Judas Priest released their 19th studio album, Invincible Shield in early March. As vocalist Rob Halford tells UCR, there are no "set agendas" when they're working on new music together.

It's a philosophy that allows them to travel through their history as a group while constructing new albums. The result is songs that honor numerous eras throughout their illustrious career while also charging into unexplored territory.

Halford recently dropped by Ultimate Classic Rock Nights to talk about the process of making Invisible Shield. He dug deep with program host Matt Wardlaw to discuss the present, and he shared exciting plans to expand the band's first two albums, Rocka Rolla and Sad Wings of Destiny. "I can't say too much about them," he laughed. "Just stay tuned for more!"

What are some of the first songs that you heard for this new album? How did that influence the path that you took lyrically?
That’s a really cool question, because anything can happen at a Priest writing session. We don’t have any kind of set agendas during the process of making an album. It’s not like, "Today we’re going to full on" [or] "Today, we’re going to pull back and go ballad-y." It really is very much instinctive. That’s probably, maybe [because] of the uniqueness of this band, in that respect. If there are any rules in rock 'n' roll — there shouldn’t be rules in rock 'n' roll, it should be chaos.

But as a result of that, this is the band that can be “Painkiller” one minute and then you’re “Turbo Lover” in the next. That’s the pureness, I think, of who we are as writers. I tell you, it’s a good question, because in my mind, I’d like to be able to think, “Oh, this day, we did this song” and “This day, we did that song.” But it just all flows. It’s a very, very natural process with that writing experience, which has still been two guitar players and a singer. I’ve always felt that’s played its benefits for this band over the decades. So there it is, you know? It’s very much an open [situation]. Anything is on the table. Nobody says, “That’s not going to work.” We see everything through and then we figure out what’s worthy.

READ MORE: Judas Priest, 'Invincible Shield': Album Review

"Crown of Horns" sticks out as a song that allows you to shapeshift in those ways and work in a really interesting way melodically that's Judas Priest, but different. Many bands find it hard to break out of their usual box.
Some bands are very comfortable with that approach. I’m not going to name names, but they do what they do really well. Because they’ve defined themselves so particularly well, there’s a feel that, oh yeah, they sound like so and so. Well, that’s definitely so and so. They’ve become so meshed in their stylistic art of music that they claim it uniquely for themselves. That’s fantastic, you know. But with Priest, it can go anywhere — and that’s what it’s done with Invincible Shield.

The opening sequence of “Panic Attack,” people were going, “What is that synth-y guitar? Are we going Turbo all of a sudden?” Then the drums come in — what is this? And then, the engine fires off. The metal power starts to scream and oh my God, that’s Priest. So there are also definitions in our world that I think we claim for ourselves and that our fans look forward to, besides the adventures like “Crown of Horns.” [Those] types of individual displays somehow correlate to make a completely fresh new album from Judas Priest.

Watch Judas Priest's 'Crown of Horns' Video

How did you end up writing "Giants in the Sky" for Ronnie James Dio and Lemmy Kilmister?
I always start to put the words on towards the back end. I need the material, the information — the musical information. So that’s why I sit down with a blank piece of paper and a pencil, terrified. “My God, what am I going to say?” It’s wonderful how if you keep an open mind — and again, because of the repertoire of Priest lyrically and how anything can happen — I don’t know where I was that day, but I was thinking about the important value of radio. I love my rock 'n' roll radio. It’s part of every band’s gateway to the world. Whether it’s terrestrial or it’s extraterrestrial in space or the cloud, it’s radio and that’s so important. My personal love affair with radio is as strong as it ever was. I was thinking about the incredibly good, beautiful things that radio has done for music since day one.

Then, Ronnie and Lemmy seep in and I’m thinking, “Wow, why am I thinking of ‘giants in the sky,’ where did that come from?” "Giants in the Sky"! [Laughs] Sometimes, musicians are a weird bunch. I’ve always said it’s a little bit of a curse when you can’t sleep at night because you’re making songs up in your head. You know, you’re actually making songs while you’re lying there with your head on your pillow. But that’s what happened with these words. I’m thinking about our dear friends Ronnie and Lemmy and all of the other beautiful people that we’ve lost — they’re still alive and coming across on the radio airwaves, or the internet airwaves in the format of radio presentation. That’s how that song developed. It’s just a beautiful love letter to all of our friends that are in a different place, but they’re still alive every day of the week.

