Judas Priest's Demolition Returns To Metal Roots

The group's long-delayed new album offers a headbanging stroll down memory lane.

In truth, the headline-grabbing events Judas Priest experienced since their singer Rob Halford left the band in 1992 — Halford's replacement in 1995 by Tim "Ripper" Owens, the howler for a Priest cover band, and "Rock Star," the upcoming Warner Bros. film based on Owens' incredible story — have been great marketing tools.

But as they unleash Demolition, their 15th album, the bandmembers simply want to forget the hype and concentrate on the task at hand — spreading the gospel of heavy metal.

"I just want to focus on what we're doing musically, and I've got more energy and enthusiasm for Judas Priest now than ever," longtime Priest guitarist, songwriter and lyricist Glenn Tipton said from a hotel somewhere in Europe during the band's current world tour. "Part of that is because we have new blood. Tim has given the band a great

shot in the arm. He's enthusiastic, he's got energy, and we feed off that."

Energy often brings a band new power, but it doesn't necessarily foster cohesion or quality. On 1997's Jugulator (the first album with Owens), Judas Priest had anger to burn, combatively thrusting themselves in the face of hecklers and skeptics by recording their fastest, heaviest, most incendiary album to date. But the album's Slayer-meets-Testament sound was sometimes hard on the ears. On this go-round, the band returned to a commercial metal-bashing sound that should please fans of classic Priest anthems such as "Living After Midnight," "Breaking the Law" and "You've Got Another Thing Comin'."

"With Jugulator we were feeling very angry and violent, and we wanted to create a record that hit you right between the eyes," Tipton said. "This time the band's more settled, and happier. We've been out there and proved everything we needed to prove. So we've just made a record that has more musical depth and melody, and is

probably a little more of what people expect from Judas Priest."

"I think Jugulator was the record we had to make at that time," Owens added. "A lot of people had gone away from metal, and we just wanted to say that Priest was total heavy metal. But after touring and playing old songs like 'Diamonds and Rust' live, it made us wanna put more melody into our music."

For devoted Priest fans, Demolition provides a headbanging stroll down memory lane. "Machine Man" detonates with tumbling drums, machine-gun riffs and insistent vocals that sound like a cross between "Hell Bent for Leather" and "Freewheel Burning." "One on One," with its propulsive, fist-to-the-sky rhythms, edgy guitar

noises and defiant lyrics, could be a working demo for "Some Heads Are Gonna Roll." The emotional power ballads — "Close to You" and "Lost and Found" — hark back to lighter-raising classics such as "Here Come the Tears" and "Before the Dawn."

"I think we were trying to come up with something that would please everybody who's ever liked us, and that's not easy to do," said Tipton, who produced the record. "It's very difficult for a band like Judas Priest to win, because if we evolve too quickly and do a [futuristic] 2001-type album, some people will love it, but others will say, 'Hey, it should be more like vintage Priest.' Then, if we do a vintage Priest album, we upset a lot of the newer fans. So we just did a very honest album that was a true reflection of where we're currently at."

Like most good metal, Demolition burns with us-vs.-them defiance. "One on One," "Hell Is Home" and "Lost and Found" also resonate with the theme of triumph in the face of extreme adversity.

"I think it's good for youths to feel like they can overcome the obstacles," Tipton observed. "You've got to have a lot of determination in life to achieve things, and sometimes the odds are against you. I think it's always nice to hear a song that drums up enthusiasm, energy and determination."

Judas Priest started working on Demolition two years ago, but recording sessions were geographically complicated — Owens resides in Akron, Ohio; drummer Scott Travis lives in Virginia; and the rest of the band are in England's Midlands.

"I can't just say, 'Hey Ripper, why don't you pop around and stick a vocal on this new song this afternoon?' " Tipton joked. "But we've gotten used to working like that. It slows us down a bit, but we work it out."

The band recorded initial tracks for Demolition in London, but family tragedy brought the project to a halt. When Tipton's father became terminally ill, the guitarist was forced to put the band on hold while he tended to his dying dad. He later wrote the song "Close to You" about the experience.

"That's something that really changes your life, and you have to shift your priorities around because of it," Tipton said. "We've all got families now, and I've learned that there comes a point in time when they need you and you've got to be with them. They're the most important thing, really. That comes before being in a band."

When the bandmembers finally reconvened in Tipton's home studio last year, they eagerly attacked the new material he and co-guitarist K.K. Downing had written. Spirits were high and the process was therapeutic — Tipton even summoned the levity to slip a few Spinal Tap-style lyrics into "Jekyll and Hyde" and "Metal Messiah,"

such as the latter's "Never too late to extricate/ In the event, die or repent/ He is the man walking through fire, metal messiah."

"I like having that sense of humor sometimes," Tipton said, chuckling. "Music should be serious, but it shouldn't be solely serious. There should be some lighter sides to it."

These days frontman Owens may be the conduit for the band's humor, rage and frustration, but he isn't its driving force. Although he did write lyrics for the record, one of which ended up on a Japanese B-side, none of the album cuts feature his verse.

"I sent Glenn lyrics," Owens said, "but the problem is, when you give somebody lyrics who's 4,000 miles away, it's hard to...."

Sounding slightly hurt, he continued, "I've even given him lyrics with notations of how I think the music should go. I guess that's something that will have to come with time, and I'm fine with that. But I definitely want to write, and I think it's gonna have to start happening on the next record."