"Everything I do right now, everything I do in the future, is going to represent Priest in some way. That's just the way it is now.”
Richie Faulkner feels lucky to be alive. On 26 September 2021, the Judas Priest guitarist had a near-death experience in the form of an aortic aneurysm while on stage at Louder Than Life festival.
Nine days later, Faulkner addressed the Judas Priest fandom and wrote the following statement: “As I watch footage from the Louder Than Life Festival in Kentucky, I can see in my face the confusion and anguish I was feeling whilst playing ‘Painkiller’ as my aorta ruptured and started to spill blood into my chest cavity,” he wrote.
“I was having what my doctor called an aortic aneurysm and complete aortic dissection. From what I’ve been told by my surgeon, people with this don’t usually make it to the hospital alive.”
But he is alive and well, still performing and writing with Judas Priest, and he’s started the supergroup, Elegant Weapons, who released a fantastic debut album, Horns For A Halo, on Friday, 26 May.
“I'm feeling good, thank you, I appreciate you asking,” Faulkner says from his couch in Nashville, with a Judas Priest Firepower print above his head. “It was quite a turnaround, you know, one moment you're playing and then the next day, you're waking up reading about what you've just been through. It turns your life around.”
Following the aortic aneurysm, Faulkner was rushed to the nearby Heart And Lung Centre in Louisville, Kentucky, which luckily happened to be just six kilometres from the festival site. He underwent a 10-and-a-half-hour emergency open heart surgery and acknowledges how different his luck could have been. Five parts of his chest were replaced with mechanical components – this is a man who had no history of heart complications, no clogged arteries or high cholesterol.
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The Evil Never Dies guitarist is quick to note that he had a great support structure at home, in the hospital and from the Judas Priest devoted. “But music, getting back to playing, getting back to touring, finishing this record [Horns For A Halo], as soon as I could get back to it was very important,” he shares.
“It was like a healing. It was like medicine to get back, because this is who I am – if you get back on the guitar, that's one step closer to getting back to normal again. It played a massive role in getting back to somewhat normality.”
Elegant Weapons were born out of the ashes of the Covid-19 pandemic and the album was created around Faulkner’s schedule with Judas Priest. A supergroup, the band comprises vocalist Ronnie Romero (Rainbow), Uriah Heep bassist Dave Rimmer, and Accept drummer Christopher Williams.
“It’s a relief [to have the album out in the world],” Faulkner admits, referencing the lightness and joy he felt with watching his daughter take her first steps or learn how to swim (Faulkner's girlfriend, Mariah Lynch, daughter of former Dokken guitarist George Lynch, gave birth to their daughter in July 2020).
“It's great; it's been a long time in the making. The silver lining was during the pandemic, because of the lockdowns, no one was going anywhere. The positive side of that was that it gave me the time to consolidate a lot of ideas that I had, and work on new ones to put it together.”
There are tons of ideas on Horns For A Halo, and everyone gets their moment to shine. Perhaps what’s most surprising about the record is that it has a distinctive identity despite pulling from numerous influences – a mark of a strong debut album. As Faulkner noted in a press release, “There’s a song called White Horse, plus Horns For A Halo, which is like Tony Iommi crossed with Alice In Chains" (coincidentally, that’s exactly what this writer thought).
Faulkner added, “Then there’s Rose Girl, which has a bit of a psychedelic ‘60s hippie vibe. It’s about the rose girl who sells roses to the patrons at a strip club, and reflecting on what her life is all about.”
Faulkner believes that Alice In Chains are one of those bands whose music stands the test of time and has grown in influence. “I was talking about this yesterday – they seem to have a knack for songwriting,” he exclaims. “There’s Alice In Chains songs from 30 years ago, and there's songs on the radio from Alice In Chains’ last record. They seem to have a knack for writing songs that are as relevant today as they were then.
