A life of metal: Halford looks back on 35 years of headbanging

Forged of molten British metal in Judas Priest’s fiery smithy, “Hell Bent For Leather” is a kind of declaration of independence for bikers everywhere.
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Forged of molten British metal in Judas Priest’s fiery smithy, “Hell Bent For Leather” is a kind of declaration of independence for bikers everywhere.

Rob Halford’s dad drove a motorcycle before the family even had a car, so the “metal god” with the gutteral growls and operatic falsetto took an instant liking to the machines. And over time, he grew to appreciate more and more what they represent, especially with regard to heavy metal.

“You’ve got this big, hulking monster of metal, and it’s loud, and it smells, and it pisses people off and creates a reaction,” laughs Halford.

“People either love motorcycles or hate them, but if you like motorcycles, you realize why you like the experience or symbol of that.

It’s got a great rock ’n’ roll element. It represents freedom.”

With a bit of disappointment in his voice, Halford says his dad wasn’t into the song “Hell Bent For Leather,” a song “ ... that was written about a bike.” Undeterred, Halford has made the Harley a staple of the Judas Priest live show.

“It became kind of a prominent thing for Priest, and now it’s part of the show,” continues Halford, now back with Priest after a long absense. “When the Harley roars out onstage, it’s just a wonderful, crowning moment.”

Halford and company will trot out the chopper again this summer as Priest blazes a trail across Europe and then blitzes the U.S. in August in a metal tour package for the ages, with Priest going out with Heaven And Hell (the Dio-fronted Black Sabbath reincarnation), Motorhead and Testament.

“We’re trying to put together the Priest set list together right now, and there’s e-mails flying all over the place and phone calls, and it’s always difficult, because you’re looking at double digits in terms of full releases Priest has made,” says Halford. “You know, I’ll send one off to [guitarist] Glenn [Tipton], and he’ll send one back to me, and I’ll send one off to [guitarist] K.K. [Downing], and he’ll send one to [bassist] Ian [Hill]. I don’t know how we’re going to get this one together, but it’s a joy. There’s always a handful of songs that we’ll play for fans, but I think on this tour we’re going to try and look for material we may not have played before or songs that haven’t been in the show for some time.”

Around the time Priest hits the road, the band hopes to unchain the beast known as Nostradamus. It’s scheduled to be released in Europe June 13. Halford calls it a “massive endeavor.”

“We’re still battling away, doing the final mixes,” says Halford. “It’s taken the time it needs to take. As any musician will tell you, you don’t rush to the end just to accommodate a release date, or a day on the calendar. When you’re making music this complete, you hope that it’ll last forever.”

Taking great pains to ensure sonic quality has always been Halford’s MO in Priest and other ventures, such as Fight, the industrial-metal project 2wo (inspired by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor) and the Halford band.