ROB HALFORD Talks New Album, Painkiller And Speed Metal - “JUDAS PRIEST Is Kind Of Like The Big Eye Of Sauron From The Lord Of The Rings”
January 5, 2016, 4 years ago
No better way to kick off a new year than a chin-wag with the community’s ordained Metal God and BraveWords digs deep into Judas Priest’s remarkable longevity, the UK’s heavy metal elite, the anniversary of the Painkiller-era and the influence of the Big Four. There’s also talk that 2016 will see the band start work on the follow-up to 2014’s Redeemer Of Souls, which marked the 40th anniversary of Judas Priest as a recording entity. And as we see the demise of the metal elite as time passes (Black Sabbath, Mötley Crüe, Motörhead), the band’s accomplishments continue to be second to none as accolades adorn them with every step.
“I think at the heart of it is that we’ve never taken anything for granted,” Halford begins about surviving four decades amidst feast and famine. “We did like most bands, you really have to make sure that your heart, your mind, your soul and your spirit are all in the right place. When you see this band play now there is so much conviction. There’s so much determination that this band is pouring out from the stage. It’s a really qualifying experience and when our fans look at us now more than ever they are saying ‘that’s Judas Priest and they are like no other metal band on the planet. Are giving us something particularly unique in this genre of metal.’ And still there is a hunger of what we can do next in terms of writing, particularly having Richie with us now. His input of songs for Redeemer Of Souls came at a very crucial time I think. His writing skills and onstage appearance connect so strongly with the fans. I think you’re seeing Priest in a really strong way right now. And to be able to show off the new material as you do - most bands tour to support their latest release - it’s just fantastic. This was a very important album for Priest from my perspective in many ways. Also want to consolidate things from the past. Yes of course the past is important in 2015 like it was in 1981. But to marry that to ‘Redeemer Of Souls’ or ‘Halls Of Valhalla’, it makes it all so much more real. This is why Priest is still vital to the global metal scene now as we ever were. Response to Redeemer Of Souls gave us a real boost. It made us feel more determined to keep going and to get ready at some point this year to get back into the writing mode.”
BraveWords: How much humming and lyric writing were you doing while on the road?
Halford: “Nothing. But I’m absorbing it all all the time. I get my ideas from everyplace as you know. From sitting in a hotel room to sitting on an airplane. It’s important to be uniquely creative if you possibly can.”
BraveWords: Eat, Drink & Be Metal! How does Judas Priest gain sustenance on the road?
Halford: “Yeah, I think it's common sense really, to a certain extent. As you know, I'm still on my sober journey, which I'm looking forward to the 30th anniversary of on January 6th of next year. So, personally, that has been an important way of maintaining my health. I was watching that bit about the red meat from my hotel room, and, oddly enough, I stopped eating red meat for as long as I can remember now. I remember reading that red meat is difficult to digest compared to that of the white meat - pork, fish, poultry. So, that's been part of my life for a long time now. Having said that, you put a big, bloody red steak in front of Glen Tipton, and he'll demolish it. And he loves his beer (laughs). But, yeah, as you said, I think it's all about moderation. I think you can get through life indulging in most of the things that are out there in moderation while looking after yourself. I'm not saying that that's how we all are in this band, excluding the young one, Mr. Faulkner.”
BraveWords: Redeemer Of Souls, The Book Of Souls, We Sold Our Soul For Rock N’ Roll. What gives with the British metal elite?
Halford: “Isn't it interesting how we are kind of all bumping into each other's territory? I mean, Black Sabbath had 'The End of The Beginning' and Priest had 'The Beginning Of The End'. I think it's really cool and just shows you how connected we all are with these ideas and things in metal. So, I thought it was really neat that we shared that same word with our good friends in Iron Maiden. You know, metal, with all its themes and adventures, touches on these subjects. We touch on all these themes that we like to explore in the words of metal. So, yeah, I think, if anything else, it gives substance to that classic side of metal that some of the bands still maintain.”
BraveWords: It's also a classic side of metal where you all hail from the same regions. Do you pay attention to what Maiden and Sabbath are doing these days?
Halford: “Oh yeah! As everyone knows, I have been a hardcore Black Sabbath fan since day one. As you and I have discussed in the past, Tim, is that we are heavy metal neighbours who have been on the same sort of journey in this rock n’ roll life. Musically, I think there is a great connection there with Sabbath. Of course, with Maiden, they came along during the NWOBHM, and they still are leading the charge in that respect. As soon as the Sabbath and Maiden albums went online I got them. It's because I'm a metalhead, and I love that kind of metal.”
BraveWords: Speaking of anniversaries, let's visit the past and talk about a record that if you put on from start to finish, it still sounds like it could have come out a week ago. I would love to get some thoughts on the 25th anniversary of Painkiller and how it sits with you these days. I mean, it is true that Judas Priest has many remarkable achievements, but this one seems to stick out - even to this day.
