It’s been a long time since Judas Priest slept in a van outside of a London recording studio.
Vocalist Rob Halford explained that in the “vampire days of recording,” overnight rates in studios were cheaper to rent. So for the band’s first studio album, “Rocka Rolla,” they found themselves sleeping in the van during the day and recording overnight.
“I remember when we had our first record contract, we were tremendously excited and very ambitious,” Halford said. “We thought big time, big money — wrong. In the early days, it’s a slug. It’s really, you’ve got to pay your dues. Nothing comes fast and easy in life, as I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older, but you do whatever it takes to get through that journey.”
The heavy metal group has enjoyed nearly 50 years of success and is gearing up to release its 18th studio album, “Firepower,” which hits record stores Friday, March 9.
The Firepower 2018 tour kicks off Tuesday, March 13, at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, 255 Highland Park Blvd., Wilkes-Barre Twp., with opening acts Saxon and Black Star Riders.
“It’s the excitement and the anticipation; it’s all wrapped up into (the first night),” Halford said. “We’ve been building this tour for many months — the stages, the costumes, the lights and the special effects and everything … While that’s building, of course, our fans will finally be able to get their metal claws onto ‘Firepower’ and become associated with the songs.
“The launch of any project or any tour has to start at a specific spot. In this case, Wilkes-Barre is holding the torch for heavy metal as we take off.”
Judas Priest originally formed in the 1970s in Birmingham, England. The band created some of heavy metal’s most notable records, including “British Steel” and “Screaming for Vengeance,” and also appeared at the legendary Live Aid in 1985.
The group was one of the first to exclusively wear leather and studs, a look that began during this era and was eventually embraced by metal fans across the globe.
Although fans can expect to hear the beloved Judas Priest sound at the Wilkes-Barre Twp. show, Halford emphasized that each of the band’s albums are created with the intention of writing something new and different.
“We treat them completely separately as the belief is all our records from ‘Rocka Rolla’ up to ‘Firepower’ — they all have their own metal legs to stand on in terms of identity and sound,” he said.
The title song — and opening track — on ‘Firepower’ resonates most with Halford, because he believes it speaks to the rest of the record.
“I think the opening track of any album, if you’re a fan of that band, it can be a make-or-break type of situation,” he said. “The impact, the energy, the ferocity, the overall feeling of ‘Firepower,’ is a very important song. It sends a lot of really good solid metal elements that Priest has maintained over the years.”
In February, the band announced that longtime lead guitarist Glenn Tipton would not be touring with the band after being diagnosed with late-stage Parkinson’s disease. He lived with the early stages of the degenerative disease for a decade, but its progression left him unable to play some of the band’s more complex material. Although he will not tour, he remains an active member in the group. “Firepower” producer Andy Sneap picks up the guitar in his stead.
“You’ll be seeing Priest as you want,” Halford said. “There will be a slight adjustment … but (Tipton) wants it to be a very successful ‘Firepower’ tour. And then we’ve got the blessing of Andy, who is one of producers of ‘Firepower,’ so he knows all the music. He’s also a hardcore Priest fan.
“I think a lot of people are going to be drawn to the show for the simple fact that they love Priest and they want to hear the songs again and again,” Halford added. “They want to hear the heavy metal acts, like (opening acts) Saxon and Black Star Riders, that they see only every three years or so. There’s a lot of positive love and support happening right now.”
In order to prepare for the show each night, Halford said he limits his speaking to a minimum to he can preserve his voice, and also tries to remain healthy so he can utilize his “instrument” to its fullest potential. At this point in his life, he said his voice is “more precious than ever.”
And although it’s been nearly five decades since the beginning of Judas Priest, Halford does not see an end in sight.
“You can’t really turn it off,” he said. “If you’re lucky enough to be a creative person that is still hungry and curious and has a sense of adventure … That’s the driving force in me, and that’s the same in Glenn and Scott and Richie and Ian. It’s something you can’t really switch off. It’s there within you.
“When you’re amongst like-minded people, that’s when the metal magic starts to happen. It’s really hard to ping down in words, because so much of it is internal.”
If you go
What: Judas Priest
When: Tuesday, March 13, 7 p.m.
Where: Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, 255 Highland Park Blvd., Wilkes-Barre Twp.
Details: Tickets start at $36.75, plus fees, and can be purchased at the arena’s box office, by calling 800-745-3000 and online at ticketmaster.com. There is a $10 fee to park in the arena’s lot. For more information, visit judaspriest.com.