How Judas Priest Moved on With a New Singer on ‘Jugulator’
In some parts of the world, the number 13 is considered lucky; in others, it’s the exact opposite. Judas Priest’s 13th album, Jugulator, was released on Oct. 16, 1997, and represented a little bit of both for the band's new singer, Tim "Ripper" Owens.
Owens fronted a Priest tribute band, and his luck had changed for the better the previous year, when he was hired by the British icons in the aftermath of longtime singer Rob Halford’s departure in 1992. “It was a crazy experience,” the Ohio-born Owens tells UCR. “I didn’t plan on it, I didn’t send them anything, then all of a sudden you get the call. They were the only band on my bedroom wall when I was a kid.”
(As luck would have it, the rags-to-riches fairy tale caught the attention of Hollywood, which made 2001 movie Rock Star based on Owens' story. As luck would also have it, the band eventually distanced itself from the film as it veered away from its original inspiration.)
Judas Priest immediately put Owens to work, recording his vocals in the English studio belonging to former Jethro Tull drummer Barriemore Barlow before moving elsewhere. “There wasn’t much written,” Owens says. “‘Burn in Hell’ and ‘Death Row’ were the early ones I recorded. They just made it a band feel right away.”
He describes his studio memories as “great,” even though he went through a “hard time” as Jugulator came together. “I wanted to do good, that was my main concern," Owens recalls. "I didn’t have to try and sound like Rob. Some people will say I kinda did, but most fans didn’t. It made it easier on me that I sang like myself.”
Still, the repetitive work was aggravating. “I remember being frustrated and punching the wall," Owens says. "There wasn’t Pro Tools, you weren’t changing the pitch – you better get it right. We can’t Auto-Tune it.”
Pressure also came from the band's chief songwriter, guitarist Glenn Tipton. “Glenn was experiencing my voice, and he was like a kid in a candy store," Owens says. "He was experimenting. He would say, ‘Anything I ask you to sing, you’re gonna sing. If I want to you sing a death-metal growl, you will. If I want you to sing like a woman, you will.’ The process went great. Barriemore Barlow’s studio was an all-new experience of instant coffee, cups of tea and biscuits. Instant coffee’s not a big thing in America – I go back [home] and I tell people, ‘Man, I love instant coffee!’ They’re like, ‘What?’”
Another good omen came in the form of a Grammy nomination for “Bullet Train” after Jugulator’s release. On the other side of the balance, the follow-up to 1990’s Painkiller didn’t receive the universal embrace that everyone was hoping for. “People forget that each Priest album has been different,” Owens notes. “If Rob had made that record, it would have been taken differently: 'That’s a natural progression.’
“I think it’s a fantastic record," Owens says. "I think ‘Cathedral Spires’ is in the Top 20 Judas Priest songs of all time. To me it’s in the Top 10. I think 'Bullet Train' getting nominated for a Grammy is overlooked.”
He still performs “Bullet Train,” “Cathedral Spires,” “Death Row,” “Dead Meat” and “Blood Stained” and occasionally receives requests to play the entire album onstage with his solo band. No matter what kind of luck was in store for them, timing was against them, Owens insists.
“I joined Judas Priest at probably the worst time for heavy metal,” he notes. “Iron Maiden, AC/DC, no one was really doing anything. Anthrax, Testament couldn’t even buy a show. It made it harder."
Owens would go on to record a second album, 2001’s Demolition, with Judas Priest, and two live albums were releeased before Halford returned to the band in 2003. Despite rumors to the contrary, Owens says there were never any hard feelings – and even suggests luck played a role once again, particularly since he’d just recorded with Iced Earth and was soon invited to join that band.
“I don’t miss saying, ‘I’m in Judas Priest.’ I miss being around the guys, the recording process, the dinners, the beer," Owens says. "I was treated very fair all the way through. I was pretty happy when the time came. I remember driving back from recording Iced Earth vocals and going, ‘I wish Judas Priest would fire me, because I’ll never quit!’”
His career since then has included work with Yngwie Malmsteen, Charred Walls of the Damned, Hail! and his own band, Beyond Fear. In 2020, he was announced as the lead singer of K.K.'s Priest alongside former Judas Priest guitarist K.K. Downing.
“It had to happen for me to move on and do other things,” Owens notes. “It had to happen for the band, and it had to happen for Rob. I felt like all of us benefited from that happening."
Jugulator could be seen as mixed twists of fate for Owens, but he also calls it one of the best projects he's ever been involved with. Still, he says, “I think my favorite is my Beyond Fear CD, because I wrote the music. But one of my favorite songs of all time is ‘Blood Stained’ because it has every kind of vocals there is on it. ‘Cathedral Spires’ is always going to be of the tops in my catalog. Everything I do in my life is because of joining Judas Priest and making that record. I say, ‘Judas Priest was my college.’
"I think it was the perfect record for that time," he concludes. "I think it’s a continuation of Painkiller that showed a little more aggression. The two records I did with them, I would change absolutely nothing.”
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