The French apothecary Michel de Nostredame made a number of predictions and prophecies under the name Nostradamus during the 16th century. But a heavy metal concept album about his life and times some 450 years later probably wasn’t one of them.
But that’s just what British stalwarts Judas Priest have done with “Nostradamus,” a sprawling two-CD epic that represents the group’s second album since frontman Rob Halford rejoined the band in 2003 after a 12-year split. “It’s a very ambitious thing to do,” Halford, 56, says of the project. “We put in an enormous amount of time and effort, and the general outcome was one that we were very, very proud of.
“And the feedback is phenomenal. The fans are eager to experience what we’ve created.”
Credit for the “Nostradamus” idea
actually goes to Priest manager Bill Curbishley, who pitched the idea to a quintet during a lunch in Russia toward
the end of the band’s globe-trotting trek supporting its 2006 album “Angel of Retribution.”
The men of Priest were all ears — although they hardly expected to be regaled with the prospect of chronicling the life of the man whose legacy includes oft-cited prophecies about apocalypse and Armageddon. And while there was an acknowledged whiff of Spinal Tap over-extension about the project, Halford and his mates instantly embraced it.
“There was just an immediate type of, ‘Wow! This is great!,’ just like a total buzz in the room,” recalls the singer. “It was most unexpected, this idea, but within minutes it all fell into place.
“It’s just a wonderful subject matter. It really correlates to so many things people love about Judas Priest and the characters we created and the various stars of metal that we’ve made, whether it’s the Painkiller or the Sinner or the Sentinel. It all fit really quickly in the mind, so to speak. “Then,” he adds with a laugh, “all we had to do was write it.” Fortunately, Priest’s writing team — Halford and guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing — was up to the task, especially with such rich material “His life was very interesting,” says Tipton, 60, who like his mates engaged in some intensive research on the Internet and in books. “He allegedly foresaw the (Black) Plague; his wife and daughters died in it. Then he made his prophecies, which were frowned upon by the church, so they sort of kicked him out of France. Then he found love again and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse visited him ...
“We just felt his life story was interesting enough to build an album around.”
In fact, Halford says, the writing trio felt like they were dealing with “a kind of heavy metal star” in Nostradamus — finding parallels, perhaps, in their own kind of witch hunt, the 1990 trial where Priest was accused of causing two fans’ suicide attempt by inserting subliminal messages in one of their songs.
“It’s a wonderful story, really,” Halford notes, “full of a lot of the elements of metal — the things we bump up against and the pushback that we receive. You try and imagine what he saw in his own mind and the way he dealt with the obstacles he had to confront — the things that happened in his family, for example, and the way people kind of rallied against him, like the Frankenstein’s monster and the villagers chasing him, that kind of thing.
“I think there’s a common ground there through this man’s experience.”
“Nostradamus” also pushed Priest’s musical boundaries, with Halford singing more in his lower register and the band engaging in more complex and experimental song arrangements, even incorporation orchestrations into the mix.
“The whole thing is a little bit different to a Judas Priest album in many sense,” Tipton notes, “but it many ways I think it’s very, very much Judas Priest. It’s a strange animal — certainly the most complex thing we’ve done.”
Priest has incorporated a couple of songs from “Nostradamus,” which came out in June, into its show, and Halford reports they’re “going down a storm” with fans. A full-scale “Nostradamus” concert presentation is on tap for later this year or early next, and Halford says there’s been discussions of a film adaptation and other endeavors.
“We have a number of possibilities here,” he says. “We have a bizarre idea of wanting Johnny Depp to play the role of Nostradamus, set in modern times. If we got that together with Tim Burton, it would be absolutely sensational ...
“So who knows — maybe Cirque du Soleil, ‘Nostradamus in Vegas?’ (London’s) West End? Broadway? Full animation? Anything is possible. Priest has always been about pushing that edge of the real maximum experience of the visuals. This is just another step up.”
The Metal Masters Tour with Judas Priest, Heaven & Hell, Mötorhead, Testament and Seduce, plays at 4:30 p.m. Monday (Aug. 18) at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $85 and $60 pavilion, $24 lawn with a $75 lawn four-pack. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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