"I was like, 'This stuff is Undertaker music!'" WWE World Heavyweight Champion Damian Priest on the many ways that heavy metal changed his life

Damian Priest celebrating his World Heavyweight Championship win
(Image credit: WWE)

Earlier this month, WWE superstar Damian Priest made headlines by cashing in his Money In The Bank contract to win the World Heavyweight Championship in a memorable moment at night two of Wrestlemania. A lifelong metalhead, Priest has made no secret of the impact heavy music has had on his life and career, so when the champ was in town for WWE's show at the London O2 on Friday night (April 19), we sat down with the man himself to talk about some of his favourite bands, singing his own theme tune and why metal and wrestling will always be comfortable bedfellows.

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You've said that heavy metal had a huge impact on your life. In what way?

"Music in general, it moulds your character. How you dress, how you talk, your vibe. For me, heavy metal is everything I like, because I've always been into the weird, the odd, things that aren't normal. I love that vibe. I've always loved that idea of being different, and [metal] just made me feel alive."

What was your first exposure to metal?

"I grew up in an area that was 100% hip hop [The Bronx, New York], and then moving to a different town and making new friends, my buddy would always play Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, very thrash metal, but also Swedish influences like In Flames and Soilwork. And I just remember him playing Children Of Bodom, and I was like, 'OK, some of this stuff is like Undertaker music!' As a wrestler I was like, 'Yeah, play Undertaker-style music! Play that stuff that makes me feel something!' But I would say that Metallica and Ozzy were my first [bands] where I was like, 'Oh, I love this.' That's what really got me hooked on heavy metal."

What was it about Metallica and Ozzy that hit you a bit more deeply?

"The sound! It was just more powerful to me. And the lyrics in their songs just really resonated with me and how I felt, my attitude. I just felt the power run through me: the music, the guitar chords, all of it."

Did you get the chance to go to any metal shows when you were younger? What was your first?

"My first concert that my buddies took me to was In Flames and Opeth. It was wild. I'd never seen a mosh pit. Did I go straight in? Yeah, I got in there! I was like, 'Yeah, I can beat everybody up!' Haha! I have a horrible memory, but that one lives with me and was one of the coolest things I'd ever experienced. L'Amour in Brooklyn, at the time, was a big heavy metal place."

I've seen footage of you screaming into a mic. Have you ever sung or played in your own band?

"I love the rock star vibe - that's what Damian Priest is - but I used to guest sing a lot. I would just jump on stage and cover some songs, mainly Pantera or Metallica. Most recently, I was at Kid Rock's bar in Nashville and the band asked me if I wanted to sing a song. I was like, 'Sure!', they were like, 'What do you want?' and I said, 'Give me a Metallica song.' Can I remember which song it was? Enter Sandman. So it's simple, every band knows how to play it, you know how to sing it and get the crowd into it, so that was cool. And then just recently I did the vocals for my own theme song, which is pretty neat."

What was that like?

"That was cool. That was a different experience, going into a studio and recording, having the guys kinda coach me. I was outta my element, obviously, I'd never recorded anything like this, but everybody treated me good there."

Metal and wrestling, it's always felt like there's a connection there. Both are 'niche' but both can fill stadiums. Do you feel there's a duality there?

"Ah, absolutely. I feel like they go hand-in-hand. I mean, you see a wrestling show, you see a sea of black t-shirts, you go to a metal show, you see a sea of black t-shirts, you know? It's one of those things that's the same kind of character or personality. It's something that, to your point, wrestling and metal aren't normal. It's not the norm. Our fanbases are so passionate. I'm a fan of sports and movies and all types of stuff, but when it comes to both those industries, the passion for a fan to be so immersed in it, I think is a special feeling, and you can't compare it to anything else"

Do you have a dream band that could play you to the ring at Wrestlemania? 

"The mighty Metallica! You know what I mean? Can you imagine Metallica playing me to the ring? It'd be wild!"

It feels weird that they've never played Wrestlemania! 

"Yeah. Hey, maybe I've gotta talk to the boss man and be like, 'Hey? What's up with Metallica?' That'd be a whole different dream scenario. I don't even know if I'm ready for that."

What are you listening to at the moment?

"I try to mix it up. Rhea [Ripley] has got me more into Motionless In White and Ice Nine Kills, bands that I heard of but just didn't listen to, but now they're on every playlist I have, which is kinda cool. I like Soilwork's new stuff a lot - a lot, actually - it's on repeat at this point. I'm a big fan of Trivium. I've mentioned In Flames; they went through a phase where they were trying to find their new sound, and man do they got it now. That melodic death, but they figured out a way to do it. It's fire."

Do you get to go to many shows these days or is it a case of just seeing who's in town when you're in a certain territory on the road?

"That's usually how it goes. That's happened to me with Killswitch; I got to see them, I hit up Mike [D'Antonio, Killswitch bassist] and I'm like, 'Hey man, I'm in town!' and he's like, 'Yeah, come to the show!' It's pretty cool, they take care of me."

Still hitting the mosh pits?

"That one I can't do! I can't get in there, smack [into] somebody and then it's on video, like, 'This guy's bullying people!' Not a great look. But still, very much one of my favourite things is live music, as much as I can. Even if it's at a restaurant or a random bar, just a band playing, covering songs, it's always the coolest thing to me. To this day, I can't get over how cool it is."

WWE Backlash: France airs Saturday 4th May on WWE Network and TNT Sports Box Office in the UK and on Peacock in the US.

Tickets for WWE SmackDown & Clash at the Castle: Scotland at the OVO Hydro in Glasgow on Friday June 14 and Saturday June 15 are available next Friday from Ticketmaster.co.uk.


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Merlin Alderslade
Executive Editor, Louder

Merlin moved into his role as Executive Editor of Louder in early 2022, following over ten years working at Metal Hammer. While there, he served as Online Editor and Deputy Editor, before being promoted to Editor in 2016. Before joining Metal Hammer, Merlin worked as Associate Editor at Terrorizer Magazine and has previously written for the likes of Classic Rock, Rock Sound, eFestivals and others. Across his career he has interviewed legends including Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Metallica, Iron Maiden (including getting a trip on Ed Force One courtesy of Bruce Dickinson), Guns N' Roses, KISS, Slipknot, System Of A Down and Meat Loaf. He has also presented and produced the Metal Hammer Podcast, presented the Metal Hammer Radio Show and is probably responsible for 90% of all nu metal-related content making it onto the site.