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Cover Story: Judas Priest

| July 30, 2008

Judas Priest
Nostradamus: Priest’s Prophetic Project


Who could have predicted a band who’ve been around since the beginning of time (more precisely, since the inception of heavy metal) would produce such an audaciously ambitious project? Judas Priest’s Nostradamus is a 23-track, double-CD concept album. Unlike the central figures in other such releases like Pink Floyd’s The Wall, The Who’s Tommy, or Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son (also a seer), Nostradamus actually existed. With orchestral elements, Rob Halford’s piercingly high and alternately resonant low vocals, and one cut mainly sung in Italian, it almost deserves to be called a metal opera.

Appearing: 8/19 at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park.

Calling at a most ungodly (metal or otherwise) hour in the morning from Dusseldorf, Germany, Halford spoke about the project and the man on whom the work is based. Nostradamus “is definitely famous for predicting things — Napoleon, Hitler, the alleged end of the world in 2012. He’s just a very controversial figure 500 years later.”

But there is disagreement about the accuracy of the 16th century French prognosticator’s predictions. “There is so much about him that can leave you confused,” Halford admits. “What we basically tried to do was stay as true as we possibly could to the significant moments of his life, not get too involved with the prophecies for which he is famous.”

Halford acknowledges the band did address one of Nostradamus’s apocalyptical prophecies in one of the new songs, “The Four Horsemen.” It’s a reference to the New Testament’s Book Of Revelation, which is as significant to metal as it is to the currently faddish apocalyptic, end-times mass media, like the Left Behind book series. Nostradamus was not a prophet of the Old Testament, you’d-better-shape-up-or-else sort. His predictions were more on the order of the Revelation To John and the ancient Greek oracles, who simply foretold the future and left out the warnings. (Recall the Oracle Of Delphi, who foretold Oedipus’s fate to kill his father and marry his mother.) Some recent scholars have cogently argued that Nostradamus’ rhyming quatrains were not even meant to be prophecies at all, but were comments on political events of his time that were enigmatically written for his own protection. Prophecies of a coming apocalypse, if one is careful to omit the date of such unglad tidings, are always correct, or at least undebunkable — they merely haven’t happened yet. Halford, as Nostradamus, sings in “Visions,” “only time will prove that I’m right.” In other words, you can be sure that it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Nostradamus is suffused with much that is familiar to those who know Priest’s back catalog. How do those old Priest melodies come into a new production? “I really think that it is instinctual,” he replies. “It is just part of the inbuilt way that we make our music.” Upon mentioning some melodies are reminiscent of “Before The Dawn,” from 1979’s Hell Bent For Leather, Halford says, “Oh, my god — this is so bizarre. K.K. [Ken Downing, guitarist] and I were talking about ‘Before The Dawn’ just the other day. Apparently it was a hit single in Korea. We are going to Korea in a few months’ time and were thinking about playing that song because it was such a successful track in Korea. How bizarre is that?”

The music may evoke Priest’s prior sounds, but there are also elements of Nostradamus’ life that seriously resonate with Priest’s own career. Both were persecuted for their words by the powers that be. Priest’s songs were denounced by the puritanical Tipper Gore-led Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC); a few years later the band was charged with causing a double-suicide attempt by two young men in Nevada (one of whom died instantly). In “Persecution,” the strongest new cut, Halford could be singing about the band, or indeed heavy metal itself, not just Nostradamus: “They try to dominate/I’ll be a thorn in their side.” Defiantly he vows: “They will not eradicate me/Break my will or suffocate me/I will subjugate the hate/That they breed.”

Separated by 500 years, the careers of both the prophet and Priest depended upon recent technological developments. Nostradamus would not have been the prognosticator known in his time and ever since had the printing press not been invented a half-century before his birth. Similarly, Priest, and indeed much of rock itself, would be impossible without electric amplification of guitars and various advances in recording-studio technology.

Although half a millennium separates us from Nostradamus’ day, our times have much in common with his. Both seem to fulfill that Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. In the 16th century, the Inquisitorial Church hunted, tortured, and killed those they believed to be heretics, which is reminiscent of the current American administration’s stance toward those they deem terrorists. (Incidentally, it was the Inquisition that first developed a form of torture now called water-boarding.) Nostradamus, who was a physician, contended with the black plague; our version of nature’s various revenges include HIV/AIDS and extreme weather. Sixteenth-century France was in the midst of the Hundred Years’ War; today a presidential candidate projects the U.S. occupation of Iraq may well last for 100 years. And, of course, those end-time predictions are once again in vogue.

