Growing up, I will never forget the first time I saw a Judas Priest album cover. Heavy metal covers were designed to evoke strong imagery and to cause a reaction. And then there’s the name. I remember being curious about them and wondering, is Judas Priest a Christian band?
Here’s what I’ve discovered over the years of being a fan:
Judas Priest is not a Christian band. However, longtime Judas Priest lead vocalist Rob Halford is quite publicly committed to the Christian faith and has even released 2 albums of Christmas songs.
That album I saw was Sad Wings of Destiny.
The image of a fallen angel agonizing in a burning hell made a serious impression. I couldn’t stop looking at that cover.
Judas Priest has a long history of using controversial religious imagery.
That, combined with their religious-inspired name, and close association with other heavy metal bands such as Black Sabbath has actually caused them to be blacklisted among many conservative groups as ‘satanic’.
But take a closer look at this iconic band.
When I decided to research Judas Priest’s religious associations, I found some pretty interesting details about the group and its members and where their names came from.
Let us take you back to 1978 when Judas Priest played Japan for the first time.
The band smashed Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka on the last few weeks of the epic Stained Class Tour. pic.twitter.com/NSEj0E6krw
— TEXAS ROCK CHANNEL (@TEXASROCKFEED) April 27, 2021
What Does the Phrase Judas Priest mean?
The phrase “Judas Priest” is the polite alternative to yelling “Jesus Christ!” in an exasperated manner when someone is shocked, angry, or surprised.
If you are at all familiar with the Christian religions, you probably know who Judas was.
For those of you who don’t know the story, Judas was the disciple who betrayed Jesus, turning him in for a bounty. That’s the short version, but it has all the important details.
Fast forward about 1800 years or so, and you’ll find that people commonly exclaim “Judas Priest!”
It was a common saying back in the day when people were more conscientious of what came out of their mouths. Eventually, Bob Dylan popularized the American saying in a classic song of his, The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest.
This song eventually made it overseas to Birmingham, England, where the young Bruno Stapenhill, founding member of Judas Priest, heard it and thought it was a clever name for his newly formed heavy metal band.
Ironically, Bruno was long gone by the time the band first gained popularity.
Rob Halford, 1984.
English singer, best known as the lead vocalist for heavy metal band Judas Priest. pic.twitter.com/F5KU6FXMAC
— Agnes (@AgaAgnes666) May 17, 2020
Is Rob Halford Christian?
Rob Halford of Judas Priest is a Christian. Rob was raised in a Christian household, and at 15 years of age, had a religious experience at a church. Throughout his career, he became distanced from the church. But upon becoming sober in 1986, he found himself once again drawn to Christianity.
Rob Halford joined Judas Priest in 1973, four years after the band initially formed.
Even though he is not an “original” member of the band, he was the frontman by the time the band started touring around Europe. It is his voice we hear on the first commercially successful albums.
He left the band in 1992 but returned in 2003 and continues to front the group to this day.
While he has not appeared on every studio album that Judas Priest recorded, he is permanently associated with the band. He is the one people think of when naming the lead singer of the group.
Whether intentional or not, the frontman of any band inevitably becomes the group’s informal representative. This is why Rob Halford’s personal religious beliefs are of interest to so many people.
Here is how Halford describes his beliefs,
“I’m just into the basics really. Try to be a good person, treat others as you’d like to be treated – that stuff was instilled in me as a kid. I’m not much for labels, but I think there’s a big difference between religion and spirituality.”
Going back to what I mentioned about a religious experience at age 15, Rob was lost, depressed, and gay, and he was dabbling in drugs and alcohol.
He entered a church and found comfort and a sense of peace in the presence of a statue of the Virgin Mary. Apparently, he even smelled roses.
Despite being Christian himself, he actively criticizes conservative evangelical movements for their strict anti-gay teachings and discrimination, stating, ¨Don’t get me started on the Christian right pushing the LGBTQ community under the bus.¨
Which is the band you have seen the most times?
