"You look at all these people who are giving you the horns, from Eminem to Lionel Ritchie, and you think: Is this really happening?": Judas Priest on awards shows, Invincible Shield and the beauty of cats

Richie Faulkner and Rob Halford onstage, and a studio portrait of Rob Halford
(Image credit: Live shot: Gary Miller via Getty Images | Ron Halford: Travis Shinn Photography)

A few days ago, Rob Halford was lying in bed when he had an idea. 

“It was four o’clock in the morning and I couldn’t sleep because of my insomnia,” he says. “I thought: ‘Maybe I should tell people that I’m going to start an OnlyFans.’ I’d borrow a cat and hold it against my nether regions: ‘You thought you were going to get cock but you got pussy.’” 

He lets out a cackle that’s more Carry On film than budding internet porn baron. 

It’s mid-afternoon on a Friday in Phoenix, Arizona, the place Halford has called home for the past 38 years, and the Judas Priest singer is in an ebullient mood. As he should be: his band are about to release their nineteenth album, Invincible Shield, a slice of razor-sharp heavy metal that cuts like a bandsaw and keeps up the late-career hot streak that began with 2014’s Redeemer Of Souls and continued with the armour-piercing barrage of 2018’s Firepower

We’ll get to Invincible Shield shortly, but first back to cats. It’s no coincidence that Halford brought felines into his 4am waking dream of starting an OnlyFans page. His Instagram feed is roughly 65 per cent cat-related: photos of cats doing stupid shit, videos of random cats doing stupid shit, photos of the singer in an assortment of comedy cat-related T-shirts. 

“Cats are beautiful,” he says. “They look so cute and cuddly, yet they’re so incredibly fierce and independent: ‘I’ve just took a shit, clean this up.’” He doesn’t own any at the moment, much as he’d love to. “I got so engrossed with my previous cat that I never wanted to leave the house without him,” he says. “You can’t take a cat on the tour bus. They’d just wreak havoc.” 

The other 35 per cent of his Instagram is a splurge of joy, whether it’s the numerous photos of Halford posing next to the cactus in his back garden that looks like it’s throwing the horns, or saucy images of the singer “standing there like an idiot in my heavy metal bondage gear.” What unites it all is a sense of joyousness. In a dark world, Rob Halford’s Instagram is a small beacon of light. 

The same can be said of Invincible Shield. For all its steely, state-of-the-art sound and none-more-Priest song titles – Panic Attack, The Serpent And The King, Gates Of Hell, Sons Of Thunder – it’s fuelled by a sense of positivity that flies in the face of prevailing 2024 trends. ‘Invincible, our masses are united,’ Halford sings on the title track. ‘Invincible, can never be divided and nothing can stand in our way.’ 

“I’ve always been a proponent of walking towards the light,” he says. “Another Thing Coming, The Sentinel, Painkiller, all these characters that we create come out on top. I think everybody’s got an invincible shield. When you bang up against something, whether it’s a personal issue or a financial issue or a health issue, you have this personal power you can release.”


Six years between albums is a long time. Admittedly the gap between Invincible Shield and Firepower isn’t quite as long as that which separated 1990’s Painkiller and 1997’s Jugulator, but they did have Halford’s departure to contend with back then. 

Richie Faulkner is aware that people might wonder why bands take so long to make albums these days. When Priest started work on the follow-up to Firepower in early 2020, the guitarist assumed it would be out in 2022 at the latest. 

“Then we had the pandemic,” he says. “Then there are the tour dates that got knocked back. You do think: ‘Will this thing ever get finished?’ But there should be a challenge. It’s like the shark in Jaws: when it didn’t work, they found ways to get around it, and it made for a better movie.” 

Faulkner is at home at his house in Nashville, where he’s lived for the past few years. The Londoner has been a member of Priest since 2011, when he replaced original guitarist KK Downing. “I’ll always be the new boy,” he says self-effacingly. 

That may be true chronologically, but Faulkner’s time in the band has coincided with a purple patch that shows no sign of ending. Invincible Shield is their third genuinely great album in a row, a feat few bands of their vintage can pull off. 

“The challenge each time is to do something that’s better,” says the guitarist. “Better sounding, better performed, better produced.” 

