By Jacob Katel
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It couldn't be more fitting that the sweltering city of Phoenix is haven to one of metal's high priests. From the ashes of Judas Priest rises Fight, with former J.P. frontman Rob Halford spreading his wings, or at least pumping his ironclad lungs, over the metal airwaves with War of Words.
After two decades with Priest, Halford walked off the stage at a concert in Toronto in 1991, the last time he would sing with the band he fueled into power during the Seventies and early Eighties. "Music is personal," Halford says. "We become so attached to it that we forget that people are individuals with feelings and not just parts of a band. I know that some fans don't understand the change, but I couldn't stay where I was. Fight was an opportunity to fill the holes and close the vacuum I felt I was in during the last year with Priest. Fight is a whole new animal. We called the band Fight because we wanted something powerful and simple, but with virtue. Like the word, it can mean physically overcoming obstacles or taking action to survive."
At the end of 1991, Halford wrote music like a madman and brought it to his label, Columbia. They didn't like his heavier -- yes, heavier -- approach. "They told me that they wouldn't release it, and when I looked at my contract, there were all these legal problems which surfaced," explains Halford. "I took it to the high courts of England, and finally they offered me a deal to jump to Epic, which was what I initially asked for. It only took a couple of hundred thousand to sort it out."
At that point the sever was permanent and Halford's departure from Priest final. A national search went out for bandmates and from the hundreds of tapes Halford sifted through, guitarist Russ Parrish reeled out the earful Halford couldn't pass up. Among the other auditioners was bassist Jay Jay, the same person responsible for covering up most of Halford's skin with tattoos. At the time, Jay was in a band called Cyanide with guitarist Brian Tilse, who also gravitated toward the nucleus. Drummer Scott Travis, who worked with Halford on the 1990 Judas Priest CD Painkiller was recruited to round Fight out on July 4, 1992.
Although there are two axes at work in Fight, as there were in Priest, Halford swears he isn't trying to replicate the past. "Having two guitarists is not only relevant to my background, but it also fills the gaps," he says. "When I see a band live, I hear a hole opening acoustically when it moves from rhythm to lead."
Throughout the twelve recorded songs, Fight's two frenzied fretbenders leave no linear breaks, instead creating a wall of notes that wavers between heavy metal and hardcore on songs such as "Into the Pit" and "Kill It." On others the guitars are de-tuned to get that darker, muddied sound -- the crunch factor. Unbridled and potent, Halford's belligerent wails resonate from song to song with politically packed lyrics. "It's all about looking at the subject matter differently," he says. "Nothing superfluous, nothing fantastical. I'm writing music that is more relevant to me at this point in my life."
Although Halford was the mastermind behind the music of War, he promises that the next round will include collaborative efforts from the rest of the band. That's fine if the intensity doesn't surrender an inch.
When Halford isn't Fight-ing, he switches his attention to his newly formed management company, E.M.A.S., which scouts out new artists, including current project Allegiance, a hard-rocking Aussie outfit.
Halford's own band is like many of the struggling and upcoming artists he hopes to help. On this first Fight tour he won't be packing stadiums like he did in his Priestly days. "I think that it's terrific to be back in that real graphic, elemental type of environment," says Halford. "The smaller clubs aren't cold and distant like the arenas."
Halford's second coming snuffs out the idea that this brand of rock is on the road to extinction. And as for the thought that yet another legendary band has fallen prey to the wear and tear of time and change, just toss War onto the stereo and listen to metal at its purest. "What this band has in potential and possibilities I see on the same worldwide level of acceptance and acclaim that Priest experienced," offers Halford. "People are getting into it."
Fight performs at 8:00 p.m. Saturday at the Cameo Theater, 1445 Washington Ave, Miami Beach, 532-0922. Tickets cost $12.50.