JUDAS PRIEST's ROB HALFORD Talks Invincible Shield, Names His Metal God - “I'm Just Going To Jump Right In And Say RONNIE JAMES DIO Because I've Learned So Much From Him As A Singer And Performer”

March 20, 2024, 4 months ago

By “Metal” Tim Henderson

feature heavy metal judas priest rob halford

JUDAS PRIEST's ROB HALFORD Talks Invincible Shield, Names His Metal God - “I'm Just Going To Jump Right In And Say RONNIE JAMES DIO Because I've Learned So Much From Him As A Singer And Performer”

BraveWords was honoured to have the Metal God, Rob Halford as a guest on our Streaming For Vengeance podcast recently. With over 50 years pounding metal and 19 albums in their back pocket, life has never been more exciting for icons Judas Priest, as they unveil a new piece of “British Steel” to the world called Invincible Shield and the response has been mind-blowing. But just prior to our Zoom, I’m sitting here with the “tape” recording and wave the horns and suddenly my iMac screen lights up with a vast array of pink, orange, purple strobe lights flashing. It only last about three to five seconds. I sit in awe. Like, what the hell just happened? Was this a signal from the gods? The metal gods. So, “the” Metal God appears on the screen and Rob Halford waves the horns saying hello. And all of a sudden the same thing happens to him! He’s like, “Tim, did you just see that? What was that?” I respond: ‘I wasn’t going to tell you what I saw ‘cause I thought you’d think I was smoking crack or something! (Big laughter). So, yes, it happened to me too and I have no idea why!? 

Halford: "It's mad. Maybe it's something new, it's very dramatic. It's very Invincible Shield-y isn't it?"

BraveWords: It's perfect! 

Halford: "It's good to see you Tim."

BraveWords: It's always a pleasure, thank you so much I know you've been just pounded with interviews, so I'm really appreciative that you could squeeze BraveWords in. We're so excited, and I am so excited because how fitting is this to have the Metal God on BraveWords Streaming For Vengeance! 

Halford: "We are streaming for vengeance, absolutely! And this album has got all of that texture, and more." 

BraveWords: Can you explain to me the adrenaline rush of the whole record creation, build up, and finally presenting it to the masses? What does it feel like inside?

Halford: "What I would say is that there was this erupting ball of confusion, blah, blah, blah - it's not confusion, it's chaos, that's what it is. It's beautiful heavy metal chaos, and I don't mean chaos in the destructive sense, I mean chaos in the creative, optimistic, hopeful, adventures that this band is still having, particularly as we lead up to the release date. There's an enormous amount of stuff going on, as you know, behind the scenes, as a record is made. And so, we're just a few days away as we're talking now, for the Invincible show to release worldwide, after a few songs have already been sent out, and the response has been mind blowing. We are so honoured and grateful to get the positive feedback. It's a whole mixture of emotions, it's probably different to what I've ever felt before with this band, particularly on the back of Firepower which was really a strong statement. There's something happening on this album, Tim, I don't know what it is, but there's some thing happening on this record collectively, in the album sense. Why the songs have been constructed, and particularly the sequencing has just put this record in an extraordinary place and you know, let's not overthink it, let's just be happy and joyful and grateful for this great moment in metal for Priest."

BraveWords: So this process obviously must feel different every time. Or does it get better every time?

Halford: "The process is pretty similar, like any band. You know, you have a task, which is to make an album. The references are always internal, I've got 19 studio albums with this band in my head, so when we're writing, all that's going through, you know, in terms of avoiding certain things. Striving for a place of originality and a place of uniqueness that that particular song is defining itself with. That's also always the terrifying adventure that you're on, but then the way these songs came together as usual, through guitar players and a singer, a lot of it was kind of single kind of textures in terms of, you know, a skeleton, you know, put some bones together and put some meat on it and there's your song. But how these songs came about, compared to how the songs came about for Painkiller or Screaming For Vengeance, it was just an extraordinary place after the two years of pandemic where we were all cut off from each other. Literally and figuratively. No connection, and that's so hard for any band, you know? So maybe some of that crept into it, maybe some of that crept into the survivability of not only the band but humanity, you know. Some of that feeds into the creative elements of these songs. It's a lot of strong statements, a lot of personal statements, probably more personal than any album that I think I've ever made; just the way that each song is really speaking out, with some strength and power. Collectively we try to kick off the album with Panic Attack and Serpent And The King but then where do you go? You go to these places like Crown Of Thorns and Giants In The Sky, all these other songs. The way all of the songs have been created, and you put them together in an album idea, and it's just a very spectacular time." 

