Judas Priest vocalist talks ‘Defenders’ anniversary

By Jeb Wright

Judas Priest had taken their place as the reigning kings of Heavy Metal with their 1982 classic release “Screaming for Vengeance.” The pressure was on to create something heavier and even more popular than the previous effort. The band stood up to the task and released their highest charting album to date, titled “Defenders of the Faith.” The album was more modern, and was geared to bring in a wider American audience. “Defenders…” still rocked hard and had fists in the air around the world upon release, fueled by the now classic songs “Freewheel Burning,” “Night Comes Down” and “Love Bites.”

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Priest is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the album in a big way (even though, in reality, it is the 31st anniversary of the album’s release). Not only did they bring in the albums original producer, Tom Allom, to remaster the studio album, the band added a two-disc concert recorded on May 5, 1984 at The Long Beach Arena in California from the Defenders of the Faith Tour which contains all but one song from the studio album plus many of Priest’s most classic tunes from their past, including “Metal Gods,” “Breaking the Law,” “Sinner,” “’Electric Eye,” “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown),” “Victim of Changes,” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming.” As good as the studio effort is, the live disc is what will have Priest fans screaming for excellence!

Goldmine sat down with Rob “The Metal God” Halford to discuss the anniversary release, some of the classic songs contained on the album, as well as the bonus live discs.

GM: We are celebrating three decades of the iconic album “Defenders of the Faith!

Rob Halford: This is an exciting moment. As the years progress, we are surrounded by these sort of anniversary numbers that seem to come out of nowhere. In this case, it is a real delight and a thrill to reinvestigate all of the great times we had with “Defenders of the Faith.”

GM: This album takes me back to the days of hanging out in the record stores. Man, I miss those days. I remember purchasing “Defenders of the Faith in a local independent store and getting to listen to the album before I even bought it.

RH: Fortunately, there is still an outlet for vinyl so fans can experience what we experienced. We can’t go to the record stores anymore, which is sad. Everybody used to go to the record stores and talk about their favorite bands and the shows they were going to see and hang out in the parking lot and bust out their favorite band on the stereo, on 8-Track, et cetera. I am sure it is done in a different way now, but those were glory days for rock ‘n’ roll and Metal in the years of vinyl. You could experience the Metal community in that respect. We’ve got the Metal community now on the Internet on social sites, and so forth.

GM: “Defenders…” has a lot of anthems. Priest has always had a few anthems on each album, but on this one, most of the songs were anthems.

RH: Yeah, I don’t know if that is particular to Metal. I am just thinking about it as we’re talking, if that happens in any other kind of music. I think the anthem idea, whether it’s your countries “Stars and Stripes” or our “God Save the Queen,” it really unites everybody in the moment to something they truly love, they cherish and they believe in, whether it is your country, family, or your song, or your band. There is just a wonderful emotion that really speaks volumes through the song you’re listening to. In this case, it is that refrain, “We are defenders of the faith.” That’s all it is, “We are defenders of the faith” and it’s going around and around. It is a beautiful moment of what we strive to be in Metal.

GM: You’re one of my favorite Metal lyricists of all time. I really like Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath as well, but I really like what you do. When you hit on something like “In the dead of night, love bites” do you realize how good that is?

RH: It is not about a mosquito, that’s for sure, although I have my share of those in Miami! Thank you for saying those nice words. I love Geezer’s words, as he is a tremendous lyricist.

Another example of what make Priest a special band are these little mini-movies that we put into your head when you are singing the words along with the band. “The Sentinel,” for example, it says “Along deserted avenues, the steam begins to rise” and you’re immediately drawn into the visual.

I’ve always felt that it is my role in Priest to have a message, whether it be of any great value, or if it is just entertaining. Because I am an avid book reader and I love movies, I just love every aspect of the arts… visually, I find them very stimulating as a lyricist. I had a blast on that record writing about vampires and sentinels and then jawbreakers.

GM: “Freewheel Burning” had that machine gun-like vocals… That had to be hard to pull off.

RH: I wanted to do that staccato delivery and that is what we did. It is pretty difficult because you have to get the diction correctly. You can’t kind of stumble or bumble into each other. You’ve got to make sure you can hear the words “Look before you leap” or whatever it is (laughs). You know what I’m saying? You’ve got to be able to nail it. It took me a few takes to get it, but once I got the rhythm and the delivery it worked really well. That was the first time that we ever did something like that in a Priest song.

GM: “Night Comes Down” is the other huge hit on the album. That track is different than the rest of the songs on the record.

RH: I think every Metal album should have that kind of moment where you pull back a little bit. It is a little unusual, really, as the overall vibe of Metal is to be very fierce and brutal and have a lot of energy and power and so forth. There is always a moment where you can take a breather and reference something from a different angle.

GM: For the 30th anniversary you’ve included the live concert from the Long Beach Arena. Do you remember that particular show?

RH: I remember that show vividly because it was connected to a live radio broadcast. I love my rock ‘n’ roll radio. I have always contested that radio is absolutely vital for any band. Even in today’s world you’ve got to get your music coming over the airways. It is the most amazing thing you can experience, listening to your favorite band while you’re in the car, or at home, or whatever. It is just the best. That is one of the reasons I remember it vividly. I remember the venue. I remember the location, the Long Beach Arena, next to the Queen Mary ship.

When you listen to a live recording, even if you weren’t there, you should feel as though you were there. If you’ve seen a Priest show, then you know what it feels like. It doesn’t really matter if it was recorded in Long Beach, or New York, or Miami, you know what it feels like to be at a Priest show and you put your cans on, or you sit in front of the speakers in the car and you go, “Yeah man, that’s what it’s like to be at a Priest show.” In this case, it is a celebration and an anniversary, and we can enjoy it together one more time.

GM: As we look back at 30 years of “Defenders of the Faith,” where do you think that fits into the history of the Priest catalog?

RH: Looking through the rich history of the back catalog of Priest I think it is important for many reasons. Mostly that it really reinforces everything that we’ve tried to be in Priest, as a classic Heavy Metal band, including all of the songs that we’ve talked about and I’ve described to you. It is vital for it to be recognized right now.

The fans love that record so much. We played some of the songs [recently] in Brisbane and the Aussies were going mental for it. A lot of young Metal fans were there as well. I was looking out into the crowd and there were a lot of Metalheads in their teens going crazy for a record that was there long before they were. That, to me, is one of the heartwarming aspects of this album by Priest. Even though this record is 30 years old, it is still able to touch people all these years later, and I hope people will be doing that in the future as well.

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• A new excerpt from metal author Mick Wall’s biography on Metallica
• Two of Thin Lizzy’s guitarists are celebrated: Brian Robertson and Gary Moore
• David Coverdale and Whitesnake
• The former Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver bassist continues his solo project
• Wendy Dio talks about her legendary husband, Ronnie James
• Reviews on Blizzard of Ozz box set, Dylan, Magnum, Heart, and more
• Both Twisted Sister’s Jay Jay French and SiruisXM’s Eddie Trunk give the 10 albums that changed their lives
• Collector’s Market Place

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