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Noisey vs Metalsucks: Even Without Legendary Guitarist K.K. Downing, Judas Priest Remain Still Metal Gods

No K.K. Downing, No Priest? Seriously?

Welcome to our column, Point/Counterpoint, where we prove to the rest of the Internet that we are smarter and more right than any other editorial outlet on planet earth. We know these dudes who run a metal site called MetalSucks that people seem to like, so we challenged them to an editorial cagematch. The rules were simple: two blogs enter, one blog leaves. This week we're facing off over heavy metal covers. We personally think that Judas Priest, though currently without founding guitar great K.K. Downing, metal bands, on the whole, produce awful, dog-doo, garbage covers. For some reason, MetalSucks doesn't agree with us. You can read their wholly illegitimate response to the contrary: Judas Priest should hang it up.

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NOSTRADAMUS DID NOT PREDICT THE FUTURE

I will make no excuses for Judas Priest’s 2008 concept album Nostradamus, which along with 1986’s Turbo and 1974’s unfocused, unmetallic debut Rocka Rolla stands as one of band’s most misguided efforts. The double-disc was saturated with synthetic strings, songs that resembled show tunes and there wasn’t a lot of ballsy crunch. It was especially disappointing following vocalist Rob Halford’s comeback record with the band, 2005’s boisterous Angel of Retribution. But one flop does not a collapse make. I kind of think of Nostradamus as Priest’s St. Anger. They meant well, they took chances and pushed boundaries. It just didn’t turn into anything that would stand the test of time. But in almost every other respect, Judas Priest remains a metal legend and continue to rock audiences with devil horns raised on high even though the band has recently been a victim of changes.

ONE DOWN(ING), BUT THREE ORIGINALS REMAIN

On April 20, 2011 Judas Priest issued a press release announcing guitarist K.K. Downing was leaving the mighty Priest. This was a significant blow to everyone involved. Not only was Downing a contributing songwriter to the band (along with founding guitarist Glenn Tipton and vocalist Rob Halford), his legendary power chord riffage, fiery leads and dual guitar harmonies helped define Judas Priest’s sound and played a major role in the birth of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. But that’s all ancient history. The fact is for every bad move the band made, Downing was there. He wasn’t the Jeff Hanneman to Glenn Tipton’s Kerry King. And that’s why his departure shouldn’t signify the end of Judas Priest. Tipton helped write the band’s finest tunes, “Victim of Changes,” “Living After Midnight,” “Breaking the Law,” “Screaming For Vengeance,” “Electric Eye,” “Painkiller,” “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll…” The list goes on and on. And his experience as a songwriter and expertise as a player makes him more than capable of carrying the band in the absence of Downing. Besides, the band replaced Downing with Richie Faulkner, who has already proven himself onstage as a versatile, virtuosic musician. The Live album and DVD Epitaph, which came out in 2013 supports that. And from a short distance he even looks like a younger Downing. And even if you don’t like Faulkner, three of the original band members remain. That’s more than you can say for more veteran rock bands.

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HALFORD HALFORD HALFORD

The only factor that would lead me to suggest that Priest hang up their studded belts would be if vocalist Rob Halford, who has certainly earned the self-proclaimed title Metal God, was suddenly unable to sing. Judging from his recent concert performances as well as his appearance on Five Finger Death Punch’s single “Lift Me Up,” that doesn’t seem likely. For those who aren’t already aware of their history, the case of Halford and Priest is an interesting one. After 1990’s pummeling Painkiller Halford actually quit the group in 1992 because he wanted to work with the side project Fight and the Camp Priest forbade him from leaving the reservation. For many years there was zero communication – especially after the band hired a new vocalist Tim Ripper Owens, a working class Ohio-born kid who sang classic metal songs, including Priest numbers, in the cover band British Steel. Yet Priest persevered with Owens for seven years, releasing two full albums, the thrash-inspired Jugulator in 1997 and the less impressive Demolition in 2001, and two live discs. While Priest’s audience shrunk during this era – partially because Halford was gone, and in part because metal was out of style – I can’t recall any metalheads suggesting the band break up. If anything, they were a group to cling to because they continued to play real metal at a time when many of their peers were altering their sound to fit in with the times.

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RETURN OF THE METAL GOD

There’s no question that fans secretly pined for Halford to return to Priest, but few expected it to happen. Then in 2003, after alt-rock and nu-metal had kinda taken a dive, Halford decided to come back to Judas Priest. At first, no one was sure if it would last or how fans would react. In 1998, Halford came out of the closet on MTV and, just a few years earlier, the metal community was filled with homophobes who didn’t hide their distaste for gay culture and lifestyle. But when it was Halford who was the gay figurehead, metalheads gave him a pass and when he returned to front Priest in Europe on Ozzfest in 2004, he was embraced like a long-lost brother – largely because he ignited something in Priest and the tour was a phenomenal package of greatest hits with all band’s trademarked iconography, including leather jackets and a Harley Davidson motorcycle that Halford rode onstage for “Hell Bent For Leather.”

In a recent Billboard article, Halford said the band is done writing the follow up to Nostradamus. Unlike that record, the yet-untitled new one will be “hard [and heavy]. “ He added, “We know we have a reputation to maintain, and we know we have to deliver something really strong and solid. The album is going to be full of all the great things you love about Judas Priest.” Given that Priest aren’t declaring they want to record a triple-CD filled with gospel choirs, Tibetan monk chants and Skrillex-produced dubstep beats, why should any metal fan have a problem with one of the icons of metal continuing to do what they do with a new guitarist? Ronnie Wood isn’t the Stones’ original guitarist, Ozzy went through several amazing shredders after the tragic death of Randy Rhoads and Metallica kept the flame aloft without bassist Cliff Burton.

SUPPORT THE FIGUREHEADS WHO MADE METAL WHAT IT IS TODAY

The folks who continue to doubt Priest are the same ones who said Black Sabbath could never make a good record without drummer Bill Ward. Who’s eating their words now? In rock and roll, and especially metal, change is inevitable. Some folks are irreplaceable – the ones who are chiefly responsible for songwriting, singing and leading their bands. That’s not the case with Priest. Who knows if the group’s next album will kick ass like 13 or wither like Nostradamus, but Priest definitely deserves the chance to show what they can do. It’s not like they haven’t written a good record in 20 years. Angel of Retribution featured some killer tunes, including “Judas Rising,” “Hellrider” and “Demonizer.” Even if the new album isn’t quite as inspired, the next tour will be an extravaganza of classic tunes, synchronized headbanging, and stage effects that help make metal shows memorable. Tipton and Faulkner have already proven their a formidable pair with great chemistry and Halford can still belt it out like a heavy metal Sinatra. What more do you need? So give the second biggest metal band to emerge from the streets of Birmingham another chance to prove they can still, in their own words “deliver the goods” and “rock forever.”