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Heavy metal icons Judas Priest are in top form

Judas Priest have stood for powerful hard rock and metal for 50 years. On their new album, Rob Halford and co. show that they are still the measure of all things in their genre.

Alongside Iron Maiden and Metallica, Judas Priest are one of the most influential and long-lived heavy metal bands that are still successfully active today. The release of their debut album "Rocka Rolla" was 50 years ago this summer. "When you've been in the business for 50 years and been a songwriter for 50 years, there are ups and downs," says Rob Halford (72) in an interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur in London. "Otherwise you're not human, are you?"

Since their formation in Birmingham in 1969, Judas Priest have released 17 studio albums, 15 of them with Halford. Now the 18th longplayer is being released. And what a one! "Invincible Shield" by Judas Priest will be released on March 8 and is perhaps the best album that the heavy metal veterans have recorded in 20 or even 30 years. "You never know," says Halford, referring to his band's most popular classics. "Can they record something better than "Painkiller"? Can they do better than 'British Steel'? Can they go one better than 'Screaming For Vengeance'?"

Memories of the 80s

Of course, it is almost impossible to top the aforementioned works. However, "Invincible Shield" is reminiscent of the glorious 80s of Priest in many respects. The intro to the opening song "Panic Attack", which mixes electric guitars with synthesizers, already exudes a hint of "Turbo", the controversial album from 1986 that is now considered a cult record. After the furious intro, things get much heavier. In terms of sound, Halford and co. move somewhere between "Screaming For Vengenance" and "Defenders Of The Faith" on the new album.

"It's just remarkable," says Halford about such comparisons. "I personally don't feel that way. But I love that - your music, your creativity, how it touches people. And other dimensions and definitions come back to you. And these comparisons are great." The 72-year-old emphasizes that none of this was planned. It happened unconsciously, organically. "The past creeps into the present."

One hit follows another on "Invincible Shield". "The Serpent And The Shield" and the title track are powerful heavy metal with the unmistakable Halford vocals. "Crown Of Horns" is a little softer, but a real earworm. The more you listen to "Invincible Shield", the more catchy tunes you'll find. "Trial By Fire" and "Sons Of Thunder" are others. "As God Is My Witness" is an epic metal firecracker. This Priest album is simply fun.

Rob Halford, who looks like Methuselah with his long white beard, impresses once again on "Invincible Shield" with his powerful voice and unerring screams. You can hear on the album and in the interview that the 72-year-old is a passionate metal singer. "When you get everything right and then sit down and listen to what you've created ... Man, it's the best feeling in the world," he enthuses. "This band is still presenting metal at this level."

Metal scene has opened up

After five decades, the heavy metal and hard rock scene is much more open and diverse today, says Halford, who came out publicly as gay in an MTV interview in 1998. Last year, he sang a duet ("Bygones") with country legend Dolly Parton, who released her first rock album. Something like that would have been unthinkable 30 or 40 years ago, when the heavy metal scene was still very macho. "Today there's a lot more freedom," says Halford, "there's so much more acceptance, so anything is possible".

However, Judas Priest remain true to themselves in the best sense of the word. On "Invincible Shield", the band returns to their old strengths and delivers heavy metal at the highest level. The album was produced by Andy Sneap, who is taking the place of guitarist Glenn Tipton at concerts due to his Parkinson's disease. The British metal institution is starting its European tour this month, with a stop in Switzerland.

"We have to fulfill all expectations," says Rob Halford. Hits like "Living After Midnight", "Breaking The Law" and "Metal Gods" are a must at every show his band plays. "These are important parts of the band's history. The fans demand these songs and they have a right to them." Judas Priest will probably only play two songs from the new album at first. However, if "Invincible Shield" is well received, there could soon be more.


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