“Outside of that bedroom door, I was Rob Halford from Judas Priest, macho talisman and emergent metal god. Inside it, I was Robert John Arthur Halford, a sad, confused, late-twenties bloke from the Black Country, longing for the forbidden fruit of intimate male company.”
Tell-all rock ‘n’ roll memoirs have been saturating the marketplace for years now, and in truth, Rob Halford, aka the ‘Metal God’, isn’t even the first member of legendary metallers Judas Priest to pen an autobiography. Former long-time guitarist K.K Downing beat him to the proverbial punch there with Heavy Duty: Days and Nights in Judas Priest in 2018. That proved an entertaining enough read, albeit one that emanated bitterness at times. Some of Downing’s gripes seemed legitimate (such as a major missed opportunity with the Top Gun movie soundtrack), but it often felt more akin to a heavy metal hero with a considerable axe to grind.
Halford, though, takes a different approach from his former band-mate in this regard – he doesn’t seem out to consciously settle scores. He admits from the outset that some names and locations have been changed to protect those individuals’ privacy. Even when sharing a shocking story of being sexually abused by a friend of his father’s, it doesn’t seem vengeful – in fact, the author admits he wouldn’t have included it in the book had his father still been alive.
The legendary Priest singer’s life story does cover many of the usual bases, from his modest upbringing in Walsall, England to the band’s musical growing pains, ascendancy up the ranks and eventual commercial success. The obligatory drug and booze shenanigans are also detailed.
However, there’s an obvious point of difference throughout Confess. While Priest were conquering the world, selling millions of records and playing to packed enormodomes throughout the US, UK and Japan, Halford felt compelled to hide his homosexuality. At times this was apparently at the behest of management, but Halford also personally believed “macho” metal audiences, particularly Stateside, wouldn’t accept the truth. Therefore, he “suppressed his longing”, for fear that otherwise it would “kill the band I loved”. He instead sought sexual gratification in the covert likes of American all-night truck stops and ill-fated relationships with seemingly straight men, while also diving into alcoholism and drug addiction. In the more enlightened times of 2020 it’s shameful that Halford felt he couldn’t reveal his true self for two decades, but the inside look into this ongoing inner struggle is fascinating.
Elsewhere, Confess provides welcome tales on the making of classic records such as British Steel, Screaming for Vengeance and Unleashed in the East, as well as extracurricular musical activities like Fight, Halford and 2wo. Halford’s departure from Priest in the early ’90s is essentially attributed to a lack of communication – you are left wondering if there’s more to the story there. Getting sober and coming out are both deservedly given plenty of ink, too, and rightly celebrated as the triumphs they are. His return to Priest is also dissected, although it’s a pity that the group’s grand 50th anniversary plans were scuppered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Confess offers some information that diehard Priest fans will already be aware of, but contains more than enough fresh content to satisfy devotees. The story is related in a candid, easily readable style that does engage the reader. Halford’s unique trek through decades of highs and lows, both personal and professional, deserves to garner a wider appeal than just heavy metal fans. Recommended.