Before metal splintered into factions, each trying to be more metal than the other, Judas Priest—along with Black Sabbath and AC/DC—formed a power troika of bands to fear. Priest, while thoroughly metal, was the least sinister. Clad head-to-toe in leather, Rob Halford and mates were more like bikers than bloodthirsty cultists, and they covered freakin’ Joan Baez and Fleetwood Mac. Halford barely had long hair, but his mighty voice conveyed a nonspecific threat, and the unknown is deeply fearsome.
Now scores of bands brazenly embrace Satan and graphic violence, and Priest is comparatively innocuous classic rock. Except Halford is the most daunting metal frontman around. That’s notwithstanding him opening with 60 seconds of pseudo-carnival huckster “We love [insert town]” spiel.
“We’re really excited,” Halford says. “Salt Lake City has always meant a lot to us; we’ve always had a lot of fans [there] ... watching for Priest.”
He’s genuine enough, but he’s an interview pro. Just like he commands the attention of thousands, he knows how to steer the conversation. You have to respect that, even when that’s your job. And if you happen to be a fan, such deference isn’t compulsory; it’s given freely. So planned questions fly out the window like a cloud of bats, and you blurt out something like, “Do you know how badass it looks when you spread that huge leather coat onstage?”
Way to go, fanboy. Here comes more of the same.
“You’re talking like a real fan,” Halford says. “That’s what makes interviews like these a little more special. And this tour’s gonna be even more explosive.”
But Halford did look cool as shit years ago on another November night at the E Center (now Maverik Center). Atop a platform, bald pate gleaming, staring balefully from behind aviator-ish sunglasses and a devilish goatee, Halford had the wingspan of a demonic condor. Nobody would’ve been surprised if he’d taken flight, morphed into the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, plucked some headbanger from the crowd and carried him away—blood dripping from his talons.
Halford’s presence is that striking; there’s a reason he’s called the Metal God. When that cutting, compelling voice helixes forth, drilling into your ears, you almost piss yourself in slavish devotion. Fists rise, people sing along. Halford says that can be just as imposing.
“‘You don’t know what it’s like ... You broke your promises ... I’m gonna put some action in my life…’” he talk-sings, paraphrasing “Breaking the Law.” “It sounds really mean.”
Halford enjoys the reciprocity, but knows giving the fans a thrill is still his job.