One needn’t be a prophet to foresee Priest won’t survive for 100 years. They nearly didn’t last until now. The band had a near-death experience when Halford left in the early ’90s. Going on life-support, Priest replaced their stellar frontman with a far younger and far-from-charismatic doppelganger. A dozen odd years later, his wanderlust slaked, Halford returned to the fold.

Bassist Ian Hill — another caller from Germany — has been essential to Priest’s longevity. He co-founded the band with schoolmate K.K. Downing in 1970. When the original singer left, Hill got his girlfriend Sue’s brother, Halford, to be Judas Priest’s vocalist. On stage, anchoring the band’s sound, Hill may look as if his feet were nailed to the ground, but that is definitely not because his head is lost in the clouds; he is as affable as he is sensible.

Deena Dasein

To discover how Priest made it this far, grab the August issue of Illinois Entertainer, available throughout Chicagoland.

Category: Features, Monthly

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  1. electricfluke says:

    i commend you on this article.i have followed Priest since my high school days and they are still my favorite band of thurs(aug.7) my daughter and me are traveling 5 hours to nearly washington dc to see the Priest in bristow ,va. i gave more than you can imagine for 2 tickets ,but we are dead center 11 rows back!!!! i believe they have not received the commendations they deserve all and all, tho halford is a proclaimed homosexual,he ,in my book,is the voice of heavy meatl and they are pure geniuses.once again i commend you on this and more articles like this would do theyre name well. heavy metal rules!!!!!!!

  2. Justin Kenny says:

    One thing Judas Priest has is integrity. Only they can take a leap of faith and think outside the box enough to put forth a magnificent statement like “Nostradamus.” I’m always grateful that they’re still out there showing the ‘young-guns’ how the big boys play…their influence is immeasurable…and the summer line-up of Priest, Heaven & Hell, Motorhead and Testament will shut the mouths of many who think bands pushing 20-30 years + in the industry have nothing left to offer.

    God Bless Judas Priest…long may they reign!!

  3. matt says:

    electric fluke im goin to the the dc event to got good seats as well judas priest is the best band in almost evry album theyve tried something new like turbo lover or painkiller all hail the priest

  4. jeff w says:

    I have been listening to The priest for 27 years now.They have never let me down musically and have been unforgettable on stage live.Halford is no doubt the king of vocals in metal.I hope they come to north carolina real soon.Way to go priest!!

  5. Bob L says:

    I have been listening to Priest since ’78 and they have never let me down. Strong albums, weaker albums, but they always deliver.Not an album goes by that does not have strong tracks.Let’s get real..What band out there has every song a classic?? None.They have always taken chances with sound and topics and it works. Halford is the ultimate deliverer vocally, Glenn & KK enuff said, Ian & Scott thats it !!!Perfection.The chemistry is there. Nostra need to be made into a movie. But not with the people who make their videos. War video is awful.The Nostradamus track should have been made into a video. without the production company that did War.Would have been a good kick in the ass for the album as far as interest goes.

  6. Elton Ely says:

    Judas Priest has FINALLY…after all these years is getting the recognition they just deserve, so many other bands have been in the spotlight for years but they can’t hold their own when it comes to performing live and also recording in the studio. Bands like Motley Crue, Queensryche…etc don’t even come close to performing live like the Priest…I guess that’s why these type of bands are now opening up for JP…don’t get me wrong these bands and others like them were once good but they fall short now days in material they release and when they perform live. This will be the 11th time I have seen Priest since 1981 and they have never disappointed San Antonio, TX!!! I also agree that Nostradamus should be made into a movie, this album is by far so well made and the story just flow out with every song. A project like this would definitely need a large budget and great director to bring out the VISION that Judas Priest has put together. If you have the opportunity and have never seen the JP live make the effort even if have to travel you will NOT be dissapointed…THEY ARE THE GREATEST HEAVY METAL BAND WALKING THIS EARTH!!!

  7. Rick D says:

    Jeff W, I too am a 27 plus year fan and wish they would hit the Carolinas, but I’m not taking chances as I did for the AOR tour and miss out. This time I’m making the 7 hour drive to Pittsburgh for the 8-16 show!! You should come man! Hail the PRIEST!!

  8. BK says:

    If that picture doesnt scream “PATHETIC” then I don’t know what does. Men in their 50’s in Heavy Metal Garb.

    Pssst….time to grow up now.

