Some people believe he had foreseen the rise of Hitler, the Kennedy assassinations and the terror strikes of 9/11, but it's safe to say that 16th-century French prophet Nostradamus never saw this one coming: Nearly 450 years after his death, heavy-metal icons Judas Priest are writing a concept album about the legendary soothsayer.
The bandmembers, who have been working on their ambitious undertaking for more than three months, have already written 90-plus minutes of music. After they massage the tracks into final form, add solos and write lyrics, the band will choose a co-producer and begin recording. Priest hope to finish the project by the end of the year in time to release it in the first quarter of 2007.
Like a Puccini opera, the piece will flow seamlessly, with no breaks between tracks, but frontman Rob Halford said clearly identifiable songs will address approximately 20 key moments in the life of the man born Michel de Nostredame. Touch-points will likely include the writing of his famous 1,000 quatrains, the death of his first wife and children from plague, his second marriage, his brief imprisonment and his death.
"Nostradamus is all about metal, isn't he?" Halford said. "He was an alchemist as well as a seer — a person of extraordinary talent. He had an amazing life that was full of trial and tribulation and joy and sorrow. He's a very human character and a world-famous individual. You can take his name and translate it into any language and everybody knows about him, and that's important because we're dealing with a worldwide audience."
In addition to digging new lyrical ground for Judas Priest, the album will contain musical elements that might surprise their fans. "It's going to have a lot of depth," the singer explained. "There'll be a lot of symphonic elements. We might orchestrate it, without it being overblown. There may be a massive choir at parts and keyboards will be featured more prominently, whereas they've always been in the background before."
At the same time, Halford insisted the group won't abandon its heavy roots. For every atmospheric keyboard or choral arrangement, there'll be a headbanging passage to rattle the roof. "Essentially, Priest will always present ourselves as a metal band, so it will still be the band you know and love," Halford said. "There are some monster metal riffs that could span the Grand Canyon, and we still always find it a kick to come up with something that just burns out your speakers."
Halford discovered Nostradamus as a teenager and immediately became interested in his vague predictions and the way his followers interpreted them to pinpoint specific historical events. But it was the band's manager, Bill Curbishley, who predicted a concept record about Nostradamus could be a magical move.
Curbishley, who had previously worked with the Who on their rock opera Tommy, brought his idea to Priest in Estonia at the end of their 2005 tour. He viewed the extravaganza as a way to follow up the tremendous buzz of their comeback album Angel of Retribution, the first Priest record in 14 years to feature Halford (see "Judas Priest Reborn With Retribution, Revisit Classic Sound").
"He was sitting there going, 'Well, what do the guys do next?' and this is what he came up with," said Halford. "The challenge of going into the studio to do a follow-up on a great studio album is immense anyway, and Priest are constantly trying to achieve and go one step further, so when Bill brought this up, we were all like, 'Let's go. Let's do it.' "
The yet-untitled LP will be Judas Priest's first concept effort and the first release they'll perform in its entirety on tour. Halford is convinced the material and narrative are sufficiently compelling to keep fans from missing the cavalcade of hits they've grown used to.
"The songs are going to be great," he said. "If you know anything about Priest, you know that we've made the characters come to life in songs like 'Painkiller,' 'The Sentinel' and 'The Sinner,' and now we're just taking that storytelling side of Priest that people love and cherish and putting all into a single project so it all comes to life in one dimension."
While they haven't yet worked out the details, Judas Priest plan to deliver their Nostradamus saga in a theatrical environment complete with intricate stage sets, special effects and possibly live actors. "We'll use the great things you see in Vegas and that are going in theater and put that into Priest along with pyro and everything else," Halford said.
"It will be like a heavy-metal 'Phantom of the Opera' — a nonstop flow of great music, and I'll be doing more costume changes than Cher."