“Metal works best when you have these moments of space and clarity.”
Metal rules! Digital Trends is proud to exclusively premiere the video clip for Electric Eye, one of the pivotal songs on Battle Cry, the forthcoming live release from legendary metal gods Judas Priest that’s coming out on Blu-ray, DVD, CD, and digital formats on March 25. (You can also pre-order it on iTunes, starting Friday.)
Shot on the Redeemer of Souls tour in front of 85,000 rabid fans at the Wacken Festival in Germany on August 1, 2015, Battle Cry showcases prime live Priest in an unrelenting set that includes proto-metal tracks like Turbo Lover, Hell Bent for Leather, Painkiller, Breaking the Law, and Living After Midnight. (Bang thy head…)
“More than ever, we take care of the production side of Priest,” says frontman Rob Halford. “And we put out different sides of it at Wacken. We’d never used sidestage screens like that before, as they added a different dimension to Priest. The light show was just extraordinary, and the Blu-ray really gives you the chance to see us in quite a unique way.”
If anything, the uber-intense crowd response at Wacken helped push Priest into even higher gear. “It’s been great,” Halford agrees. “We were talking before the end of the Redeemer of Souls tour, planning when we would get together this year. Most bands would say, ‘OK, guys; see you in a couple of years.’ But here we are — 41, going on 42 years later, and we can’t wait to get back into the studio and start cranking up the new metal.”
Digital Trends got on the horn with Halford to discuss the abject power of Electric Eye, how to capture the band’s onstage energy, and the key sonic moments in their recorded legacy. And if you think the mighty Priest doesn’t care about how they sound live and on record, you’ve got another thing coming.
Digital Trends: Do you literally have to change gears to play in front of festival audiences? I mean, Rob, 85,000 people — that’s a humongous crowd.
Rob Halford: It seems to happen kind of automatically. The Redeemer of Souls tour was a great success, not only for the band and our fans, but for the metal community worldwide. We really mixed it up on that tour.
Some of the venues were tight, like Harrah’s in Atlantic City, where you saw us play [on October 10, 2014]. That was a really tight, in-your-face, intimate thing. As you saw, we were right there in front of our fans, and we rarely get that opportunity to see them that close up these days. You get a really special vibe going on when you’re that close and that face to face, you know? It’s where this band began. All bands start with this type of experience.
But then you flip over to the other side where you’re on a stage in front of 85,000 metal maniacs. We know that festivals have these extraordinary atmospheres, and that’s definitely what was captured at Wacken. Obviously, you’re getting a reaction, but the only way you know you’re communicating is that you have these huge, big screens at the side of the stage, bringing the close-ups to you as we’re making the metal happen live.
The performance of Electric Eye [originally from 1982’s Screaming for Vengeance] is a great example of how you connect directly with the audience, because they all sing the chorus [“I’m elected electric spy/I’m protected electric eye”] for you.
They do, yeah — and more than ever now too. It’s an absolute thrill at this point. Many times you just hand the mic over to the fan, and step back. [chuckles]
Keeping it real in today’s digital world, where everything can be Pro Tool’ed to death, is very important.
It just shows you how strong the relationship is between Priest and its fans. And let’s face it, Wacken is a mixed crowd. It was a Priest crowd too, yeah, but there were all sorts of metal maniacs from different parts of the world to see all different kinds of metal bands. This festival was just a wonderful testament to what we believe in as metalheads together, coming together on that special night — and we caught all that live.
As you know, Mike, one of the great legacies of this band is not only that you’re coming to hear what we do and bang your head to that, you’re coming to see something that’s a visual feast as well — all things metal, from Priest.
Can’t argue with that. In this age of digital downloading and the vinyl revival, what’s the best way to access Priest music, in your opinion?
I think for any band, you’ve gotta do it live, first and foremost, and see a band in the flesh. Keeping it real in today’s digital world, where things can be Pro Tool’ed to death, is very important. And everything from this show is coming right off the live mixing desk.
That’s an important distinction. This is as live as it gets.
We handed all of the audio over to “Colonel” Tom Allom. Tom did a lot of the early Priest production work, especially in the ’80s [from 1980’s British Steel through 1988’s Ram It Down], and he said the audio was spot-on. He had to do a few tweaks here and there, but everything you’re seeing and hearing coming off that stage is live and direct. And that, I think, also makes an important statement musically for Priest.
The moment toward the end of Electric Eye when you — spoiler alert! — take the two guitars from Glenn [Tipton] and Richie [Faulkner] and then cross them overhead, comes across perfectly, even though the sound could have been a bit wonkier than it actually was.
