By MIKE CHAIKEN
When Judas Priest hit the studio for its latest album, “Firepower,” the metal merchants brought in an old friend to help mine their classic sound and brought in a new friend to help keep them at the forefront of heavy music.
For the new album, Tom Allom sat behind the boards for some of the tracks. Allom was the producer behind Judas Priest’s most iconic albums—“British Steel,” “Screaming for Vengeance,” “Defenders of the Faith,” and a slew of others.
Also producing on “Firepower” was Grammy Award-winning producer Andy Sneap, who has worked with some of the heavy heavy bands of the metal spectrum, including Arch Enemy, Testament, Accept, and Overkill.
Guitarist Richie Faulkner essentially is the new kid on the block for Judas Priest (which is also singer Rob Halford, bassist Ian Hill, drummer Scott Travis, and for this album original guitarist Glen Tipton). Faulkner joined the band in time for “Redeemer of Souls,” replacing original guitarist K.K. Downing.
When Tom Allom was producing Judas Priest in the 1980s, Faulkner was admiring the band from afar as a fan. So for Faulkner, who was calling from south Florida, it was a privilege getting a chance to work to finally work with the man who helped shape Judas Priest as it hit its commercial and creative stride.
“Tom has a history with the band,” said Faulkner, noting Allom first worked with the band as an engineer on their live album, “Unleashed in the East” in 1979. Allom’s run with the Priest ended with 1988’s “Ram It Down.”
“He had a great career (with Judas Priest),” said Faulkner. Given that long relationship, said Faulkner, there is a good deal of trust in the studio.
As someone who had never worked with Allom before, Faulkner said he learned a lot.
One of the lessons Faulkner learned was the importance of a band playing together in the studio rather than recording the parts separately.
For “Firepower,” the band rehearsed the songs together in the studio. They refined the songs together in the studio. Then they recorded the songs together.
It was a process Priest had moved away from in recent years.
Faulkner said the band had not recorded as one unit in the studio since the “Painkiller” album.
Technology these days allows bands to not only record their parts separately in the same studio but record their parts from different parts of the world, said Faulkner. It’s convenient but not always productive.
By recording in the same studio this time, Faulkner said Judas Priest was able to construct a community spirit behind the tracks that became “Firepower,” said Faulkner.
“It was definitely an education for me,” said Faulkner.
Sneap was brought in to help produce, said Faulkner, because Judas Priest felt it was important to be contemporary as it tried to remain true to itself.
Just like “Screaming for Vengeance” reflected the best of metal in 1982, Faulkner said, the band wanted “Firepower” to reflect the best in metal in 2018.
Listening to “Firepower,” there are huge dollops of renewed energy in the band’s playing.
Faulkner said there are so many facets to the recording process of “Firepower” that led to that sensation of more “firepower” from Priest.
One of those facets was the quality of songwriting this go-around, said Faulkner. As he, Halford, and Tipton began culling new songs for the album they could feel that something special was building. The excitement for the magic in the songwriting also inspired other dimensions of the recording, including the playing of Hill and Travise.
“When you play with them, it raises the bar and it pushes you,” said Faulkner.
Prior to the tour, Priest fans heard the sad news that Glenn Tipton was going to step away from live shows. He is suffering from Parkinson’s disease and felt he couldn’t go on playing in a live setting.
Although Tipton won’t be on stage, said Faulkner, he still is “very much a part of Priest.”
“We made that clear,” said Faulkner.
It wasn’t an easy decision for Tipton to make, said Faulkner. He fought as long as he could before he felt he just couldn’t give it his all.
Although he won’t be playing live, Faulkner said Tipton still is part of the creative team behind Priest. And he contributed guitar to the album as well as his songwriting.
“He has an unusual way of writing melodies and guitar parts,” said Faulkner. “That’s part of the Priest character.”
For the tour, Faulkner said the band did not have to look too far to find someone to step into Tipton’s shoes.
Producer Andy Sheap, who is a guitarist in his own right, will fill the guitar slot for the band.
“He was aware of Glenn’s situation during the recording,” said Faulkner. And Sheap’s familiarity with the band “put him the running as the best man for the job.”
Although Sheap will be playing with Priest in the slot vacated by Tipton, Faulkner said Sheap does not see himself as Tipton’s replacement. And that was another plus in Sheap’s favor to join the band for the tour. “He’s flying the flag for Glenn,” said Faulkner. “He’s here to help out.”
When Judas Priest comes to Connecticut on March 22, fans should expect the band to up the stage show ante compared to its last tour.
“We’re dedicated to put out something new and different (each tour),” said Faulkner.
There will be some of the classic moments, such as Halford riding out on stage on a motorcycle. But the band wants each fan to have a new and different experience each time they see the band.
At the point he was interviewed, the tour had not begun. But Faulkner said he had seen the stage show as it’s been crafted. “It’s looking amazing.”
Fans can look forwarded to an “immersive heavy metal experience,” said Faulkner of the coming tour.
“It will be a celebration of heavy metal, Priest, and the fans,” said Faulkner.
Judas Priest performs at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville on Thursday, March 22 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $63.75, $53.75 & $43.75. For more information, go to www.MoheganSun.com or www.JudasPriest.com