Defenders Of The Faith
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/21/2005
Imagine, just for a moment, you're a member of Judas Priest, and the year is 1984. You're coming off arguably your most successful album to date, Screaming For Vengeance. The obvious question is: what do you do for an encore?
It's a question that would vex anyone, and I can't say I would make any better moves than Rob Halford and crew did. In fact, Defenders Of The Faith, the follow-up album, turns out to be one of the band's most underrated efforts. Ten years removed from their debut, Judas Priest know that they're on the top of their game, and they do make some determined moves to stay there.
To lead off this disc with a barnburner such as "Freewheel Burning" is both a blessing and a curse for the group, it turns out. Yes, this is an incredible track that proves Judas Priest had lost none of their fire. But to lead with such a strong track almost adds a further challenge to the group, leading them into a constant game of "Can You Top This?" that would even send Yahweh running for the exits.
In some areas, Judas Priest is indeed up for the challenge. "Jawbreaker" and "The Sentinel" are prime examples of this, even if none of them could be labeled as "singles" a la "You've Got Another Thing Coming". Even "Love Bites" and "Eat Me Alive," two of the more, aah, controversial tracks in their discography, prove to be solid efforts that, distanced from their history, turn out to be quite enjoyable. (Anyone remember how Tipper Gore got her panties bunched up over "Eat Me Alive"? Heh - if she had only known about Halford back then. I'd have loved to have seen her back-pedal off of this one.)
In other ways, though, Defenders Of The Faith stumbles, though none of them prove to be fatal mistakes. It's just that tracks such as "Rock Hard, Ride Free" and "Heavy Duty" come off almost as Spinal Tap-like numbers, dangerously coming close to self-parody yet not diving over that cliff. To the group's benefit, the songwriting is strong enough to make even these weak moments interesting in enough ways to save some face.
So why, you may ask, is Defenders Of The Faith almost Judas Priest's "forgotten album"? The only explanation I can come up with is because it falls between two extremes - namely, the high-water mark of Screaming For Vengeance and the stylistic 180-degree turn of Turbo. In essence, Defenders becomes lost in the shuffle - but, in a way, this turns out to be beneficial for Judas Priest, as this particular disc becomes a treasure just waiting to be unearthed by even the die-hard fans. I've got to admit, it had been a long time since I listened to this album (and, yes, I know there's a remastered version out with bonus tracks - lousy budget cuts), and I found myself pleasantly surprised by its quality.
Defenders Of The Faith may have marked the end of Judas Priest's reign as one of metal's leading groups - the debate over Turbo is surely not going to end, even after I throw in my two cents in tomorrow's review - but it turns out to be a strong effort worthy of re-discovery.