JUDAS PRIEST Says Its "Business As Usual" With New Firepower Album
March 2, 2018, a year ago
Pushing 40 years into their career, British metal gods Judas Priest have done the unthinkable. They were instrumental in creating an entire genre of heaviness and managed to fly the flag around the world via 18 treasured albums, the latest Firepower, which rears its (metal) head next week. Late last year, BraveWords was invited to an exclusive listening session at Epic Records in New York city with singer Rob Halford, guitarist Richie Faulkner and drummer Scott Travis (guitarist Glenn Tipton and bassist Ian Hill remained in the UK putting the finishing touches to their 18th campaign. While we were only able to listen to the entire Firepower album once, these are the first impressions. Overall, from track one to fourteen, Firepower is a hybrid of Defenders Of The Faith, British Steel and Painkiller. Very focused, all the fat trimmed, not too layered like Nostradamus, or varied as Redeemer Of Souls.
Authors note: The news of Glenn Tipton's Parkinson's disease was not information privy to journalists at the time. So my report includes no insights about how the band would be impacted. Also, Priest’s status whether they would be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame was not decided at the time.
A conversation with Rob Halford about Firepower:
BraveWords: Firepower is Priest’s 18th studio album. Did the band try anything different for this one, or is it business as usual?
Rob: “Well, it is business as usual in the fact that we tried to make the best Priest album we could. Everyone put a lot of time and effort into this. And, I mean, I have spent so much time working on it and am so close to the final product, I just need to step away from it for a little bit before reflecting on it. But, at this point, it is one of my favorite albums so far. When you listen to what’s coming out of the speakers you say ‘is this some new young metal band?’ because we still, at this point in our lives, still have the love and passion for the music. This youthful exuberance is still in us, creatively we still have the love for making new music. We have never taken for granted what we have in Priest. We are grateful and thankful for the fans always wanting more new music from us. They keep pulling us back into the game (laughs).
“Like when we came off the tour for Redeemer Of Souls, we were on such a high from playing for our fans around the world…you want to see what you can do next, for yourself, but also we want to give the fans some more new music. When we recorded the title song ‘Firepower’, we knew the long time Priest fans would be eating it up live. And you really need to capture that energy within the first two three songs on the album. So, like you said, the title track, ‘Lighting Strike’, and ‘Evil Never Dies’ are a great one two three punch that we still mean business. You’ve got to do that. Then the rest of the album falls in line, goes off at times and takes you on that journey that Priest are known for.
BraveWords: Redeemer Of Souls touched on all eras of Priest, depending on the song. Even going back to the early ‘70s on the opening of “Crossfire”. Does Firepower have similar moments, and the journey?
Rob: “I think Firepower is more focused. When we sat down with both producers Tom Allom, and Andy Sneap (as co-producer), we wanted to make a more direct experience than we had with Redeemer. It was a simple conversation, and they knew what we were going for, especially Tom because he worked on all our albums from British Steel up through Ram It Down. There are still a couple big moments on Firepower, like ‘Rising From The Ruins’, the back end of ‘Sea of Red’. But everything else, the front and back end of the album, is all guns blazing. But we are the band that gave you ‘Painkiller’, ‘The Sentinel’, Sin After Sin, to ‘Beyond The Realms Of Death’, ‘Before The Dawn’. So before you even make a record you know the areas you need to cover, give you an experience of what Priest is all about. So it was important to have that more epic expression somewhere in Firepower. And then the song that follows ‘Ruins’, ‘Flame Thrower’, which has a different texture and delivery to it.
BraveWords: Now in your 60s, does age effect how you’re singing say from five, ten years ago? Do you feel you have the same power and projection?
Rob: “Yeah, a little bit. I do take care of myself, but physically you just can’t do what you did when you were younger. There are some things in my voice I can’t do, because your voice changes from your 20s and 30s, to 50s and 60s. But there certain inflections I can still do, and will do, from time to time. I use the different textures of my voice now, like Richie and Glenn change pickups on the guitar. All depends on what the song needs, and where. There is no need to scream my head off all the time, like ‘Painkiller’. We’ve already done that.”
(Photo by: Mark Weiss)
BraveWords: How many songs do you think from Firepower will be in the live setlist?
Rob: “Difficult to say. Of course you have to do the hits, the ones fans always want to hear like ‘Living After Midnight’, ‘Breaking The Law’, ‘Another Thing Coming’, and we love to play them. The album drops around the start of the tour. Possibly two or three new tunes. But, nothing is worse than playing too many new songs that nobody really knows yet, and everybody stands there looking at you. I’m sure we’ll adjust the setlist as fans become more familiar with the album. And I know we will add in a few songs we haven’t played in a while also.”
BraveWords: Any personal choices for songs, deep cuts, you don’t play that often which you’d like to do this tour?
