November 3, 2022

The Rock Hall Triumph of Judas Priest

"We don't accept defeat, we never will retreat..." - "Freewheel Burning"

Tough as leather, armed with a steely resolve, and road warriors to this day, Judas Priest finally enters the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this Saturday, November 5. It's a triumph for these metal gods, and for the heavy metal faithful across the globe. 

It's also an exceptionally overdue honor, and one that unfortunately required special intervention by the Hall to even happen. Judas Priest, upon their third nomination this year, still didn't earn enough votes from the official Rock Hall votership to be counted among the Class of 2022's seven "Performer" honorees (Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo, Duran Duran, Eminem, Eurythmics, Dolly Parton, Lionel Richie, and Carly Simon). As a result, they are being given the Award for Musical Excellence.  

Ian Hill, Glenn Tipton, Rob Halford, K.K. Downing, Les Binks
Ultimately, the Hall arrived at a solution. Some observers are OK with it, some are not. But the institution had to take action. How could they continue to snub Judas Priest, arguably the second-most significant metal band after Black Sabbath? If Hall voters continue to reject this genre (Iron Maiden was on the ballot last year, another swing and a miss!), measures need to be taken. Maybe it's not perfect, but as Winston Churchill once said, perfection is the enemy of progress.

In many ways, this "other" honor is quite appropriate, and one truly hopes the Priest camp fully embraces and understands it. These guys wear their outsider status on their studded sleeves, and have soldiered through their career on their own terms. They are the embodiment of heavy metal, which is not a path for the faint of heart  these guys had to have wanted it. Officially formed in 1969, with their debut LP Rocka Rolla released in 1974, the group has overcome daunting challenges: label woes; personnel changes; world tours; a 1990 court trial where they were accused of putting subliminal messages in their music; and Rob Halford's difficult decision, as a gay man, to stay in the closet during Priest's most successful years (he came out in 1998). More recently, guitarist Glenn Tipton was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 2018, leaving him unable to perform full shows, though he still performs encores with his mates, and will fortunately be present at this week's ceremony. Despite everything, Priest have delivered on their vision for over 50 years, making thunderous, exhilarating music for hardcore fans and mainstream rock audiences alike. 

Musical excellence? They've excelled indeed, from the sonorous vocals and haunting riffs of "Victim of Changes" to the revving, concussive "Hell Bent for Leather" to radio/MTV hits like "Breaking the Law" and "You've Got Another Thing Coming." On 1990's Painkiller album, they pushed the limits of speed and thrash metal to gloriously punishing effect. And these high points are just the tip of the iceberg — at 18 studio albums, the Priest discography is rewarding and vast, with 2018's Firepower earning rave reviews as a thrilling return to form. A new album is due in 2023.

Priest's induction feels rather special; there's a definite "triumph of the underdog" narrative here for both the band and its disciples. Suddenly, a worldwide community of marginalized metal believers, angry with the Hall for years about this snub, finally feel seen. For generations of lost souls and high school rebels, Priest has been a sanctuary. Their music is a rite of passage, sure, but it's also a lifelong companion. 

Judas Priest represents so much. They are the smoking kids on the corner outside your high school. They are every Eddie Munson with a Dio backpatch. They are the rowdy denizens of heavy metal parking lots where zebra-striped shirts get soaked with beer and sweat. They are the sound of a teenager's bedroom door slamming after a fight with a parent. They are a backwoods kegger, where bonfires rage and bad choices are made. They have been there, reliably, to offer their faithful catharsis, community, and the credo "One life, I'm gonna live it up." And that's why they belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, by any means necessary.