By Max Dropout
On the eve christening their 1997 Jugulator support tour, anticipation crushed expectation, and it seemed that scores of loyal Priest fans were embracing the new lead singer Ripper Owens with brain-damaged howls, and an uncanny enthusiasm that you’d figure most in their late thirties would have left behind in their teen years with their black denim jackets. The spirit of priest was seemingly alive and well, and even the departure of founding frontman Rob Halford could not douse the passions of their fiery followers. I recall even seeing foot reports, from within the sweaty, beer-soaked mob of metal fury, where commendations of Ripper’s power were sung … but the best endorsement of them all came from one group of rattling skulls, as the drunken, snaggletoothed leader mullet shouted into the glaring lights of the camera with an intonation of confusion, “… And best of all, he ain’t no homo!”
So, after twelve years it seems Halford has found his way back into the fold of his former brethren, after he was unceremoniously ejected for pursuing a solo career, sparking some of the brightest burning bridges ever seen. Prior to Jugulator’s release, the media brawls between the remaining members of Priest and Halford ran so cold that blood froze solid before it ever had the chance to seep from any throats. The verbal slobber-knockers between the two parties were, sadly, more entertaining than any of the records they’d cut together over the last few years.
Remarkably, after leaving Priest, Halford went on to record two albums with the incredibly underrated Fight!, while Priest’s work with Tim “Ripper” Owens at the helm actually stood up against the majority of Priest’s later Halford records as superior, overall. In a sense, the period of bitter discourse not only provided sick amusements, but all parties involved went on to produce some of the best music of their careers… Artistic high points suggesting maybe they were better off without one another.
However, Halford’s return to Priest, despite former allegations of prejudice against the band, leaves me in some measure of shock. Am I the only one who remembers the time Halford called his former band members a bunch of homophobes who forced him to suppressed his homosexuality, so as not to diminish the band’s reputation? Now, this has nagged me for some number of years, actually, so I’m going to take this opportunity to stick up for the boys in Priest.
Who here was shocked when Halford announced he was homosexual? I mean, come on! At one point, I thought the whole band where riding the big D, if you know what I mean! They looked like someone had cloned a supergroup version of the village people, with an all-leather-man lineup! They were flaming, for christ’s sake! I was MORE astonished to learn that the other members WEREN’T gay! There was a period where watching Halford was like being molested. Every move he made was painfully suggestive, screaming, “hey Max, let me pleasure you with the understanding that only another man has.” He was that Bruce Valanche caliber of creepy! Not that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with being gay, or that homosexuals are inherently disgusting. I would wager a fat sum that just about anybody, regardless of sexual preference, would have been disturbed by Halford’s slithering, crotch-lead movements. Suppressed? You’ve got to be kidding me! There’s no closet in Fort Knox even that could contain this man’s radioactive sexuality!
Another issue I have with Halford’s claims is that he didn’t come out of the closet until years AFTER he left Priest. He claimed it was a main motivating factor in his departure, yet he did not openly admit his homosexuality until the release of Two’s debut LP in 1997. It was during this period that Halford levied the accusations of bigotry against his former band mates, while discussing the sexual nature of the material–much of which featured Halford writing romantically about males. He’d been operating on his own accord for close to seven years at that point. Why did he wait so long to come out? Coincidentally, this was also the same year that Ripper debuted with Priest on the Jugulator LP.
If Priest were trying to keep Halford’s hunger for the same sex under wraps then they did a really bad job of it. Further, if Halford’s decision to leave Priest were based on alleged charges of homophobia on the band’s part (which he claims), then he should have announced it the year he left the band. He did nothing to regard the issue until years later, and strangely when he did get around to it, it was tied in with the marketing of the Two LP, and also used subvert the name of Judas Priest(moreso) and the Jugulator release.
The logical conclusion is that Halford drew some competitive parallel between Two’s Voyeurs and Judas Priest’s Jugulator. I can only speculate on his motivations, but clearly Halford’s sexuality was used for sensationalism. If one subscribes to this theory, then the suggestion that Halford’s band mate bigotry fiction was designed to sink Priest’s reputation like a PC-torpedo isn’t too far fetched. This would either prevent Jugulator from overshadowing Voyeur, or was done out of spite. Priest denied Halford’s claims, offering some sound logic in their defense, some of which I’ve reiterated here. Let’s face it. Halford is the Ellen Defenerous of metal.
Halford’s actions should have been unforgivable, but unfortunately they were not. Being that I enjoyed Ripper Owens’ work with Priest, I am very disappointed to see the better performer replaced with mere name recognition and reunion appeal. I have no desire to see a return to self-parody that Spinal Tap drew from. Pending the release of the new Judas Priest LP, I’d recommend anyone who digs metal or thinks that Priest were even remotely cool in a kitschy way to pick up the first Fight! LP, in addition Jugulator. It may greatly alter your opinion of the potential of every artist involved, and should also set high expectations for whatever lays ahead.