After leaving metal über lords Judas Priest in 1991, Rob Halford seemed to lose the plot a little. His first solo venture with Fight endured for two albums. But while the Priest faithful largely stuck by him, others were underwhelmed by his foray into Pantera-esque power metal. Subsequently, Halford formed Two with guitarist John Lowery (later John 5 of Marilyn Manson infamy), signed to Trent Reznor’s Nothing label and struck out into uncharted techno-goth territory. Executive produced (some say salvaged) by Reznor, 1998’s Voyeurs saw Halford’s vocals subdued, and often unrecognizable, amid its industrial-electronic textures. Whether or not Voyeurs sounded like watered-down Nine Inch Nails was one matter. Another, more pressing concern raised by the record was that Halford seemed to have forsaken classic metal for good.
On the release of Voyeurs, Halford received significant press attention not because of the album, but because he had just come out. While public reaction was generally positive, Halford himself was bemused that his sexual preference should actually be news to anyone. “In all of my years with Priest,” he said at the time, “I had this very homoerotic, S&M kind of garb and imagery attached to it, and yet nobody even saw through that.”
Still, it did come as a shock to fans who had never considered the possibility that one of the leading exponents of the metal genre—a predominantly male and a decidedly homoerotic genre at that—might be gay. (Looking back, you also have to wonder what these heterocentric fans made of the presence of the suggestively named Canadian band, Strapping Young Lad, on a 1997 Judas Priest tribute album alongside the likes of Helloween, Mercyful Fate and Fates Warning.) In any case, Halford’s revelations meant that, for metallurgists everywhere, the Judas Priest classic “Hell Bent for Leather” would never sound quite the same again.
Although some have questioned his musical ventures over the last decade, Halford stands by them as projects “I needed to do . . . in order to get back to what I’m doing now.” And what he’s doing now—if Resurrection is any indicator—is returning to the timeless metal formula that he was instrumental in forging in the ‘70s. Indeed, Halford considers Resurrection to be the first true metal album that he’s recorded since Painkiller, his 1990 swansong with Judas Priest. Rob Halford has assembled an impressive band for Resurrection. The double guitar onslaught of Mike Chlasciak and Patrick Lachman is a match for Priest axe-men Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing any day and the rhythm section—comprising bassist Ray Riendeau and drummer Bobby Jarzombek—brings some serious weight to the proceedings. Add to all of that the production skills of Roy Z, best known for his work with Bruce Dickinson, and you’ve got the recipe for a hard and heavy sound.
With his rising, trademark wail on the intro to the title cut, Halford announces his return to form in vintage style and, on track after track, proceeds to call out the pretenders currently riding the fashionable wave of nü-metal, shaming them for the bunch of light-weights they are.
Resurrection confirms that, when it’s done this well, metal can be truly timeless. Crucial in this regard are the depth and range that Halford and his band display here, combining melody with raw power and blending accelerated staccato riffs and anthemic sing-alongs. And of course, Rob Halford’s vocal performance is central to this equation. While at 49 years of age he may bring new meaning to the term “dad rock,” he’s lost none of his range or power. Resurrection sees him give the pipes quite a workout, effortlessly rising from foreboding baritone to piercing falsetto and back again. Whether or not there’s any truth to the widely circulated story that Pavarotti cited Rob Halford as the world’s greatest rock singer is irrelevant; it makes for a great modern metal myth and is worth repeating here just to keep it alive.
In equal measure messianic and diabolic, Rob Halford’s brilliantly camp performance leads the listener through the usual metal thematics of menace, alienation, torment, pain and revenge. But within the general context of Halford’s glorious, knowing bombast on this album there are also numerous instances of a new songwriting trajectory that displays a markedly personal vision.
Such a tendency is evident on cuts like “Resurrection” and “Made in Hell,” which—without sacrificing any of the intensity and drive of the music—signal a lyrical departure from the usual metal idiom of fantasy, escapism and illusion. On “Resurrection” Halford articulates some of his experience of the last few years and maps out the path that has led him back to the fold.
“Made in Hell” is similarly introspective yet casts a broader historical net as Halford charts his life in metal. This is a sweeping heavy metal Künstlerroman (as it were) that tells Halford’s story and by extension the story of British metal from its material origins in the nation’s industrial heartland to its globalization as a highly valued commodity. While Halford subtly references fellow Brummies Black Sabbath on “Made in Hell,” he pays them fuller, musical homage on the thumping “Drive,” a track whose rhythms evoke the blues-metal sound of the early Sabs.
No less personal in its lyrical approach is “Silent Screams.” This is a paradigmatic metal epic that moves from an acoustic balladic intro to grinding power-chords, then shifts up a few gears for a heads-down-no-nonsense mid-section before eventually coming full circle to its downbeat opening. Equally anthemic is “Twist,” which brilliantly combines melody, grind and gravitas in classic metal fashion. “Twist” was written by Bob Halligan, Jr., who has penned songs for Judas Priest, Joan Jett and Blue Öyster Cult. He’s also written for Michael Bolton, Night Ranger, and Cher but we won’t go into that.
NWOBHM, in the person of Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson, meets the slightly older school (Halford) for a duet on “The One You Love to Hate.” While it’s great to hear two of metal’s now elder statesmen going toe to toe, at little more than three minutes it’s all too short a stand off. Still, given that Halford is currently the opening act on the “Brave New World” tour with Iron Maiden and Queensrÿche, fans may get the opportunity to see the pair trading screams on the road.
Although “Cyber World” rocks as hard as any of the other tracks, a glaring lyrical lapse is evident in its social commentary. Here, Halford rails against new computer and communications technologies, throwing bucketloads of cliched doggerel around with spectacularly cringe-inducing results. It’s odd how even the most absurd lyrical nonsense is completely acceptable—and indeed preferable—within the realm of metal and yet, the minute earnest social commentary is afoot, things become even more painful and frightening than the dark scenarios depicted in standard metal lyrics.
Minor glitches aside, as numerous reviews will doubtless point out, the title of this CD says it all. The Metal God is back making metal at its sublimely ridiculous best. Lock up your daughters, and your sons for that matter. And, yes, make sure you turn it up to 11.
// Notes from the Road
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