Judas Priest

By Hammond, Shawn | Guitar Player, October 2008 | Go to article overview

Judas Priest


Hammond, Shawn, Guitar Player


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

IN 1980, JUDAS PRIEST PENNED THE gloriously anthemic "Metal Gods"--replete with K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton's lockstep power-chord rhythms and a swirling solo, and Rob Halford's otherworldly vocals--but the truth is that the quintet from Birmingham, England, had been metal gods for years at that point. Tipton and Downing had institutionalized the genre's twin-guitar tradition by the band's second album, 1976's Sad Wings of Destiny, while Halford's distinctive shrieks, classically influenced style, and multi-octave range inspired legions of copycats from the get-go.

For those reasons and more, Priest became one of the key bands in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, especially during the period from 1976 until 1982, when they released one face-melting, fist-pumping album per year. British Steel--which was released in 1980 and included the classics "Breaking the Law," "Living After Midnight," "United," and, yes, "Metal Gods"--is considered by many to be the band's magnum opus.

But Tipton, Downing, and Co. have hardly let up since then, even though intra-band turmoil threatened to end it all in 1992, when Halford left to form Fight, a band that followed the Priest for mat closely. After two albums with Fight, Halford collaborated with John Lowery--a.k.a. John 5--on the industrial, Trent Reznor-produced 2wo project before returning to metal with the five-piece outfit called simply Halford. All the while, the remaining members of Priest soldiered on, scoring major media coverage and inspiring the 2001 film Rock Star, by recruiting Tim "Ripper" Owens from a Priest tribute band.

All was forgiven between Priest's key members in 2003, when the prodigal Halford returned to the fold and the band subsequently released 2005's Angel of Retribution.

Their latest release, this year's Nostradamus [Epic]--the band's first concept album--is a grandiose double-disc set chronicling the life of the 16th-century French visionary. GP dialed up Downing and Tipton in Germany during the first leg of Priest's world tour to talk about their legacy, refining their chops over the years, and how they used not just trusty Hamers and raging Marshalls--but also synth-equipped Godin 6-strings and Babicz flattops--to intertwine classic Priest tones with orchestral patches, acoustic interludes, and blinding neoclassical sweep picking to tell a nuanced, epic story.

Did you feel compelled to write more epic or cerebral guitar parts for Nostradamus, or did you just let things happen naturally? Glenn Tipton: Half and half, really. We put all our personal ideas into the pool to see what we all got off on. Some of the ideas we already had before we decided on the concept album were very appropriate, and some weren't, so we discarded the latter. Then we did some composing on keyboard, which made us write differently--a little bit more classical or operatic in places. Then we transposed that to guitar. But we wrote a lot on guitar, as well. Then we mixed and matched it. Before we knew it, we'd gotten enough material for a double album, and we felt we needed all of it to tell the story properly.

K.K. Downing: It was apparent to us early on that to get that extra drama and authenticity and atmosphere, we had to bring in orchestration to combine with the metal of Priest. The first thing we did was to look at the latest technology for converting a guitar signal into MIDI, to see exactly how good the new gear was. We got several MIDI-enabled Godin LGXT guitars, an Axon AX 100 MIDI interface, and Roland GR20 and Fantom XR7 sound modules. When people listen to the record, they will think we brought in some genius musical director, but Glenn and I composed everything.

What were some of the challenges of writing and recording so many guitar and synth-guitar parts?

Downing: With synths, you have to be aware of latency and glitching. Also, if you really want to make your guitar sound like a violin, for example, you have to change your vibrato. …

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