While Judas Priest is in the midst of a worldwide farewell tour -- of sorts -- frontman Rob Halford promises the group is not exactly going away. In fact, he says, the iconic heavy metal troupe is well on its way towards making its next album.
Halford tells Billboard.com that he and guitarist Glenn Tipton "began writing new music early on this year, before we went out on the road. We have about 12 or 14 tracks completely mapped out, four of which have been recorded and mixed and are ready to go... so the good news is that there will be a brand new Priest record next year."
Halford adds that the group is leaving some room for new guitarist Richie Faulkner, who replaced the retired K.K. Downing for the current Epitaph World Tour, "to join in and make contributions as well." But he's confident that won't change the overall tenor of the album. "I think it's fair to say that this is going to be just another great, traditional British heavy metal album from Priest with what you love about the band -- the riffs, the screaming vocals, all of the tradition and heritage that we try to keep somehow in our music as we've moved along," Halford promises.
This, of course, means that the Epitaph World Tour is hardly the last we'll see of Judas Priest, and Halford acknowledges that the group is "taking every opportunity to let our fans know this is not the end of Judas Priest. We're just cutting back on these big, long treks around the world that we love to do. But yet we're facing mortality; as a metal singer I'm still able to do the vast majority of things that have laid out before me...but I'd be the first to admit that I'm finding it more challenging now, and I don't want to get into that syndrome where you end up a little bit punch-drunk and you're not giving the performance that you want to give. I'm delighted that we're taking this approach because the inevitable payoff is that it gives the band more life. We're able to continue doing selective shows in the future and, as importantly, keep recording and making new metal records."
Halford adds that one of those future live projects might be a live show based on Priest's 2008 concept album "Nostradamus." "That is a very important record for us," he says. "We had a big-picture aspect of what we wanted to do with 'Nostradamus' in mind -- of course, to play it in its entirety, which is completely feasible -- and because we are cutting back on these intense tours we can focus more on that."
Halford adds that Downing's departure, announced April 20, was "a complete surprise," but he likens it to his own time away from the band between 1992-2003. "Priest has always been there," Halford notes. "Priest has never been away. The attitude is that the band is bigger than you. The music and the heritage and the tradition of the band is bigger than one member of the group. That's really important to think about, you know?" He describes Faulkner, who was in Lauren Harris' band prior to being tapped for Priest, as "a phenomenal talent" and "a tremendous boost and a relief as well. There are a lot of different feelings we went through, But Richie is out there night after night, tearing up the stage and delivering the goods, as we like to say."
After a European swing this summer, Priest's Epitaph World Tour continues in Latin America starting Sept. 10 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The North American leg begins Oct. 12 in San Antonio, Texas, and wraps on Dec. 3 in Biloxi, Miss.