  9. Elton Ely says:

    Hey BJ…I mean BK you MUST be turned on by the picture…remember the article is about the new album not a clothing line…so what do you SCREAM?…”Get Me Out Of This Closet!”…

  10. electricfluke says:

    the DC Metal Masters show down right rocked!!!!Priest,as usual,put on one excellent show.people who like to put them down need to go see for themselves and then they would understand what metal is really about……only draw back i have from the show is that it didn’t last for 2 more days!!!!!!!!!!!Judas Priest are,and will always be……….Metal Gods!!!!!!!!!

  11. deanschiada says:

    great artile well deserved album kicks tail, priest was my first concert in 1982 and was at arlington park race track on halloween night screaming for vengence tour,. i will be up close for show at tinley the 19th with a many thousand heavy metal manics, deanschiada from

  12. I have always been a huge Priest fan and have seen them more than any other band (6 times). Ever since Defenders of the Faith, I have not missed a Priest concert in Houston (minus the Ripper Owens crap). This includes them headlining at Operation Rock & Roll during the Painkiller tour as well as there own concert on the same tour. I’m saddened by the melodic tone and repetitive lyrics of this latest album. Judas Priest is Judas Priest. Rapid Fire is what they do with a dual lead guitar assault that goes for the jugular (not to be confused with that crappy album Jugulator). I’ll forgive since this is a concept album but won’t attend the show. Hopefully they’ll return to being the definitive metal band. I know they can do it because I saw them at the Angel of Retribution tour. Rob may not be able to sustain the highs like he used to but still is able to hit them. If they don’t return to what they’re capable of, then perhaps we really are living in the end of times.

  13. bob cramer says:

    Im going to see priest fri in hartford ct IM amazed that they are still making cds as incredible as nostradamos what a cd life long priest fan bob

  14. shano says:

    priest are coming down under(australia) 1st time with Rob!! will be amazing i been following the guys for 28 years , british steel got me hooked on them

    long live PRIEST!!!!

  15. electricfluke says:

    any info on how to obtain one of the new metal masters Tour posters would be very much appreciated….at the venue we were at no kind of posters were available at all…..thanks!!!

  16. pozzi says:

    I bought “British Steel” back in ’80, was hooked on heavy metal immediately. I have been a Judas Priest fan eversince and now at the age of 42 I will see them live for the first time in Perth, Western Australia (grew up and lived in South Africa, nobody toured in SA back then!). To make it even more special, my daughter will accompany me to the show proving that Priest’s brand of heavy metal endures across generations.

  17. Elton Ely says:

    Saw the Priest in San Antonio, TX (Aug.24th)…Priest of course were awesome can’t wait to see if they come back to play Nostradamus from front to back live. Priest on Jimmy Kimmel the other night was the s–t…they are FINALLY getting the respect they deserve and to have this album sell more than any other Priest album in the US goes to prove that the media and other avenues of influence in the music industry doesn’t mean S–T…other bands pushed by the music industry don’t have the talent that the Priest do…the industry can go f–k themselves! Just don’t try to jump on the bandwagon now because they are popular…we don’t need you!

  18. Dieter Smit says:

    Fan since Defenders. Great article on the greatest Metal band ever! Seen them only live on DVD’s as I’m residing in South Africa. We are left with all wannebees and plastic touring our beaut of a country. We want Priest, we want Maiden! We want what it’s all about, away with the gold diggers! To all critics: ‘Damus is great as I do not want everything to sound like Painkiller, Vengeance, Steel, Sad wings etc. Each Priest album must be listened to individually and not compared to another album, as simple as that. God bless Priest!!!

  19. darflinger from st charles,il. says:

    Deanschiada: I was at the ‘screaming for halloween’ show also!!!!!! no kidding! I remember Rob having to get the crowd down from the rafters before they could go on. Head East, Y&T, and others I can’t remember right now- All day concert.. and the concert shirt had the hellion clutching a pumpkin…

  20. Larsswanson says:

    Darflinger – I was also at the Arlington show. I remember the low ceiling and those guys climbing the rafters too. Priest were awesome! I was right in front of KK. I was smashed against the barrier. It was a long day. I remember Head East opened. Don’t remember Y & T though? I recall a Guitar Magazine article where Glen Tipton refers to the low ceiling at that show. I think the place burnt down a few months later (though I could be wrong on that). Great memories.

  21. Darflinger says:

    Larsswanson- Then yu were probably standing right next to me! i was right in the front all day. Its crazy if you think how long its been. That show was one of the first shows i went to- and one of the most memorable.
    Y&T is actually playing here in StCharles in about 2 months at the Arcada theater . You might remember Y7T’s song ‘Hurricane’
    , look it up!