Long before heavy metal was known for ingredients such as shredding guitars, double bass, "horns up" or black leather, the budding chefs were studying up in the 'burbs of England. Not far from Birmingham -- which eventually spawned Black Sabbath -- a young Rob Halford walked to school in Walsall on a daily basis, past the metal foundries with molten metal oozing out of vats.
In 1973, Halford (in his early 20s) came on board with Judas Priest, just a few years after the band's conception. A year later, the landmark metal band released its debut, Rocka Rolla, followed by such legendary albums as Painkiller, British Steel , and Screaming for Vengeance.
"We say that metal was invented in the West Midlands," says Halford. "So we were living and breathing it before a note was even played."
For 40 years Judas Priest has influenced just about every metal band there is in some way, and has brought a brand of ever-strengthening metal to the masses. Even the maturation of Halford's vocals have helped evolve the band's sound -- the singer has elaborated in the past that over time your vocals age; it's not like you can tune them up, like drum skins or guitar strings.
While we speak on the phone, his West Midlands British accent is warm and soft-spoken, and our conversation is punctuated with chuckles and sips from what I presume to be a cup of tea. Then an image flashes in my mind -- black leather vest, combat boots, black aviators, possibly his studded leather jacket -- yes. The picture of his silver ring-studded hand encircling a teacup makes perfect sense. This is Rob Halford, after all.
Judas Priest has put out 17 records, written hundreds of song, and sold around 50 million albums. The pioneering metal band will always be known for carrying the metal flag and throwing kerosene on the genre's fire. In fact, the band's 17th studio album title, Redeemer of Souls, is quite fitting, seeing that the band's soul is rooted in redeeming the soul of heavy metal for as long as they can.
Redeemer of Souls was released in July, their first album since 2008's concept record Nostradamus, as well as their first without founding guitarist K.K. Downing, who left the band in 2011 during the Epitaph tour and was replaced by shredder Richie Faulkner. The first-week sales for Redeemer of Souls gave Priest its first Billboard top 10 album in the band's 40-year history.
Halford calls Phoenix his part-time home, and the November 12 show at Gila River Arena in Glendale will reflect that. The arena will be turned into a theater setting with the entire balcony hidden from view with a customized screening system. This ensures that the audience all have the "best seat in the house" so that fans can see Priest like never before.
Rob Halford talked to Up On The Sun from his house in England a few days before his 63rd birthday, about Dimebag Darrell, new blood in the band, and his love for Phoenix.
Rob Halford: I am so excited to be talking to someone in Phoenix! Have you guys had the annual monsoon season?
If you can believe it or not, it's raining here right now.
It's an unusual thing, isn't it? When we see rain we go crazy about it! People just look at us like, "What's wrong with you?" Hey! I just read your article about Dimebag Darrell. I can't believe it's been 10 years since he died. That was a really nice piece that you put together for the Phoenix New Times. I would love to be at the DimeFest event at Joe's Grotto. Tell everyone that the Metal God sends his love for supporting the cause! After all; it's for Dime's charity.
Well thank you for reading it!
I just can't believe it's 10 years this year. I remember I was sitting in my house when I got the call that he had died. The years have flown by.
Congratulations on the success of Redeemer of Souls.
Thank you, yeah! It's remarkable! Forty years later you still get the buzz and you still get excited and feel the energy and all those wonderful experiences. We genuinely look forward to them on a regular tour, but especially when you recently released new music to the fans and it's well received. It's just a nice vibe and still a reaffirmation of everything you try to do. We're just trying to make what we feel is some of the best metal of the genre from Priest, as well as embodying what there is to love about classic metal.
So with the Epitaph tour, the concept was to cover all of the decades of Judas Priest in one night. With this tour, you're trying to create more of an intimate theater experience. Explain that concept a bit.
Well, I wish we could sell out but we can't! Laughter. But you know, I like being able to provide a specific type of perspective. We get excited playing in American theaters, no matter what size the venue is. So with Jobing.com Arena it makes sense to cover the balcony like that to make it more intimate and sensible. We love going out and playing all the Priest classics, "Breaking the Law," "Living after Midnight," "[You've Got] Another Thing Coming," "The Hellion/Electric Eye," "Beyond the Realms of Death," all of these and many more, but we're equally as thrilled now there's an opportunity coming to share some of these new songs. And Danny [Zelisko] is putting the show on, as you know. It's going to be a blast! Sort of like a homecoming, you know? Last time I was in Phoenix for a bit it was so hot, so I went to Prescott to get out of the heat. You know, I get acclimated to this British weather if I'm there too long.
