Four Decades of Hellfire with Judas Priest (Interview)

Four Decades of Hellfire with Judas Priest (Interview)

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The 1984 mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap depicted the insanity of life on the road with the fictional heavy metal band. To prepare for the film, director Rob Reiner attended a concert by metal icons Judas Priest. “It physically hurt my chest,” said Reiner. “The reverberation in the hall was so strong that I couldn’t stay there any longer.”

Priest’s front man is Rob Halford, whose operatic style and high-pitched screams have defined heavy metal vocals for forty years. Priest pioneered metal’s dual lead guitar lineup; Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner trade riffs as well as write the band’s apocalyptic tracks with Halford. Faulkner is the new kid on the block, replacing longtime guitarist K.K. Downing in 2011.

Presumably the band has been busy stoking the fires of Hell as it has been six years since the last Priest studio album. Headbangers were ecstatic last month when Priest released Redeemer of Souls, a critically acclaimed LP that serves as a power romp through a world of dragons, demons and destruction.

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Rock Cellar Magazine recently sat down with Halford, Tipton and Faulkner to learn how Judas Priest produces its heavy metal anthems.

The band shared some Spinal Tap moments of its own, including the time a lighting rig, called a gantry, broke loose and almost killed the drummer.

Rock Cellar Magazine: Rob, you’ve said you set out to make a “fierce relentless classic heavy metal album” with Redeemer of Souls. How do you do that?

Rob Halford: I think a lot of it is instinctive; it’s intuitive. There’s a sense of purpose which we definitely have on this record.

I think 10 years from now this will be revered as one of the greatest metal records ever made.

I don’t say that lightly. Just knowing how everything works, it feels that good. It was just pouring it out from the heart. And all the skill that Glenn and I have attained in the writing sense over 40 years. And then of course bringing Richie on, who is already fully integrated and been a massive fan of the band and knows the songs of Priest. It was just a very simple record to make.

Glenn Tipton: People don’t realize that as you write an album, twice as much has probably been discarded because it didn’t click, it didn’t inspire people. Sometimes you get a great idea for a song and you keep working it and working it and at some point the best thing to do is discard it, work on something else.

You don’t recognize what’s good or bad yourself sometimes. I’ve often played a riff that I think is really good and there’s just stunned silence (laughs). Nobody else does, really. The best thing to do is put that away, forget about it and move on.

Rock Cellar Magazine: What stage are the songs in when you go into the studio?

Richie Faulkner: We have skeleton songs that are written melodies and then there are things that we come up with in the studio. I remember vividly Rob came in one day; he’d come up with a vocal idea. And he said that he was sitting in a traffic jam on the way to the studio, got the idea for the phrase, and put in down on a recorder.

So you can imagine sitting in that traffic jam, looking over and doing a double take – there’s Rob Halford screaming into a recorder. He brings it into the studio and that becomes another song. We get in there, put them in a cauldron and put them all together. A jigsaw puzzle.

Rock Cellar Magazine: Growing up, before metal existed, who were your influences?

Rob Halford: For me, as a singer, I loved listening to people like Janis Joplin and even people like Elvis and Little Richard. The voice is such a remarkable instrument. I always think when you’re singing, you’re singing from your soul. I get often asked, where do you find the way to scream so hard? If you listen to what Robert Plant was doing in those early Led Zeppelin albums or what Janis is doing with Big Brother & the Holding Company, it makes you understand what the human voice can do.

Rock Cellar Magazine: Can we hear any of those influences in your music?

Rob Halford: On the track called Revolution on the Angel of Retribution album, I was definitely channeling Robert Plant. You can hear it in the outro section mostly.

Rock Cellar Magazine: What is the state of metal today? Are the new bands evolving the medium or are they just ripping you guys off?

Richie Faulkner: I wouldn’t call it ripping it off. I’d call it tipping the hat to bands like Priest or Black Sabbath. And the good thing about today is the bands at the forefront of the metal movement are doing it unashamedly. They don’t say we’re hiding our roots. They’re putting their roots out there for everyone to hear.  And it’s a great testament to these guys.

Rob Halford: In today’s metal world, you hear the expression “cookie cutter,” which I think is a bit insulting because in the end every band is trying to do the best that they can. And sometimes, depending on the genre of metal you do bump into each other. But it is about finding your originality.

Most people understand that to get ahead in rock ‘n’ roll, you’ve got to do something that somebody else hasn’t done before. That’s very, very difficult.

You’ll get people like Metallica acknowledging Priest, Korn, bands that have really done well in their own right. That’s great because we talk about passing the flame to one another.

The overall state and condition of metal is phenomenal. It started with two bands, Priest and Sabbath and now look at it. Remarkable.

Rock Cellar Magazine: How has the film Spinal Tap entered the lexicon of metal?

Rob Halford: Spinal Tap is just the way life works, a parody, art imitating life. And I dare say the new metal bands are equally going through their own Spinal Tap-esque moments now, even if they’ve never seen that movie. Because that’s just the way life happens, you know?

Glenn Tipton: I think Spinal Tap condensed and summed up the whole world of bands, not just metal really, but bands in general. There’s conflict, there’s ego problems, there’s outside influences, money problems. That stuff actually does go on. There are things cited in that film that come from Judas Priest, you know, there are experiences on the road that certainly have been Spinal Tap moments.

We’ve been lost underneath stages…

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