An interview with Judas Priest's Rob Halford 

1980: year zero for all things metal. Four relics came out that year: AC/DC's Back in Black, Judas Priest's British Steel, Ozzy's Blizzard of Ozz and Motorhead's Ace of Spades. With these albums, heavy metal evolved from being a subgenre of blues-rock to a genre and discipline of its own.

British Steel was the best of the bunch, and Judas Priest is traveling the country to play it front to back. The short, brutal songs on the album raised the bar for songwriting and guitar work. Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing perfected a twin guitar attack on tunes like "Rapid Fire" and "Steeler" that became the standard blueprint for metal bands.

Then there was Rob Halford's voice. His vocals on "Breaking The Law" and "Living After Midnight" made these songs the huge hits they were. But digging deeper, songs like "Grinder" and "The Rage" show the most gifted rock star vocalist this side of Robert Plant.

Ozzy may be the Prince of Darkness but Rob Halford is the Metal God - and I've got him on the phone. He's sitting in his car in the parking lot of L.A.'s Staples Center as a rare thunderstorm approaches, taking a break from promoting Brutal Legend, a video game featuring, among others, Jack Black, Lemmy and himself. A thrill came over me when Halford opened his mouth. I knew instantly who inspired Spinal Tap character Nigel Tufnel.

NUVO: Why did you decide to do British Steel on this tour?

Halford: We've never done anything like this before; we've never played any of the Priest records in their entirety. So we decided to do British Steel, because it's a very important record for Judas Priest - it was the one that broke the band internationally - and because its [30th] anniversary was coming up. Not to mention the record has become sort of an icon in the metal world. We've never played some of these songs live, so that is exciting.

NUVO: Is it going to be difficult to relearn some of the songs on the album?

Halford: No, not really. It wasn't a difficult record to make, really. The guys and I went into the studio and just streaked through it. I love British Steel because it's a very direct and simple album. It's all about the songs, there's no filler. I'm particularly looking forward to seeing what it feels like to do all of these songs again in their proper running order.

NUVO: What was going through your minds as you were making the record?

Halford: It's a pretty serious record, when you think about it, both musically and lyrically. The lightest moment on the record is "Livin' After Midnight," but the lyrics on the rest of the tracks are rather serious, even "You don't have to be old to be wise" is a strong statement. Lyrically and musically, I think it was an indication of what was going on with the band, and the state of the country in the U.K. in the '80s. It was a difficult time with our government's conflicts with unions, miners, steelworkers and so forth.

NUVO: Was it weird to rejoin the band in 2003?

Halford: It was like coming home, really. It was just so natural. It's amazing that we've been playing together for 38, 39 years now, and it, obviously, comes down to the magic of the people that are in the band.

NUVO: It was nice to see a veteran band turn in such an ambitious and rocking album like your last record, Nostradamus.

Halford: It's been part of our attitude from day one, never to repeat ourselves. We still have lots of ideas of what we want to do. The concept of Nostradamus was always in the back of our minds, and the day finally came where we had a chance to make it. It's taking some time to fit into the system. It is a huge project, and at some point we will play it live.

Billed as "An Evening with British Steel," don't expect much new stuff. But the band is playing the first show in the Murat fresh out of rehearsals, and without tour opener Whitesnake along to foul up things. So expect a few surprises in the "Greatest Hits" portion of the show. The Priest has never shied away from digging up classics from early albums like Sin After Sin and Sad Wings Of Destiny.

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