BraveWords: How does this wonderful metallic voice keep up with all of those riffs? Every Priest record is a riff-heavy record but this sounds like not just one black eye, but two! How does that voice keep up with these guitar players?

Halford: "The riffs are colossal. There's probably more riffage on this album then ever before. The arrangements, I mean it's just magic, you know. Glenn and Ritchie worked really hard to - listen do you remember we said sometime ago, somebody was saying, 'What's this album saying?' And somebody said, 'It's a bit progressive'. People thought we were going to be turning into heavy metal Rush or something. But I think what he meant by that was definitely when you listen to the arrangements, not all of these songs, but the good components of the big songs, there are some extraordinary arrangements in them, and so for me as a singer I need to set up to meet that kind of world of heavy metal instrumentation with Scott playing; Ian's bass is just colossal on this record. We don't have to tell each other, we don't have to say, 'Think about Firepower and then we've gotta go one more step up the ladder, or go to a higher place'. We don't have to say that, because we know. We know we've gone a step further into the flames, where we make a very, very powerful strong statement of invincibility within the shield." 

BraveWords: This is an interesting question, and Blackie Lawless brought it up a couple of years ago when he was doing his anniversary tour. And he said, 'The fans get to hear the record from start to finish, but the band doesn't get to hear the record the same way.'

Halford: "True."

BraveWords: And I thought, wow that is so interesting, right?

Halford: "It's very true because a lot of the feedback that we've been getting from this album and everywhere everybody's going, 'This is the greatest thing', and blah blah blah. But you're literally going from moment to moment, you're literally going from the best opportunities the song provides you, you're doing everything you can to get the really best place that that song can be put into, and when that is complete you move on to the next place. And when you have enough that you feel is viable and responsible enough to present in the album format. And you've created this entity you don't know. It's like Painkiller is its own entity, British Steel is its own entity - you don't have that in mind, that isn't a destination, it's just something that happens. And your fans perceive that exclusively in that way, and the talkback is 'this is what you've done'. And maybe that's a good thing – maybe that's a good thing that you have entered that kind of sphere of observation because it just keeps everything so pure."

BraveWords: I will admit that I got to the end of the record and I'm like, what is the UK meaning of "The Lodger"? So, 'Vengeance is mine', said "The Lodger". Can you explain? Because it's a fantastic tune, really moody, great end of an album. Tell me about it.

Halford: "Bob Halligan Jr. (who wrote) Take These Chains and Some Heads Are Gonna Roll. Bob came to a show years ago, and I said are you still writing, and he said, 'I do, I write songs'. I said well if you've got anything that you think is Priest-able like you did with Chains would you sent it to me? Sometime later – I'm terrible I should keep a calendar of when these things happen but he sent me the file and I immediately went, 'This is great. I can see Priest doing this right away'. The demo was so good. The guys agreed and said, 'Let's give it the Priest treatment'. I wanted that song on the main release, I was really fighting for it. I didn't get my way, and I'm glad I didn't, because it wouldn't work in this running of Panic Attack to Giants In The Sky. We couldn't put it anywhere, the texture was wrong – not wrong as in the song is wrong, you know what I mean? The dynamics, the constructivity of the song, the arrangement, the presentation it just wouldn't fit the way it was shaping up. So we kept it as a track that went on the deluxe version. I'm pleased at that, and Vicious Circle and Fight For Your Life are on their own together. But anyway, back to this track. The Lodger is about this poor guy whose sister is taken away from us by a serial killer. That's the darkness of the song. It's a really dark, brooding message. And the fact that this guy is saying, Vengeance is mine', did he avenges his sisters moment where her life was taken from him? Did he do the deadly deed, for vengeance? Or did somebody else do it? It's an unanswered question, whereas The Ripper, you know who The Ripper was. So I love the mystery of that song built into the arrangement, it's a very very unusual song. It's got some great things happening, great connectivity to the full album release. I was just so happy to re-investigate Bob Halligan Jr. within Judas Priest again."

BraveWords: Judas Priest are Invincible - what do you guys have stored away in terms album titles and album artwork? Do you have all this stuff to pick from, like another 50 years of records?

Halford: "No, it's all fresh. I mean, Glenn's got his heavy metal vault. Glenn's got a heavy metal vault going back to the 70s and a riff is a riff is a riff – riffs are waiting, you know? Riffs are waiting to be used, words are waiting to be used. My trusty Roget's Thesaurus has been with me since 1970s, and I still use that all the time. What is that??

BraveWords: It's my thesaurus that that's right on my desk (holding it to the camera).

