Concept albums seem to be all the rage these days, with bands as diverse as Mastodon and Coheed and Cambria churning out eccentric records that challenge listeners to actually pay attention and follow the story the music is trying to tell.
Releasing a concept LP has been something that venerated, leather-fancying heavy-metal outfit Judas Priest have wanted to check off their to-do list for some time now, but for years, the British band — fronted by Rob Halford — couldn’t decide which topic, character or time period to tackle on tape.
“After the last album, [2005's] Angel of Retribution, we wanted to do something different,” guitarist Glenn Tipton told MTV News. “We’ve never rested on our laurels and made the next album the same as the last but with different lyrics, which a lot of bands, I think, have fallen into the trap of doing, knowing they’ll sell X amount of records per year. We really wanted to try doing a concept album, and we’d been talking about it for a while. Our manager, Bill Curbishley, suggested Nostradamus.”
After researching the life of the 16th-century French apothecary, a reputed prophet, the members of Priest started digging their manager’s suggestion and decided they’d tell Nostradamus’ life story on their next record. The appropriately titled Nostradamus just hit record stores.
“He was a very mystical character and came up with all these predictions, but he suffered tragedy in his life too,” Tipton said. “He lost his wife and daughters to the plague, and then the Church came after him and exiled him from France. Then he found a new life and a new beginning. He was just a mysterious and very intriguing character, and he inspired us to put this work together.”
The LP — which features 24 tracks spread across two discs — chronicles Nostradamus’ entire life, “both musically and lyrically,” from his birth to his death, Tipton said. But Nostradamus is something of an unconventional offering from Priest, as it includes string arrangements, keyboard orchestration and Halford’s multilingual vocals (in addition to English, he sings in French and Italian).
“We tried to put a lot of character into the album,” Tipton explained. “But it was a challenge for us — it was such a big project. We wrote so much material, and in the end, to tell the story properly, we had to use all of it. The challenge wasn’t so much in the composition as in putting it together, so it was fluid [and] told a story from start to end. It also had to make sense musically, to flow as one continuous piece. It’s an event — it isn’t just a CD — and that’s the way we wanted to present it.
“We’re asking people not to put one or two tracks on, but to step into the world of Nostradamus,” he continued. “That’s the way we wrote it, so that the listener could step out of this world and go on this journey with Nostradamus. The album’s full of light and shade, blood and thunder, and it’s got a lot of melody. A couple of the tracks are very different from what we’ve done before, but it’s still Priest. With this album, we want people to see that there’s more to heavy metal than burning babies.”
This summer, Judas Priest will hit the road — joined by Testament , Motörhead and Heaven and Hell — for a trek that launches July 22 in Seattle and wraps September 1 in Las Vegas. Priest plan on playing at least three songs from the new album during the tour. Early next year, however, the band hopes to return to the States for a different kind of trek: Tipton said Priest want to perform the entire disc live, incorporating various stage elements into the set. He added that details for that run are still being worked out.
Though they still come out with fresh experiments like this one, Priest have been banging their heads for more than three decades. But the veterans have never been considered for inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, despite being eligible since 1999. Tipton said it’s an honor the band would welcome but one he doesn’t expect anytime soon.
“We’d absolutely be honored by it, but we have no control over that,” he said. “Besides, we haven’t been noticed for 30 years. Maybe they’ll notice us now that we’ve crossed that 30-year mark.”