By Linda Leseman

On Saturday, Judas Priest's farewell Epitaph World Tour comes to the San Manuel Amphitheater. (Thin Lizzy opens.) But frontman Rob Halford maintains that the band's reign as Metal Gods is far from over.

“They say age is just a number, isn't it?” asks Halford, at home in the Midlands, England, on the eve of his 60th birthday. “In my case, that's what it is because most days I feel like I'm 16 going on 60. You never grow up in rock n' roll.”

This tour marks Priest's first without founding guitarist K. K. Downing, who retired earlier this year. His replacement, Richie Faulkner, was born the same year Priest released their sixth album, British Steel — meaning co-founding guitarist Glenn Tipton is more than twice as old as his new counterpart.

On October 11, the group dropped The Chosen Few, a retrospective collection of Priest songs selected by metal greats like Slash, Ozzy, Lemmy, and Alice Cooper, and Halford promises new material in 2012. The show, as they say, goes on.

What's it like playing without K. K.?

It felt unusual at first…but Richie Faulkner is this sensational talent that just walks out onstage and demands your attention. He can back it up with his guitar playing because he's developing into one of the greatest metal guitar players out there in the world. He's just a tremendous addition to what could have been a disaster, quite frankly.

How does it feel when people refer to Priest as the Metal Gods?

It's great, isn't it? It's absolutely wonderful…It's a tremendous honor to be given all of these kinds of references — Metal Gods and the grandfathers of metal, or whatever you might be named as — because that's exactly who and what we are. That's what we represent. Although the job isn't over yet!

Where did the ideas for the characters that appear in your songs come from — like the Painkiller, the Hellion?

It's my primary job to write the lyrics. They all come out of my love of everything that I see in the movies, the books that I read, the shows that I might watch on television. I've always been a very extravagant person in terms of imagery, and I think I probably carry that side of me out onstage because, again, I'm doing more costume changes than Cher on this tour. (laughs)

This question was asked by a fan on the Rob Halford message board: Who would win in a battle — a Hellion, a Metallion, or a Painkiller?

(laughs) I think it would be a three-way draw. Because they all have the same kind of intentions. I think all of our songs have, in terms of the visual, the same job to do, which is to raise the flag of victory.

Are you what you wanted to be when you grew up?

100%, yeah. I only ever wanted to be a heavy metal singer in a heavy metal band, and that's what I've been doing for 40 years of my life. So, I'm a very lucky guy, in that my dream has come true.

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