Halford: "Well yeah, for you as a journalist, and particularly for me as a lyricist, the first thing I need is my Roget's thesaurus because you wouldn't believe how many words are out there that you forget to use - not forget, but that you don't know the power of utilizing. So, it's all fresh and Richie's flavour is very organic, it is really pure and organic. The artwork on this album cover is another Mark Wilkinson design. I present him with a basic tiny plot, and he makes something like this. That's probably useful because each adventure is a new one. It's new, it's fresh, it is now. All this music is Judas Priest 2024."

BraveWords: Halford and his look and style over time. How would you describe your stately nature right now?

Halford: "I'm still having fun with that and it's not just me, it's the band – we've all been kitted it out again with new clothes for this tour,” Halford explains. “That's important because, as you know Tim, you and I have talked many times about the importance of giving your fans the best night they can have in terms of coming to the show and hearing the songs but making an indelible metal memory you carry with you, that you remember. You remember the stage. You remember what the guys were wearing. You remember the fact that Priest were the originators of giving the visual representation of metal. Together, we did that first. As Ian (Hill) was saying at the Q&A in London the other day we went from loon pants and velvet tops to leather, studs, whips, chains and handcuffs. Talk about a leap! But all that side of Priest, is part of this legacy and tradition that we have. Priest as the inventors of heavy-metal alongside Black Sabbath. We are still here, still doing what we do, with so much love and passion, more than ever now. If you had told me that we would be here talking in 2024, 50 years after Rocka Rolla and that this band was still banging away and that they're going out on another world tour to see our metal maniacs across the globe. I'd go, ‘What are you smoking Tim?’ Do you know? It's just too crazy to even dream about.”

BraveWords: When you look back at those different eras, is there ever a point where you said ‘what were we thinking?’

Halford: “Yeah, of course,” the treasured singer laughs! “I love looking at myself in my sister's top on the Old Grey Whistle Test, it's brilliant! (watch here). It's absolutely brilliant! I think you can say that to most bands in terms of their visual side. The beginning, where it all started in terms of the sound that they were making, the way they looked, how they performed on stage. That's joyful. I just love it. You're seeing the invention, the emergence, the evolution of British heavy metal under the banner of Judas Priest. Because again, Tim, you and I have said time and time again on here, there's no other band like Judas Priest. I don't say that on a pedestal. It's a fact. It's a fact, you know. We've always enjoyed pushing those boundaries, and trying to make something new and fresh. So the way we looked then to the way we look now it's just like a time warp speed, but we took 50 years to do it.”

BraveWords: Now you're rolling out this tour. Aftershock is one of these big, big festivals – were you surprised to see this band called Slayer on the same bill?

Halford: "Pleasantly surprised, yeah. I am a massive Slayer fan. I'm not going to go into the antics of, 'Oh, you said you were going to retire' - this is the power of music. You can't let it go. When you're in a band you can't let it go. I don't want this to end, for Judas Priest, you know? I just don't want it to end because there's so much love and joy, adventure and gratitude and beautiful moments. Why would you want to knock that on the head? Sometimes you don't have any choice. Sometimes your health steps in, or other circumstances step in, that's what happens. You and I have had the conversation about the alleged Judas Priest farewell tour but, there was never going to be one. But the message that that (Slayer farewell) sent out to fans must have been a massive disappointment like, 'I'm only going to get to see these guys one more time', you know? And that's such an important part of my life. Their music is so important to me. I bet Slayer fans were losing their minds when we heard that they are going to go back out again. Me included. I've just heard Kerry's new track, it's absolutely fantastic. I'm so happy for the guys, and I can't wait to see them."

(Photo credit: Joe Kleon)

BraveWords: Rob, can we have a little bit of fun here? Would you like to answer our BraveWords Rapid Fire questions where we dig deep into the beautiful minds of our metal icons. What's your favourite song on British Steel?

Halford: "Ooh. Oh God. You say that, and all the songs are jumping around in my head. But in terms of the metal, I would say ‘Rapid Fire’, ironically enough. ‘Rapid Fire’. There's just something about that track that just gets the room jumping people start bang your heads and playing their air guitar. It's just a special track."

BraveWords: Who is your rock star, or your metal god?

Halford: "Oooh, I'm just going to jump right in and say Ronnie (James Dio). Because I've learned so much from Ronnie as a singer and as a performer."

BraveWords: Do you remember the moment when you looked in the mirror and you thought, 'Music has to be my life. That's it.'?

