Ex-Judas Priest Leader Halford Plus Reznor Equals Two

The release of Two's Voyeurs signals big change for metal band's former frontman.

The last time Rob Halford was in the limelight, he was the leather-

clad frontman for the seminal British heavy-metal band Judas Priest. Back

then (from 1974-91), he sang mostly of vengeance and defending the

faith.

How time can change one's look, and his outlook.

If his longtime fans pick up his latest album, Voyeurs, by his new

musical outfit, Two, and expect to find Priest circa 1998, they've got another

thing coming. For starters, Trent Reznor of the industrial-rock unit Nine Inch

Nails is in the executive producer's chair. Secondly, Halford, known for his

histrionic howl as a Priest, now sings in more of a measured baritone. And his

lyrical concerns, which once focused on low ceilings, gimps and being a pig,

are far less flamboyant than in his Judas Priest days.

"With the lyrics for Two, I decided to keep it simple -- more direct,"

the 46-year-old Halford explained by phone. "The majority of material is on a

one-on-one level, whereas with Priest there was a fantasy element involved."

While he certainly matured as a musician during those early metal days,

Halford doesn't remain in contact with the members of Priest, who are

currently touring with a singer they plucked from a Judas Priest tribute band.

"I learned a lot with them, but it's in the past," said Halford, somewhat

tersely. With those apparently behind him, Halford's new album marks quite a

departure from his earlier work. Explaining that he wasn't originally a fan of

Reznor's hard-edged, techno-driven sound, Halford said the two realized they

were coming from very different arenas.

"It's OK," Halford said, laughing. "Reznor didn't like heavy metal either."

Their working relationship developed out of a chance meeting at Mardi

Gras in New Orleans, when Halford gave Reznor a demo tape he'd been working on

with guitar virtuoso John Lowery. "I was in New Orleans for Mardi Gras a

couple years ago, and I knocked on his door, demo tape in hand. Rave Ogilvie

[a friend of Reznor's who helped remix several NIN tracks and also helped

produce Voyeurs] opened the door and we went into Trent's studio to

listen. Trent came in, and asked what we were up to musically. He asked if he

could keep the demo. I was floored."

Reznor apparently liked what he heard. He later phoned Halford in Phoenix, and

offered his vision of the music. It's not hard to hear Reznor's influence on

the Voyeurs material, 80 percent of which Halford said Reznor changed.

From the eerie dynamics of the first single, "I'm a Pig" (RealAudio excerpt),

to the odd aural accouterments of "Gimp" (RealAudio excerpt), Reznor imbues

Halford's straight-ahead songs with the layered, abrasive quality that is a

trademark of Nine Inch Nails music. "The demo tape was originally pretty

straightforward stuff," Halford explained. "We went to Vancouver and

reinvented the songs. I was going into areas I had never gone into, and it

felt good. It all started making sense." The use of static as instrumentation

and the stop/start dynamics of "Gimp" are certainly marks of Reznor's

influence.

Even with the obvious Reznor stylistic enhancements, Voyeurs

marks a major step ahead for Halford as a musician and as a person. "After

Fight [Halford's last, short-lived, heavy metal project] broke up, I went into

Two with very innocent, almost childlike feelings," he said. "I wanted to

recapture the rush I experienced when I first launched my career. I feel very

uplifted, a rebirth." Another reason Halford feels a rebirth is that, for the

first time, he's publicly revealing his homosexuality. It's something fans

have wondered about for some time.

The subject first became public after Halford chose the infamous gay-porn

director Chi Chi LaRue to direct the video for "I'm a Pig." A fan of

pornography himself, Halford and LaRue had mutual friends and so the two

hooked up to shoot the video in L.A. using about 35 porn stars from all genres

of the business. "My role in the video is of a voyeur," he said. "It reflects

the kind of society we're in; the sexual intrusion. Look at the Clinton

debacle."

Of course, Halford's disclosure of his sexuality has caused a far less

frenzied reaction than the issues currently surrounding the investigation into

the president's alleged affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

That's fine with Halford. He's fine with placing the emphasis on the music, he

said.

When he takes Two on the road sometime in the spring, there will be no

motorcycles on stage such as in his Priest heyday; no more songs about

protecting the world from evil empires.

No, he said, this time it's going to be all about straight-ahead industrial

rock 'n' roll.