Before Rob Halford left Judas Priest in 1992, the band's handlers took various steps to hide the fact that he was gay, including having him pose with scantily clad women for press photos. The fear was that the metal community would shun a group fronted by a homosexual. A full 12 years later, Halford is out of the closet and back with Priest, and judging by the frenzied reactions of Ozzfest fans, the self-proclaimed Metal God's sexuality is now as irrelevant as a porn star's IQ.
"Metal audiences today are capable of accepting all kinds of sexualities as much as colors of your skin or religious beliefs," Halford said. "So I've just been thrilled to be so openly greeted and welcomed home. It's been an experience of pure pleasure with not one moment of rejection or hate."
With Ozzfest now done, Judas Priest will embark upon phase two of their bid for world domination; in late September the band will return to the studio to finish its first studio release with Halford in more than 14 years.
At present, all of the basic tracks have been completed, leaving just guitar and vocal overdubs to finish before the album is mixed and mastered. The still-untitled LP is one of the few releases scheduled for December 28, which should enable the album to debut high in the charts. "We're not thinking of any of that," Halford said. "We're considering it more like a holiday metal gift to all of our fans. We wanted to have a record out this year, and with the touring that we had scheduled, this is the only time we could get it out."
Halford started writing the album with guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing last October at their three U.K. homes. Initially there was some trepidation over whether the band would be able to capture the chemistry of past decades, but once the middle-aged rockers started throwing around ideas, the music started flowing. "From the first day of writing, it was very spontaneous," Halford said. "It was like returning to when we were kids and we had no problems or difficulties in just letting the metal roar out."
While Judas Priest are pretty tight-lipped about their new record, Halford said that they're revisiting many of their past sounds and vibes without sounding retro. "There's always a certain amount of tradition and heritage that comes with Priest music," he said. "So you'll get all the fierceness and the intensity you've expected, you'll get a lot of drama and a lot of adventure in the music and also you'll get a taste of our reflections on the current metal climate."
The singer compared some of the material to direct, forceful Priest classics like "Painkiller" and "Screaming for Vengeance" and other tracks to more epic excursions such as "The Sentinel" and "Beyond the Realms of Death."
"We have the liberty to do pretty much anything we want because we've carved a very wide niche for ourselves in metal," Halford said. "We're quite happy exploring all these different possibilities to come up with the best record we can possibly make.
"There's one song that I think is going to take people's heads off," he added. "It's very long and powerful, and it covers a lot of emotions, and features a lot of tempo changes. The inspiration for that came out of a unique environment in Great Britain, but I can't tell you what it is. We're being really careful what we say about this record because, in this age of instant communication, we don't want to accidentally deliver the birthday present before the birthday."
Judas Priest wrote two albums' worth of songs for the new LP, and may use some of the leftovers in the future. And while the band may have originally gotten back together with Halford on a trial basis, now there's no end in sight.
"I went through all these different seekings, and really looked to see if there was anything else that was calling me that would fulfill me as much as Judas Priest," Halford concluded. "And quite frankly, there's not. Not on this scale. I'm back where I belong."