Halford: "I would say probably Sad Wings Of Destiny. The whole experience of Sad Wings Of Destiny was a commitment, from that record on. Rocka Rolla was kind of a, you know, going through the whole, experiencing making a professional record for the first time. But once we'd done that and we got into the Sad Wings Of Destiny world, that was it for me. I didn't want to do anything else."

BraveWords: Have you ever asked for an autograph?

Halford: "Umm, no."

BraveWords: Really?

Halford: "No. I don't think I've ever asked for an autograph. No. It just doesn't happen, so I have nothing to say – it's not that I'm not answering you, I'm thinking. No, I haven't asked anyone for an autograph."

BraveWords: Is it a shy thing, or some thing you just don't care about?

Halford: "Well, I have to be careful how I choose my words here. Although, I still value my privacy and personal time, and depending on where it is for an autograph, I'll sign autographs until the sun comes up at a show, or after a show, in a hotel lobby, or whatever. I think it's sort of a time and place, something like that. And some people are very adamant about that, not giving autographs, like Dave Grohl, Paul McCartney - they don't understand what that means. I do. I understand what that means, so that's probably part of what makes me not want to bother someone for their autograph. Not bother - that's the wrong word, but you know what I mean. Free space.” 

BraveWords: What was the last time you asked for a selfie?

Halford: "Oh, well it was going to be with Dolly (Parton). I remember when this was coming up, this Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame thing, and all I wanted was a selfie with Dolly. I never had a selfie with Dolly. I would've liked to, because  when I met that woman I was just in awe. I was just quaking in my heavy-metal boots, so I didn't have the audacity to say that – but I did get one with Simon Le Bon (Duran Durn singer) though."

BraveWords: Oh wow! That's huge!

Halford: "Simon, yeah. I said, 'Come on, Simon, selfie time', and he said, 'Yeah! Let's do it!', so there's a selfie of me and Simon Le Bon. Who knew? But this is the absolute, glorious, joy of music. One minute you're having a selfie with Simon Le Bon, and the next minute you're doing a duet with Dolly Parton. How mad is that?"

BraveWords: Given the vinyl revolution, which I still can't believe we're going through, do you remember your first vinyl record?

Halford: "I can't. I can't remember, no. When was the Beatles' White Album? What year was that?

BraveWords: Might have been when I was born. '67? (It’s actually November 22nd, 1968)

Halford: "OK, well I bought that, The White Album. And probably Help and Hard Days Night. I can't distinctively remember, but those are some of the albums that I bought. The Beatles and the Stones particularly where in my vinyl collection, yeah."

BraveWords: I know that you don't drink, but if you're sitting in a bar and there's an empty stool, who would you like to come up and sit beside you? Alive or dead.

Halford: "Oh, that's a great question. That's great. Can I have Ronnie on one side and Lemmy on the other? And they can set a camera up and listen to us talk."

BraveWords: That would be called a ‘Metal God Sandwich'.

Halford: "It would be, yeah. Heavy metal." 

BraveWords: Do you actually collect Judas Priest paraphernalia? Is there a big house warehouse like Metallica, for Rob Halford?

Halford: “Not as big as Metallica. From what I understand, Lars is just a pack horse, he collects - I know he's got warehouses full - like even the first plane ticket he took to this country. He's just very, very strong in that kind of physical memory. I've got to applaud him for that. Yeah. We've got some costumes, some stage sets. We're doing this great thing, this backstage experience where you can see some of the stuff that we've used over the years. I've got really, really early, new original itineraries that we just, like, someone had just written out - they were mimeographed you know, before whatever. But they're cool to look at, especially it shows day of, what we were doing."

BraveWords: Last question. Angel Of Retribution had an anniversary in February, and I remember working with Chip (Ruggieri; Chipster PR & Consulting, Inc.), and the first place that it was announced was the CNN ticker. Do you remember seeing that when you came back with Priest?"

Halford: "My God. I forgot about that, yes. You remember that? I don't know where I was. Was I in the States? That was mad! To get on the CNN ticker was pretty cool. There's somebody that worked at CNN who is a mad Priest fan. I can't think of his name. Oh God. Very attractive. So Chip had him on the inside of CNN. We're probably the only heavy metal band who had that running on the ticker, 'the new Judas Priest album, Angel Of Retribution is about to drop'. God, that's a big - only Tim would be able to remember something like that." 

BraveWords: Well, you know you've made it WHEN, right?

Halford: "Yeah. You know you've hit the big time when you make it to the CNN ticker."

BraveWords: Thank you so much.

Halford: "Thank you, Tim. It's always a pleasure. Always a pleasure. Stay hard, stay heavy. We'll see you when we come to your part of the world again."

Click below to watch the entire interview!

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