Rob: “I’d like to do ‘Saints In Hell’. Love to do ‘Dying To Meet You’, off Rocka Rolla, but then again you know, it also comes down to what works in the setlist too. It will be fun for sure and we will do a few different ones. We always do that every tour.”
BraveWords: Thoughts on the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and plans if you get in?
Rob: “Our amazing fans got us in the top five, so we’ll see, but that doesn’t mean you are getting in. it would be great, not just for Priest, but for all heavy metal music. I think it would be a fantastic moment for the community. I’m optimistic we will get in, I always like to think positively. So I better start thinking about what to say in my speech.”
BraveWords: Any Judas Priest reissues, remasters, live concerts in the works?
Rob: “I know a few albums have been reissued on vinyl recently. You know 2019 is the 50th anniversary of Priest. I don’t know what ideas the label has. But we will do something special, a box set or something. I’d like to be playing a show somewhere in the world. Something special, a rare unique setlist. The label would probably like that. I know we have a lot of live shows coming up in the next year.”
Richie Faulkner and Scott Travis interview:
BraveWords: Do you feel there is something different about this album or is it business as usual?
Richie: “I feel Redeemer, across all the songs, depending which one, touched on all era of Priest. But this one I think it is more of a complete album, consistent unto itself. Also again, there is still this drive to do better and surpass the last album. But, in a way you become biased to it because you are close to it and try to separate yourself from it so everything doesn’t seem like it will be good. Try and be objective. And this time we had two producers in the studio. Tom, who worked with Priest from Unleashed in the East up through Ram It Down, he really kicked Rob’s butt and worked with him on the vocals. And Rob trusts him. There are so many vocal harmonies on Firepower. And Andy Sneap, who has produced so many great sounding albums, worked well with Tom.”
Scott: “Well, it’s never business as usual, because it’s like creating a painting, each one is different. I liked the different process because not since Painkiller have we done it this way, together in the studio. But since then we had different ways of recording and I think now we are back to the more fruitful way. I think we always have these different moments within these songs that will make you recall past albums and songs. And when you have the same band and writers they are going to naturally borrow from what they have done. And to marry Tom’s way of producing with Andy is really cool, it’s combining the past with the present. But fans, they are so great and know the music so well, will have these debates online which song sounds like which and so on because they care so much about it.”
BraveWords: Did you write your own guitar and drum parts on Firepower?
Richie: “Yes, drum wise we had demos programmed in, drum patterns, indications, so Scott, came in and built off that, created his own. He gives it its own life. On Redeemer of Souls, Glenn worked out most of those songs with Mike Exeter (producer, mixer). So we did this the old school way, in the studio with our producers Tom Allom and Andy Sneep. I remember when we were working on Redeemer there were some songs that when we came together and played them a few didn’t seem to work as well. Firepower was recorded more naturally. We were able to get a sense of what was missing because we worked together on them. It was a natural push and pull. And I think Scott really set the benchmark for what the outcome of the album was going to be too, because he’s such a great drummer. He’s like the Michael Schenker of drums - the technique, phrasing, etc.”
Scott: “Yes, like Richie said I was given my freedom to interpret these basic drum tracks, and they had these cameras in the studio too capturing us working on these songs. So someday it will be cool to see. I sent demos back and forth between myself and Richie, some we used and some we didn’t, changed things up in the studio. That’s what made recording this album so great.”
BraveWords: Did the band come up with the idea for the artwork, and will it be incorporated into the stage design?
Scott: “Yes, definitely it will be part of the stage design.”
Richie: “The artwork was done by Claudio Bergamin, who made sure to keep this cover in the family with like Defenders, or Turbo, it’s simple and catchy with the bright colors. We actually had a sketch in the studio as a reference to look at it amongst the other album covers. It has those art deco shapes too. We thought visually it fit well into the past catalogue, and it was a nice change from Redeemer, which was very detailed, done by Mark Wilkinson who has done many previous covers for Priest.”
(Photo by: Mark Weiss)
BraveWords: What are three songs you would like to play live that are not in the setlist?
Richie: “By the way, this is not any indication what the setlist is (laughs) because we haven’t worked that out yet. ‘Sinner’, ‘Tyrant’, ‘Killing Machine’.
Scott: “Any song? Wait, is this a trick question? ‘Exciter’, ‘All Guns Blazing’, ‘Running Wild’ I really like. You know every fan that reads this is going to say ‘fucking assholes, those are my favorite songs’. Yeah, ‘Killing Machine’ is cool too, different.”
BraveWords: How about “Hot For Love”?
Richie: “Wow, that’s a deep one. I really like ‘Reckless’ from Turbo. You could do a week at Hammersmith in London and play all these great songs. You need to because there are so many. One night you could play all of Rocka Rolla, next night Sin After Sin, and so on.”
Scott: “‘Out In The Cold’ too.”
BraveWords: Is there a Priest album you feel is overlooked or underrated?
