"We get to see a lot of the bullet train," Priest guitarist, producer, and main songwriter, Glenn Tipton jokes.
The band have been coming to Japan regularly since the 70s, when they recorded their legendary live album Unleashed in the East at Tokyo's Budokan, and clearly feel at home here.
"The Japanese kids are real loyal supporters and they've been with us from the start," Tipton enthuses, oblivious to the fact that such long-term loyalty would make the 'kids' almost as old as he is.
How does a man of 53 maintain the intense energy, aggression, and stamina needed to be in a hard-touring metal band?
"We just love what we do and as long as you enjoy it, it gives you the enthusiasm. That's what drives us on."
Adding yet more zing to a revamped Priest is new vocalist, 34-year-old Tim Ripper Owens, now ably filling the gap left by the departure of original singer Rob Halford. While showing respect for Rob's past contribution, Tipton is more interested in talking about the younger man, who served an apprenticeship imitating the legendary scream of his predecessor in a Priest tribute band.
Owens' recruitment in 1996 has recently come under the spotlight with the recent release of the movie Rock Star. How much of the story portrayed in that film by actor Mark Wahlberg is the Ripper's tale?
"Very little actually. The only factor that's true is a guy from a tribute band joining the real thing. After that they've just gone off on a Hollywood trail. They did ask us to write some music for it, but we thought that if we got too involved with the film people might mistakenly think it was the story of Ripper Owens."
Priest's twin guitar thrust and howling, growling vocals have seldom sounded fresher than they do on Demolition, their latest album. But just how relevant is a form of music that found its roots and initial support in Britain's now fast-disappearing industrial working class?
"I used to work for British Steel for years," Tipton recalls. "It was a good thing. It gave me the determination to break out, and we were definitely influenced by the industrial Black Country skyline. But for the kids, I just think heavy metal's got a wide appeal. In every walk of life, there's someone who likes it."
Despite a devoted hardcore following, metal continues to suffer from a negative image. Priest have been accused of everything from sexism to Satanism in their time. Indeed, one of the best songs on the new album is titled Hell is Home.
"I think our fans are far more intelligent than people give them credit for. If you actually read the lyrics, it's not about Hell at all. It's about finding your level in life. If you aim too high then you’re not going to be successful at that particular level."
Despite the inherent excesses of heavy metal, Priest are a band with both feet firmly planted on the ground.
International Herald Tribune Asahi Shimbun
8th December, 2001