With Downing as leader, the band moved from their original bluesy tunes towards heavy rock and what would later come to be defined as early heavy metal. This quartet played around Birmingham and the surrounding areas with various drummers until 1974, sometimes opening for bands such as Budgie, Thin Lizzy and Trapeze. Eventually, financial difficulties and problems with their management, Tony Iommi's company, IMA, led to the departure of Alan Atkins and drummer Alan Moore.
At the time, Ian Hill was dating a woman from nearby town Walsall who suggested her brother, Bob Halford, be considered as a singer. Halford joined the band, bringing drummer John Hinch from his previous band, Hiroshima. This line-up toured in the UK, often supporting Budgie, and even headlined in some shows in Norway and Germany.
There were technical problems during the recording which led to poor sound quality. Producer Rodger Bain, whose CV included Black Sabbath's first three albums as well as Budgie's first album, dominated the production of the album and made decisions with which the band did not agree Bain also chose to leave fan favorites from the band's live performances, such as "Tyrant", "Genocide", and "The Ripper", off the album. He cut the song "Caviar and Meths" from a 10-minute song down to a 2-minute instrumental.
With their next album, recorded during January and February of 1976, the band participated more in the production and chose the producers. The result, Sad Wings of Destiny (1976), included a variety of old material, including the aforementioned stage favorites and the epic "Victim of Changes". This song combined "Whiskey Woman", a stage classic since the era of the first Judas Priest (Al Atkins' band) and "Red Light Lady" brought by Halford from his previous group, Hiroshima. This album and a strong 1975 performance at the Reading Festival helped to build their fanbase.
After Les Binks quit, in part because of the band's direction, the band replaced him with Dave Holland, formerly from the band Trapeze. With this line-up, Judas Priest recorded six studio and one live album which garnered different degrees of critical and financial success. Overall, the band has sold in excess of 30 million albums globally.
In 1980, the band released British Steel. The songs were shorter and had more mainstream radio hooks, but retained the heavy metal feel. Tracks such as "United", "Breaking the Law", and "Living After Midnight" were frequently played on the radio. The next release, 1981's Point of Entry, followed the same formula, but critics generally panned it. However, the tour in support was successful, with new songs such as "Solar Angels" and "Heading Out to the Highway".
The 1982 album Screaming for Vengeance featured the song "You've Got Another Thing Comin'", which garnered strong US radio airplay. Songs such as "Electric Eye" and "Riding on the Wind" also appeared off this album, and proved to be popular live tracks. "(Take These) Chains" (by Bob Halligan, Jr.) was released as a single and received heavy airplay. This album went two times Platinum.
Defenders of the Faith was released in 1984. Even though it was more progressive than their earlier efforts, some critics dubbed it as "Screaming for Vengeance II", due to its musical likeness to the previous album..
On July 13th, 1985, Judas Priest was - apart from Black Sabbath - the only metal band to perform at the Live Aid event. The band played at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Their setlist was "Living After Midnight", "The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown)" and "(You've Got) Another Thing Comin'".
Turbo was released in 1986, during the glam metal era. To keep up with the times, Priest adopted a more colourful look and gave their music a more poppy feel by adding synthesisers. The album also went Platinum and had a successful tour in support, but some critics argued the album was a sellout. A live album recorded on the tour, titled Priest... Live!, was released the next year, offering fans live tracks from the 1980s era. The video documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot was created by Jeff Krulik and John Heyn in 1986. It documents the heavy metal fans waiting on May 31, 1986 for a Judas Priest concert (with special guests Dokken) at the Capital Centre (later renamed US Airways Arena) in Landover, Maryland.
In 1988, Ram it Down was released, featuring several reworked songs left over from Turbo, in addition to new songs. A reviewer has called Ram it Down a "stylistic confusion" of "cornball metal" that resulted from the band's "...attempt to rid themselves of the high tech synthesiser approach...and return to the traditional metal of their fading glory days." The reviewer argued the album showed "...how far behind they were lagging...the thrashers they helped influence" in earlier years. As well, in the late 1980s, longtime drummer Dave Holland left the band.
In 1990, the Painkiller album used a new drummer, Scott Travis (formerly from Racer X). This comeback album dropped the 1980s-style synthesisers for all of the songs except a ballad entitled "A Touch of Evil." The tour used bands such as Pantera, Megadeth and Sepultura as opening bands, and culminated in the Rock in Rio performance in Brazil in front of 100,000+ music fans.
Part of the Judas Priest stage show often featured Rob Halford riding onstage on a Harley-Davidson motorbike, dressed in motorcycle leathers and sunglasses. In a Toronto show in 1991, Halford was seriously injured as he rode on stage, when he collided with a drum riser that was hidden behind clouds of dry ice mist. Although the show was delayed, he performed the entire set before going to hospital. Hill later noted "he must have been in agony". He later claimed the accident helped to prompt his departure from the band. For nearly five years, Priest remained in the shadows, with no release to top Painkiller.