Halford: “Yeah, I think there was a determined effort on our part, when we were writing the album in the south of France, to make the strongest, fiercest metal record that we could make. We stuck to that plot. When you listen to Painkiller now, you get that sense of determination in the music that we we writing a strong, powerful, hard-hitting heavy metal album. Every single track just burned at the speaker. It was at the edge of the start of yet another decade in metal, and it seems at the beginning of every decade in metal, really really important, inventive things start to happen. As with the early ’90's, there was a ground swelling of a new genre of metal bands. Priest is kind of like the big eye of Sauron from The Lord Of The Rings - we have that big metal eye looking around the landscape. We are interested and stimulated by the things that are happening around us. So, as it relates to Painkiller, we sensed that happening and knew we needed to do something powerful, and we did. That album is now kind of like a classic album, not unlike British Steel or Screaming For Vengeance.”
BraveWords: There has been a lot of talk that perhaps, at that time, Judas Priest might have been looking at the Big Four - that whole speed metal thing - and how it may have influenced Priest. Were you looking at band's like Metallica and Slayer? Did you hear Kill ‘Em All? When you heard Reign In Blood did you go 'OMG, wow!'. You guys obviously can be credited with creating this heavy sound, along with Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Zeppelin, but did you guys pay much attention to the speed metal phenomenon?
Halford: “That's an interesting question. When we started working with bands like Anthrax, Testament, and Exodus, they actually said Priest paid a little bit of an idea and influence in this speed/thrash metal movement. Listen to ‘Exciter’ and the way the guitars are chugging and thrashing, and then listen to the way guitars are chugging and thrashing in 'Free Wheel Burning'. I mean, I think this a question best directed to our guitar players, Glen in particular. When they started to play the rhythm on the guitar, with that type of phrasing, a whole new style had been approached. So, I think it kind of swings back and forth of whole influenced who and who invented that type of them - not that it really matters at the end of the day. It's just a fantastic sound in the metal world with such energy. It's like the punk side of metal, if that makes sense. I loved what was coming from all those bands we've mentioned.”
BraveWords: It's an incredible connection, as a metal fan. It's no secret, speaking with the guys in Metallica and Slayer, that they are huge fans, especially the dual guitar. Priest, and let’s not forget Mercyful Fate, were huge influences on guys like James Hetfield and Kerry King. It's pretty remarkable that all this material really started with you guys in the late ‘70s.
Halford: “And it's a great place to begin, isn't it Tim? Again, we often talk about where did the routes of metal originate, and it's pretty much accepted that it came from the UK and the Midlands region. It's really quite remarkable to think that we can still be out there playing these shows all around the world and you are actually looking at the guys who invented it. That's really been a humbling experience for me. It's like being able to sit down with Beethoven or Picasso. I mean, I'm not trying to put Priest on a pedestal with those guys; I'm just trying to suggest that you are looking and listening to some of the guys who helped put this whole thing together.”
BraveWords: I have to ask you about Maiden, as I was hanging out with Bruce not long ago and he was talking about how all the demos he has been doing for his solo record, and he brought up Roy Z. So, I thought I would ask you about your connection with Roy and the status of your solo recordings these days.
Halford: “Well, first, it's really great to hear that Bruce is contemplating some of those adventures again. I loved those solo records that Bruce made.”
BraveWords: Bruce mentioned that he played these demos for Steve Harris who asked him if he would consider bringing them over to Maiden. So what we hear in Book Of Souls is part of Bruce's solo album!
Halford: “Well, that is certainly interesting. Having said that, I would love to do a solo with Bruce and I. I mean, I'm just speaking off the top of my head here, but, yeah, I would love if we worked together at some time in the future. I really admire him as singer and showman, so that would be really cool to happen. So, yeah, I think as musicians, you can't really unplug that part of it - we are just curious about what we can do next. Anyway, I don't know what will happen in that respect yet as Priest rules. The opportunity of working on a new Priest album are looming, so that would be the next adventure I will be taking. Who knows after that.”
BraveWords: The band has got the gusto and assume you guys are invigorated to start this next studio journey?
Halford: “Yes, absolutely... more than ever! We are having a wild, crazy time now, Tim. We are really excited for Priest as far as where we can go next. Of course, we just experienced our first go around with Richie writing with Glen and myself, which was really, really cool. So, we are really excited to see what we can do next, as far as a new Priest album goes.”
BraveWords: So, I have to ask, has there been much contact with K.K.?
Halford: “No, K.K. is fully enjoying his life as I understand it, and so we wish him well as we always do and that's about as much as I can answer.”
BraveWords: So, if he invited you out for 18 holes of golf at his course...
Halford: “Well, I'm a lousy golfer. In fact, he gave me some lessons many years ago in the Netherlands. I played on a field that was flat, and I had no idea which way I was going. There is no fear of me being let loose on a golf course (laughs).”
BraveWords: We can assume then that you would likely not get invited to the British Open any time soon then?
Halford: “No thank you (laughs)... I'm way too loud for that sport!”
(Slider photo by Allan Zilkowsky)