Without Judas Priest, Heavy Metal wouldn't exist as we know it today. Their influence in the development of the genre has been well-documented thanks to their four decade-long career. The same can be said about the mostly iconic covers accompanying each of their album's cover artworks. Whether they’re are portraying a fallen angel, a hand holding a razor blade, or an eagle ready to attack, the truth is that their impact on Metal aesthetics and popular culture in general is both undeniable and revolutionary.
We took 5 random Judas Priest covers and asked their former axeman and guitar god, KK Downing to share his memories about them. We also included the brief, but crucial opinions of legendary designer Mark Wilkinson (Painkiller, Metal Works, Ram it Down), and one of KK’s recent collaborators and Judas Priest connoisseur, Pete Alander. Let’s see what they had to say.
Sad Wings Of Destiny (1976): KK Downing: To be honest I think it is my favorite Priest cover.
Pete Alander: I believe the Sad Wings Of Destiny cover has the thrill and the magic every Metal album needs. You got the Yin and Yang with Heaven and Hell thematic in it. You could still use the artwork today with almost every metal band that exists. It’s timeless piece of work that doesn't need an update at all. It could hang on the wall of any art museums. It could even be in religious context and still maintain its Heavy Metal perspective. One of the best metal album covers ever made!
British Steel (1980): KK Downing: It simply says everything about British Metal in one image and it’s even more relevant the fact that (guitarist) Glenn (Tipton) actually worked at the company British Steel. As far as I can remember everyone totally loved it.
Pete Alander: I do believe it was a successful and honest way from Priest to say to the whole world they were British and they played razor sharp Heavy Metal. Slit your wrists if you didn't like them! It has so much street credibility even Absolute Vodka used it in one of their adverts. You got this hand holding a huge razor steel with black background. It is clean, simple and extremely recognizable.
Screaming For Vengeance (1982): KK Downing: We gave (designer) Doug Johnson the title and he came up with the design. We liked it immediately, for me that fact that it was to the point made it a strong image.
Metal Works ‘73-‘93 (1993): Mark Wilkinson: I was strongly influenced by comic art for that one. It worked really well having the Hellion and Painkiller having a fight in the air like that, it was a joy to work on. I think it was one of my best designs for them actually.
Pete Alander:Metal Works is a compilation album and usually bands tend to use a group or live pictures on them. Mark did really good job here combining old album covers together and especially making a dramatic battle scene between these two characters. I would like to know how it all ended. Which ones ass (or feathers) got kicked the most?
Angel Of Retribution (2005): Mark Wilkinson: A metallic cyborg creature had become their signature emblem for awhile (ex. Painkiller, Jugulator). For Angel of Retribution, the band had the idea of referencing the famous Antony Gormley sculpture the Angel of the North located in Gateshead, England. So I took the basic pose and infused a more metallic chrome look to it, to bring it to life. The head was suggested by my son who had just bought a paintball helmet, so the mask became part of his head, Darth Vader-ish. I was approached by the airforce to use this as the nosecone art for a fighter jet - have yet to see the results of that.