The men's parents and their legal team alleged that a subliminal message of "do it" had been included in the Judas Priest song "Better By You, Better Than Me" from the Stained Class album (actually a cover of a Spooky Tooth number). They alleged the command in the song triggered the suicide attempt. The suit was eventually dismissed. One of the defense witnesses, Dr Timothy E. Moore, wrote an article for Skeptical Inquirer chronicling the trial.
The trial was covered in the 1991 documentary Dream Deceivers: The Story Behind James Vance Vs. Judas Priest In the documentary Halford commented that, if they wanted to insert subliminal commands in their music, killing their fans would be counterproductive and they would prefer to insert the command "Buy more of our records". Regarding the plaintiff's assertions that the statement "do it" was a command to commit suicide, Halford pointed out "do it" had no direct message.
Halford collaborated with Judas Priest in the release of a compilation album entitled Metal Works '73-'93 to commemorate their 20th anniversary. He also appeared in a video by the same title, documenting their history, in which his departure from the band was officially announced later that year.
In a 1998 interview on MTV, Halford also revealed his homosexuality, but it came as little surprise to fans as rumours had been circulating for over five years. Halford's former bandmates in Priest stated they were previously aware of his sexual orientation.
Owens' move from fan and weekend tribute band singer to frontman for the actual band was the inspiration for the film Rock Star. Because the film's content bore only a tangential resemblance to Owens's actual history with the band, Judas Priest later moved to disassociate themselves from the film. The film (starring Mark Wahlberg) was a critical and commercial flop, though the fictional band portrayed in the film - Steel Dragon - achieved a cult status among some heavy metal and Judas Priest fans.
On August 15, 2002 PETA, an animal rights group, sent the band's management a request to stop wearing leather onstage. It was even reported that they asked the band to change the name of their Hell Bent for Leather album to Hell Bent for Pleather. Judas Priest responded that they wear artificial leather, but PETA still protested that this could encourage listeners to wear real leather.
A new studio album, Angel of Retribution, was released on 1 March 2005 (U.S.) on Sony Music/Epic Records to critical and commercial success. A global tour in support of the album ensued, and was hugely successful. Judas Priest and "Ripper" Owens parted amicably, with Owens joining American heavy metal band Iced Earth as the lead singer to record the album The Glorious Burden, released in 2004 and its follow-up Framing Armageddon (Something Wicked Part 1) in 2007 by SPV Records. Ripper left Iced Earth in December 2007 to head his current band called Beyond Fear, whose self-titled debut was release in May 2006, also by SPV Records. He's also currently the singer for guitar legend Yngwie Malmsteen.
As for the band Halford, writing for the fourth release was cut off. However, after the Retribution tour in June 2006, Halford announced he would create his own record company, entitled Metal God Entertainment, where he would release all his solo material under his own control. In November 2006 he remastered his back catalog and released it exclusively through Apple's iTunes Store. Two new songs allegedly set for the fourth release, "Forgotten Generation" and "Drop Out", were released through iTunes as well.
In a June 2006 interview with MTV.com, frontman Rob Halford said in regards to the group's upcoming concept album about the legendary 16th century French prophet Nostradamus, "Nostradamus is all about metal, isn't he? He was an alchemist as well as a seer — a person of extraordinary talent. He had an amazing life that was full of trial and tribulation and joy and sorrow. He's a very human character and a world-famous individual. You can take his name and translate it into any language and everybody knows about him, and that's important because we're dealing with a worldwide audience.
In addition to digging new lyrical ground for the band, the album will contain musical elements which might surprise their fans. "It's going to have a lot of depth", Halford said. "There'll be a lot of symphonic elements. We might orchestrate it, without it being overblown. There may be a massive choir at parts and keyboards will be featured more prominently, whereas they've always been in the background before.
In addition to this, in a February 2007 interview with Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles, K. K. Downing revealed they have recorded a total of 18 tracks, with a length of over 90 minutes. He notes there is not much he would like to cut down, so it will likely be a double-CD release, their first full-length LP to do so. He adds that Rob Halford's vocal tracks are currently being laid down, and the rhythm will most likely follow suit. Downing also reveals the current orchestrations are MIDI converters, and he does not know if an outside orchestra will be used.
Judas Priest announced, via their website, on November 22, 2007 that they would go on tour promoting their Nostradamus-themed album. The tour opened in Helsinki, Finland on June 3, 2008 and is scheduled to go through Europe, North America, Australia, South Korea, Japan. After a few weeks off the tour resumes in Mexico, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
In February 2009, Judas Priest continue their tour when they bring their 'Priest Feast' for several arena dates with support from guests Megadeth and Testament. They will play Sheffield Arena, Birmingham LG Arena, Glasgow SECC Hall, Manchester Arena, Nottingham Arena, Cardiff Arena, Wembley Arena in London.Sat 02/28/09. The Nostradamus tour will then continue on to Ireland, with dates on Tuesday 02/10/09 Dublin, Wednesday 02/11/09 Belfast. From there it moves to Sweden. Saturday 02/28/09 Stockholm, Sunday 03/01/09 Goteborg, and Wednesday 03/04/09 in a city called Malmo.
Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s, also features "Electric Eye", including its intro, "The Hellion". The 2001 PlayStation 2 video game, Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec features "Turbo Lover" on the game's soundtrack. Its sequel Gran Turismo 4 features "Freewheel Burning". The song "Breaking the Law" is also featured on the soundtrack to the 2006 PC, PS2 and Xbox game Scarface: The World is Yours. Additionally, Harmonix announced on April 18, 2008 that the first full-album available for download for the very popular video game Rock Band would be Judas Priest's Screaming for Vengeance. The album became available on April 22 for Xbox 360 and April 24 for Playstation 3. Its sequel, Rock Band 2 features "Painkiller"
Many people, including influential musicians and members of prominent hard rock and heavy metal bands, believe that among the foundations for what would define "pure" heavy metal were three early Judas Priest albums: Sad Wings of Destiny (1976), Sin After Sin (1977), and Stained Class (1978).
The band often played faster than most rock groups of the time and brought a more "metallic" sound to the guitars. The songs varied from simple and straightforward tunes (e.g. "Starbreaker") to fairly structured material, changing from fast and loud to slower tempo and softer tunes in one song (e.g., "Victim of Changes", "Run of the Mill", "Beyond the Realms of Death"). Some songs, such as 1978's "Exciter", were groundbreaking for their sheer ferocity and speed; others, like "Dissident Aggressor", "Sinner" and "Tyrant", are considered to be the heaviest songs of their day, and today are considered classic metal tracks.
Their 1978 album Killing Machine (retitled Hell Bent for Leather and released in 1979 in the USA) saw a change of direction towards shorter, poppier, more American-influenced songs. The following release, British Steel, (April 14, 1980), took an even sharper turn in the same direction and was perhaps the first heavy metal album to record radio-friendly songs with pop hooks, in a concise format.
The band's next effort, Point of Entry (February 26, 1981), is harder to define — the sound was very "raw" (i.e. minimal sound manipulation) and the songs were somewhat moody, and paced at a slower than usual tempo. As guitarist Glenn Tipton later admitted, Point of Entry had the tough task of living up to the standards set by its predecessor, and failed to do so. Subsequent albums Screaming for Vengeance (July 17, 1982), which contained the popular radio hit "You've Got Another Thing Comin'", and Defenders of the Faith (January 4, 1984) once again set high standards in intensity and production, and continued to influence the sonic shape of heavy metal. Turbo (April 15, 1986) found the group introducing a "synth-guitar" sound to their metal template.
Ram It Down (1988), an album containing several cast-off and reworked tracks from the previous album Turbo, including the eponymous tune, garnered little commercial attention. The style was heavier than the material found on Turbo but still contained the synth elements of the previous release.
For Painkiller (1990) Judas Priest returned to a more straightforward heavy metal style with more technical and double-bass drumming from new member Scott Travis. This album represents one of the heaviest and most intense in the band's discography, with Halford's trademark high-pitched wail rising to an ear-splitting shriek on certain tracks. Indeed, Florida death metal band Death have even covered the title track on their album The Sound of Perseverance.
Judas Priest also released two albums with Tim 'Ripper' Owens following Rob Halford's departure. Jugulator (1997) was given mixed reviews, although it contains the epic "Cathedral Spires" which became one of Ripper's more popular songs. Demolition (2001) was generally considered another disappointment, although holding some memorable tracks.
Judas Priest's Angel of Retribution (2005), which was Rob Halford's first Judas Priest album since 1990, contributed to the current revival of classic heavy metal. It contains songs in the band's classic style, such as "Judas Rising" and "Hellrider", as well as mid-tempo songs with clear and prominent drums and less prominent guitars ("Worth Fighting For", "Wheels of Fire"), a ballad ("Angel"), and the epic ("Lochness") which runs 13:28, a length of song the band had not done since its concerts in the early 1970s.
The latest installment in the Judas Priest discography, Nostradamus was released in June 2008. The double-CD/triple-LP concept album details the life of the 16th century French prophet Michel de Nostredame. The style is mostly slow to mid-paced heavy metal, though some songs (particularly the title track) still display the band's trademark speed metal sound.
In addition to the sound, Judas Priest are also known for being revolutionaries in heavy metal fashion. Rob Halford began incorporating a macho/biker/S&M style into his look as early as 1978 (to coincide with the release of their album Killing Machine), and the rest of the band followed. It became a mainstay in heavy metal; soon, several other bands, particularly of the NWOBHM and early black metal movements, began incorporating Halford's fashion into their look as well. This sparked a revival in metal in the early '80s, and catapulted them to fame, in both the mainstream and underground. Even in the present, it is not uncommon to find metal artists sporting such a look at concerts.
On a few occasions Judas Priest music has also served as score music to serve the heavy metal cliché. A good example is an episode of the German crime investigation series Derrick called "Verlorene Würde" ("Lost Dignity"), first aired 31 May 1991. In this episode a young drug addict is also a fan of heavy metal music. As he is quizzed by the police in his apartment, "Painkiller" by Judas Priest and "Psycho Holiday" by Pantera play from the stereo system.