Judas Priest, the quintessential heavy metal band, one of the most influential rock groups of all time, has had a lasting affect on musicians and pop culture since their beginnings in the mid 1970s. Unlike their groundbreaking music and live performances, their album cover art has been somewhat neglected by critics. However, the artwork and band logos on their album covers tell a story about the band’s progression and their artistic style in ways that have eluded many biographers.
Judas Priest hit the scene with 1974’s Rocka Rolla, which showed promise but wasn’t a breakthrough. The original cover art for the album was clever. A close-up of a popped bottle top sprinkled with condensation like you might find in an advertisement, fills up most of the frame. The cap reads Rocka Rolla, spelled out in red lettering that parodies Coca-Cola. The words Judas Priest are in the upper right corner, white and tilted forward with an underline, a clear predecessor of their later band logo. While most fans love the original cover, rumor has it that Coca-Cola didn’t and neither did the band. They re-issued the album in 1987 with an illustration of a metallic dragon-man, flying through smoggy air while holding an airplane bomb. While it’s a nice caricature of a heavy metal album cover, it wins no points for artistic bravery.
Judas’ follow-up album, 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny, featured a painted image of what appears to be a stone angel, writhing in pain in the pits of hell, wings flared, arms akimbo, hope shattered. The name Judas Priest is located top center in an old English/gothic print. The picture, titled “Fallen Angels” and designed by Patrick Woodroffe, features what came to be the “Judas Priest Cross,” which would show up in band art later on in their career. The angel is wearing the cross on a necklace. The illustration is technically sound, but lacking a new message. Hell, evil angels, fire, demons- these are stock images repeated over and over throughout hard rock art.
The band’s third album, Sin After Sin, features a cover illustration of a Greek/Roman temple. Set on a cloudy night, on the edge of a body of water, a dark silhouette of a man and a light silhouette of a woman are placed on the steps of the structure, the marquee of which reads “Sin After Sin.” While simultaneously unpleasing to look at, it’s also not nearly as elaborate and craftily conceived as the Sad Wings of Destiny cover art.
It seemed as though Judas Priest, despite selling plenty of Judas Priest tickets by this point in their career, were going in the wrong direction as far as cover art was concerned. That all changed when Roslav Szaybo of CBS Records was allowed to design the artwork for their fourth album, Stained Class, the last of the so-called classic Judas Priest albums. Stained Class introduced what would be the band’s trademark logo. The words “Judas Priest” are written in connecting, stylized type, with the J and the T connected by a vibrating, serrated underscore. The logo appears in the upper right of the album cover, like it would for many of their albums to come.
If you see the band in concert by purchasing tickets online, it’s likely this logo will appear behind the band on stage. The main image is that of a shiny, metallic human head, sex unknown, that’s stabbed all the way through with a long, thin pipe, made of the same alloy as the face. The image is disturbing for its violence and its indifference, and the fact that it looks like a photograph. The realness is much scarier than the drawings, cartoon-like at times, that were supposed to spook the audience of the previous three albums. Judas Priest grew up right before everyone’s eyes, on the cover of their fourth album.
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