Judas Priest Into The Mystic


July 24, 2008

David Schmeichel of Sun Media reprts that even Nostradamus couldn’t have seen this one coming.

For their newly released 16th studio outing, heavy metal gods Judas Priest turned to the history books for inspiration, crafting a double-disc concept album inspired by the life and times of controversial 16th-century prophet Nostradamus.

And even though the French seer’s predictions make for perfect metal fodder — all wars and plagues and fiery signs of the Apocalypse — Priest frontman Rob Halford says it’s the man’s personal life, and the religious persecution he faced on a day-to-day basis, that really spoke to him.

“There were similarities to what we’ve gone through, and probably still go through to some extent in today’s metal world,” says Halford in his crisp British accent from Birmingham, England. “It’s that perception of a society that doesn’t understand something, or fights it or rejects it.

“He was going through similar emotional conditions, and we found the correlation of those incidents were kind of strange, to think that he was going through that himself 500 years ago, much like some of the bands have been going through recently in the metal world.”

While it’s true heavy metal bands continue to be regarded with some suspicion by the moral majority, probably no act has come under as much scrutiny as Judas Priest did back in 1990.

That’s when the band was named in a civil suit launched by the parents of two adult fans in Nevada, who in 1985 attempted suicide by shotgun (one of them died, the other was horribly disfigured, but finished the job with sleeping pills three years later).

The men’s parents tried blaming the deaths on subliminal messages found in a Priest tune (actually a cover), and while the suit was eventually — and rightfully — dismissed, it still serves as a chilling reminder of how far people will go to look for a scapegoat in the wake of tragedy.

“We flatly refute any accusation or allegations that music of any thought or style can have the power to take someone’s life,” says Halford, who at the time wisely pointed out it would be bad business for his band to goad fans into killing themselves.

“At the end of the day. that’s the individual’s choice, and if you’re messed up on booze or drugs — or you have some kind of mental instability — that’s got to be addressed. But music in and of itself can’t kill you and never will.”

Parallels aside, Halford says the research into Nostradamus’s life — not to mention the continuing debate over his predictions, which some believe portended everything from the rise of the Nazis to 9/11 — was an eye-opening experience, though he declines to reveal whether he fully buys into the hype.

“All of us in the band have different feelings about it,” says Halford. “Like, if you believe in Nostradamus, do you also believe in UFOs? Are you a ghost hunter? In the end, it’s all of these parts of his life that we don’t understand — and probably never will — that make him a fascinating character to talk about.

“And whatever the facts are, the man is still being talked about 500 years later. That in itself was enough to get us involved.”

It’s equally impressive that Judas Priest is “still being talked about,” especially when you consider it’s been nearly 40 years since the band first got together. And though the decades have brought their share of ups and downs (including a 12-year stretch when Halford was a solo operator, temporarily replaced by the frontman of a Judas Priest tribute band), the 56-year-old screamer says he wouldn’t have changed a day,

“Life is to be lived, and you take every opportunity you can to fulfil your dreams and ambitions. I don’t want the word ‘regret’ on my tombstone,” he says. “But obviously, it’s been the best of times since we reunited, and I think you can sense that in the recording of Nostradamus. There’s a great sense of the band just roaring away together.”

Of course, the band’s position in the pantheon is by now all but guaranteed, thanks not only to classics like Hell Bent for Leather, but also their inclusion in the cult flick Heavy Metal Parking Lot.

That no-budget short — shot at a tailgate party outside a Priest show in ’86 — contains plenty of cringe-inducing admissions and behaviour.

But while the fashions may have changed, the commitment of metal fans remains as strong as ever.

“I think it’s fanaticism of the level you get at a hockey game,” says Halford, who prompted a whole new demographic to start lusting after his “bod” when he copped to being gay back in 1998. “That particular piece of social documentary is phenomenal … and it still works: What those people are saying there, people are still saying today. That’s the passion our fans have for the Priest.”

Courtesy of jam.canoe.ca