If any band understands the changes the music industry is undergoing right now, it’s Judas Priest. The metal stalwarts have been around for nearly four decades, and while they’re still going strong, guitarist K.K. Downing worries for new acts.
“It’s tough for new bands to get support,” he says on the phone from a hotel room in Connecticut. “The industry is in the worst possible shape right now — record companies don’t have the resources to nurture up and coming talent.”
It’s even more difficult for heavy metal acts to get their foot in the door, says this rock ’n’ roll legend, as so much has already been done. “If you put Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden together, a lot of metal territory was covered,” he says. “Then throw in Machine Head and Megadeth and Pantera and what else is left?”
Over the last few years Downing’s band has actually managed to create some of their most complex music of their career. The epic 2008 release Nostradamus was well received and their tours continue to draw huge crowds.
But just because they keep producing new tunes doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten their roots. In fact, on their current tour they’re playing their 1980 smash hit British Steel from front to back, in honour of its 30th anniversary.
“We would never have put this set list together in a million years,” says Downing. “We’re playing songs we’d never performed before. But maybe we should have always been doing these tracks. The crowd knows them better than we thought they knew them.”
While Downing, now in his late 50s, feels as if they’re performing these old songs as vigorously as they did in their 20s, he knows that’s not quite true.
“It’s amazing when I look at YouTube and see how we played the songs back then,” he says. “It was pretty damn good then — you have to work hard to make it as good. You think you get better over the years, but when you’re young and really pumped up it’s remarkable what you can pull off.”
As the band commemorates a past chapter in their lives, they’re also closing the door on a more recent one. On July 14th the band will release A Touch Of Evil, a live disc that covers their tours from 2005 to 2008.
It’s their first live release (they have four other ones) since original singer Rob Halford rejoined the band, and mostly features older tracks that have never appeared on their concert discs.
If you missed those shows, you’d better get the new record, because, Downing says, it’s unlikely they’ll play those specific songs again for a long time.
“It marks a point in our career,” says the guitarist. “We probably won’t revisit songs on that live album. It’s the end of that story for the material that’s on there.”
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