In terms of heavy metal titans, you don’t get much more revered than Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford. Synonymous with an otherworldly wail and a studded leather jacket, in many ways, he is the ultimate heavy metal leader. His work is solely concerned with taking the visceral music of his bandmates to the next level, and since Judas Priest’s 1974 debut Rocka Rolla, he’s been doing it effortlessly, showing to all what a frontman can be if the role is approached properly.
Famous for his powerful and operatic vocal style, it’s not just in Judas Priest that Halford has made his name. An unrelenting artist, he’s also worked with various side projects including Fight, Two, and Halford. However, very few would argue that his work in Judas Priest is the most consequential.
Given that Halford is such an icon of metal, fans have long wanted to know the source of his inspiration. Over the years, he’s namechecked a plethora of bands that range from metal’s most notable to those occupying the scene’s darkest recesses. As a legend of the game, and as an avid consumer, Halford has always got his finger on the pulse. This means that his thoughts on metal are some of the most incisive out there, given that he has a better grasp than anybody on the genre’s past, present, and future.
In 2017, Halford sat down with Rolling Stone and picked his ten favourite metal albums. Each one is a classic, ranging from those right at the genre’s inception to more contemporary titles that have helped the form splinter off into the many different subgenres we know today, instilling it with the inspiration needed to remain so relevant.
The first album Halford chose was Motörhead’s 1980 album Ace of Spades. The band’s fourth record was the moment that Lemmy and the group tied together the strands of their previous albums and created something truly timeless. Fusing the anger and energy of punk with the gargantuan sound of the burgeoning metal scene, nobody was prepared for cuts such as the title track and ‘(We Are) the Road Crew’. Unapologetic speed metal, if you ever need a pick-me-up that isn’t caffeine or hard drugs, Ace of Spades will do the trick perfectly. Of the album, Halford said: “This is a hardcore roar of wild bombastic fuck you!”
The Judas Priest frontman’s next choice came as something of a surprise. He picked Des Moines, Iowa’s best export, Slipknot‘s self-titled debut. The 1999 album introduced Corey Taylor, Jim Root, Joey Jordison, and crew to the world, and their unrelenting take on metal. A masterclass in how to set the world on fire, Halford said: “When this came out, it was nu-metal pent-up rage searing a whole new era.”
Another highlight was Norweigian black metal legends Emperor’s Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk. At points over the years, Halford has revealed that he’d be interested in starting a black metal project, so there’s no real surprise that he picked one of the most influential albums in the subgenre.
A departure from their debut, the album is a crisp and complex body of work that contains nods to the likes of Celtic Frost and Bathory, as well as classical music. The record confirmed that black metal was much more than all the murder and mayhem (pardon the pun) of the early ’90s and that it was here to stay. Halford said: “I love this because it’s sonic blasphemy from the dark side”.
Higher up the list, Halford chose Pantera’s Cowboys from Hell, Slayer’s Reign in Blood, Dio’s Holy Diver, as well as other essential metal records. However, the title he placed at the top of his list was fellow West Midlands heroes, Black Sabbath’s debut album, 1970’s Black Sabbath. Out of all of Halford’s choices, this one makes the most sense. Hailed as the very first heavy metal album, it laid many of the blueprints that would become vital for the proliferation of metal. Added to the eminence of Black Sabbath is the fact that the album opener, the title track, is viewed as the first-ever doom metal track and without it, you could say goodbye to bands such as Sleep and Electric Wizard.
Featuring cuts such as ‘The Wizard’, ‘N.I.B.’ and ‘Behind the Wall of Sleep’, Black Sabbath is where it all started for metal, and without it, the likes of Judas Priest would not have had the platform from which to go stratospheric. Noting this, Halford explained: “This is the blueprint that epitomizes everything metal.”
See the full collection and stream the playlist of albums, below.
Rob Halford’s 10 favourite metal albums:
- Black Sabbath, Black Sabbath (1970)
- Metallica, Kill ‘Em All (1983)
- Korn, Korn (1994)
- Iron Maiden, Iron Maiden (1980)
- Slayer, Reign in Blood (1986)
- Pantera, Cowboys From Hell (1990)
- Dio, Holy Diver (1983)
- Emperor, Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk (1997)
- Slipknot, Slipknot (1999)
- Motorhead, Ace of Spades (1980)