Rob Halford: 40 years on, Judas Priest ‘stronger than ever’

When you think “heavy metal music” you think Judas Priest.

The quintessential metal band in terms of both their music and their studded black leather look, Judas Priest has stood the test of time, weathering punk, new wave, grunge, and countless other hard rock styles while flying the flag for no-nonsense, really really loud heavy metal. Celebrating their 40th year with their 17th studio album, "Redeemer of Souls," Judas Priest still has a riff or two up their sleeves for a whole new generation of degenerate head bangers.

FOX411: Have you ever seen that 1986 movie “Heavy Metal Parking Lot”? With all those Judas Priest fans?

Rob Halford: Oh yes. That’s exactly what happens at a Priest show even today.

FOX411: So what’s different about a Priest fan?

Glenn Tipton: Well, they’re very eloquent, as that video proves.

Richie Faulkner: They’ve just got an overwhelming sense of passion and love for the band. After 40 years of being in the community that is Judas Priest, I’m one of them, you’re one of them, and they’re all one, you know? It’s just a big tribe, or a clan, of people. It’s just a big happy family, and I think that’s what the difference is.

FOX411: So let’s go back to the 70s and 80s. It was heavy metal vs punk, heavy metal vs pop -- there was always a big clash between styles. Now it seems today, in the digital age, everyone kind of lives together in peace and harmony. There’s not one overarching popular kind of rock music. Which do you prefer: us against them, or everyone living in peace and harmony?

Halford: I think you can respect all tastes when you’re a musician. When you put fans in a room together, it’s a brawl, because fans are very passionate about the particular band or style of music that they’re attached to. It’s similar to sports, for example. Hate the Lakers, love the Suns; it’s that type of mentality.

The fact of the matter is that heavy metal music has always been somewhat demonized, been the underdog, in the big picture of rock n roll. But we’ve always believed in the strength of what we believe in, in the great music we make, and in the fans that support us. We’ve rallied through a difficult phase where people were suggesting that heavy metal was dead, a done deal, particularly during the punk/new wave era. We never believed that for one moment. We were always very proud to fly the flag of heavy metal, if you will. And here we are, 40 years later, doing the same thing, maybe even stronger than ever.

FOX411: How have you seen heavy metal change over the course of 40 years?

Tipton: Heavy metal itself hasn’t change. There’s been offshoots of it. There’s been punk, new wave, death metal, thrash metal, black metal, you name it. But heavy metal, as such, has always remained the same. Particularly for us, we always say our style is Judas Priest Heavy Metal. It’s heavy metal, but it’s got the Judas Priest stamp on it.

We’ve been very proud to proclaim that, and to fly the flag for heavy metal. I think it’s something that we should be proud of, that we stuck to our guns. Heavy metal has got a lot of respect. It has a huge following. It’s great that it’s given this opportunity for other bands to explore other avenues and paths of metal. There’s never any rivalry. We support that wholeheartedly.

I find it really exciting to hear some of the new bands. Even the real death metal bands, or the real black metal bands, or the real thrash bands, everybody’s got something to say. Everybody’s got a talent. Evert band has got a style, a character that they should be proud of. They should nurture that and expand upon it. We respect all the young bands. And, in return, they’ve got a lot of respect for Judas Priest.

FOX411: So even old school heavy metal guys can like a new kind of metal?

Halford: I think they would. It’s a bit like the Marine Corps. Once a Marine, always a Marine; Once a metalhead, always a metalhead. If you bang your head at 15, you’ll still be banging your head at 50. That’s a fact.

FOX411: So when you play a show now, you see some old geezers like me. Do you also see 15 year-old kids?

Halford: Yes, that’s the most exciting part. We grew up without today’s technology, without the Internet, without cell phones, without Facebook and Twitter and all of these incredible social media platforms where you’re living life on a worldwide level. In the old days, it was connectivity through magazines, for example.

So all of these new metalheads, a lot of them are finding this band by their own means. They all tweet to each other “I just found this new band, have you heard of them? They’re called Judas Priest.” And they could care less that we’ve been around for so long. They’ve picked this band because we’ve touched them with our music. And I think that’s the greatest way you can become a fan of any group.

When we perform at any stage around the world – and we go around the world, we’re not just a band that plays in one particular part of the globe – we see metalheads barely out of their teens in the front banging their heads, and the old geezers in the back. But we’re all there together, and that’s a great thing. Metal has always been difficult to define, in terms of it’s for this age group or it’s for this type of person. We just blow the barriers down in that respect. You will find people from all walks of life, all generations at a Priest show.

FOX411: You said earlier that there would be no more Judas Priest world tours. You’ve got 15 new songs in the bag, are you going to stand by that?

Halford: I think we’ve got to go out. The Epitaph 2 Tour was kind of a farewell. We wish there was another word for ‘farewell.’ We’re just pulling back from these big two-year schleps around the planet. It’s difficult to do. You see the band performing as strongly as we do night after night, we never drop the ball, we give you everything, and then we travel 200 or 300 miles the next day. When you multiply that by months, by years, we have to go out. We just ask people to check the website, as we go into the release phase for "Redeemer of Souls," to find out when we’re coming to your part of the world.

"Redeemer of Souls" goes on sale July 8.