For me it will be Judas Priest this year if everything goes right and I get to see them for the fourth time. This picture is from the last time I saw them in 2015 🎶 pic.twitter.com/WyjAz7wEaM
— Sara (@Sarapga97) July 3, 2020
Are All Members of Judas Priest Christian?
Aside from Rob Halford who is openly Christian, Judas Priest bassist Ian Hill is the only member of the current lineup who has openly expressed a religious viewpoint, saying: “I think that most people live by Christian ideals.”
The one thing I know from being a fan of some metal bands since high school, and being a working musician for many years, and meeting many musicians, is that most heavy metal musicians just like cool imagery and powerful lyrics.
I’m not saying there aren’t exceptions.
But most metal bands aren’t devil worshipers and into evil. They just know how to tap into the brains of 13-year-old boys. And they do that with lyrics, logos, and album covers.
They may not be hardcore Christians, but most of them are far from Satanists as the media and the religious right sometimes paint them.
But the other members of Judas Priest have been pretty tightlipped about their religion or beliefs.
#OnThisDay April 8th, 1977 the third studio album of the British heavy metal band “Judas Priest” was released. This album called:”Sin After Sin”. It´s the first and only studio work with drummer Simon Phillips, who joined the band when he was only 19 years old. #JudasPriest #Rock pic.twitter.com/hatkMsOHdi
— 🎸Sukursal Rock 🎸🐺 (@YoFuiASukursal) April 8, 2021
Do Metal Bands Just Use Satanic Images for Effect?
Heavy metal bands have always used Satanic imagery for shock value and because they know that teenage boys, where a band’s fanbase often starts, will be drawn to it because they think it looks cool. Most metal bands are not Satanists.
One of the things that define heavy metal as a genre is the use of religious imagery.
And Judas Priest, considering that they pretty much helped found the metal genre, had a very important role to play in making that the norm.
So what’s the deal with the fallen angels and insinuations of hell? And in general, why do metal bands use so many blasphemous images?
It is easy to say that all this seemingly satanic imagery is just for effect or shock value, but it is actually quite symbolic.
The major Christian religions, namely Catholicism, represent control and authority over the masses. People aren’t encouraged to think for themselves but rather believe and follow the religion’s leadership unquestioningly.
Heavy metal music represents rebellion against the social control that organized religion embodies.
That’s why this kind of imagery is common throughout the genre.
It actually represents social rebellion in general, regardless of religion. The message is clear; think for yourself and be yourself.
Why Rob Halford has released a Christmas album. https://t.co/Z0Nq9fwqIo pic.twitter.com/Vevp3mfaO0
— Kerrang! Magazine (@KerrangMagazine) November 1, 2019
Did Judas Priest Put Out a Christmas Album?
Judas Priest did not release a Christmas album. However, long-time lead vocalist Rob Halford has released a pair of Christmas albums containing both original songs and classic Christmas songs. Both are performed in a heavy metal style.
But initially, I was dying to learn the answer to this question.
I had heard a rumor about heavy metal Christmas carols, and the concept just seemed ridiculous to me. So, is it true?
Yes, it is. And for any metal listener who loves Christmas, the albums are a must-have. Yes, I said ‘albums’ with a plural.
Let me clarify a bit. The Christmas albums are a side project of Rob Halford. In my opinion, they are absolutely brilliant.
Halford III: Winter Songs was released in 2009 and was followed up by Celestial, released in 2019.
Both albums feature original songs as well as Christmas classics like We Three Kings, Oh Holy Night, and What Child is This, among others.
If you haven’t given them a listen, be sure to look them up.
When you look at the name, the imagery, and the general look of Judas Priest throughout their 50-year career, it is easy to be confused about their religious leanings.
Considering that there is a burgeoning Christian heavy metal scene, there are lots of metal fans who want to know if Judas Priest is a Christian band.
Even though they are not, they are fronted by a man who adheres to Christian ideals while the other members of the band are respectful of religious beliefs.
Photo that requires attribution:
Judas Priest Performs in Miami by LUIS BLANCO is licensed under CC2.0 and was cropped, edited, and had a text overlay added