Breaking The Law: Weird And Wild Stories About Judas Priest

After Black Sabbath, Judas Priest are arguably the most important band in the history of heavy metal. In the late ‘70s, when Sabbath and other bands were hemming and hawing about being called a heavy metal band, Judas Priest embraced the term and encouraged other bands to take pride in being part of a musical subculture shunned by the mainstream. Along the way Priest introduced the now-traditional twin-guitar attack, pioneered the studs and leather look of ‘80s metal and brought the world the first great multi-octave metal vocalist, Rob Halford, who inspired everyone from Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson to Disturbed’s David Draiman. While they were never the absolute wildest band in the genre – which may explain why they’re still around and making great music after almost 50 years – they were responsible for more than a few outrageous moments and other crazy and sometimes horrifying incidents. Below, are ten of the most insane stories that would never have taken place were it not for the existence of the Metal Gods, Judas Priest.


  • Rob Halford Once A Fired A Real Machine Gun On Stage
    Photo: Zach Petersen / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Rob Halford Once A Fired A Real Machine Gun On Stage

    The first commercial breakthrough for Judas Priest came with the 1980 album British Steel, which featured the hits “Breaking the Law,” “Living After Midnight” and “Metal Gods.” While on tour for the album, Halford pulled out a real automatic machine gun filled with blanks and sprayed it at the crowd during the song “Genocide.” Fans flipped out and eventually, fire marshalls put a stop to the wild stunt.


    “There were crowds that looked confused and you could tell they were thinking, ‘Surely to God, that’s not a machine gun,” he told Louder Than Hell. Is it plastic? No, it’s real! What’s going on?’ Then I’d point it straight at them [and start firing]. Nobody knew in advance what was going on, so there was this look that was a combination of sheer horror and, “Oh my God, that’s so cool.”

  • The Band Bought Their Stage Clothes At S&M Shops
    Video: YouTube

    The Band Bought Their Stage Clothes At S&M Shops

    In the early ‘70s, when Judas Priest were in their infancy, the band took the stage wearing outfits that merged velvet-and-satin androgyny with a scruffy hippie aesthetic. And while they wanted to look striking, they had no money. As bassist Ian Hill said, “we tried to squeeze our girlfriend’s shoes.” At the time, their image was far from defined. But with the release of 1979’s Hell Bent for Leather, the band adopted the look of tough bikers, which brought leather, studs and chains into the metal wardrobe.


    The ultimate irony is that the idea for their rough and tumble look came from closeted gay vocalist Rob Halford. “To get some of these bits and pieces of my clothing, I had to go to the local S&M sex shops in the UK,” Halford told Louder Than Hell; The Definitive Oral History of Metal. “I could only get the little accoutrements and accessories through these kinds of establishments. I had this whip that went with the outfit... I brought out a whip and whipped the crowd... They’d be shouting, “Whip me! Whip me!”


    The thought of potentially homophobic headbangers losing their shit to Priest and worshipping Halford’s immense talent speaks volumes for the era.

  • Motorcycle Crashes, Car Accidents And Acid-Drenched First Aid
    Photo: aresauburn / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Motorcycle Crashes, Car Accidents And Acid-Drenched First Aid

    It’s not a subject they like to talk about these days, but Judas Priest partied hard throughout the ‘80s. Since Halford wasn’t hooking up with groupies he he amused himself in other ways. At one point, he developed a peculiar fascination with getting hammered and coked up and setting off fire extinguishers in hotels.


    But the band’s wildest experiences drug-related happened when they went to the island of Ibiza, Spain to record at Ibiza Sound Studios between 1981’s Point of Entry and 1984’s Defenders of the Faith. During that period, bassist Ian Hill drove motorcycles into ponds and destroyed about 20 rental cars, Halford recalls. The most chaotic incident was when guitarist K.K. Downing was hit by a taxi crossing the street and the band’s other guitarist Glenn Tipton tried to administer first aid.


    “Glenn was on an acid trip so he plunged his hands into some boiling water while he was trying to wipe the wounds,” Halford told Louder Than Hell. “Glenn burned his hands, obviously, and K.K. was wrapped in so many bandages he looked like an Egyptian mummy. He couldn’t walk for a week.”

  • Suicidal Teens Blamed Subliminal Messages In Judas Priest Recordings
    Video: YouTube

    Suicidal Teens Blamed Subliminal Messages In Judas Priest Recordings

    In December 1985, two disturbed young men in Nevada -- Raymond Belknap, 18, and James Vance, 20 -- spent six hours drinking, smoking weed and listening to Priest’s 1978 album Stained Class. When they were done, they made a suicide pact. Each picked up a shotgun went to a local playground, propped their weapons under the chins and pulled the trigger.


    Belknap blew his brains out and died instantly, but somehow Vance’s bullet bounced around his skull and exited without killing him right away. For three years he was alive but severely impaired. Then he, too, died. Before he passed away, he and his parents sued Judas Priest and CBS Records for $6.2 million in damages, insisting the band had hidden backward messages in their cover of Spooky Tooth’s “Better By You, Better Than Me,” and that those messages compelled Belknap and Vance to kill themselves. The lawsuit said the backwards masking, included the phrases “Try suicide,” “Do it” and “Let’s be dead.”

  • Judas Priest Go to Court
    Video: YouTube

    Judas Priest Go to Court

    The suit filed by the family of James Vance, one of the young men in Nevada who killed himself after listening to Priest’s Stained Class, went to trial in July 1990. Knowing full well that lyrics are protected by the First Amendment, the prosecution argued that backward masking isn’t “speech” or “expression” and therefore isn’t protected by the Constitution. As such, they claimed, Judas Priest and CBS Records were responsible for the deaths.


    The entire band was subpoenaed and the prosecution repeatedly played the song forwards and backward to reveal the subliminal messages. “The irony was that those two boys loved Judas Priest,” Halford said. “So we couldn’t figure it out until we got to the courtroom and within the first couple of days we went, ‘Oh, we know what this is about.


    This is about making a fast buck on something so tragic.’” After a drawn-out trial involving expert testimony from audio analysts and subliminal message specialists, the judge determined the evidence was inconclusive and dismissed the case.

  • Halford Entered Rehab After His Boyfriend Committed Suicide

    Halford Entered Rehab After His Boyfriend Committed Suicide

    Even before the traumatic Nevada incident and lengthy lawsuit, Halford was suffering from severe alcoholism and drug dependency. In part, he was frustrated that the heavy metal world was not yet accepting of gay culture and he had to remain closeted, so he’d get wasted. “There were nights when I would do so much alcohol and cocaine, I literally thought I was on the verge of crossing over,” Halford told Louder Than Hell.


    “For Halford, it took the suicide of his boyfriend to realize he had reached rock bottom. The two had a turbulent coke-fueled relationship and evenings that didn’t end from passing out concluded in full-on fistfights. In the middle of a particularly violent skirmish, Halford left the house and called a cab to get away. As he entered the vehicle, his boyfriend walked outside and approached Halford, gun in hand.


    The singer’s boyfriend told him he loved him. “Moments later, he put the gun to his head and killed himself,” Halford said. Following the horrible incident, Halford checked into rehab. He has been clean and sober since 1986.