Tues July 27, White River Amphitheatre, 9 am, $45.75-$75.75.
When I initially fell into the black hole of rock memorabilia that is eBay, my first purchase was a black satin tour jacket emblazoned with the Hellion, the mechanical beast on the cover of Judas Priest's 1982 metal masterpiece, Screaming for Vengeance. It's one of my most treasured possessions, but I rarely wear it out, simply because people think I'm being ironic and I end up in these stupid conversations explaining why I sincerely love Priest now just as much as I did when I was 13 years old. The truth is, I may be a diehard fan, but any hard rock aficionado who throws on Priest's 1979 live album, Unleashed in the East, can't deny that operatic vocalist Rob Halford is the true King of Heavy Metal. With all due respect to Mr. Osbourne, Halford's multi-octave range, masterful delivery, and arresting stage presence have made him an enduring icon. Needless to say, when I called him up to chat about the recent Judas Priest reunion, the Heavy Metal Parking Lot documentary, and the parallel lines between metal and punk, I had a difficult time keeping my composure.
So how did this reunion end up happening?
We were talking about the [retrospective] Metalogy boxed set and our manager asked us if we were going to reunite. We all just looked at each other and said, "Yeah, let's do it!" So it was done in a very simple, direct, British sort of way. I feel complete now when I look to my right and see [guitarist] Ken [Downing] and there's [guitarist] Glenn [Tipton] and [bassist] Ian [Hill] on my left. It's a very emotionally cathartic moment for everyone to be back together and see the reaction we're creating--the fans are going absolutely ballistic when we walk out on stage together.
It seems ridiculous that they tried to replace you with a guy from a Judas Priest cover band. Was it difficult watching someone else attempt to fill your shoes?
Of course it was, but there was nothing I could do about it because I was directly responsible--I was the guy that left the band. I have to admit, when it happened, I did feel strange inside, even though I knew it was the obvious taking place. So it was up to me, really, to write a very heartfelt, hand-written letter explaining my feelings--that was key in slowly opening the door.
Priest really started to take off in the mid-'70s in England, which coincided with the development of the punk scene. That must have been an interesting social phenomenon....
It was, because the press was giving metal a death bell, saying, "This is the end of metal; punk rock is taking over"--although we never thought that was going to be the case because we saw punk rock as an expendable, fashionable flash in the pan. There were some significant moments--I think out of the whole punk movement, the Clash were the most socially stimulating and musically relevant experience. I thought the Pistols were just really controversial... although... the Pistols were really very heavy metal, they had Roy Thomas Baker produce them, who produced Queen. The first time I heard the Pistols, I thought, "Man, this is a heavy metal band," you know?
I do know--I agree, actually.
You do? Well, lovely! You know, there's very much a parallel between the essence of punk music and some of the elements of metal in that it's loud, it's brash, and it can be considered obnoxious and controversial--the main core of society finds it difficult to accept. It wasn't that much of a stretch between the two, but we felt that [punk] was too tied into the moment, rather than the long-term possibilities. And the music really wasn't very good, let's face it, apart from one or two moments--the rest of it was garbage. I mean, you've got bands coming together that couldn't even play and that was the essence of punk?
Have you seen Heavy Metal Parking Lot?
Yes I have, and that's a very important documentary in many ways. It's a microcosm of what America was feeling and experiencing at that time. I dare say it's not really that different in 2004--the love for the bands and the escapism, the fanaticism, the camaraderie--all of the things that bring fans together for a show each night in metal are still very solid.