Devin Townsend Was Invited to Try Out for Judas Priest

"Had I got into a situation with that level of expectation, to sing like Rob Halford… dude, I'd have been crucified"

Photos: Robban Kanto (left), Aaron Rubin (right)

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished Jan 6, 2023

We played a fun game of "What If: Vocalist Edition" earlier this week with Iggy Pop and AC/DC, and a little closer to home, we now have an even heavier matchup between Devin Townsend and Judas Priest.

Appearing on The SDR Show late last month (December 28), the Canadian polymath was asked about the legitimacy of a story that he was once invited to front the English metal legends upon the departure of vocalist Rob Halford in the early '90s.

Townsend — who, at the time, was known best as the skulleted figure behind the soaring vocals of guitar virtuoso Steve Vai's 1993 solo album Sex & Religion — confirmed such a report was true.

"Technically, yes, that happened, but it wasn't like they were knocking down my door," he explained. "Basically, they threw out a blanket thing to a bunch of singers – Warrel [Dane] from Nevermore, myself, a couple other people ... it was this letter with the [logo]."

Townsend was already a fan of Judas Priest upon receiving the invite, sharing that their 1979 live set Unleashed In the East "was the shit, for me," but at the same time, he thought of himself primarily as a guitar player as opposed to a lead vocalist.

"I also remember thinking that singing was this thing that happened to me because of my involvement with Steve [Vai], because I never really set out to be a singer. I learned to sing because I was a guitar player, and most of the singers I auditioned, I didn't relate to. So I thought, 'okay, I'm going to learn to sing until I don't have to fuckin' sing anymore.' And then here we are, so many years later where it's kind of my deal."

Of course, Judas Priest ended up hiring Tim "Ripper" Owens in 1996, who remained with the band until Halford's return in 2003. Townsend, meanwhile, went on to establish himself as one of heavy music's finest with extreme metal unit Strapping Young Lad, and as a solo artist and bandleader. He delivered his most recent solo effort, Lightwork, last November.

You can watch Townsend's entire interview below, where he discusses the Judas Priest tale around the 35-minute mark. He offered of his early vocal performances, "The technique that I had was so shoddy, that had I got into a situation with that level of expectation, to sing like Rob Halford… dude, I'd have been crucified."

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