"I think the interesting thing about this tour is that we didn't really know who was going to show up," observes drummer Scott Travis. "With Priest, you've got fans back from the late 70s and early 80s up through the mid-90s. Really, it's been a nice mix. The big surprise is that there are so many people who have followed the band throughout the years, which I think is really cool."
Weeks later, Downing reports from Germany that their European tour is doing very well. One Czechoslovakian magazine readers' poll listed them as number one band, Jugulator as number one album, Ripper number one singer, Downing number five guitar player, and Travis number five drummer. And that's before the band even set foot in the country. In fact, Priest are hitting many Eastern bloc countries for the first time in their career, which is not surprising since their last tour ended in 1991, just after the Berlin Wall fell. Downing declares that they are anxious to play many areas that they will miss on their current European trek but plan to visit later - cities like Warsaw and Budapest. "We could go and play 5 to 6 weeks in Russia alone. People talk about metal being dead - it's absolutely crazy when you think about it."
Naturally there has been controversy swarming around a new Priest vocalist. And feeble American audiences in particular are suspicious of changes in long-term bands. "I think in general, you're right," agrees Tipton. "But I don't think with Priest they would have accepted just another singer. We had to find this man, and it took us four years. And he's a better singer. He's the best singer Priest ever had, and we're not ashamed to be saying that." With that, Tipton turns to Ripper and jovially warns him: "Don't let that go to your head!"
Fans are split over the band's latest opus - some think it's too aggressive and moves away from their classic sound, while others positively view it as a natural progression. "There's two albums missing between Painkiller and Jugulator," notes bassist Ian Hill. "Two or three steps forward instead of just one." Given the seven year gap, that's not surprising. Jugulator has a lot to recommend it - the gothic atmospheres, the crunching riffs, the dynamic rhythm section, and the monk chants at the end of "Cathedral Spires". The band also explore alternate time signatures and even brought in acoustic guitars on a couple of tracks.
Nearly twenty-five years after their first release, Judas Priest remain true defenders of the faith, sticking to their guns more strongly than ever in a decade dominated by grunge and techno. One of the main reasons for their longevity is their lack of pretentiousness - each stage of their career has been another adventure, each album new territory to explore, and each new member a catalyst for musical change. And because they worked hard to get to where they are, they have not lost perspective on their art.
The roots of Priest's music can be found not only in its members, but in the industrial city of Birmingham, England where they grew up. Halford once remarked how he could taste the metals from the steel foundries on his tongue as he went to and from school, and Tipton has described the steam hammers pounding out their own heavy metal rhythm in the Birmingham landscape. "It's a hard life, and it gives you that determination as a youngster to get out of there," says Tipton, who once worked for British Steel. "And we are determined characters."
"Where we grew up was like the Bronx in New York," adds Downing. "It's a hard start in life. You don't really know what's going on with yourself. The only thing you know is - what are you gonna do next?" Downing did not enjoy school, leaving by age 15 to pursue his musical passions. "You need to be 46 to really understand what it was really all about," he declares, looking back at his teen years in the late 60s before he found Priest. "When everything was against you, you're swimming against the fucking tide in every which way but lose - parents, schooling, breaking the law. It was rough."