To many, Judas Priest is the epitome of a heavy metal band. A singer with a multi-octave range? Check. A twin guitar tandem? Check. Leather-studded outfits? Check. Anthems that have served as a metalhead call-to-arms for decades? Most certainly a check. It’s been 40 years since their recording career began, but as evidenced by their latest offering, Redeemer of Souls, the mighty Priest—singer Rob Halford, bassist Ian Hill, drummer Scott Travis and guitarists Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner—are still producing vital metal. And the public agrees: The album debuted at number six on the domestic Billboard charts—the band’s highest US placement so far.
“The thing about a band like Priest, or any band that’s had the good luck to keep making music, is that you’re always held in comparison to your previous work,” Halford explained from his Phoenix home. “It’s something you have to learn to deal with. It can be frustrating because there’s obviously a lot of love for your stuff on the surface, even though you may have made that particular song or record many years ago. And naturally, you want your fans to be drawn to your new music. So it’s a balancing act, really.”
As heard on such standout cuts as “March of the Damned,” “Metalizer” and the album’s title track, the band is not in short supply of material that stacks up to vintage Priest anthems like “Breaking the Law,” “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” and “Painkiller.” And Halford pointed to a new track that measures up to the classics. “I would say definitely the opener, ‘Dragonaut.’ The first things that you hear are ‘Welcome to my world of steel.’ It’s very simple, but it embodies a lot of emotions in one clean statement. It’s telling everybody, ‘Look, we still love what we’re doing, but we’re embracing all of our fans into our world.’ And 40 years later, it’s still heavy metal.”
Perhaps one reason Priest has enjoyed such chart success with Souls is a new legion of fans they acquired via a performance with James Durbin on season 10 of American Idol. “We’d been following what James Durbin had been doing on the show, and James was bringing metal onto American Idol, which no other artist had done up until that point. There was some kickback from certain elements of the metal community, saying, ‘What the hell are you doing? How dare you be on American Idol?’ And our response was, ‘Who would not push back on an opportunity to be in the homes of 30 million viewers in America and beyond?’ It was firstly to do it for James, because he’s a great talent, and then secondly, it was to keep spreading the gospel of metal through Judas Priest.”
Also of note is that Souls is the first-ever Priest album recorded without long-time guitarist KK Downing, who has been replaced by Richie Faulkner. “I think Richie’s place in Priest has been completely solidified now, with the work that he’s done on Redeemer of Souls. At this point, the fans have completely embraced Richie and are excited to see him go out with us again on this American tour.”
In anticipation of the upcoming New York area shows, Halford was also willing to reflect on his band’s long-standing relationship with Long Island metalheads. “I suppose it’s just the fabric of the people there. It’s extremely intense in terms of the passion of the metalheads on Long Island. I guess it’s just what makes Long Island unique, really. It reminds us a little bit of where we’re from, in the Midlands [of England]. The Midlands region is hard-working, tough people that can be in your face but have got your back. And they’re very proud of their heritage and their roots. I think that’s what we get from the Long Island crowd. It’s good to see those words on a tour itinerary.”
Does Halford see Priest continuing beyond Redeemer of Souls and its supporting tour? “You’re inspired by the initial feedback of enthusiasm and support from your fan base, so that only encourages you to consider going through the process again. After this tour completes—we’ll be working through most of 2015—I’m sure that there will be another opportunity where we finish a touring cycle and we consider what to do next. My hope is that we’ll be making another Priest record.”
Judas Priest will be rocking locally on Oct 9th at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the 10th at Harrah’s in Atlantic City and the 17th at the Izod Center in East Rutherford.