Judas Priest 'Wouldn't Change A Thing' About Their Epic Career

7 March 2024 | 5:50 pm | Mary Varvaris

As Judas Priest prepare to release their 19th album 'Invincible Shield' tomorrow, bassist Ian Hill muses on a five-decade-plus career and what keeps the band "current, relevant, and modern."

Judas Priest

Judas Priest (Source: Supplied)

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Judas Priest are heavy metal icons. Since the formation of the band we know and love in the spiritual home of heavy metal—Birmingham—in the early ’70s, they’ve sold over 50 million records across the globe.

That’s no mean feat when considering that heavy metal music isn’t exactly accessible. They’ve released 18 albums, and tomorrow, they drop their 19th record, the brilliant Invincible Shield.

There are some all-time classic songs on the album; throwbacks, if you will; like the shred-tastic As God Is My Witness, the near-power ballad Crown Of Horns, the fierce Panic Attack, the foreboding Escape From Reality, and the epic one-two closing punch of Sons Of Thunder and Giants In The Sky.

The album almost feels like it’s been a long time in the making, except that it hasn’t been all that long when you consider how hard Judas Priest still tour to this day. The initial writing sessions for Invincible Shield began in February 2020 but faced scheduling difficulties due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It wasn’t until September 2021, when a bulk of pandemic restrictions were eased, that Judas Priest toured again (on their 50 Heavy Metal Years world tour) and could start plotting the follow-up to 2018’s critically acclaimed Firepower.

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Invincible Shield wasn’t recorded the way Judas Priest were planning. The band members recorded the album in different places, such as Nashville – where guitarist Richie Faulkner and drummer Scott Travis live, while vocalist Rob Halford was cutting his vocals in Phoenix, Arizona, and bassist Ian Hill in Europe.

And yet, the album doesn’t sound nearly as fractured as it could sound. In fact, it doesn’t sound fractured at all. Invincible Shield is as strong as a heavy metal album gets in 2024: it’s cohesive and narrative-focused, features ripping solos and weighty rhythm sections, and features otherworldly vocals from a 72-year-old singer.

In other words, you need to add Invincible Shield to your library now.

Since emerging in Birmingham—where Black Sabbath cut their teeth, half of Led Zeppelin were from, and bands like Napalm Death and Godflesh later arose—Judas Priest have defined what heavy metal sounds like, or, better yet, what it can be, what it can represent, and how a music genre that’s perceived to be abrasive and downright aggressive can create a progressive and inclusive community.

In early 2022, Faulkner started teasing Firepower, revealing in an interview that some songs on Invincible Shield are “a bit more progressive in places” before having to explain that comment: he didn’t mean that Judas Priest are set to release Nostradamus 2.0, but the songs are different: “instead of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, chorus, finish, sometimes it goes off and plays it a little… like the old ‘70s Judas Priest used to, like the ‘Sinner’ and stuff like that.”

Meanwhile, Halford has compared the new album to Painkiller, indicating that Judas Priest are once again making a powerful statement. But what does Ian Hill think about it?

Joining The Music from his study, which has the first instrument he learned to play, the double bass, in the background, Hill says that Invincible Shield still has “that basic Judas Priest sound”.

Hill is jovial—as he should be. It’s an exciting time to be in the band (and a fan). “The basic sound will always be recognisable,” he notes, and despite the band’s odd tangents here and there—he namedrops 1986’s Turbo—they’ve “still got that basic Judas Priest sound. The rest of it is basically just trying to improve with each album.

“We've always tried to take a step forward – to try anything [like] a new recording technique and a new gizmo will be available, and if it's good, great; if not, it was discarded. It keeps you current, and it keeps you relevant and modern. You look out into the audience, and there's a lot of young faces there, which is good news – you know, like yourself. It’s great news.”

Judas Priest announced the release of Invincible Shield during their headline slot at the inaugural Power Trip festival in October – where they stepped in for the equally influential Ozzy Osbourne, who dropped off the line-up due to health issues – a badass move.

Hill laughs, remembering the opportunity at their fingertips: “All those people, all that media coverage… why not drop it now, you know?”

