What the Hell?
Photo by John Eder
You know whats gotta be the toughest thing about being Rob Halford? Though hes been screaming the metal message for nearly 30 years, every time he does something new he has to go around explaining himself again. Like, hes got this just-released album, Resurrection (Metal Is Records), on which, in the wake of a recent detour into industrial pop, he returns to the heavy-metal foundry where he forged and reforged Judas Priest over a period of some 18 years before splitting in 1991. The current band (called just Halford) and CD: They plain burn. But before we get to that, lets whip the man through some of his headlines. We need the ritual, like a bedtime story. This is Halford, and part of what keeps us coming back to him is the ornately carved barge of contradictions that seems perpetually moored to him. Like:
The gay thing. Halford left the closet several years ago, after fronting a generation of unaware and heavily homophobic metal audiences with titles like Some Heads Are Gonna Roll, Ram It Down, Eat Me Alive and Youve Got Another Thing Comin, and strutting the stage in full motorcycle-leather-boy regalia. He was snickering the whole time, right?
Halford: I was never into that part of gay culture. But obviously I was aware of it, and the fact that I went out for so many years dressing that way is something that I look back at and half smile. Ill tell you why it isnt a full smile: Its because the sincerity of the performance, the genuineness of what I was trying to create, was detached from the gayness of it all. All it was about was, This looks right for the music. But in reflection, its the irony of ironies.
Listen to Rob Halford : Real Audio Format Resurrection Night Fall Silent Screams
Hmm . . . okay! Well, what about the satanic angle? The character Judas Priest, see, was Bob Dylans personification of Mephistopheles. Priest titles? Uh, Sin After Sin, The Hellion, Hell Patrol . . . And its not like Hellford er, Halford is repenting. Among other choice forays into Eviltown on Resurrection, Made in Hell offers, Were all on the road to hell, and thats Route 666. And as a visual aid to those whore a bit slow on the uptake, the disc itself is emblazoned with a skull and the devils PIN.
Halford: When Im writing my words, its very free-flowing, and I dont really know what Im doing until its finished. A good example of that is the track Silent Screams, where at the beginning its very self-reflective, talking about the friends Ive lost, about all these intimate things Im still standing, Ive survived, Ive come through all this crap and then I go into this part of the song that just explodes, and Im talking about I am . . . your disillusioned God . . . I am black, I am white, Im the blood upon the knife. What the hell does that mean? I dont question it, because . . . it just feels right? But I often wonder, where is that from? Its definitely a Jekyll and Hyde scenario, isnt it? What makes somebody live a very simple life and then go ballistic and do something very terrible or evil or crazy? I think weve all got that potential, I really do. And its not something I want to think too much about.
I was looking at a concert tape of myself the other day, which I rarely do. And I really feel detached, I cant relate to that person. Especially in songs like The Ripper or Night Crawler, or anything where theres that degree of pure metal fantasy, characterization, creation of an X-Men type of person-thing-object. I lose myself in that. It is something completely separate.
One more topic. Lyrics from Resurrection: Ill do to you/Just what you did to me/Im gonna shoot it; Son of Judas bring the saints to my revenge. 1982 Priest album title: Screaming for Vengeance.
Halford: Im not a vengeful person. Im a real easy guy to get along with, and I dont like confrontation.
Is the Stygian artist the same guy as the one answering the questions? You can hardly imagine a gent more harmless than the latter: The atmosphere of a Rob Halford interview is like tea with Auntie. His voice is wheedling, concerned, as if hes insisting you really should eat more vegetables. Wearing baggy shorts and a tank top, he hunches toward you with his hands clasped over his knees, makes friendly eye contact. One is reminded of the early-90s courtroom documentary footage in which Halford defended Judas Priest against bizarre charges that the band, through backward masking of subliminal messages on a record, had influenced the suicide attempts (one successful) of two teenagers. On that occasion, Halford took the witness stand in an elegant suit, his bald pate agleam. Looking like nothing so much as a London art dealer, he made the jury understand, in the calmest â and most sympathetic of terms, that he might as well be accused of having horns and a tail. It may have been his greatest performance.
Or it may have been the real, honest-to-God Halford. And at this point in his life, he seems especially interested in telling you who that is. Resurrection begins with the saga of where hes been lately: Hes undergone a stretch of self-examination (hes a recovering alcoholic) and artistic experimentation (having been produced by Trent Reznor in the dark but melodic noise band Two). Lest old-time fans fear hes left them behind, he proclaims his rebirth and Resurrection in the Church of Metal, and in Made in Hell proudly recalls the factory towns in which both he and other Birmingham-area Brit musicsmelters such as Black Sabbath breathed in the literal fumes of metal. He bares his loves and hates (Night Fall, Locked and Loaded, Twist, Temptation); confesses his Internet addiction (Cyber World); accepts the needle in my heart the music, he explains that has been both his salvation and his taskmaster (Silent Screams); follows doctors orders (Slow Down).
The doctor may not be delighted with Resurrection, but fans will be. Produced by Roy Z, whos been doing superb work with Iron Maidens Bruce Dickinson (Dickinson sings on The One You Love To Hate), the CD sticks both feet in your chest and doesnt let you up till its had its way with you. Halford has assembled a young unit of special forces from all over the place: Guitarist Patrick Lachman from L.A., guitarist Mike Chlasciak from Poland, bassist Ray Riendeau from Two and drummer Bobby Jarzombek from Riot are at once heavier, nastier and slicker than Judas Priest ever were. Resurrection cuts loose with the double-kick-drum assault of modern metal, coupled with an ultradynamic, melodically disciplined studio sound and the most challenging vocal screeches and proclamations Halford has pulled off in many a season. And the songwriting (mostly by Halford, Roy Z and the band) is diamond- crafted, with the operatic Night Fall, the schizo epic Silent Screams and the transcendent title track cutting especially deep.
Now all thats left is taking it to the stage. Gosh, what do you suppose Halford will wear?
Breath, sigh, twinkle in the eye: Ah . . . leather. Halford laughs with glee. Leather lace . . . no, the leather. Whats next? A suit of armor, I dont know.
What did he think when Pat Boone stole his leather-dude-on-a-hog look for the good-humored metal tribute Boone essayed several years back?
He guffaws. Pats waaaay too deep in the closet. Come out, Pat! Oh, dear.
Though no longer closeted himself, Halford claims not to be the party boy he once was, notwithstanding Temptation (another Resurrection title). Still, this interview was conducted in a West Hollywood hotel. Whenever I stay in L.A., I stay in this part of town, just because Im close to my own kind. But I cant go to the clubs, and I cant go to the bathhouses, because I have to get up at 5 oclock in the morning to do fucking interviews. I have to be in bed at 9 oclock at night!
Halford looks completely serious as he describes the scene. A Harry Potter book. And my hot chocolate.
Halford plays at the Irvine Amphitheater Sunday, September 10, and at the Universal Amphitheater Wednesday, September 13, both on bills with Iron Maiden.
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