Judas Priest Puts Farewell Aside

Scott Mervis
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

Despite rumblings of a farewell album and tour, the demise of Judas Priest was greatly exaggerated back in 2011.

Despite rumblings of a farewell album and tour, the demise of Judas Priest was greatly exaggerated back in 2011.

The veteran British metal band lived to fight another day, even with founding member K.K. Downing choosing to bow out rather than carry on guitar duties into his 60s.

Priest, hitting the whopping 40-year mark since the debut album, is back on the road having just released its 17th studio record, “Redeemer of Souls.” Following in the wake of the double concept album “Nostradamus,” the new one strips Judas Priest back more to the raw essentials of chugging guitars (from Glenn Tipton and new member Richie Faulkner) and Rob Halford’s operatic wails.

The “Metal God” known for his leather, spikes and roaring Harley has been the face of Judas Priest since joining in 1973, with a little over a decade off from ‘92 to 2003 during which he fronted Fight and Halford.

The formidable looking yet soft-spoken singer talked to us from Boston recently.

Q: How is this tour going?

A: It feels as great as it ever was. I always personally feel when you’re out on the road and you’re back with your fans again, that kind of validates everything you’re trying to do with your music, because obviously a lot of thought and time and effort goes into the music that you do. But when you actually see the emotional connection with your fans, that’s when it really becomes the most important part of being a musician, I think. We’re doing that all over again, and 40 years later, we’re still making that contact.

Q: I guess fans feared in 2011 that there was a farewell in the offing. What made you guys decide to push forward?

A: Yeah, we were in a different place at the point. I think it’s kind of not usual for bands that have had a great life in rock ‘n’ roll to be a bit reflective, a bit nostalgic, and consider what’s left to do. And I think that’s where we were prior to The Epitaph Tour (in 2011) and there was a feeling of maybe winding things down, but of course, on the eve of that Epitaph tour, K.K. retired and we found Richie and I kind of equate it to sports when you bring a new player onto the basketball team or the baseball team. There should be like a spark, a surge of something again. That’s not to say we didn’t have that, but Richie just kind of kick-started things for us. We can’t talk enough about how valuable he is to Priest. We went out on that Epitaph Tour and came off feeling so alive and invigorated and excited about the next move, which was to make a new record.

Q: “Nostradamus” was a more ambitious concept record. On this one, were you trying to get back to the more classic late ‘70s Priest sound?

A: Yeah, again, with Richie in the fold and playing all those songs on the Epitaph Tour, we tried to cover most of the significant songs over the 21/2-hour set. We were full of that, so when Richie and Glenn and myself got together to start writing, I just said, “We should just kind of re-establish, reaffirm all the wonderful things we’ve had in this band for so long, just kind of nail down the real source of what we’re about.” So with that thought in mind, we were able to drop the anchor one more time about what this band is supposed to be, which is really simple: straight-forward, classic British metal.

Q: How is it for you to be doing this kind of music, this kind of vocal, this kind of physical rigor, at 63?

A: Haha … You don’t wanna see me first thing in the morning. Oh dear. Hopping around like a fat old queen.

Q: Well, at least your hair’s not messed up.

A: That’s a relief! I will say this, that no matter what condition you are in first thing in the morning, by the time you’re going on stage, you feel like a million dollars. And I do my best to feel like a million dollars, care of Max Factor. So, it’s just the energy and the kind of switch physically and mentally from off the road to on the road, it’s quite a leap. If you’ve caught any clips on YouTube or read the reviews, the consensus is that this group has what made it such a great group. So, yeah, it is a bit more physically challenging. We’ve just done three in a row and traveling between shows as well, sometimes 3- 4-, 500 miles. We were doing it in our 20s and we’re still doing in it our 60s, so that just shows you the determination we have.

Q: There’s an interesting arc to a metal band’s career, from people being initially shocked or put off, to this elder statesman role. How would you say the image of JP has changed over the years?

A: I don’t think it’s changed that much. I don’t think this band has changed its attitude or its belief or its integrity or passion. I’m feeling it more on this tour before. We’re so glad to be here and so glad to have the fans that support us and keep us motivated, that there isn’t a great deal of difference between Judas Priest in 1974 and Judas Priest in 2014. All the things that we set out to be and do are still the same.

Q: You do a lot of tours and festivals with younger metal bands. Do you like where some of the younger bands have taken the genre?

A: I’m not gonna be a cynical old fart, because it’s very easy to become that way. The great thing about being in rock ‘n’ roll at this point in my life is that, I was reading something that Scott (Travis, the drummer) said in Billboard the other day. Scott was saying, “We playing heavy metal because it does genuinely make you feel younger than you are.” We play and behave like a bunch of kids. You have to think that way or you do feel too pushed back from all of the fresh, hot things that are happening now from the newer metal bands. So, it’s thrilling for me. When I first began there was nothing really to look at and or listen to, and now it’s vast. So, as an old metalhead, it absolutely does my heart good to see such an array of extraordinary talent from all different types of bands: from the growlers to the nu metal to the emo metal. There’s all these different genres in metal now. It’s all good. I love it. I wouldn’t criticize one of them. I think they’re all valuable and important.

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