"It's a physically demanding performance, the 51-year-old singer describes his on-stage job. It's not like standing there plink plonking some Country and Western song. I mean you're out there flailing and waving with the volume and the sweat, the lights and the power, and the noise and the racket. It's just complete bedlam. Absolute chaos. It's amazing you know."Metal is also renowned for tackling epic themes. On the new album, songs like Fugitive and Heretic refer to recent events in the Middle East, while Trail of Tears is a song about human displacement, embracing everyone from the Native Americans to today's economic migrants.
"These themes are just an extension of the sound," Rob explains. "The sound is big and broad and has tremendous depth and possibilities. It's like a big landscape and so you tend to go out on these epic adventures."This very intensity and epic quality lead many critics to slam metal as pompous and overblown, something that Rob isn't too defensive about.
"It's blown up. It's a cartoon – yeh. But metal audiences just have this wonderful capacity of saying, 'Well, we don't really care as long as it's metal.' It's a very simple philosophy."Halford's music, however, is far from the usual bludgeoning scream-a-thon typical of so much metal. With the help of his new band, including guitarists Mike Chlasciak and Patrick Lachman, Rob has created an album that despite its abundance of metal muscle is as rich in melody as anything you'll find in the pop charts.
This ability to skillfully blend gentle and powerful elements on tracks like the hypnotic Sun or the poignant Trail of Tears attests to Rob's complex character, which is itself connected to the fact that in the chest-thumping, macho world of metal, he is one of the few openly gay singers.
"Being gay doesn't really matter anywhere in the World except in America," he bemoans in the lachrymose English accent typical of his native Birmingham. "That's because America is so conservative and puritanical."This hasn't stopped him settling in the States, where he now comfortably lives in San Diego.
As long as he was a member of Judas Priest, Rob felt pressure to hide his homosexuality, fearing that any admission would hurt the band’s prospects in their premier market.
"I totally protected the band. It was all about the band and not about me."Although still unsure of why he left Judas Priest soon after 1997's Painkiller album, he agrees it might have been this need to protect his band mates. Only after going solo did he feel free enough to admit his homosexuality.
"It was like letting myself out of jail," he recalls. "When you hide it, there's always innuendo. You're giving people ammunition, but once you've been through that, they've got nothing."Rob, meanwhile, has everything – an assured place in metal's hall of fame, a great band, and a classic new album out next month.
International Herald Tribune Asahi Shimbun
1st June, 2002