Plains” (a personal favorite) and “Solar Angels”. Even “Turbo”, once derided as a sellout, catering to the non-metal masses, has proven itself worthy with live performances that defend its metal qualities. In fact, those who have seen Priest live know that the title track, “Turbo Lover” is one of the heaviest in their set. Additionally, if you’ve heard their latest album, “Redeemer of Souls”, you’ll know that the band still has fire in them enough to keep making great music. “Halls of Valhalla” is one of the best Judas Priest songs, period.
- Black Sabbath Has Never Been Interested in Being the Ultimate Metal Band
I certainly wouldn’t say that Sabbath has avoided being called metal at all costs, such as bands like Def Leppard (Congratulations, Def Leppard, you’ve succeeded in being one of the least-metal metal bands, just as you wished!) Even though the phrase “heavy metal” was purportedly born in reference to Black Sabbath, they were really just trying to make ominous-sounding music, mixed with a splash of their folk/jazz backgrounds. It just happened to be pretty heavy in the process. Judas Priest didn’t take long to figure out that Sabbath had accidentally created a new genre and couldn’t wait to be labeled accordingly. Every Judas Priest album beyond “Rocka Rolla” was intentionally written and recorded to be “metallic”. The Tim “Ripper” Owens albums might suck, but it’s partly because the band went so far overboard to prove their metal credentials in the years when “Drop D” tuning just wasn’t dropped enough. Good luck chastising them for it; Judas Priest has always reveled in the absurdity and the joke is probably on us as far as they’re concerned.
I can’t stress enough that Black Sabbath is one of my favorite bands ever, and they deserve credit for just about everything related to metal, but the band that will always define the genre in terms of sound, appearance, and album output is the great Judas Priest.
Check out the Judas Priest YouTube Channel for your listening pleasure…