36 Years Ago: Judas Priest Ride Hot Streak With ‘Defenders of the Faith’
When Judas Priest headed to Ibiza, Spain in September of 1983, the band was riding the crest of a tall and powerful wave. They had just finished touring for Screaming for Vengeance, which went Platinum in April earlier that year and attempted to repeat the formula for the album’s success by returning to Ibiza Sound Studios with producer Tom Allom a mere 16 months after they finished tracking Screaming.
To a large extent the plan worked and when Defenders of the Faith came out on Jan. 4, 1984, Judas Priest were regarded as champions of metal, true defenders of the genre they helped construct and unapologetically endorsed. Like its predecessor, Defenders of the Faith was metal through and through, starting with the savage twin guitar riff, thunderous drum beat and falsetto-emblazoned vocals of “Freewheel Burning” and continuing straight through to the pounding, melodic album closer, “Heavy Duty / Defenders of the Faith.”
In many ways, Screaming and Defenders are like bookends, two parallel releases that feed off the same energy and draw from the same sources of outsider empowerment. “Freewheel Burning” is similar to “Electric Eye,” “Some Heads are Gonna Roll” resembles “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’" and “The Sentinel” has the attitude and tenacity of “Screaming for Vengeance.”
“We really were riding that same train, if you will,” Rob Halford told me in 2011. “That was part of that block of time in the ‘80s when 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’re roaring on all cylinders creating, you’re able to do that. So I would agree that those two records are cut from a similar cloth, but they each stand out on their own, which is the amazing thing.”
That Judas Priest were able to craft 10 new stormers, anthems and sing-alongs in just a few months is nothing short of remarkable. And that 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 indulgences around every corner.
“We were being very hedonistic and having a great time. It was the ‘80s. It was the great era of metal decadence and we definitely had our share of it. But at the end of the day, we knew we were there to do 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 whether it had anything to do the substances they were ingesting or the alcohol they were drinking, but in the course of songwriting Judas Priest penned “Eat Me Alive,” which put them squarely in the crosshairs of the political watch dog organization the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), which strived to affix albums they deemed offensive with warning labels. And “Eat Me Alive” qualified as one of the group’s “filthy fifteen.”
The lines the PMRC objected to were, “Gut-wrenching frenzy that deranges every joint/
I'm gonna force you at gun point… to eat me alive.” Susan Baker, wife of former Secretary of the Treasury James Baker called the song “the one about forced oral sex at gunpoint.”
Today, Halford laughs at the kerfuffle the song it caused, but at the time it had the potential to explode into a PR nightmare. “We were all f--king pissed out of our minds in Ibiza and I was writing whatever came to mind,” Halford told me. “We were falling about in the studio because we all thought it was really funny. Of course, it turned into this serious forum that made us, the musicians, appear to be the bad guys. That was why we were so furious. We were going, ‘Whoa, this is a First Amendment issue.' And they had a very negative effect on some very important, talented musicians.”
Of course, the controversy likely played out in Judas Priest’s favor, largely because of the wave of support they had at the time. When the band left the studio in November 1983, it was clear that Judas Priest had assembled as 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.”
The first single for Defenders of the Faith was “Freewheel Burning,” which came out in December 1983, roughly a month before the album’s release. “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” and “Love Bites” followed, but from the time of its release fans viewed Defenders of the Faith as an album to listen to from front to back, not as a collection of singles with a few filler tracks in between. Though there wasn’t exactly a theme to the record, there were messages of self-empowerment, revenge and freedom as well as iconic imagery of monsters and mayhem that matched the mechanical beast on the album cover.
“It was all a part of putting our metal boot 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 hellbent for leather, we screamed for vengeance and now we were defending the faith. Not that we needed to say these things, but it kind of gave what we were doing a point, in a way.”
Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, and Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.
See Where Defenders of the Faith Sits in Our Ranking of Judas Priest's Albums