Judas Priest Heavy Metal Band Attracts A Loyal And Powerful Following

December 07, 1990|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Judas Priest When: Sunday, Dec. 9, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Capital Centre

Tickets: $19.50

Call: 481-6000 for tickets, 792-7490 for information. Rob Halford is a believer.

He believes in his band, Judas Priest, the English heavy-metal outfit he has fronted for almost 20 years (and which he'll bring to the Capital Centre Sunday). He believes in his fans, whose high-decibel, fist-pumping enthusiasm has helped Judas Priest become one of the genre's most enduring acts.

Above all, he believes in heavy metal, a style of music he feels is unjustly maligned. Heavy metal is a favorite scapegoat of parents, police and other authority figures; in recent years, the music has been blamed for everything from poor grades to demonic possession.

But Halford knows this is silly, because he knows the truth: Heavy metal is good for you.

"I've always felt that it's a very productive experience to go through and be involved in," he explains over the phone from Los Angeles. How so? Because at a heavy-metal concert, "You're surrounded by people who feel the same way that you feel, who have the same dreams and aspirations in life that you have, the same problems that you have."

Consequently, metal heads -- Judas Priest fans in particular -- comprise one of the most avid audiences in popular music. In addition to being incredibly loyal, these fans are what marketing experts describe as an active audience, eager to show support by phoning in requests, buying patches and posters, and turning out in force at area concerts.

This translates into tremendous economic clout for metal fans, something which hasn't exactly gone unnoticed by the establishment. "Money is power," notes Halford, "and money through power can be used in politics.

"I think that's why a lot of political groups became concerned over how much popularity and how much power was being generated by the acceptance of this kind of music [by] literally millions upon millions of adolescent Americans. And so through the '80s, the backlash was beginning to be created."

For Judas Priest, that backlash came to a head in 1988, when a lawsuit was filed in Reno, Nev. Alleging that subliminal messages had been implanted in the band's "Stained Class" album, the suit contended that Judas Priest's music had caused the suicide of teen-ager Ray Belknap.

After two years of legal maneuvering, Judas Priest was finally exonerated in August, when Judge Jerry Carr Whitehead ruled that the band had not "intentionally placed subliminal messages on the album." It wasn't total victory -- because Judge Whitehead didn't entirely dismiss the notion that subliminal messages could spark suicide, it's possible the group may be sued again. But then, Halford never believed that hidden messages were the issue.

"At the end of the day, we considered that simply an attack on our artistic expression," he says. "It was nothing to do with real belief in subliminals. . . . We really feel that it was a completely different issue.

"I suppose some of the more radical bands -- Metallica and Megadeth and Slayer and Anthrax -- might be considered more of a threat by these groups. It's very true that a group like Slayer would be the Sex Pistols of the '90s in that respect," he says. "The thing is, a lot of young people will automatically run to anything that offends a conservative elder group of people. It's natural human instinct for it to be that way."

Halford insists it's not just a matter of image. The core of heavy metal's appeal, he says, is its sound.

"There's nothing more exciting and more powerful than guitars, drums, vocals and bass working together in a heavy metal way," he says. "That's why when a young guy puts a metal album on and stands in front of the mirror, he holds something in his hand resembling a microphone, or he starts playing air guitar. That whole business, I think, is still the music's most attractive quality."

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