James Hodges Photography

Richie Faulkner Discusses His Odyssey & Evolution With Judas Priest

So much more than their 50 years of heavy metal, Judas Priest will invade the Prudential Center in Newark next on April 19 – a show not to be missed – and have a new record out today to take to that stage and beyond.

Very close to 50 years after they released their debut record Rocka Rolla, British metal icons Judas Priest have unleashed their 19th solo album, Invincible Shield. The band has gone through many different musical periods throughout that time, but what has always been consistent are their songwriting skills, exceptional musicianship, and overall passion. The latest album is no exception.

Produced by guitarist Andy Sneap with some contributions from Tom Allom, Invincible Shield balances ferocious moments with multiple moods. The hyperkinetic opening cut “Panic Attack” dives into the type of modern misinformation mania that fuels conspiracy theories and insurrection. It’s a turbocharged first single that immediately impressed fans. The band has also released high powered tracks “Trial By Fire” and “The Serpent and the King,” while the ballad “Crown Of Horns” showcases a more personal, introspective side in melodic anthem form.

Richie Faulkner / James Hodges Photography

Still serving up his trademark piercing screams and diverse vocals, singer Rob Halford delivers lyrics that cross over into different territory as well. The mid-tempo grinder “Devil In Disguise” targets unscrupulous individuals and can easily be applied to any number of modern politicians. The gothic-flavored “The Lodger” was inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock suspense film of the same name. Written by Bob Halligan, Jr., the song was originally used for a live screening of the film in Iowa a few years ago, but it was translated by the band into something heavier. The song certainly invokes an early Priest classic like “The Ripper” in terms of its melodramatic mood. The bluesy “Fight Of Your Life” is a feisty anthem of persistence and never giving up. Indeed, while some of the songs reflect the chaos and uncertainty of the modern world, Halford injects hope and optimism amid the turmoil.

It’s impressive to think that after five decades, the group continues to put out such potent music. Guitarist Richie Faulkner sat down for a Zoom call with The Aquarian to discuss the creation of the album, his ever-evolving role in the band, guitarist Glenn Tipton’s contributions while coping with Parkinson’s, and more. He also updated us on how he’s feeling after the aortic aneurysm that sent him to the hospital after a Priest show in September 2021. Impressively, Faulkner still nailed the intense solo to “Painkiller” while his medical emergency ensued.

That is dedication and determination, and that is Judas Priest. 

How are you feeling, man-who-is-made-of-metal?

Absolutely, man. What a story that was, you know? And the outcome is the metal stuff in the chest and becoming a bionic man, but I’m feeling ok. Thanks very much for asking. I’ve got a great support system at home and on the medical side of things, and the fans have been supportive, as well. You never know what’s around the corner, but I’m doing all right at the moment.

Is there any health regimen that you have to follow?

Obviously, I’ve got to keep getting regular checkups to make sure the aorta isn’t growing anymore. It’s a regimen of medication. I’ve got to watch things in my diet and a few other bits and pieces, but I’m fortunate really that that’s all it is. There’s a lot of people who have different things that are a lot less fortunate, so I consider myself lucky.

I suffered from a thrombosis a decade ago. That’s not quite as bad as what you had, but I spent six months on blood thinners. I was definitely tired a lot.

Yeah, that’s the thing. As you know, blood thinners and blood pressure medicine bring you right down, so it’s hard to get excited about anything [Laughs], but it’s one of those things. Thank goodness it’s all I have to do.

Obviously given his Parkinson’s, Glenn Tipton has some challenges in playing now, but you can hear his sonic fingerprints all over this album. How many ideas was he working on prior to this, and how did you work with him on all the guitar parts?

We all go away separately after a tour and put down riff ideas and song ideas and melody ideas. He was the same, really, so when we get in a room together – me, Glenn, and Rob – we get those ideas out. We put those ideas on the table, we play them back for each other. Glenn did the same. He had a few more ideas that were more developed – “Sons of Thunder,” “Escape From Reality,” “Vicious Circle,” stuff like that – so we worked on those. It was no different in that regard. He was able to sit in a studio [to] take time and play the ideas that he was putting forward. And when he had an idea and we were together, if he couldn’t play it that day, then he would translate it through me and we’d hash it out.

If Glenn can play it, then he’ll play it, and if he can’t play it, then I’ll take on the workload. I mean, what’s wrong with that? I’m a guitar player and I’m a fan. I love the guys. That’s your duty – if something needs to be done, guitar or otherwise, you do it. You step up, you know?