It’s the kind of thing every musician says about their new record, but in this case it’s true. Invincible Shield does push Priest forward. It’s never going to have the same impact as the albums they released in the late 70s and early 80s, but that’s a matter of timing rather than quality. It’s certainly the equal of 1990’s Painkiller, a record that reset the band’s career after a late-80s wobble.

As with all Priest albums, there’s more going on than appears at first glance. The band remain the ultimate heavy metal ambassadors, embodying the genre’s utter sincerity and its ability to wink at itself at the same time. But Halford’s lyrics run deeper than his ability to come up with a thousand different descriptions for ‘metal’ (interesting fact: he’s been using the same thesaurus since the days of Sin After Sin). The album’s opening track and first single, Panic Attack, is a screaming dive-bomb of an anthem, but it was inspired by what Halford sees as the darker, more pernicious influence of the internet. 

“The internet is brilliant, but it has created some terrible things,” he says. “The way that language is used online to be destructive and corruptive and conspiracy-laden, the whole bullying thing, it’s horrible.” 

He’s in full-on reflective mode on Crown Of Horns, a slow-burning not-quite-ballad about bearing your own pain. ‘I learned the hard way that what you dreamed for comes from the pain you hold inside,’ he sings.

“I was thinking about Ukraine, about standing up for yourself in the face of something horrible,” he says. “And it made me think about what’s going on with those poor souls, and the Russians who have been dragged into it. But the lyric ‘A call out to the world tonight, raise your horns up high’, that’s about collective unity. That’s the metal community as well. We’re all in it together. We’re all in it to win it.” 

He says he was worried about being too self-reflective this time around. “I said to the guys: ‘Am I being too ‘me, me, me’? And they said: ‘No, we all feel that way.’ I think everyone can relate to that feeling, just being on this personal journey that’s your own.”

The closing track on Invincible Shield is titled Giants In The Sky. It’s a triumphant hymn to the music Rob Halford has listened to and loved over the years, and the men and women who made it. 

“Listening to music makes me think about all these beautiful people we’ve lost in rock’n’roll, from Janis Joplin to Ronnie Dio to Lemmy,” he says, “but also about the fact that music lives for ever.” 

Halford’s Instagram page features a lot of photos of the musicians he’s known over the years, many of them no longer with us, and Ronnie Dio and Lemmy both feature heavily. 

“Ronnie was an extraordinary man,” he says, “he was very friendly, very affable, he liked to laugh, he didn’t put anyone down. But he was very serious about his music. When we did the Hear N’ Aid thing [the all-star heavy metal charity single released in 1985], all those people in that room looked up to Ronnie. Whatever he suggested, everybody listened.” 

“And I have fond memories of sitting on Lemmy’s lap after he’d just come off stage, with his hair in a white towel turban. I’m giving him a hug, and he’s sweating all over the place. But I always felt a little bit intimidated in Ronnie’s presence and in Lemmy’s presence. Just because of the strength of their personality and their character. I felt I was a step back from them. They were giants, I was just an admirer.” 

A lot of people would take issue with that, the organisers of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame among them. In 2022, Priest were inducted into the Hall Of Fame, a mere 23 years after they first became eligible. When Classic Rock spoke to Halford in 2021, he insisted that he didn’t care about being in the Hall Of Fame. “It doesn’t make any difference,” he said at the time. 

“Yeah, I was probably fibbing,” he admits now. “Because on the night it was magic. Ken [ex-guitarist KK Downing] was there, Les [Binks, former drummer] was there. You look at all these people who are giving you the horns, from Eminem to Lionel Ritchie, and you think: ‘Is this really happening?’ And what you don’t expect is Pink coming up to you and giving you a hug and saying: ‘I used to write your name on my school books.’ Or Sheryl Crow going: ‘I’ve loved your voice ever since Living After Midnight.’ That’s the loveliness of it all.” 

He says he thought about it a lot in the run up to the HOF ceremony in November 2022, and he’s thought about it a lot since. “Take away the institutionalisation of it all, and you’re left with a bunch of musicians who have all been on the same journey. It doesn’t matter if you’re Lionel Ritchie or Dolly Parton or Judas Priest, there’s the connection. It’s like winning a Grammy: ‘I don’t want a fucking Grammy.’ Well, yes you do. It’s an affirmation of all the hard slog that you’ve done. It’s this beautiful moment where they’re going: ‘Well done, mate. Have a gong.’”

