Although it may have been Black Sabbath who invented the Heavy Metal sound, it was their fellow Birmingham natives Judas Priest who truly defined it. Not only did they define the sound via the use of KK Downing and Glen Tipton’s twin guitar sound along with Rob Halford’s high-pitched vocals, but they also defined the look with their leather and studs attire. Throughout their fifty-year career, they have been known as the band who have always been unashamedly Metal. Like their peers Iron Maiden, they have been an influence on countless bands across the metal spectrum.
They first formed in West Bromwich in 1969. They released their first album Rocka Rolla in 1974 and were originally a more blues sounding band. However, this all changed on their second album Sad Wings of Destiny where they adopted the sound that they are known for.
Judas Priest has produced a lengthy discography over their long career, with most of their classic releases coming out in the ’70s and 80s. When Halford left after 1990’s Painkiller, they became far less active, releasing two rather badly received albums with his replacement Tim “Ripper” Owens. Halford re-joined in 2003 and has been back ever since. Here are our picks for the 10 best Judas Priest albums.
# 10 – Turbo
Kicking off this Top 10 Judas Priest Albums list is an entry in the Priest catalog released in 1986 which is considered by some to be controversial. The reason for this was that it saw them incorporating heavy use of synths which made the record sound a lot cleaner than much of their other material.
The album still does divide opinion among fans, with some feeling that it is Priest going far to mainstream. With that said, there are some great songs on it such as “Turbo Lover” and “Parental Guidance” which was about the then-prevalent censorship group the Parents Music Resource Center. The commercial direction certainly paid off in terms of chart success with it reaching number 17 in the Billboard Charts, making it their highest charting album until 2005’s Angel of Retribution. Speaking of which…
# 9 – Angel of Retribution
Up next on this Judas Priest albums list is the band’s fifteenth studio album from 2005. It was the record that saw the return of Halford and thus there was much anticipation for it. It was a commercial success upon its release, reaching number 13 on the US Billboard Charts. In general, it was a resurgence album for the band, as they had suffered from a decline in popularity throughout most of the 90s following the vocalist’s departure. The timing was right, as 2005 was a year that saw metal embracing its traditional roots following the end of the nu-metal era. Standout tracks include “Judas Rising” and “Demonizer.”
# 8 – Sin After Sin
With the next entry, we go way back to 1977. It was produced by Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover and was the only album to feature Simon Phillips on drums. The album, their third, was more commercially successful than their previous two, reaching number 23 on the charts. However, the music press at this time was not particularly kind to the band, with the punk movement rising to prominence. Standout Tracks: “Diamonds and Rust,” and “Dissident Aggressor.”
# 7 – Defenders of the Faith
This album from 1984’s recording sessions was reportedly debauched, and the result was a particularly ferocious record. This album is one from which the title has become a slogan for the band in relation to their commitment to the Metal cause. This album is similar in sound to its predecessor Screaming For Vengeance although it did contain some more technical elements. It was commercially successful, reaching number 18 on the Billboard. Tracks on it include “Love Bites,” “Free Wheel Burning” and “Some Heads are Gonna Roll.”
# 6 – Painkiller
The last album of Halford’s first tenure with Judas Priest from 1990 is one of the band’s heaviest and most metallic. It was also the first to feature drummer Scott Travis whose use of blast beats gave Priest more of an edge to their sound. The album’s release was halted due to the infamous trial that the band went through, which will be talked about later in this list. Despite this, upon its release the album was successful critically and commercially, being certified Gold in 1991. However, soon after its release Halford decided to leave the band to pursue other musical outlets.
# 5 – Screaming for Vengeance
The band’s eighth album entitled Screaming For Vengeance is next on the list, released in 1982. This album was their true breakthrough in terms of commercial success, selling five million copies and being certified platinum. It includes “You Got Another Thing Coming” which is now one of Priest’s best-known songs. This album has many highlights with the three hit singles contained here being among them. Aside from the previously mentioned single, it also has “Hellion/Electric Eye” and “Take These Chains.” It is a return to the heavier sound after the more melodic approach taken by the previous album Point of Entry.
# 4 – Sad Wings of Destiny
The band’s second album from 1976 was released when the likes of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple were starting to become burnt-out, making it an important album that injected some much-needed energy into the Heavy Metal genre. It many ways, it can be considered the true Priest debut, as it was the first to have the classic sound, with their debut Rocka Rolla having more of a traditional rock sound. Standout tracks on it include “Victim of Changes,” “The Ripper” and “Deceiver.”
# 3 – Stained Class
Stained Class is the fourth album released in 1978. The album features the track “Better by You, Better Than Me” which was the subject of an infamous trial in 1990 when the parents of two young men, one who committed suicide and another who attempted to do so, tried to sue the band for alleged subliminal messages in the song which is actually of a cover of a song by Spooky Tooth. The parents claimed that the song contained a subliminal message telling the boys to take their own lives when the song was played backward. It is the only album where all the members were involved in the songwriting. It was also the first album to introduce the iconic logo as well as the first to chart on the Billboard 200. Highlights include “Exciter,” “Invader” and “Beyond the Realms of Death.”
# 2 – Killing Machine
At the number two spot on this top 10 Judas Priest albums list is the band’s fifth album also released in 1978. This album saw the band going in a slightly more commercial direction and it was during this time that the band started to adopt their leather and studs’ image which was inspired by Halford’s interest in gay leather culture. With this album, the band was clearly reaching for stadium rock success with an example of this being “Take on the World.” Other standout tracks include “Evening Star” and the title track.
# 1 – British Steel
By the time this album came out in 1980, Judas Priest, despite being around for several years before it, was able to fit in very easily with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, which was an opportunity for them to have further commercial success. It is with this album that the band truly honed their studio sound. It is the album that took Judas Priest’s career to a new level, with its highest chart position being at number 4 in the UK Album Charts. It is a much-celebrated album, so much so that they played it in its entirety upon its 30th anniversary. Classic cuts on it include “Living After Midnight,” “Rapid Fire” and of course “Breaking the Law.”
Updated May 27, 2023
Top 10 Judas Priest Albums article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
Classicrockhistory.com claims ownership of all its original content and Intellectual property under United States Copyright laws and those of all other foreign countries. No one person, business, or organization is allowed to re-publish any of our original content anywhere on the web or in print without our permission. All photos used are either public domain creative commons photos or licensed officially from Shutterstock under license with ClassicRockHistory.com. All photo credits have been placed at the end of the article. Album Cover Photos are affiliate links and the property of Amazon and are stored on the Amazon server. Any theft of our content will be met with swift legal action against the infringing websites.