You still have your house out in Phoenix, right?
I do. I come through every now and again when I can, when I'm off tour. I'm about to move back permanently to Phoenix, probably towards the end of this year. You know, I've been there since '81. There's always great music coming from the city, from when I first made a connection with the town in the early '80s, all the way to the present time. That just shows you the consistency of metal, from the old days with rockers on the West side, all the way to Tempe and the old Mason Jar -- of course, I'm not completely up to speed with what's happening and hot now in the area. I do remember Joe's Grotto, though!
I agree that our local metal and rock scene is strong, but it seems hard to attract a lot of attention to the new stuff coming out of here. Maybe it's the proximity to L.A.
Yeah, L.A. is just a change ride away. However I'm glad that the close proximity didn't extract any of the local metal community from Phoenix. It's important. I've thought for a long time now that there's real valuable collaborative talent in Phoenix. I lot of it is still significant in many ways.
The track "Halls of Valhalla" from Redeemer of Souls is very powerful. What was the inspiration behind that song, lyrically and instrumentally?
You know, as a lyricist, sometimes it's challenging to me to come up with a new message for people's interpretation. A lead break that's fresh. But, I used to write about things like books all the time, and my brain doesn't really shut off. I am always taking notes and putting bullet point words down as a sort of springboard for an idea. And um, "Valhalla" ... it's very Norwegian and Swedish; Norse mythology. It's a great place to visit, that part of the world. Metal is just a hot point in those countries. So you know, "Battlecry," "Halls of Valhalla", "Sword of Damocles," "Secrets of the Dead" ... I've been all over the place on this record. We've got Viking influence, the pyramids, aliens ... Walking Dead, even. Laughter. I just like to try and make it interesting from my illustrious point of view. And I think all these words, all these messages, communicate that. Right in line with the metal point of view too.
You've said that when you finish a record and are listening to the whole thing for the first time; it's what should be representing you at that place in time. So it seems as if you guys are as strong as ever with of Redeemer of Souls.
Yeah and I think again that it goes back to Richie's direction. You know it's a difficult feeling to maintain at any time really, but when you've been doing it for so long, and you get new blood, it is like that proverbial breath of fresh air. You just feel, see and hear different opportunities. So um, the family is just having a blast right now.
In regards to songwriting in Priest, it's always been you, Glenn Tipton, and K.K. Downing. With Richie Faulkner replacing K.K., how much did the addition of Faulkner influence the album?
Yes, yes. He had quite an influence frankly. After K.K. retired during Epitaph tour, we didn't really know what was going to happen next. The clock was ticking, but you know these things happen. But it was a type of miracle joining up with Richie. His work on this record can't be understated.
The trio of two guitar players and a singer [Tipton, Halford and Faulkner], jamming together in a room to come up with everything on Redeemer of Souls -- it was just really exciting to be in the studio while these songs were being born because, that's literally what happens. It was really cool We got Richie with us for that Epitaph tour because by the time we finished he was fully embedded in the band. That whole time we're just spending time together, eating and drinking, and just getting the family connected. He was well immersed by the time we started writing for Redeemer of Souls.
At the age of 63 and kicking off another tour, how do you feel about your title as the "God of Metal" in relevance to the new music out there?
Every day you can hear new music that is released. And with technology today you can get exposed to metal around the world and it's extraordinary I'm going to keep going. I'm made of metal.
Yeah, I mean you look at some of the people that are still around, like the Stones for example. I'll tell you what's all factual. The generations of the community of metal, from the new metal bands barely on the TV, to the bands that are getting back together for reunions, to the originators -- you just can't hold the originators of metal back really. They're strong-witted. Those bands tour and will continue to tour. Take KISS for example, and other pioneers of rock 'n' roll. And then there will always be other talent, you know? Sometimes it doesn't matter how long you've been doing it; other talent will take the limelight.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.