Moving Target

by Alun Thomas

One of the bigger embarrassments out of many in the metal scene right now are Judas Priest. With only one studio album to their name since 1990's ''Painkiller,'' many people are wondering if the former metal giants have a future at all. Based on their recent history and the long delay between albums it doesn't seem like a bright one.

Every fan knows it all went wrong for Priest when vocalist Rob Halford quit in 1992. It took them four years to find a new singer, ''Ripper'' Owens and the resulting disc, 1997's ''Jugulator'' was a waste of everyone's time. After a tour, the band has remained virtually anonymous, but according to their website a new album is scheduled for March of 2001. But it is a case of too little too late. Priest should never have waited this long to record a new album. After all there had been seven years in between the last one.

What little momentum they had following the ''Jugulator'' tour was lost when they failed to follow it up. The legendary status Priest once enjoyed is all but gone in 2000; the days of ''Screaming For Vengeance'' and ''Defenders Of The Faith'' remembered only by aging fans, new converts relatively unaware. Their long absences are to blame. People forget.

This is where Iron Maiden succeeded. They were in the same position as Priest when Blaze Bayley was vocalist. They made a couple of good records but nobody was interested in Bayley. The fans just wanted Bruce Dickinson back. So when Dickinson returned, Maiden immediately enjoyed the kind of response they gained in their mid-80s glory days: top 40 albums and sold out arena concerts all over the world. It also helped that Maiden recorded the maturest album of their career in ''Brave New World.'' It was sensible music and deviod of the cornball type metal Priest deal in. It is music men in their forties should be making.

But Priest seems highly unlikely to bring Halford back. It must be tempting seeing how Maiden have reaped so many benefits, but Priest seem determined to sick with Owens, staunchly refusing to ever hook up with Halford again. If they continue with Owens they must change their direction and rid themselves of the metal cartoon character clichés they are guilty of, such as ''Nightcrawler,'' ''The Sentinel'' and ''The Hellion.'' That was fine in its day but for a group of men, three of whom are entering their fifties, it is over. Somehow the subject matter must change.

I get the feeling that Priest main men, guitarists K. K. Downing and Glenn Tipton were slightly ashamed of ''Jugulator'' themselves. On many occasions have I read their excuses for the down tuned, non-melodic music. Mostly they claim it was the anger they felt towards Halford, causing them to write some fierce music, to suit their mood. Now they claim the new music is more ''melodic'' and in keeping with ''classic Priest.'' They too must have realised ''Jugulator's'' numerous faults. It was just a barrage of noise with zero progression. At the time it seemed acceptable, but three long years later it has dated badly. Only ''Dead Meat'' is worth a listen.

Where Priest fit in any more is anyone's guess. The metal environment is fairly non-existent. Sure bands like Raven, Saxon, Manowar and Maiden still survive -- but the magic is gone. And where they once represented metal, now they are in the background (except Maiden) going unnoticed by everyone but their fans.

Priest fall into this category. They will always have loyal supporters, but newer ones will be harder to gain. They will be content to sell out three- thousand seaters instead of the arenas of the eighties. Again Halford would change this, but I don't see it happening. I will always support Priest. They are one of the all time greats. But they are being forgotten quickly. This has not been entirely their fault, but they have not helped themselves by continually disappearing. It gets to the point where people keep asking ''what happened to Priest?'' and ''I heard Halford's back.'' And on the face of it, that is all the real fans want, Halford back where he belongs.

As we all get older -- along with Priest themselves -- the hope fades, along with a band's legend.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online November 29, 2000

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