The definitive lineup of Judas Priest - vocalist Rob Halford, lead guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, bass guitarist Ian Hill and drummer Scott Travis - returned in 2005 with the album Angel Of Retribution. More than 30 years after forming in the tough, gritty, English steel town of Birmingham, Judas Priest remain at the forefront of the global heavy metal scene.
Angel Of Retribution - the first new music from the quintet in 15 years -stands proudly alongside Judas Priest's previous heavy metal milestones like Sad Wings Of Destiny, British Steel, Screaming For Vengeance and Painkiller.
"We've got a lot of energy," says Tipton. "We're firing on all cylinders and it's obvious on this album. I think it's the most natural Judas Priest album. A lot of people who have listened to it have said it's timeless. You couldn't really date it."
As for the title, Halford says, "We don't have a track on the record called Angel Of Retribution but what we do have is an amazing piece of artwork that once people see it all the pieces will connect. The artwork really has a way of connecting the past with the present and the future. It's just a great display of the power of Priest as we feel it should be appearing in 2005. Beyond that, I think we live in a time of retribution. I think we live in a time of accountability."
The album's foundation was laid in 2003 when Halford returned to Judas Priest after nearly 12 years away. After rekindling their friendship over the previous couple of years, the band members worked together to assemble Sony Music/Legacy Recordings' career-spanning box set Metalogy. Not only that, they realized that the only way to slake their creative thirst was to reunite permanently. Judas Priest was eager to make new music together, but first the members decided to go on tour and remind fans around the world - and themselves - just what heavy metal had been missing for more than a decade.
"I think the remarkable thing that happened over the last few months of recording the album is as if the time we were apart had not taken place," says Halford. "That decade that we were out of each other's company just seems to have vanished in smoke. When we got together to begin writing the new material for Angel Of Retribution, it was really a continuation of where we would have been had we made the next record after Painkiller. All the pieces were already in place."
"I have to say that I never thought I would ever be here, all these years on, doing what we do now. In some ways it seems like a brand new start for us," says Downing. "We're really looking forward to the future. We're back at full strength and having a lot of fun."
By summer 2004, the bulk of Angel Of Retribution was completed and Metalogy was released to critical acclaim and strong sales. Judas Priest returned to the stage with several triumphant concerts in Europe and then stormed through North America with headline-grabbing performances on the Ozzfest tour and select headlining shows. Downing says that first live performance in Hannover, Germany, was a crucial step in finalizing the reunion.
"It was the one thing that had to happen to really cement us back together. We'd done some songwriting, we'd done some recording, we'd had a few drinks together, but actually putting on the leather and studs and going out there and doing that first performance was something that needed to be done."
Heavy metal fans had been clamoring for a Judas Priest reunion from the moment Halford left. Quite simply, the band is responsible for creating the sound of pure heavy metal. Countless others have received credit for providing the sonic groundwork, but only Judas Priest had the vision and willpower to forge a new style of rock'n'roll and thus influence every single disciple to follow. What made Judas Priest stand out in addition to the raw power of Halford's voice and the dual-guitar attack of Tipton and Downing was the quality of the songs; they were rife with instantly memorable melodies and hooks. Judas Priest also invented the look of heavy metal; any combination of leather, studs, chains and denim is a uniform worn proudly by heavy metal fans all over the world, and they got it from Judas Priest.
"The reunification of Priest is part of the love affair we've had with our fans around the world for countless decades from the past to the present time. All different generations love Judas Priest. We represent heavy metal music. We're very proud to be the leaders of this force, this genre of rock'n'roll called heavy metal," Halford says. "We're just so re-energized now. We're so glad to be back together again, and to get that power from the fans - that passion, that love of the band, that driving force. We are here because the fans want us to be here. Without the fans that support Judas Priest, we don't mean anything."
Judas Priest's success was earned as the result of struggle and hard work. Breaking out of Birmingham came first, and it wasn't easy. In fact, those lean early years - before the creation of legendary songs like Victim Of Changes, Hell Bent For Leather, Breaking The Law, Living After Midnight and You've Got Another Thing Comin' are chronicled on Deal With The Devil.
"Really, those were great days," says Tipton. "We all actually still have homes very close to Birmingham, but we needed to take our music out of there and it was very difficult to get the music industry to accept that. So we had to go and prove our point and then take it across the Atlantic to the States and then the rest of the world - to every corner of this planet. And it gave us a lot of determination. It was all about proving ourselves and taking our music to other people."
Several generations of fans have a common bond in Judas Priest, and the band members are proud of that fact.
"That means you got it right," says Tipton. "Obviously a lot of parents turn their kids on to Priest. But what you've got now is a lot of young kids discovering Priest in their own right. When you look out at that cross section of ages, it's very, very rewarding. Priest has created timeless music."