Before there was the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, there was the First Wave of British Heavy Metal. Amongst that group was a fearsome quintet from Birmingham, whose name will live on in the annals of heavy metal history. Along with groups Black Sabbath and Motorhead, Judas Priest played an integral role in establishing the United Kingdom's burgeoning metal scene in the '70s. The roots of the group were sowed in 1969 when another local band called Judas Priest folded. After that the group's vocalist Al Atkins, approached childhood friends K.K. Downing and Ian Hill to form a band. Downing suggested they reuse his old band's name, and Judas Priest was reformed. With Downing on guitar and Hill on bass, the group was rounded out by drummer John Ellis. However, that line-up changed in 1974, when Atkins was replaced by vocalist Rob Halford and John Hinch replaced Alan Moore (who had replaced John Ellis). In total, Priest would go through a Spinal Tap-esque seven drummers. Only current drummer Scott Travis (1989-present) and Dave Holland (1979-1989) would last over 10 years with the group.
The outfit released their debut Rocka Rolla in 1974 to little fanfare. In fact, it would take them three more records before they started making some headway. While not a huge seller,1978's Stained Class was the sound of an aggressive, unrelenting metal band finding its feet. 1978's Killing Machine continued their progression and was their first LP to chart in the Billboard US Top 200. It set the stage for their classic 1980 album British Steel. The album was lauded by critics and fans and features the metal anthems "Breaking The Law" and "Living After Midknight." Priest had found the perfect balance between brutality and melody, deftly weaving pounding, bluesy riffs with Rob Halford's dexterous, powerful tenor. The amalgam delighted metal fans and arena-rockers alike, leading to a commercial and cultural explosion.
The quintet refused to rest on their laurels, releasing Point of Entry just a year later. While it sold well and featured popular songs like "Hot Rockin'" and "Heading Out to the Highway," it didn't have the edge that British Steel did, as the group opted for a more radio-friendly sound. Their follow-up, 1982's Screaming For Vengance, was similarly well-received, as was 1984's Defenders of the Faith. The group released seven more LPs over their career, but none made quite the impact as the aforementioned albums. Halford quit the group in 1991 and was replaced in 1996 by Tim "Ripper" Owens, who was discovered while singing in a Judas Priest cover band. Owens fronted the group for seven years, until Halford asked to rejoin the group in 2003.
With their legendary vocalist back in the fold, they released two more studio albums, 2005's Angel of Retribution and 2008's Nostradamus. They have continued to tour and, in 2009, they celebrated the 30th anniversary of British Steel with a North American tour.
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