That applied to the recording, as well. There are some things on there that he played, and he could write. It was important to us to involve him, and it probably was just as important for him to be involved as much as he could after doing it and being a genre-defining guitar player for the last 50 years.

Andy had a challenging job stepping in for Glenn starting on the Firepower tour. How do you feel Andy has evolved as a guitar player throughout this whole process?

I think he has evolved as a guitar player. The more we play and the more songs we play, the more of Priest’s repertoire he has to take on board. He has definitely gotten better. He was actually here a couple of weeks ago. I have to show him the new songs that we’re going to look at playing on the next setlist, so he’s constantly working [it] out. Sometimes if he’s not here, I’ll send him videos of different parts that he needs to work out. He has come leaps and bounds and he’s got a great ear for detail. I think the first time we did it he had three weeks to learn the stuff, and then he was thrown in at the deep end. Now, a few years later, he’s gotten a bit more comfortable. He knows his place in the band, and I think he’s having a great time doing it.

For newer fans who might not be as familiar with Priest, where does Glenn’s soloing pop up on Invincible Shield?

Glenn’s influence is more than just the solos. There are solos on “Sons Of Thunder” and “Vicious Circle,” and it goes beyond that. As we said before, the little twists and turns musically… and the vibe. When you play songs and solos by both K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton on an intimate level for 13 years, I don’t think you can help but have that become part of your DNA, as well, so I think you can hear stuff from Glenn in my playing as well as what I’ve learned from him in the last 13 years. On something like “Panic Attack,” there are some sweep picking stuff that was never part of my repertoire. Playing songs like “Painkiller” on an intimate level becomes part of your repertoire, so it shows up on the record. So apart from the songwriting ideas he had, the songs he had, some of the solos he had, it’s in my playing as well. He’s infiltrated my DNA in that sense – along with Ken, of course, and along with Zakk [Wylde] and Michael Schenker and people like that. I think [Glenn’s] influence can’t be overstated either.

How is Glenn doing?

I think he’s doing okay. He has ups and downs, good days and bad days, as is the nature of Parkinson’s, but I think he’s doing all right in the grand scheme of things.

My favorite track on the album is “The Lodger,” which is the last of the three bonus tracks on the deluxe edition. It’s classic gothic Priest that’s slower and very dramatic.

I was just talking to someone about the bonus tracks and we said the bonus tracks sometimes are our favorites as fans. We listen to bands, too, and some of our favorites are on that bonus disc, so that was our thinking. When we had these songs, we wanted to put them out. They weren’t part of the record, but we wanted the fans to hear them for exactly that reason. It’s amazing you said that. 

“The Lodger” was a song that was actually written by Bob Halligan Jr. who has a history with Priest – “(Take These) Chains” and “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll.” He presented it to us and it kept coming back. We’d write some other songs and then it would creep back into our consciousness. It’s really unique. There is something about that track.. he wanted us to Priest-ize it, so we had to go at it. You can imagine it on Broadway, like a melodrama. It’s very unique, and for that reason we wanted to include it on the deluxe edition. I’m really glad that you mentioned that. We did the right thing by putting it out.

It’s your best melodic playing on the album and very striking. I also really love that “Giants In The Sky” has the Spanish guitar part in the gentle midsection, which reminds me of “Revelations” from Nostradamus, although there’s more of it here. What inspired this part to come into the song?

I remember the breakdown part, the quiet section [that] started off with an acoustic guitar. I was putting a solo lead part down and I think someone suggested – I don’t know if it was Andy [Sneap] or Tom Allom – instead of an acoustic guitar steel strung, to try it with a classical nylon string guitar and see how it sounds. It sounded great. It’s pretty unorthodox in Priest’s history. As you said, there are some moments of it on Nostradamus. It was unique, it fitted the song, and we went with it. Then Rob comes in with a beautiful melody vocal part afterwards which is just fantastic. The whole song is really an homage to the metal gods that we’ve lost and the music that remains and will live forever. When Rob sings that you can really feel his love for the idols that he has musically and the legends that will never die because of their music.

“Escape From Reality” is another interesting song. In that midsection, it has that Black Sabbath feel with psychedelic guitars, and Rob channeling his inner Ozzy. Where did that come from?

That was one of Glenn’s ideas. We needed the midsection. It’s slower and a bit more doomy maybe. Sometimes when you’re writing a song and an album, you start putting stuff down for the song and it almost dictates where it’s going to go itself. You realize, “Let’s go with where the song is going – let’s not counter it just to be different.” That midsection had an Ozzy, psychedelic type feel musically, and Rob matched that experience. I think it serves the song really well. It’s something different, but also from the roots of Birmingham, which is where Sabbath and Priest are from, it’s absolutely relevant in that regard.