“They write relevant songs today that stand up with those songs from 30 years ago,” he adds. “I don't know how they do it, but they just tapped into something – a sound and a vibe. We were on tour with them in South America. It was Priest and Alice In Chains in South America, and we were playing stadiums and it was just the two bands.”
Faulkner continues, “I think there might have been some local support, but I went out and watched Alice In Chains every night and the crowd was singing everything. Every lyric, every melody, [and] every guitar line. It was phenomenal. They are a massive influence in terms of melody and vibe, and the pursuit of writing songs that connect with people. I don't know if they try to do it or it's just natural to them, but you can only be inspired by that stuff.”
In addition to Alice In Chains, you can only be inspired by the spectacular Ronnie Romero. With Rainbow, he can sound like Ronnie James Dio any time the band performs Stargazer and other iconic Dio-era numbers. In Elegant Weapons, Ronnie Romero is simply, well, Ronnie Romero.
“Ronnie is such a–you're right, he is a spectacular vocalist. And not only that, he’s a fantastic frontman,” Faulkner states. “He carries the band. I mean, I couldn't do what he does, standing out there with just a microphone and singing like he does.”
A couple of months ago, Romero flew into Nashville for some rehearsals – “And it was one of those days where the flights were delayed, you missed the flight and had to get another one. It was one of those days where it took the whole day just to travel here, and he got here at about 11:45 in the evening”.
So, Faulkner picked him up, plugged in the guitars, turned the amps on, “and he sang like a bird like it didn't faze him at all. He's just not only a great singer, but a natural one. You know what I mean? Some people were born with the instrument, and he's one of them.”
Elegant Weapons also fly the flag of good, old-school heavy metal music. Catchy riff, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse, chorus, guitar solo, chorus, end. It’s not about showing off crazy skills, but more about paying tribute to bands like Black Sabbath and Queen. It’s all about celebrating memorable songs. Horns For A Halo was created over Zoom sessions – the bass recorded remotely, drums in Nashville, and vocals in Europe, all while producer Andy Sneap was in the UK.
“[Old-school metal is] part of who I am as a guitar player, a writer, and a musician, and I wanted those influences to shine through,” Faulkner says. “That's who I am, and I think to be anything else for the sake of it is kind of disingenuous.”
He continues, “I'm 43 years old. I grew up in the 80s, listening to the music of the 80s and the 70s and stuff like that. And these are the influences coming through that I love, and I don't see why I should be ashamed of them. I've always been proud of them.
"I know it's 2023, and the album is a modern-sounding record in some respects. But it was important for me to have those influences shining through if they came from me organically. I wasn't trying to sound like any of them, it was just who I am and what was coming through on a guitar. So why not be proud of them and put them on the record?”
When writing with Judas Priest (Faulkner reveals that the band have been writing), it often involves bouncing ideas off Rob Halford and fellow guitarist Glenn Tipton. Faulkner joined Judas Priest in 2011 as part of what would have been the band’s farewell tour, which we currently know as the Epitaph World Tour.
“I think I would have been silly not to consider what I was going to do after [the Epitaph tour],” Faulkner admits, hinting that there was always a possibility of starting a band separate from Priest. “One day, if Rob calls me and says, they decided to call it a day, hopefully, Elegant Weapons can carry that torch and carry that DNA into the future.
“I think that was part of my thought process in this [forming Elegant Weapons], as well. Everything I do right now, everything I do in the future, is going to represent Priest in some way. That's just the way it is now.”
What the future holds for any band in its infancy is uncertain, but Elegant Weapons’ immediate future includes tour dates opening for two of the biggest metal names in the world. “We're looking forward to going out on tour,” Faulkner says. The band heads to Europe for "some big festivals" soon, followed by support slots with Pantera and Priest.
The plan, after that, is more touring opportunities and breaking into new markets. “At this stage, we're looking at Asia and Australia,” he excitedly shares. “We're looking wherever we can get some opportunity. So hopefully, we'll see you down there at some point in the future. We're looking forward to it.”