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Anniversaries prove Judas Priest's heavy mettle

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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If you think Judas Priest has lost anything in the 40 years since the iconic British heavy metal group released its first album, let's just say you've got another thing coming.

The quintet, formed 45 years ago in Birmingham, England, is making a case that it's as potent and virile now as it's ever been. During July Priest released its 17th studio album, "Redeemer of Souls," whose No. 6 bow on the Billboard 200 is its highest chart debut ever in the U.S. The band's in the midst of a North American tour with more dates expected for 2015, and frontman Rob Halford is pleased to say he and his mates are hardly behaving like a group that's well into its fifth decade.

"It's a blessing, an absolute blessing," says Halford, 63, who's established a leather and steel-studded look and Metal God title as trademarks -- literally in the case of the latter. "It's remarkable, isn't it? What's really heart warming about this is the fact that the so-called old guard of metal and rock are still as strong and thriving as we ever were. I have very close friends like (Black) Sabbath, who released a fantastic metal album (2013's '13')and went out on this huge world tour; they've been together longer than we have. Then you get (Iron) Maiden, then bands like Metallica, doing that type of process.

"All the bands that have been making this music for a very long time are still as strong and relevant as they ever were, so we're part of some very good company."

Drummer Scott Travis, who was a Priest fan before joining the group in late 1989, says the key is attitude, particulary for Halford, longtime guitarist Glenn Tipton and bassist Ian Hill, Priest's sole remaining founding member.

"The guys all stay youthful at heart," explains Travis, 53. "We never want to grow up, so we all think we're making heavy metal records like 22-year-old guys. That's the key to playing and creating heavy metal; you still have to think like a young heavy metal fan, and it's what we love to do."

That is, in fact, what brought Priest back from some dire circumstances during the past few years. The group -- which has sold more than 45 million albums and was ranked second Greatest Metal Band of all time by MTV -- was rocked by the sudden and acrimonious departure of co-founding guitarist K.K. Downing in 2011. Tipton, 66, acknowledges that he "didn't think that we'd carry on. We'd always aid if a key member leaves, that would probably be it, and I think we sort of halfheartedly decided to look for another guitar player, not thinking we'd find the right guy."

But the right replacement did turn up for Priest -- which had also survived Halford's absence from the band between 1992-2003. Like Travis, Richie Faulkner, 34, was Priest fan before joining the band. He established his metal mettle during the group's 2011 Epitaph World Tour, and despite some apprehensions he quickly became a comfortable part of the songwriting team with Halford and Tipton.

"Richie's contribution can't be overstated," Halford affirms. "It really wasn't that different; two guitar players and a singer as a writing team, so the format was very, very much the same as it's always been. But (Faulkner) brought another level of intensity and energy to the band that was very fresh and very welcome."

And that, Halford adds, fired up his own enthusiasm. "In the studio I kept chanting 'Heavy metal! Heavy metal! Heavy metal!' like a mantra," the singer explains. "And heavy metal to me has always been about the riffs, the melodies, the hooks and the intensity. I kept saying 'Energy! Energy! Energy! Let's try and keep the energy up as much as we can through this recording.' As a result of that, it's pretty relentless."

Priest's members plan to maintain that attitude moving forward towards a -- they hesitate to say it -- 50th anniversary. The group has dialed by its once relentless touring schedule, but Halford says that doesn't mean Priest is any less devoted to its craft.

"I think there's a sense that there's another great metal song to write, another great metal album to put together, another great tour torch out on," he notes. "It's the hunger; I think if you've still got that, that serves a series of purposes and reasons why you still do it.

"Maybe we're chasing the elusive finale, but right now I just feel like it's amazing to think what might come next from Priest."

Judas Priest and Steel Panther

8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 19

Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit

Tickets are $29.50-$75

Call 313-471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com

Web Site: www.olympiaentertainment.com

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