Richie: “Well Point Of Entry got some slack when it came out, that it was too commercial.”
Scott: “Yeah, good point about Point Of Entry, but I love that album, ‘Hot Rockin’’. But, I don’t think they do because they have been around for so long.”
BraveWords: Did either one of you change your gear for the recording of Firepower?
Richie: “I have a new signature guitar that I’m using. I did use a Fender Telecaster, which is not really one used much in metal. But I used it on the clean parts and it sounds very nice. We still use Marshall Amps, the classic British sound. Some Engls and 5150s. For some overdubs I used an older 63 Strat and 79 Flying V for some embellishments.”
Scott: “I just used some smaller bass drums, 22s for the studio, 23s live. Doesn’t really effect much sound wise.”
BraveWords: How much longer do you see Priest making music?
Scott: “Five-ish years, Rob forecasted about five years for Priest. But, Rob also said Priest will never retire because we will always record or release something. Yeah, I know we did say we were going to retire for Epitaph, and KK (Downing, guitarist) did leave the band. So technically in a way we did end that version of Priest. But in the end of the day who gives a shit, we are still making music, playing live and enjoying it. Really, the fans tell you when to retire…and they won’t let us go away (laughs).”
(Photo by: Mark Weiss)
BraveWords: Thoughts on the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction?
Richie: “Well, we have the fan vote, but that doesn’t mean we get in. Hopefully the fan vote will swing it towards us getting in. But, you know what, I feel like fans don’t care whether we get in or not. Because we know the importance of what Priest has had on rock ‘n’ roll history. Rob really wants it for us even more for the fans. But, to be part of such a place and title, sure, Priest deserves it.”
Scott: “I won’t make a prediction if Priest will get in or not this year, because you see how that institution operates. But, I know we will get in eventually. I mean how can you have a Rock And Roll hall of anything and not have fucking Priest in it, (laughs). Don’t call yourself the hall of anything, and not have Priest.”
BraveWords: If you could change one thing about priest’s history what would it be?
Richie: “I would have liked to have been in the band for Defenders, that’s my album. It takes you further away, almost sounds like a different world. I don’t think Screaming For Vengeance does that. Still has several great songs on it.”
Scott: “I would have been in the band sooner. Like around the Screaming For Vengeance tour, they were like the Metallica of their day, at the time. Sounds, image, radio airplay, etc. When I saw them live I was like ‘why Dave Holland?’”
Firepower track-by-track impressions:
“Firepower”: Fast, double bass opening and chorus. Mid-tempo verses, steadfast, lead harmonies, lots of shredding and dive bombs! Classic opener.
“Lightning Strike”: Mid-tempo in classic fashion, accenting leads and harmonizing solo with lyrics like “I’ll bring you the head of the demon, I’m peeling the skin from his face”, “bearing the brand”. Solid choice for the first single/video.
“Evil Never Dies”: Mid-paced opening crunchy riff. A concert headbanger for sure. Halford spices up the vocal with a vicious snarl on the chorus, complete with accenting ominous guitar lead. Switch in the beat for the solo, a “Night Crawler” type mid-section break. This one would be a great single and a concept for the video.
“Never The Heroes”: “Turbo Lover” synth/keyboard opening into a slower “Metal Gods” felt plod. Heavy guitars drop out for the verses, tempo picks up a bit for the solo which is nice and reflective, plus accenting clean guitar.
“Necromancer”: Opening builds and quickly kicks in. Rob uses another evil tinged vocal for the chorus. Completed with a lead solo trade off.
“Children Of The Sun”: A dramatic vocal with melodic clean guitar break half way through. This one has more an epic structure to the chorus and arrangement. Same with the leads, phrasing, and notations.
“Guardians”: Minute long piano interlude, orchestrations, guitar and keyboard synths. Segues into “Rising From The Ruins”.
“Rising From The Ruins”: Continues the melody and themes from “Guardians”. Heavy riffs switch back and forth between clean guitars. At 5:23 length, one of the three songs with that epic feel, and also a long solo section.
“Flame Thrower”: Uses a different kind of riff for Priest. A biker-ish feel, like “Wheels Of Fire”. Rock radio type delivery with a screamer ride out high vocal.
“Spectre”: Another tune with a break mid-way with lead harmonies and nice tempo change for the solo.
“Traitor’s Gate”: Scott Travis plays some different drum patterns throughout, mixes things up. Some “woo oos” harmonies with the guitars.
“No Surrender”: At just short of three minutes, a rocker that could have fit on Point Of Entry or Turbo. Catchy, to the point, a radio single for sure.
“Lone Wolf”: Heavy darker riffing for this one, more rhythmic and modern. Could have fit on a Halford solo album.
“Sea Of Red”: Five minute (one of only three this long) album closer. ‘70s acoustic ballad feel in the beginning, Halford’s vocal clean, heartfelt. Crescendo half way hits like a power ballad.