People forget now that Judas Priest wasn't always such a familiar presence on the radio.
I had an email today, again, as we’re speaking, from a really great team of people who are working on Rocka Rolla and Sad Wings of Destiny. They said, “Oh my God, we just found a radio version of ‘Rocka Rolla’ that the label at the time tried to get you on the radio in America.” They did this edit of “Rocka Rolla,” which I haven’t heard yet — I’m going to listen to it after we’ve chatted. Even way back then in 1974, 50 years ago, Priest was trying to get into that channel, because of the endless opportunities that radio gives for bands.

You fast forward and it really wasn’t until probably around the British Steel era, obviously with “Breaking the Law,” “Living After Midnight,” that fully connected us in the radio sense, particularly in the United States. Every band, even now, you’re looking for that connection where your music can be played to somebody, whether they’re going to work in the car or coming home from work or they’re out on a date or just driving around. That unique environment, particularly when you’re driving, it used to be exclusive to America. Because when I was a young person growing up in England, we didn’t have radio in the car. We had one radio station, and they sure didn’t play rock 'n' roll. This continuing important correlation in music, to have that really strong reference to radio, is vital.

READ MORE: How Judas Priest Polished 'British Steel' to Perfection

You mentioned those first two albums, which have always felt underrated in the Priest catalog.
They’re the starting point. I tell you what is amazing, is the vastness between the two records. Rocka Rolla and then Sad Wings of Destiny. [Taat second album] seems like it’s coming 20 years later, the way that the band suddenly [evolved] after that first experience in a professional studio with a producer and all of the components that you need to make a great record. That’s the first time we’d made an album. It’s the same with any band. I’m not sure if the feelings are still the same, but we were banging into things, going, “What is that and how does that work?” “What happens if you press this button?” All of that curiosity that I think is important for bands to have in the recording sense. It was profound for us with Rocka Rolla. We learned very, very quickly what to do in the studio. The difference between Rocka Rolla and the writing, from [that album] to Sad Wings, is absolutely vast. They are important albums. This is the birth of heavy metal more than anything else.

READ MORE: How Judas Priest Came Into Their Own With 'Sad Wings of Destiny'

What did it mean to you guys to work with producer Rodger Bain on those early albums?
It was thrilling, because we loved [Black] Sabbath then as much as we do now. They’ve been friends of ours for as long as Priest has been together. To have the opportunity to work with Rodger was just [unbelievable]. I don’t know how the connection happened. But we were there with him and he steered us through the process of putting together the first parts of the life of Priest on record.

When it comes to the live shows, you've been candid about your need to adjust certain songs to account for where you are now vocally. How does that affect your approach to making albums? When you're writing melodies now, how much do you think about that? 
I have to be very careful with it. Because, you know, music is a headspace experience anyway, emotionally. I’m aware of where I am with my vocal abilities now. But I’ve tried to not let that dissuade me from taking a leap. I’ll give you a perfect example: When we finished tracking the vocals for “The Serpent and the King” — we did that particular vocal here in Phoenix, and Andy [Sneap] and Richie [Faulkner] were here. We’re listening to the track and I’m going, “This track is really roaring, but the voice just isn’t connecting with the ferocity of the instrumentation. I said, “I’m just going to go in there and try and go for the ‘Painkiller’ voice and let’s see what happens. If I land in a heap on the floor, it is what it is.” [Laughs]

But I went in there, and again, it’s that “let it go” thing or “Feel the force, Luke.” As a musician, your best performances happen when you’re not thinking about your performance. If you start to think, the thoughts intrude on the performance. I did that, [and] we got it down in two takes. I sat back and we listened to it, and we put that high performance in the original performance, and it was like a metal marriage, as far as what we were trying to achieve. As I’m sure you’ve heard, there are two distinctively different vocal performances on [that song]. If you’d told me that’s what I had to do, you’ve got to do it that way, I’d probably have said, “I can’t do it.” But because it happened on the spur of the moment without any thought intrusion, we were able to get the job done.

READ MORE: How Judas Priest's Power Trip Performance Almost Didn't Happen

Watch Judas Priest's 'The Serpent and the King' Video

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