Metal Gods: Judas Priest and the Art of Ass-Kicking Robots

It’s a widely accepted fact that British metal legends Judas Priest helped define the sound of heavy metal as we know it today.  But what isn’t as widely acknowledged is how they also helped define the visual aesthetics of heavy metal; indeed, Priest is as  much responsible for what metal albums look like as they are for what metal albums sound like.  Although they’ve never had a single unifying theme to their artwork (ala Iron Maiden’s Eddie or Motorhead’s Snaggletooth), no less than seven of their album covers do have something very important in common: ass-kicking robots.

If you’re a metal band, is there anything more metal you could do from a visual standpoint than slap a robot, a creature that is literally made of metal, on your album covers?  Of course not, slap-nuts!  So without further ado, lets take a look at the awesome robots that adorn some of Priest’s classic (and a few not-so-classic) full-lengths, including their awesome new album, Firepower.


Screaming for Vengeance (Doug Johnson, 1982)
Screaming for Vengeance was the first Priest album to feature a robot on the cover and it’s a goddamn doozy.  A screaming iron eagle with razor-sharp wings, vampire fangs, talons poised to rip off heads and crush skulls and what appear to be a shitload of missiles strapped to its back, this thing looks ready to wage a one-robobird war on humanity, or at least on all the shitty parents who don’t let their kids listen to metal.  Whatever drugs artist Doug Johnson was taking when he conjured this beast up should be handed out to anyone that intends to design an album cover for a metal band.  Not only is Screaming for Vengeance‘s artwork ridiculously cool-looking, it’s goddamn iconic.

Defenders of the Faith (Doug Johnson, 1984)
Speaking of iconic, Doug Johnson struck again for 1984’s Defenders of the Faith with a metallic monstrosity that makes Screaming for Vengeance‘s robo-eagle look like child’s play.  I mean seriously, what the hell is this thing?  Is it a dragon?  Is it a tank?  If its got those big-ass treads why does it need front legs?  What are those things on its back that look like squiggly balloons (notice Screaming for Vengeance‘s robo-eagle appears to have these too)?  Whatever the case, this beast is just so much fun to look at that taking your eyes off it simply isn’t an option.  In fact, what I like the most about Defender’s of the Faith‘s robot-dragon-cat-tank-thing is that it proves something can be extremely colorful and still look totally bad-ass; set against the black background, Johnson’s art is positively stunning.

Painkiller (Mark Wilkinson, 1990)
It would be a long six years before Priest would grace us with another robot themed cover, but one look at Painkiller is enough to know that it was more than worth the wait. The first of a long and fruitful partnership with artist Mark Wilkinson, Painkiller might just be the most kick-ass album cover in Priest’s entire discography.  I mean, just look at this thing, drink it in, maaaaaaaaan.  It’s a winged robot riding a motorcycle that appears to be made out of a slain dragon and has giant saw blades for wheels, soaring high above a post-apocalyptic landscape (Is the motorcycle flying or just jumping really high?  If it is flying, is the robot using his wings and holding the motorcycle up with only one hand and his crotch strength, or does the motorcycle fly under its own power?).  I’m pretty sure it is impossible for there to ever to be a more metal album cover than this, so from now on metal albums might as well just come in a discreet brown wrapper.  That’s not just my opinion folks, it’s science.

Jugulator (Mark Wilkinson, 1997)
It’s too bad that the Tim Owens era of Judas Priest kinda blows, because Wilkinson did a hell of a job with the artwork for 1997’s Jugulator.  The monster that graces its cover looks like the robot equivalent of Carnage with its rows of flesh-ripping teeth and Freddie Krueger on steroids claws and spikes sticking out all over the place.  This is a cover that screams “we’re back and we’re ready to kick the living shit out of you with some goddamn heavy metal.”  Unfortunately that didn’t happen because this album is very bad and not good, but man, that cover art is still really something.

Angel of Retribution (Mark Wilkinson, 2005)
In 2003, Rob Halford returned to the priesthood and all of the metalverse rejoiced, because Judas Priest with no Rob Halford is like Kool with no Aid.  It’s like ham with no burger.  It’s like, well, you get the idea.  It took the band until 2005 to unleash Angel of Retribution, which gave Wilkinson plenty of time to conjure up an appropriately iconic/messianic-looking iron angel to grace the cover of the second coming of Halford.  This guy looks like an upgraded version of the winged bot from the cover Painkiller, which also seems appropriate given that was Halford’s final album before he departed for the seemingly greener pastures of Fight, Halford and, uh, Two.  The album itself might not be as ass-kicking as it’s coverbot, but it’s still pretty darn good.

Redeemer of Souls (Mark Wilkinson, 2014)
Actually, I’m not even sure this guy’s a robot.  His skin looks metallic, but his wings look organic.  Fuck it, I don’t like this album or this ugly-ass cover art.  Moving on…

Firepower (Claudio Bergman, 2018)
Now this my friends is a fucking robot!  Look at all those goddamn laser cannons blasting the living hell out of everything!  Look at all those flames coming out of his robo-orifices!  This is the ass-kicking robot album cover we’ve all been waiting for since Painkiller, which is appropriate since this is also the ass-kicking Priest comeback album we’ve been waiting for since PainkillerFirepower sees Mark Wilkinson passing the cover art torch to newcomer Claudio Bergamin; definitely the right move after the artistic atrocity that was Redeemer of Souls.  Bergamin’s work here has a similar feel to Wilkinson’s, but it also recalls Doug Johnson’s classic Priest covers (minus the squiggly balloons).  Slap this guy on a t-shirt and take my fucking money already!  Make him into an action figure and take even more of my money!  Firepower ranks right up there with some of Judas Priest’s best work and this cover art is an instant classic.

Thus concludes our journey through the wild and wonderful world of Judas Priest’s robotic album art.  Which cover is your favorite?  Sound off in the comments!

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One thought on “Metal Gods: Judas Priest and the Art of Ass-Kicking Robots

  1. What is the blog equivalent of the pulitzer? I’m nominating for this shit
    “Now this my friends is a fucking robot! …. Look at all those flames coming out of his robo-orifices! “

    Like

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