These are dark days for metal. Not dark as in "wicked and sinful," but dark as in "sad and pathetic." Metal's monarch and the so-called Prince of Darkness used to be known for pissing on the Alamo and biting bats; nowadays, Ozzy's better known for battling vacuum cleaners and falling off ATVs. Metallica spends most of their time in court and couldn't find a riff with the help of a dozen "performance-enhancement" coaches. And Guns "N Roses. Well, fuck. Axl's a psychopath while his old pals rule the rock world with Audioslave.
What's a metalhead to do?
Count your blessings and thank Satan for Judas Priest and Anthrax.
Priest and Anthrax have united to revitalize the mulleted masses. And there aren't two better bands to do the job.
The PMRC branded the boys of Priest immoral sex fiends, parents falsely accused them of inciting teenage suicide through subliminal messages in their music, and PETA attacked them for their leathers (even though the band wears artificial leather on stage, which is pretty un-metal).
Of course, all of this just cemented their place in the cult. Even lead singer Rob Halford's coming out-a gutsy move in rock's most homophobic genre-didn't seem to hurt the band. Apparently Priest fans don't care which way you swing. They don't even care that the members have committed rock's biggest sin-they've gotten old. All that matters to fans is the twin-guitar attack of K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton and the enduring voice of metal's greatest screamer.
Reinvigorated by last year's reunion, no one in Priest is thinking about the fact that they're on the downhill toward 60.
"When you start to think about that, you start slowing down, you start to diminish," says Halford, who lives in Hillcrest. "People asked me 10, 20 years ago if I was done.... But I don't think Judas Priest will ever do a farewell tour. I think one day it will just stop. But as long as I can do the work at the right level, I'll keep going."
Right now, Priest is still working at the right level. The new album, Angel of Retribution, is as good as anything the band's recorded. Halford's still got it and, in concert, guitarist Tipton is ear-to-ear smiles, impish bounce and whammy bar. Fifty-year-old diehards and young snots alike are loving the live shows-as are America's new metal stars.
"I'd been e-mailing with Jamey [Jasta, the singer] from Hatebreed and he kept begging me to put them on the bill in their hometown with Priest," says Halford, who let the band open their Bridgeport, Conn., show. "We got that kind of thing all the time on the Ozzfest tour last summer. There we were with Sabbath, us and them being the bands that started it all, and all these young bands like Hatebreed and Slipknot and Lamb of God were just hanging around us hoping to talk metal."
And Priest was always willing to talk metal shop with their young disciples.
"It's important to not turn into some cynical old man," he says. "When you've been around so long, I think it's easy to get jaded about rock 'n' roll, but I'm still excited and I still get a rush when I hear or see a new band that moves me."
The guys in Anthrax share Halford's youthful energy, which makes sense for the court jesters of thrash. Along with Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer, Anthrax invented and perfected speed metal. They were also fun-loving jackasses when fun just wasn't cool. The band experimented with hip-hop as early as 1986, the same time the Beastie Boys were recording Licensed to Ill. They were rewarded with fame, acclaim and-best of all-a tour with Public Enemy. Today, they're largely considered the originators of rap-metal (don't hold it against 'em).
"I'm flattered by the whole thing," says drummer Charlie Benante. "When these bands come up and tell me that they grew up listening to me and wanted to imitate me, it's great.... And I can hear our influence, but none of the bands sound like copies of us."
Like Priest, Anthrax hasn't slowed. Reunited with original singer Joey Belladonna, the group's live show is tight and furious. Playing material from their first six albums, the original four seem to be trying to make up for a lost decade.
Benante admits that the natural next move is to reward loyal fans with a new album. "But we're just not convinced we should do that yet," he says.
While some new Anthrax could help end these dark days, maybe we should all just go back to the beginning and count our blessings once more. Forget what reality-TV, performance-enhancement coaches and age have done to metal's heroes, and just be thankful that Priest and Anthrax are playing San Diego before they go their separate ways.Judas Priest and Anthrax play at the Sports Arena on Oct. 29. $20-$49.50. Doors open at 8 p.m. 619-220-8497.