[laughs] Yeah, you forego some of the bits and pieces in order to capture the metal magic, as we call it. Earlier today, I was looking at some of our vintage t-shirts from the ’80s that feature the crossed guitars. That became quite a symbol for us. Those little moments are special, and unique to the things that Priest do.
We tried to do it every night but (laughs), sometimes Glenn or I would forget to stand in the right place, but Richie remembered it every night. Or Glenn and Richie would be standing there ready to do the crossed guitars, but I’d be at the side of the stage. Or I’d be there with Richie, holding his guitar, and Glenn would be somewhere else. [laughs again]
But I love that — it’s part of rock and roll, you know? No two shows are ever the same, no matter how many times we do Breaking the Law or Living After Midnight — and that’s how it should be.
If you download this concert to watch on your phone, are you missing anything?
Yeah, most, well, all musicians are purists. We work hard at making the best sounds and the best visuals that we can. We like to offer it to our fans the way we feel showcase the best moments of the band.
In the old days, it was different, wasn’t it? Today, you have to be open-minded and accept that there are some fans who are really not interested in that side of the content. They want that instant fix, that electric surge. And that’s OK, though you would like to feel they’re not missing out on the production.
The closest thing we got to that recently was what Neil Young put together with Pono — just trying to get the music in everybody’s ears in the way it should sound. But a lot of fans are not really bothered about it, quite frankly, as long as they can recognize the tune and see the band. You have to appreciate the fact that’s the way some fans take the music. We just try to bring an awareness to the quality of what we do.
There has been a certain standard to what you’ve done over the years.
Yeah, we don’t do sloppy. [both laugh]
Is there one particular Priest song or album that is the best sounding to your ear, the one that has everything you want people to hear?
Hmmm, that’s a good question. When you have the good fortune to be in a band that’s been around for a long time, you listen to your early recordings, and sometimes you roll your eyes and you go, “Oh my God, what was I thinking when I sang it that way?”
But you have to let history speak for itself. In that respect, when I listen to one of our most famous albums, Sad Wings of Destiny (1976), Victim of Changes is still quite extraordinary. That’s a really good song to listen to. I listen to it now, and those “shoulda could woulda” moments are just the way that you grow as a band and as a musician.
It’s a very passionate thing to talk about what you think sounds the best.
I also love the production on Nostradamus [Priest’s ambitious 2008 double album], Blood Red Skies [from 1988’s Ram It Down], and The Sentinel [from 1984’s Defenders of the Faith] — the big, dramatic moments.
There are a lot of choices for Priest fans in terms of production and sound. It’s a very interesting debate, because some fans claim this is the best record Priest ever made, and some fans go, “No, no, you’re wrong; this is the best record Priest ever made.” That’s the passion of the fans. It’s a very passionate thing when you talk about what sounds best.
And because you use the scope and power of that dynamic range rather than compressing everything, you get a bigger sound overall.
Yes, and also, we still try to stay true to this idea that less is more when it comes to our sound. When things get bigger, you want more space around them so they can expand. That’s one of the great virtues of early metal. If you’re crunching and crushing too many things together, it just makes it sound smaller.
You might think the only way to make it sound louder is to turn it up, but that isn’t the way metal works. Metal works best when you have these moments of space and clarity for the kick drum to blast through or the bass note to boom out.
The perfect example of that is the studio version of Living After Midnight. I love the way the drums set the table in the intro all alone before the guitars and your vocals come in.
Yeah, definitely — giving each other the time to move around. It’s a great record, British Steel (1980). The production that Tom [Allom] did on that record is very unique, unlike anything else we’ve ever done. We sounded more live in the studio there on that particular session than I can ever recall.
Do you have any personal favorite albums you like to listen to on repeat?
Well, obviously, very, very early [Black] Sabbath, early Metallica, and [The Beatles’] Sgt. Pepper. It’s just extraordinary to think how that record was made — four tracks! How George Martin [who just passed away at age 90 on March 8] and the guys were able to do that is just genius.
And you’ve still got the ear to recognize it.
Yeah, and that’s one of the things we still treasure in Priest, Mike. We’ve spoken about this before, but every single bit about Priest is important to us — from how the snare drum sounds to the mastering session. Everything we’ve ever done has been very near and dear to our hearts. It’s the life of the band, and the life is in its music. You cherish all of those things.
You’re carrying on a legacy to remind people that this is how it was, and this is how it can be.
It’s something that we’re very proud of — to keep flying that flag for metal. It’s the best feeling in the world, man.