Rob’s lyrics are getting more personal as he gets older. I feel like there’s definitely more of himself in here.

I would say that’s accurate. I think you’d have to ask Rob. I couldn’t talk for him. He’s always got a way of making lyrics that relate to you, but also relate to someone else in a different way. He has that skill – you know what the song is about to you, but it could also be slightly ambiguous. “Invincible Shield” – it’s the invincibility of the metal that we love and the banner that we hold high, but “Invincible Shield” could be your team or your family that you hold dear. It’s obvious what it’s about – this is the metal that we love – but it can apply to people in different ways. I think that’s the beauty about Rob’s lyric writing; that’s the way I internalize it, anyway.

“Panic Attack” is definitely plugged into the zeitgeist of what’s going on right now – the misinformation of the World Wide Web influencing people in manic ways.

It’s a little bit ambiguous, but it’s about the influence of the internet on our lives, in the way that “Electric Eye” back on Screaming For Vengeance was a reference to those electric eyes that watch us and still do. So, again, it contains that sense of ambiguity while making it point in other ways. I don’t know how he does it. How fantastic is that?

You’ve been with the band since 2011. How do you feel you fit in now after all of this time? How do you feel about your contributions and how you work with them after all these years?

That’s a good question. I was fortunate enough to join them. They knew what I could do musically, but we didn’t really know each other as brothers yet. As the years go by, you build more of a personal relationship – more trust. I’ll tell you what, man, the thing that stays the same is whenever you present new ideas for a new record, you put down your strongest ideas, whether it’s a riff or half a song or the start of a song, and you get in that recording studio to put them on and you think – “Now Rob Halford and Glenn Tipton are listening to what I think are strong ideas. What have I done? Why did I put that idea down?” That never changes because it’s like an insecurity – you don’t really know if it’s strong or not. You just think, “I like it. I think it’s strong,” but you don’t really know. That never changes.

When I joined, it was on a tour so it was more of an insular thing. Getting your own house in order – so the right notes, the right performance, playing the songs correctly. Conveying the legacy that was before you in the right way while putting your own stamp on it somehow, if you can. That was what it was about, so I was looking at what I’m doing. The more you’re in Priest, you build trust, you get more memories together, you move along the journey. It becomes more about, “What are we doing? How are we putting on the best show we can? Is there anything we can do to make this a bigger, better performance, a better sound, better production, better experience for the fans?” It becomes more about that; it’s less insular, as you can imagine, and more about what we’re doing while also still trying to play the right notes. That’s always a challenge, but it becomes more about what we’re doing on the larger scale of things.

Is there a favorite track you have on the new album, any track that you’re really fond of?

I love “Panic Attack.” I think that’s a really strong song. I love playing that one.

There’s that part in 7/8 time in the intro and break.

It was something a bit different. It started actually as a guitar lick, and then I transposed it to synths and it sounded great. I’m a child of the eighties, so I love that kind of synthy pop… not that it’s synth-pop, by any means, but that synthesizer sound is something that I hearken back to. Because of the groundwork that Priest has laid before with things like Turbo, it’s appropriate to put down as an idea for a Priest record. There’s the 7/8 [part], a couple of different mid-sections and two guitar solos. It’s pretty relentless and I like that. One of my favorites is actually “Fight Of Your Life,” which is the first track on the bonus disc. It’s just got something about it. It’s got a swagger that I love, so, yeah, there are a couple that I love. They’re all like your children – it’s been said before, but you love them for different reasons.

With the Invincible Shield tour coming up, do you think we’ll have any surprises? For example, my second favorite Priest song ever is “Reckless.” I think it’s a massively underrated track, and I would love to finally hear that live.

A thousand percent! I would love to do it live. We actually tried it in the rehearsals for the 50th anniversary, if I’m not mistaken… and for one reason or another we didn’t include it on the set list. It’s one of my favorites, man, a vastly underrated, killer track. I would love to get that back in the setlist. If I get the opportunity, I’ll keep you in mind, and if we have any suggestions for different tracks, I’ll throw that one in there for you.

Another one is “Heroes End” from Stained Class which Glenn wrote. I love that it talks about three deceased icons but doesn’t name them, yet they seem apparent – Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and James Dean.