In October 2023, Priest played the inaugural Power Trip festival in California as a replacement for Ozzy Osbourne, who had to pull out due to ongoing health issues. Amusingly, during Priest’s set, Metallica’s James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett were spotted in the pit, air-guitaring along to Priest’s 1980 proto-thrash classic Rapid Fire. “You could see them down there,” Faulkner says now. “It’s like: ‘Oh shit, we’d better be on our game.’” 

Priest’s set was memorable for more than just the sight of celebrities fanboying out in the front row. During the encore, the band were joined for three songs by guitarist Glenn Tipton. It wasn’t the first time Tipton had joined his bandmates on stage since announcing in 2018 that he was stepping back from touring after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but it was certainly the most high-profile appearance. 

“It was very, very difficult for me when we went out for the first time without Glenn,” says Halford. “God bless [replacement live guitarist/Priest producer] Andy Sneap, he’s done a brilliant job and no disrespect to him, but I do miss Glenn terribly when we play live. So when he does come out to have a bang, it’s like: ‘My God!’ It feels so great.” 

Tipton’s condition may have taken him off the road, but both Halford and Faulkner say he was as involved as ever in the making of Invincible Shield. “It’s absolutely vital that Glenn is part of the songwriting team,” says Faulkner. “Rob, Glenn and me, we go into a room with ideas and throw them around. Whatever challenge Glenn has got, that’s what he deals with. If he could play, he would play. If he couldn’t, then I’d take it on. We helped each other out like that. 

“Glenn’s like an older brother,” he continues. “When I joined he took me under his wing as the other guitar player. When we were on the road we’d go out together. So when he pulled back from touring, I did feel like my brother wasn’t there. But I know what it’s like to have something threaten your future career or your ability to play guitar.” 

Halford and Faulkner have each had their own serious medical issues in recent years. In 2020, Halford was diagnosed with prostate cancer. After having his prostate removed and undergoing two months of radiation treatment, he was given the all-clear. 

“It’s one thing living one day at a time with sobriety, when you’re thinking about having a nice cold beer – well, a warm beer in America,” he says. “But when I had the cancer news it really shook me up. I went into self-pitying mode. But then I saw these little kids with cancer on the telly, with tubes sticking out of them. I thought: ‘You’re seventy-something, they’re just little kids.’ It puts it into perspective.” 

Faulkner’s issue was arguably even more severe. In September 2021 he underwent emergency heart surgery after suffering an acute aortic aneurysm during Priest’s set at the Louder Than Life festival. If he hadn’t been immediately rushed to a nearby hospital, it’s unlikely he’d be here today to talk about it. 

“Something like that makes you realise we’re not here for ever,” he says now. “Obviously, we know that no one gets out of this alive, but it brings it home to you that you don’t know what’s around the corner. So I always think that if you’ve got something you want to accomplish, you’ve got to do it.” 

Those experiences, and their respective recoveries, tie into the concept of the Invincible Shield. “It’s a very British thing: just get on with it, take one step at a time, one step forward,” says Halford.“Everything passes, one way or another.”

Everything passes, for sure. But that day is still a while off for Judas Priest, if Invincible Shield is anything to go by. The world tour in support of the album began last month in Glasgow, with fellow lifers Saxon and Uriah Heep in support. Faulkner teases that some deeper cuts might be dropped into the setlist, among them Fever (from 1982’s Screaming For Vengeance), Reckless (from 1986’s Turbo) and Saints In Hell (from 1978’s Stained Class). 

“Not straight away,” he says. “Maybe as the tour progresses. Let’s see.” 

Beyond that? Faulkner jokingly says he’d “love to try and make five albums in five years”. Halford is sure that there will be a follow-up at some point. 

“This is the nineteenth studio album,” says the singer. “I don’t like odd numbers. Even if I’m turning the volume up on the telly, it can’t be 13 – it has to be 12 or 14. Even numbers are balance and harmony.” 

Does that mean we can expect a new Priest album sometime in the next six years? 

“We’re already thinking about what we’re going to do next,” says Halford. “That’s the joy of music, it never stops.” 

That’s Judas Priest in a nutshell. Unbreakable. Unyielding. Invincible. 

Invincible Shield is available now via Columbia Records.

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.