Power Trip was the ideal festival for people who thought they couldn’t attend festivals anymore. “It was less hectic than normal festivals,” recalls Hill, recalling hanging out with members of Metallica and Iron Maiden. “You've got six bands on there—two bands a day, that's all.

“I mean, as you know, you've been to festivals… Generally, at least a dozen bands [perform] on various stages and tents. If you're a fan of particular bands, it can be a bit hectic, you know, they're all [playing] at the same time. There was none of that. There were just two major bands on each day, and everybody saw the two major bands, and everybody went away happy. It was more laid back for the bands as well.”

With their 19th album out tomorrow, one wonders, what are the challenges for Judas Priest at this point? Maintaining longevity and legacy? For Hill, his inspiration comes from continuing to move forward, trying to make something different and “hopefully better”.

He adds, “From a writing point of view, these days, it’s mainly on Richie’s side for the music, and Rob for the lyrics, and Glenn [Tipton, guitar – along with Hill, he’s the only individual to appear on every Judas Priest album] still comes up with ideas.”

In 2018, Tipton was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Although the condition prevents the guitarist from touring with the band, Hill says he’s still “sharp between the ears” when it comes to writing songs. “He still comes up with these ideas for riffs and chord sequences,” Hill shares. “He still has his input. It's always panned out that way.”

In 2022, Judas Priest were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame alongside Dolly Parton, Duran Duran, Eminem, Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo, Eurythmics, Lionel Richie and Carly Simon. They were inducted for Musical Excellence with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis.

There was an iconic performance (and photos) from that night: Dolly Parton arm in arm with Rob Halford singing Jolene. We’re now pretty far away from the induction, and thoughts around it are likely to have settled.

Getting inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was a bizarre experience for Hill.

“I was in two minds about it right up until we got to the show,” Hill admits, remembering the question he asked himself: “Do we really need this?”

He explains, “You’ve got to leave a gap in the middle of a tour or leave a gap there when we could have put three or four shows in. [We couldn’t] because of rehearsals and press that goes along with it, then you've gotta get there and get back. I didn’t really get it until the show, and then I realised what a big deal it was.”

When Judas Priest took to the stage – as performers and accepting their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the full line-up was there: Halford, Hill, Faulker, Travis and Tipton, but it was also a family affair, bringing former guitarist K.K. Downing and drummer Les Binks on stage with the band for the first time in a decade.

“I’m so glad we did it,” Hill continues, remembering the “great sense of belonging” he felt that night. “At the end of the day, it was an incredibly great show. It was like an old variety show in the old days… it was a bit like that, but the music version of it. I thoroughly enjoyed all of it; I really did.

“Everybody seemed to appreciate what everyone was doing because, being professionals anyway, you all have an idea of what it takes to get you to that point; they've all been in the business for a similar amount of time, and you don't survive unless you're dedicated and have a bit of talent. So, everybody was very, very respectful of everybody else.”

Judas Priest are still kicking, well over 50 years into their storied career. But the years haven’t necessarily led the band, or Hill himself, to get stuck in the past—they’re always focused on momentum and forward movement. However, that hasn’t stopped Hill from being thankful for choosing the band in the early days.

“I'm glad we made the decision we did back in about 1972, which was, ‘Are we going to pack our jobs in and make a go of it?’” It could’ve easily not worked in the band’s favour.

As Hill recalls, he and Alan Moore (the band’s former drummer who played on 1976’s Sad Wings Of Destiny) had day jobs where “you could walk into any day, you know, it wasn’t a special job”. It wasn’t such an easy decision for former drummer John Ellis (in the band from 1969 until 1971), who “got a very valuable apprenticeship in one of the largest businesses in town”. If Hill had been in his place, he admits he would’ve made the same call.

But the potentially disastrous decision to be in a band full-time worked out, with highs and lows, line-up changes, controversies, and undeniably amazing moments along the way. As Hill notes, he wouldn’t have wanted to have lived his life any other way. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Invincible Shield is out tomorrow via Sony Music Australia. Pre-order/pre-save the album here.