Right. We have a similar dynamic in “Giants In The Sky.” It’s a tribute to the legends [of metal]. We don’t name them specifically again, but it is the giants that have passed on and the music will live on forever. It’s an ode to them really.

Tom Allom was the co-producer on Firepower. How involved was he here?

He was involved in some of the tracks – “Giants In The Sky,” “Sons of Thunder,” “Vicious Circle,” [and] “Fight Of Your Life,” I think their [Andy and Tom’s] efforts can’t be overstated. They produce in every sense of the word. Technically, they get the best performances out of us. They make everything sound great. The vibe in the room is always great. I remember [at] five o’clock or six o’clock in the evening, Tom would always say, “Right, boys, it’s wine o’clock.” He’d get a bottle of wine out and we’d all have a glass of wine. There’s a technical ability that a producer has, but it’s also important to retain a great working environment in that way. They are masters at it. Andy Sneap’s been doing it for years. We trust them, which is important. They have a track record with us now, obviously, and Andy has the unique insight that not many producers have of being on stage with the band. He’s intimately connected with the way the band sounds on stage, as well. That’s a unique position. Their importance can’t be overstated.

Sonically, Andy and Tom in different ways are huge fans of the band. Andy grew up with the band as a fan. I think that’s really important to what they bring to Priest because of that. It’s interesting, if we released a record that sounded like Screaming For Vengeance, which is one of the most loved records by Priest, I don’t think it would be received as well. I think we have a love affair with albums like that because of the time they came out, but if you released a record that had that drum sound [today] I don’t think people would accept it, so it’s got to be current. It’s got to be with the times, so to speak, but I think the character of the band is always going to be there – Halford, Tipton, Hill. [Scott] Travis has been there 30 years. You’re going to have the DNA of K.K. Downing and Les Binks and Simon Phillips. It’s all going to be in there still – it’s almost the same band. Hopefully you want to do something a little bit different and what’s current and what we feel like is coming out of us right now, rather than trying to dip back into the past… and you’ll never please everyone either.

The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame induction performance initially seemed awkward for the obvious reason that K.K. Downing hadn’t played with the band since before you joined, but you seemed to enjoy playing alongside him. What was it like to be on stage with him? Have you ever met him before?

I’d never met him before. We had a few back and forths online. That was it, really. I’ve got my own opinion about the Rock Hall and the validity of it. I actually opted to sit out because I wasn’t inducted, but they were adamant that I was part of it to represent Priest in 2022, which I thought was amazing. As a guitar player playing with Glenn and K.K. as part of Priest was, as you can imagine, really exciting. All the personal turmoil that’s gone on before that I wasn’t really a part of. I kind of forgot it all, and we just got on and played the music that we love. He looked great, he sounded great, he played great. He was running around and doing all these shapes. It was fantastic. It was great to be a part of that. Again, I was incredibly honored to have been there.

I don’t think I played any lead. Ken played it and Glenn played it, so I was playing a supportive role in that instance, and playing with [drummer] Les [Binks] as well. It was great just to meet him and play with him. It’s a shame that it is the way it is really, and I’ve said it before, but even if it was that for one night only, I was happy to be a part of that three-pronged guitar attack.

What are the big life lessons you’ve learned out of this whole Priest experience over these last 13 years?

I think from the Redeemer Of Souls sessions, one of the biggest lessons that I took on board and I’m still learning… I came from a cover band background. I can play [Deep] Purple and [Judas] Priest and [Iron] Maiden and Fleetwood Mac. You learn how to play all these different voices on the guitar, but you don’t really have your own. I didn’t really have my own voice. [Then] Glenn told me about when he was young and listening to a Rory Gallagher solo and copying it. He was frustrated because he played the right notes, but it didn’t sound like Rory. Now, me, I would keep going until I sounded like Rory, but Glenn stopped and said the reason it doesn’t sound like Rory is because it sounds like Glenn Tipton. That’s the unique quality that you need to hone in on and make your own. That’s what he did, and that’s why he’s become one of the most recognizable metal guitar players ever.

That pursuit of uniqueness that I’m still striving for is because of people like Glenn – not only in the guitar playing solo wise but in songwriting, how to make your own voice, how to put your own statement down. [There’s] K.K. Downing [and] Glenn Tipton, some of the most recognizable guitar players on the planet. What am I going to say now? I’m coming into Priest at that point – what am I going to say that people can listen to and distinguish as mine? I don’t know if I’ll ever achieve that, but that’s one of the lessons – the value of being different. That’s what I’m still learning.